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About the study

The Whitfield name is a locational topographical one - that is to say it derives from a specific place or places called Whitfield (or similar). . The surname is of possibly Danish or Olde English derivation from "hwit", meaning white or in this context, chalky and "feld", which has the opposite meaning to the modern "field". It describes "open country", or "land free from wood". Thus it means  "the white plain".


Variant names

The name is recorded in various forms in the British documents including "Whitefield" (pronounced Whitfield), Whytfield, Whitfeld, Whitfeild, Whitefeld and Witfeld. Sometimes  the name is seen without the "h"' 

Name origin

 There are several possibilities for the locational origin of the name with Whitfield place names in the counties of Derbyshire, Kent, Northamptonshire, Northumberland and Gloucestershire, and from others called Whitefield in Lancashire and the Isle of Wight. The last mentioned place, recorded as "Wicfeld" in the  Domesday Book of 1086, derives its first element from the ancient word "wican", meaning to bend or curve, and the reference is to a recess in a neighbouring hill. There is also the  possibility of Wheatfield in Oxfordshire. Looking at each of these possibilities:


Whitfield is a hamlet in Derbyshire, England. It is located 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) south of Glossop town hall, south of Glossop Brook between Bray Clough and Hurst Brook. The urban area stretches about 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) up the hillside. Whitfield was one of the original townships in the ancient parish of Glossop, and in the manor. The Manor of Whitfield was conveyed in 1330 to John Foljambe. Though held with the manor of Glossop, the land in Whitfield was mostly not part of the Norfolk estate unlike most of the manor of Glossop. When it was enclosed by act of parliament in 1810 it was recorded as being 1,577 acres (6.38 km2). Included in Whitfield are the villages of Charlestown and Littlemoor.

The parish of Glossopp is the northernmost parish in Derbyshire and borders. It is to the east of Manchester and borders the Peak District National park. Whitfield is close to the border of, what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire.

There are no parish returns for Whitfields in Derbyshire from either FREEREG or Family Search .. This coupled with the facts that only 17 Whitfields are shown in Derbyshire in 1841 suggests that Whitfield in Derbyshire is not an originator of the Whitfield name. However across the county border with the West Riding there are a number of Whitfields (499 in the 1841 census for the whole of Yorkshire) so the possibility remains.

Whitfield Kent

Although there are a number of parish entries for Whitfield in Kent during the sixteenth century, there are three reasons to suspect that Whitfield in Kent is not a major originator of the Whitfield name: firstly my own family of Whitfields are known to have migrated to Kent from Whitfield in Northumberland (possibly via Sussex); secondly the parish of Whitfield was only so named in the seventeenth century having previously been called Bewsdsley; and lastly there are only 16 Whitfield names in the 1841 census for Kent.

Whitfield Northamptonshire

Whitfield is a village in the south-west of the county of Northamptonshire in the valley of theriver Great Ouse which forms the border with Buckinghamshire. The village of Whitfield is very small with a population of only 215 in 2001.

FREEREG shows 19 Whitfield parish entries for the sixteenth century whilst none are shown in Family Search. Also there are only 22 Whitfields in the County by the 1841 census. Therefore, whilst it remains a possibility, it is doubtful whether this place was an originator of the Whitfield name.

Whitfield Northumberland

This is a known originator of the Whitfield name from my own family research and I have traced back my branch of the Whitfield family to this origination.

The earliest accounts indicate that the clan established itself in Northumberland, England in the early 11th century. The village called Whitfield is in an area of SW Northumberland referred to as Tynedale. In the period directly before the Norman conquest Whitfield belonged to the Saxon Earls of Northumbria.  One of whom was created Earl of Huntingdon and Northampton as part of the defensive measures of 1065.  When his daughter Matilda married King David I of Scotland, Whitfield was listed among the possessions she brought to her husband. Prince ("Earl") Henry, their son, married the Countess Ada, by whom he had two sons who eventually succeeded to the Scottish throne as Malcolm III 1153-65, and William the Lion, 1165-1214.  Countess Ada is said to have resided at Eads Hall a fortified house that stood near the current road in one of the fields we farm.  There is documentary evidence that Whitfield belonged to her and that with her consent and that of her sons' she gave half of Whitfield to her chaplain, for 'one soar hawk' and half to the ancient abbey of Hexham for 'a pound of pepper'. This Chaplain was Robert who became known as Robert De Whitfield and hence was an originator of the Whitfield name.

Robert lived from about 1130.  He served as chaplain to Countess Ada, and received a grant of estate of Whitfield, Hexham, Northumberland, from Ada (Countess of Northumberland & mother of Malcolm IV and of William the Lion, Kings of Scotland; wife of Henry, Earl of Northumberland) circa 1165. This grant was confirmed by King William to Robert the chaplain and his heirs, and it remained for almost six centuries in the family, until in 1750 it was sold to William Ord. Circumstances surrounding the grant are not known. A large emerald from Countess Ada was in possession of Whitfield descendants for nearly 500 years.

Whitfield Manor was held by the annual payment of one silver mark to the Prior and Convent of Hexham. In the Black Book of Hexham Priory is an entry noting the division of the silver mark -- value 16 shillings -- between the sacristan and the cellarer.

 Robert was the father of Matthew De Whitfield who died about 1194 and by the 1500's the Whitfield's  were established in Northumberland. A great Hall and estates were built under the supervision of the first Richard Whitfield in Northumberland in the 1200s. Two Richards, a Robert, a Matthew and a John succeeded him. The subsequent heirs married in property to daughters of high standing and property worth and the estates were linked with significant Castles and estates in Northumberland, Durham and Cumberland. In the late 1400's and 1500's the family entities expanded from Northumberland into other areas of England particularly to Norfolk and Sussex. They became owners of lands and great estates and were famous for trading and commerce. Many were granted the title "Esquire" with their name signifying a member of the English gentry ranking just below knighthood or in its archaic form "a landed proprietor". (Owner of an estate.)

Whitfield Gloucestershire

Whitfield is a hamlet in South Gloucestershire. There are about 20 Whitfield parish entries shown for the sixteenth century in both FREEREG and Family Search for Gloucestershire.  In the 1841census there are 38 Whitfields shown. Whitfield in Gloucestershire remains a possible origin of a branch of the Whitfield family although it is only a village and not a parish.

Whitefield Isle of Wight

There are virtually no references to Whitfields in Hampshire during the sixteenth century and the 1841 census shows 44 Whitfields in the whole of Hampshire. It is not likely that the Isle of Wight is an originator of the Whitfield name.

Whitefield Lancashire

In Elizabethan times, Whitefield was mostly moorland and until the 19th century existed, along with the districts of Ringley, Unsworth and Outwood, as part of theManor of Pilkington.  Family Search shows 3 whilst FREEREG displays 8 Whitfield entries for the sixteenth century.  However, the 1841 census for Lancashire shows 427 Whitfield names which is a sizeable population. Since these could easily be from the known Whitfield families in Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire, it is not yet known whether Whitefield in Lancashire was an originator of the Whitfield name.

Wheatfield Oxfordshire

Although this parish in Oxfordshire is called Wheatfield there is a known origination of a Whitfield family from this location.

The demesne tenant of Wheatfield in 1086 was a certain Peter, who also held 1 hide in Lewknor of Robert d'Oilly  and was perhaps the Peter who was sheriff in the 1090s. He was one of Robert d'Oilly's knights and the ancestor of the De Whitfield family. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of Leonard de Witefelde. This was dated 1154, in the "Eynsham Cartulary", for Oxfordshire, during the reign of King Henry 11 of England, 1154 - 1189 and he may have been part of this family.

Members of his family are often found as witnesses to D'Oilly charters. Peter was succeeded by his son Robert (fl. 1130–5), and by his grandson Geoffrey, probably by 1154. In 1166 Geoffrey was returned as holding 2 hides, i.e. Wheatfield manor, of the honor. His son Robert de Whitfield was a royal justice and Sheriff of Oxfordshire from 1182 to 1185. Robert was dead by 1194 when Henry de Whitfield, his brother and heir, owed 60 marks as relief for Robert's lands. This Henry, who was buried in Thame Abbey, probably died in 1226, when his son Elias paid 25s. relief and did homage for his ¼-fee in Wheatfield. Elias, a knight, was still alive in 1243; his heir was Henry de Whitfield, who was dead by 1264, leaving a young son Elias. It was this Elias who was lord of Wheatfield in 1279. He also was a knight and lord of Bosmer manor in Fawley (Bucks.). He was still alive in 1289, but by 1300 had been succeeded by his son John, who was returned as lord of Wheatfield in 1316.

There were two John de Whitfields: the elder was probably the John de Whitfield who was an adherent of Thomas of Lancaster and was a Member of Parliament for the shire  and had died by c. 1345; the other, also a leading man in the county, was dead by 1361, when the manor was granted for life to the younger John's widow Katherine, who married as her second husband Lawrence de Lynford. On her death in 1390  Wheatfield was divided between her first husband's heirs. He had left two daughters,: Joan who married Hugh Streatley, evidently a younger brother, since he did not inherit the Streatley lands. He thus became lord of Wheatfield. Both Joan and Hugh were dead by 1390.

Meanwhile, in 1390, the other moiety of Wheatfield manor had been released to John de Whitfield's second daughter Elizabeth, she held a moiety of the manor and advowson until her own death in 1423. Her heir was her daughter Maud, the wife of John Barrow. Their half of Wheatfield followed the descent of that manor  until sold in 1571 by Edward and Anthony Barrow. In 1576 or 1577 it was bought by Thomas Tipping, and the two halves of Wheatfield were united.

 It appears that the Whitfield name may have ceased in Oxfordshire  from this point since there are no parish entries in the County in the sixteenth century shown by either FREEREG or Family Search.


I am left with the conclusion that it is likely the vast majority of Whitfields are descended from those in Northumberland although Gloucestershire and Lancashire remain a possibility and the concentrations around Shropshire (149 Whitfield names in 1841) and Berkshire (101 Whitfield names in 1841) requires further investigation.