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About the study
My interest in family history goes back about thirty years, since the early 1980s, and over that time I have accumulated quite a lot of data relating to various branches of the extended family. Obviously, my interest started with my own roots and, initially, I thought that it was quite a rare surname and that it would be easy to research. Even though, at that time, I hadn't met another Thirkell outside my immediate family, I quickly found that it was more common than I originally thought. Since then my family history research has almost exclusively been reconstructing Thirkell families and trying to work out the links between them.
The latest edition of The Penguin Dictionary of British Surnames (John Titford; 2009) tells us that the names are: "From an ON (Old Norse) first name Thorkell: Thor's (god of thunder) sacrificial cauldron, introduced to northern parts of England by Scandinavian settlers, and to southern counties by the Normans.".
An earlier edition (Basil Cottle; 1967) suggests that it could also be derived from Threlkeld, a place name in Cumberland. In support of this the "modern day" Thirkeld and Thirkle families both seem to have probably descended from Henry Threlkeld of Tritlington in Northumberland.
Guppy, in his The Homes of Family Names of Great Britain (1890) associated the surname Thirkell with Kent.
History of the name
Angela Thirkell (1859-1945) was the daughter of John William Mackail and his wife Margaret Burne-Jones, the daughter of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones and also a cousin of Rudyard Kipling and Stanley Baldwin. Angela's first husband was James Campbell MacInnes by whom she had three children. Their second child, Colin MacInnes, was the novelist best known for Absolute Beginners. Her second husband was George Lancelot Allnut Thirkell who was part of a large group of Thirkells who had settled in Tasmania, Australia.
Lancelot George Thirkell, the son of George Lancelot Allnut and Angela, was at one time a controller at the BBC and his son, Robert, often appears in the credits as the producer of BBC programmes.
Another Thirkell whose name might be recognised by some people is that of John "Johnny" Thirkell, a musician best known as a member of the 1980/90s band Level 42, but who also played and recorded with such performers as George Michael, UB40, Cher, Tina Turner, and the Pet Shop Boys, amongst many others.
Probably the best known of the other main variant, Thirkill, is Sir Henry Thirkill (1887-1971), the nuclear physicist, who was a Fellow, Tutor and Master of Clare College, Cambridge University.
Oh! And what about the answer to the question above; "Am I related to Angela Thirkell?" Well, only very distantly! My computer calculates that her second husband, George Lancelot Allnut Thirkell, is my fifth cousin!!
In 1881 the surname Thirkell was mainly to be found in the north of England. Of the 398 occurrences, 157 were in County Durham and 125 in Yorkshire. There were 40 Thirkells in Surrey and 36 in Kent. The remainder were Lancashire (18), Middlesex (11), Northumberland (7) and one each in Pembrokeshire, Isle of Wight, Essex and Cheshire. There were 128 Thirkill individuals recorded of which 111 were in Yorkshire.
Of the 16 Thirkeld entries, all but one were resident, at the time, in Northumberland (12) and Durham (3). There were 11 Thirkle entries of which 10 were in Northumberland (9) and Durham (1).
I have also checked the frequency of the names in the 1911 Census and found 630 Thirkells, 214 Thirkills, 13 Thirkelds and 21 Thirkles. The distribution of the names were similar to that of the 1881 Census with most Thirkells resident in County Durham, Yorkshire and Kent and the Thirkill variant almost exclusively in Yorkshire (184 out of 214). All of the instances of Thirkeld (13) were in Northumberland, as were nearly all of the Thirkles (19 out of 21).
In 1881, none of the names were found in Scotland and only one Thirkell in Wales. By the 20th century I know that a small number of Thirkells had moved north to Scotland and west into Wales.
Distribution of the name
I know of, but have little information about, emigrants to the USA. There are also likely to be emigrants from the UK to Canada and South Africa and would welcome any information.
* GRO Indexes for England and Wales Births 1837 to 2009
* GRO Indexes for England and Wales Marriages 1837 to 2009
* GRO Indexes for England and Wales Deaths 1837 to 2009
* GRO Indexes for Scotland Births 1855 to 2001
* GRO Indexes for Scotland Marriages 1855 to 2001
* GRO Indexes for Scotland Deaths 1855 to 2001
I have also extracted the information from the National Probate Calendars for England and Wales 1858 to 2001 (wills and administration).
I have extracted all of the surviving parish register entries for Northumberland and Durham and some from other parts of England.
I have access to the 1841 to 1911 Censuses.
I would be interested in hearing from any male Thirkell who has also had their Y-chromosome analysed, or is interested in doing so.