Astle One-Name Study
with Astles, Astell & Astill
The ‘Astle’ distribution is in two distinct groupings. The largest follows the line of the river Trent, as it runs diagonally through South Derbyshire. The main concentration is in Derby and the older villages to the south, such as Wilne, Aston on Trent, Weston Trent, Repton and Walton on Trent.
As the river flows into East Staffordshire further significant groups are at Burton on Trent, Tatenhill and Barton under Needwood. The groups at Wolverhampton and Birmingham are smaller and a little detached but follow the same general line, and probably indicate some migration to the industrial centres.
The second major grouping is in Cheshire, concentrated around Chester and Aldford in the west, and Macclesfield in the east close to the hamlet of Astle from which the surname in Cheshire originates. There is a noticeable gap in the more rural centre of the county which appears to be filled by the ‘Astles’ (see below).
By 1901, although the general pattern is the same, there has been growth in Nottingham, Birmingham, Stockport and Worsley. Also the Astle name has become established in Yorkshire as it attracted miners from other areas. However Cumberland had only one Astle resident in 1901.
‘Astles’ are heavily concentrated in Cheshire, but more centrally than ‘Astle’ in the villages around Northwich, and also at Astbury and Congleton, bordering on North Staffordshire. There is no obvious link to the East Midlands, where Astle, Astell and Astill are prevalent. By 1901 the majority of ‘Astles’ are still in Cheshire but have graduated south to Nantwich. They have also established themselves at Leek in Staffordshire.
The alignment of the ‘Astell’ distribution is somewhat vertical, firmly established at at Nottingham and Leicester in the north, and with a scattering of smaller groups in the adjoining counties to the south. They are also well represented in London. The picture in 1901 is very similar, although the name ‘appears’ to have spread northwards, and the numbers in London have increased significantly.
Name Distribution in England & Wales
It is likely that in the East Midlands the name is derived from the Danish invaders who in 874 sailed up the River Trent and sacked the Mercian capital Repton (near Burton upon Trent). The Danes were led by four kings one of which was called Asketil, and subsequently these kings were allocated lands in a partitioned and occupied Mercia which corresponds to the later shires of Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. This was part of a larger area known as the Danelaw which was the extent of the Danish invasion.
The largest grouping of Astle families is still concentrated in a relatively small area of South Derbyshire and East Staffordshire, close to the River Trent. In the middle ages the name Astell although not common, was known in the East Midlands, and East Anglia. It was most prominent in South Leicestershire, North Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and London.
There is then a geographical gap to the Cheshire families of Astle and Astles. The surname in this area is most probably derived from the hamlet of Astle (previously Asthull). This gap closely correlates to the area of land which the Danes did not manage to subjugate when moving westwards. The Danes did however occupy areas of Cheshire which they accessed via the west coast, although this did occur later than the attack from the River Trent. It is therefore possible that both the Cheshire Astle(s) and those in the Danelaw take their name from the Danish Vikings.
The following maps compare the variant name distributions at the time of the 1851 and 1901 censuses. The size of the circles indicate the density of occurrences, with the total number for each census given at the bottom right of each map.
There is a clear similarity between the alignment of the ‘Astill’ and ‘Astell’ distributions. The ‘Astill’ distribution is however noticeably more compact. Leicester and Nottingham remain the focal points but with much less use of the name outside these counties. There is little doubt that with such similar spellings, these two name variants were prone to being misreported and or transposed.