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About the study

The study of the surname Rodham and bearers of that particular spelling variation.

Variant names

I have defined my search to two other variants Roddham and Rhodam although there are a multitude of spelling varieties including Roddam, Roddom, Rodam and Rudham. Typographical errors account for several of these variations even within my own family line but the Rodham version is found exclusively in a relatively small number of families.

Name origin

British Society of Genealogists Information Leaflet No. 7 - '€˜The Relevance of Surnames in Genealogy'€™

'€˜Unfortunately only a very small number of pedigrees of British families can be traced to the person who first used the surnames they now bear. Many surnames have been corrupted to such an extent that their original forms may only be discovered after quite considerable research. This may involve tracing the pedigree step by step from the present backwards in time, not only to detect the changes but also to discover the area of the country from which the family came. Present day forms of a large number of surnames are due to the spelling of 16th or 17th century parsons, or even to the registrars of births in the 19th century. They had no guide to the spellings of names and attempted to reproduce phonetically the sounds they heard, as the great majority of the population were illiterate and had no notion that any one spelling of their name was more 'correct' than any other.... However, the most authoritative work is P H Reaney and R M Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (3rd edn. 1991) which lists the surviving spellings of many surnames as well as giving referenced examples from the earliest times.'€™

"€œA Dictionary of English Surnames"€, Reaney & Wilson, (Oxford University Press)

Roddam, Rodham:

  • Yvo de Rodham 1204 (Assize Rolls for Yorkshire)
  • Matilda Rodeham 1430 (Testamenta Eboracensa)
  • William Roddam 1673 (Register of Freemen of the City of York)

From Roddam (Northumberland).

Across a number of different sources the accepted Anglo Saxon (Germanic) meaning for Roddam/Rodham is '€˜clearing in the forest'€™. There are several other options put forward, from the Anglo Saxon word "€œRoddan"€ for a raised river bed section and "€œGrodham"€ for poor village to the Irish "€œRodain"€ but the Scandinavian word "€œRödhamn"€ meaning '€˜red harbour'€™ is also very close.

When looking back more than a few centuries, with the convoluted history of northern England, it is impossible to be certain where any of the name variations originated from, be they Celt, Anglo Saxon, Irish or Viking. Trying to trace any individual and therefore their heritage, with absolute clarity is virtualy impossible.

The online '€˜Surname Database'€™ details;

'€˜Recorded in many spellings, this is a surname of either Germanic and Anglo-Saxon pre 7th century origins, or it is from the Gaelic (Irish). If Anglo-Saxon it is locational and originates from the place called Roddam, in the English county of Northumberland, and near to the town of Alnwick, or from living near a rodum, meaning a clearing in a forest. The placename is recorded in the Curia Regis rolls of the year 1201 as Rodun, and later in 1236 as Rodum, so much for early spelling. The derivation is from the 7th century word 'rod', meaning a clearing, and 'ham', a place or house. Early examples of the surname development in Northumberland region include the recordings of Margaret Roaddam in 1603, Margery Rodhenn in 1609, John Rodam in 1623, and Edward Roodom in 1626, whilst Ann Rodan is recorded in London in 1680. If Irish the origination is from O'Rodain, meaning the descendant of the son of the lively one! The modern surname can be found as Roddam, Roddan, Roden, and Rodden, which can be English or Irish, and O'Rodane, O'Rudden and Reddin, which are Irish. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William de Roddam, which was dated 1296, in the 'Northumberland Hundred Rolls', during the reign of King Edward 1, known as 'The Hammer of the Scots', 1272 - 1307. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to 'develop' often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.'


History of the name

Even before the time of the Norman Invasion and Doomsday Book the native British kept comprehensive records on everything that may be taxed, tithed or conscripted, as much by the local clergy for Church Parish records as by civil government record keepers. These documents as well as historical accounts can be used to trace family connections. The 18th and 19th century publications '€˜Burke'€™s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry'€™; '€˜Burke'€™s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners Of Great Britain and Ireland'€™, and '€˜British Public Characters'€™ list the Roddam line from Roddam, Northumberland which culminates with Admiral Robert Roddam.

A more detailed record is found in the series of books under the jurisdiction of the Northumberland County Historical Society that make up the '€˜History of Northumberland'€. This history was started by the Reverend John Hodgson in the early 1800'€™s and now covers fifteen volumes with Volume 14 recounting the history of Roddam village, Ilderton Parish and the lineage of the family Roddam. A publication from 1776, the '€˜View of Northumberland'€™ records the township under the spelling of Rodham so it is obvious when reading these volumes that the names Roddam and Rodham were interchangeable, dependent on the author.

All these publications document the lineage back to the 10th century via occupancy of the Roddam estate, in Northumberland with the original occurrence of the name Roddam being via a Royal Charter during the time of Athelstane, king of the West Saxons, and eventually England. The basic storyline is that in the 10th century, King Athelston granted a Pole Roddam a tract of land centred on Roddam Tower, Northumberland which was a wild and lawless land and the king wanted good and trusted men to subdue the troublesome Northerners.

Roddam Hall lies a few miles south of the market town of Wooler, located in the shelter of the Cheviot Hills. Mackenzie (The Story of Northumberland, 1825) described the house as a handsome modern building, and commands a very pleasant prospect of the vale that stretches under it. The Chevoit Hills, backing the hamlet of Roddam, are a natural watershed for the fertile eastern plain and river valleys.

'€˜This region was a dangerous and harsh land for thousands of years with the Cheviot Hills a natural boundary to the even more savage lands of the Picts and Scots. The Romans were the first to physically divide the wild north from the settled south, but the land had been the site of habitation and warfare for millennia prior to their arrival. The indigenous Stone Age, Iron Age and '€˜Beaker'€™ peoples as well as Celts, Picts, Romans, Saxons, Danish Vikings, Scots and English have all lived and died here. For close to five hundred years the Romans brought civilization to the British Isles, then from around 450AD the legions retreated to Rome and the local populations were left to fend for themselves. The now Romanised Britons were a mix of native Celts, Legionaires families and other Europeans who had settled in more peaceful times. First there were the Angle and Saxon invasions then from the mid 800'€™s came the Danes who plundered then settled the central eastern region of England. Within the Danelaw the Viking lifestyle ruled, whilst the Anglo Saxons made their plans to take back what they had once ruled. Over the next one hundred years futile attempts led to nothing till Alfred the Great succeeded in unifying the English and conquering the Danes. Alfred'€™s grandson Athelstane went one step further and through the sword became the first to rule from Wessex in the south to Northumberland in the north. After many battles to subdue his own people he moved onto the far north to take the fight to the Scots. This was in defence of his English Northumbrians who had resisted both Scots and Vikings during this time. The lands designated as Northumbria (north of the Humber) were long ruled as a separate kingdom with its own culture. The native Strathclyde Celts across the Pennines to the west and the Picts to the north were as much an adversary as the southern Anglo Saxons.'€™

Thus we come to the oldest recorded version of the name Roddam/Rodham. The '€˜History of Northumberland'€™ volume 14 details two Charters, or royal proclamations, purported to be by Athelstane in 937 AD and this claim is recorded in a number of other sources, from Burke'€™s Genealogical Histories and the British Public Characters Yearbooks to the Freemason histories. Whilst the Charters themselves are certainly fictious the tale is recorded as far back as AD 1385.

The proclamations are in rhyming verse;

'€œI King Athelstan gives unto thee Pole Roddam
From me and mine to thee and thine
Before my wife Maude, my daughter Maudlin
And for a certen truth I bite this wax with my gang tooth.
So long as muir bears moss
And cnout grows hair
A Roddam of Roddam for ever mair.'€™

'€˜I King Athelstane giffes heir to Paulane, Odam and Roddam als gud and als fair als evr tha myn war; and yaito witness Mald my wyff.'€™

The next account comes during the writing of the Doomsday Book, 1070 to 1080AD, when lands previously held by the local English were being given over to the lordship of the invading Normans. Burkes history records that for whatever reason, the control of the Roddam area remained with the existing Anglo Saxon lordship and population; '€˜The small fiefs of Dilston and Chevington were held by knights of English origin, while the thanes of Halton, Callaley, Hepple and Roddam retained those manors and their dependencies by a less honorable tenure. Throckley, Whittingham, Eslington, Beadnel, Mousen, Roddam and the three Middletons, remained in the hands of smaller native proprietors.'€™ This is also corroborated in the History of Northumberland.

The '€˜History of Northumberland'€™ documents that Leland's '€˜Collectanea'€™ and '€˜Itinerary'€™ record two mentions of the name Roddam;

  • circa 1340, 'The Roddams, or Rodhams, were men of fair landes in Northumbrelande, about Tylle river, ontyl one of them having to wife one of the Umfraville daughters, killed a man of name, and thereby lost the principale of eight hundred markes by yere; so that at this time Roddam, or otherwise Rodham, of Northumbrelande, is but a man of mene landes.'
  •  anno 1359, 'Gilbert Rodam having fifty-three glayves with him, and eighty archers, fought with Reynald de Gulion, Capitaine of Parys, near Stampes (now Etampes, in Normandy), that had seven hundred men of armes and four hundred brigantes with him. Gilbert was slayen there; yet the Englishman had the victory, and Reynald was there taken prisoner; but he, by the help of a false Englishman, was convayied or ever he had payid his rannsom'€™

The greater part of the original Roddam estate was forfeited during the sway of the Norman invasion and subsequent religious and civil upheavals, but the lands of Roddam, named in the grant of Athelstane, descended in a direct line, defying the Viking and Norman invasions, religious, cultural and industrial revolutions for almost 1,000 years before dying out with Admiral Robert Roddam in 1808.

Roddam village is located in Ilderton Parish, County of Northumberland, in the very north east corner of England. Remaining rural for all of its past history it is still predominately farm and agriculturally based. The '‘History, Topography, and Directory of Northumberland'€™ by Whelan, published in 1855 records; '€˜RODDAM, a township in the parish of Ilderton, N. division of Coquetdale ward, county Northumberland, 5 miles S.E. of Wooler, and 1 mile S. of Ilderton. It was given to Poulane, or Pulleine, an ancestor of the Roddam family, by Athelstane, after the battle of Brunaburgh. Roddam Hall is the principal residence;

'€˜ILDERTON parish is bounded on the north by Wooler and Doddington, on the west by the Cheviots, on the south by Ingram, and on the east by Eglingham. It comprises the townships of Ilderton, Middleton Hall, Middleton North, Middleton South, Roddam, and Roseden, whose united area is 9,670 acres. The population in 1801, was 475; in 1811, 502; in 1821, 579; in 1831, 602; in 1841, 585; and in 1851, 641 souls. The eastern portion of this parish consists of a light gravelly soil while the western part is chiefly moss and heather. The surface is hilly and to the south-west the parish extends to the summit of Hedgehope, one of the Cheviot Hills. It has for its southern limit the river Breamish, and is intersected by the Caldgate, Lilburn, Roddam, and several minor streams.'€™

The Durham and Northumberland County Councils'€™ online history website '€˜Keys to the Past'€™ provides further details on the history of Roddam Parish and village.

'€˜Roddam parish lies near the foot of the Cheviot Hills and contains widespread archaeological sites of all periods and much of historical interest...Little is known about Roddam until the medieval period, although the Saxon King Athelstane is traditionally associated with Athelstane Mount. After the Norman Conquest, people lived in small villages and hamlets at Roddam, Roseden and Wooperton. Over the years these settlements have shrunk in size or become deserted altogether.... Medieval warfare would have affected life in the parish. This was not confined to the warfare between England and Scotland but also the War of the Roses...The 18th and 19th centuries brought more peaceful times to this part of Northumberland....Wealthy landowners built fine country houses in the parish, including Roddam Hall and Brandon White House. Amongst the owners of Roddam Hall was Admiral Robert Roddam RN (1720-1808) who rose through the ranks to become Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth before retiring to his country seat....This is the site of the deserted medieval village of Roddam. Although a village was recorded here as early as 1296 it had almost disappeared by the early 19th century. Any remains of the village are probably beneath modern farm buildings.'€™

The '€œHistory of Northumberland'€™ records that the medieval Roddam village had never been of great size and had been in decline for some time before being decimated in the attack by Scotish marauders in 1533. It was damaged to such an extent that the main tower structure was uninhabitable till after 1541. The lords Roddam escaped to relatives, the Proctors of Shawdon, but nothing is said of the fate of the villagers. It would seem probable that those forced to leave their ancestral home at this time took their birthplace name with them, which eventually became a surname. The question of where would someone go in the mid sixteenth century would be the same as it is now; where can I find stable employment and a safe living environment?

Although there had been records of the name Rodham as far south as London in the 14th Century investigation of the International Genealogical Index (IGI), UK Births Deaths and Marriage Indexes, UK Census' and employment records show a clumping of Rodham families by the mid 1800'€™s in a few well defined areas. These include Allendale and Newcastle in Northumberland, Stanhope and Weardale in Durham, and Middlesbrough and Stockton in North Yorkshire. If Roddam village was the starting point, the general exodus south of those that chose to take the name Rodham, led to employment in mining (coal or lead), rail, farming and general labouring with the odd tailor, carpenter, grocer and inn keeper thrown in.

Name frequency

The UK Census results from the various online index's available show the numerically small exact 'Rodham' population;

Census YearUK Census OnlineFindmypastFamilySearchAncestry
1911 333325322

Immigration to the United States and Australia also account for an additional number of families but overall these are in total no more than the UK numbers. Further investigation and analysis to follow.

Distribution of the name

The occurrence of the name Rodham in the UK is primarily found in the Counties of Durham, North Yorkshire and Northumberland, with the latter 19th century Census' showing Durham with almost 50% of the total individual count.

The north eastern coastal region of the United States and the state of New South Wales in Australia also account for the largest proportion of the Rodham name in those countries.


Due to the difficulties in searching from Australia my data has been primarily collated from certificate hard copies from the North Yorkshire and Durham County Archive centres and online searches including;

UK Census Online
Family Search and Ancestry (LDS)
Durham Records Online
Yorkshire parish records Online
Find My Past
British Newspaper Archive