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About the study

Welcome to a brief profile of my one-name study. If you are reading this you probably have an interest in the Thirkell surname, or one of its variants, and I hope that if that is the case you will get in contact.

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 €œroots€ 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.

Variant names

My main interest has, obviously, been my own surname, Thirkell, but I have included a number of phonetic spelling variations that I have encountered in parish registers, censuses and other documents. The main variants include Thirkill, Thirkeld and Thirkle, as well as more rare spellings such as Thurk-, -el, -elle, -hill, etc

Name origin

Most dictionaries of surnames seem to include a number of variants not included in my study such as: Thurkettle, Thurtell, Thorkell, etc.

The latest edition of The Penguin Dictionary of British Surnames (John Titford; 2009) tells us that the names are: "€œFrom 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 "€œmodern 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

I'€™m sometimes asked: "€œAre you related to Angela Thirkell, the novelist?€" Now, if you have read, or even heard of, Angela Thirkell, then you are probably "€œa person of a certain age"€! But, she is probably the best known person of the surname.

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 "€œJohnny"€ 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; "€œAm I related to Angela Thirkell?"€ Well, only very distantly! My computer calculates that her second husband, George Lancelot Allnut Thirkell, is my fifth cousin!!

Name frequency

I have used Steve Archer'€™s British Surname Atlas to analyse the frequency of my Thirkell surname, and variants, on the 1881 Census. The Census includes 398 Thirkell; 128 Thirkill; 16 Thirkeld; and, 11 Thirkle. There were a further 156 names which may be classed as variants including -all, -el, -hill, -il, -ille, and -well.

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

My study, so far, has been almost exclusively limited to the UK but I do have some information relating to the Tasmanian branch in Australia, and also an extensive family in New Zealand descended from Edward Thirkell, a master mariner from Sunderland in County Durham, who settled in Wellington.

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.


Up to now, my research has mostly been restricted to the UK and so the data that I have gathered reflects this. I have created databases of the births, marriages and deaths for the surname Thirkell, and the main variants, by extracting the relevant entries from the following:

* 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.


At present there isn'€™t an on-going DNA study but, as I am the last of the male line on my "€œbranch"€ of the extended family, I have had a 43-marker Y-chromosome analysis done. This test was performed by DNA Heritage and the results indicated a haplogroup of R1b3*. The detailed list of the chromosome marker repeats is stored in their online database.

I would be interested in hearing from any male Thirkell who has also had their Y-chromosome analysed, or is interested in doing so.