Surname Origins

Swalwell does not appear in many of the surname dictionaries. Where it is found, it is usually described as a locational surname and is linked to Swalwell, near Gateshead in Durham. This is the only place in the modern gazetteers of England that is known as Swalwell.

Certainly, based on the 1881 Census data for England & Wales the strongest concentration of the surname is in County Durham.  It seems a reasonable assumption that the link with the place Swalwell is probably true.

The issue with reaching that conclusion, however, is that modern distribution does not necessarily reflect the original source or early distribution of a surname. To move to an earlier pattern of distribution the decision has been made to map the location of male marriages because they act as an indicator of:

  • household information
  • the establishment of breeding populations
  • the continuation of the surname
  • the source of genetic links

Of course, this is by no means a perfect method as the couple may well have married in the bride’s parish rather than where their household was formed but as one indicator of distribution patterns I think it works.

A total of 512 marriages have so far been plotted. Only those marriages where the parish of marriage has been identified have been included so the intention is to update this map periodically as more parishes are identified. In addition, the identified parish has been plotted using its “ancient parish” as identified by the Family Search wiki. This was done to avoid the distorting effect of the creation of new parishes that can suggest populations of name bearers are less contiguous than they truly are.

The result of this exercise again shows that County Durham dominates the distribution with the areas of Gateshead, Durham City, Pittington, Hart and Billingham being the most significant. In terms of distance this would represent a maximum migration of about 35 miles from the hypothesised source of the name.

There may be an alternative source for the name though. The Historical Gazetteer of England’s Place names describes Swalwell as an alternative historical name for Swallowhill, a hamlet in the parish of Darton in the West Riding of Yorkshire. This place is normally linked to the Swale surname, however, but to date only two early references to Swalwell or its potential variants can be found here.