Ainsworth Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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The Ainsworth surname comes from the place-name Ainsworth near Manchester in Lancashire. The place-name derives from the Old English personal name Aegen plus worth, meaning “homestead” or “enclosure” – hence “Aegen’s homestead.”
Other worth-ending place-names, either in Lancashire or Yorkshire, that have become surnames are Duckworth, Illingworth, Unsworth and – probably the best known – Woolworth.

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England. The earliest recorded person to use the surname Ainsworth was Robert of Ainsworth, born in Ainsworth about 1170, who was named in a charter in 1212. He and subsequent Ainsworths were landed gentry, probably of Norman descent.
Lancashire. The John de Aynesworth name appeared in 1370 in Baines’ History of Lancashire.  In 1396 John Ainsworth married into a wealthy family from Blackburn. By this marriage the manor of Pleasington became an Ainsworth holding.
Henry Ainsworth, born in Pleasington in 1571, was a separatist clergyman who was driven from England by the persecution of the Brownists. He ended up in Amsterdam where he became pastor of a new congregation there. Meanwhile the main Ainsworth line at home died out sometime after the Civil War.
Peter Ainsworth, born in Prestwich, lived out his adult life in Bolton. He was a master bleacher. His son Peter was a pioneer of chemical bleaching and founded the Halliwelll bleachworks in 1739. These bleachworks prospered and Peter’s son, also Peter, later became very rich and was known as “the opulent bleacher.”
In 1801, a few years before his death, he purchased the Smithills Hall estate on Moss Bank with its ancient mansion and several coal mines. A booklet of the family, The Ainsworth Family of Smithills Hall, was published by the Friends of Smithills Hall in Bolton.
From Bolton too came Robert Ainsworth, the compiler of the well-used Latin-English dictionary of 1736. Thomas Ainsworth, a lawyer in Manchester in the early 1800’s, was a descendant of the Ainsworths of Tottington near Bury. His son, William Harrison Ainsworth, became a popular Victorian historical novelist.
Elsewhere. The Ainsworth name did extend outside of Lancashire. Thomas Ainsworth was a yeoman farmer in Swanton Morley in Norfolk during Elizabethan times, wealthy enough to send his son Henry to Cambridge University to study. Henry Ainsworth became a prominent Nonconformist clergyman and scholar. Ainsworth’s Book of Psalms went out to America on the Mayflower with the Pilgrim Fathers.

America. Ainsworths made it to America. Edward Ainsworth was born near Springfield, Massachusetts in 1652. Ainsworth descendants in America were to be found in Massachusetts and later in New York, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and in Iowa and Nebraska.

Laban Ainsworth of Jaffrey, New Hampshire holds the record as the longest serving pastorate in American history, a period of seventy six years from 1782 to 1858. Francis J. Parker’s 2009 book Genealogies of the Ainsworth Families in America traces these Ainsworths.

Another Edward Ainsworth was believed to have been sent over to America by his Uncle Daniel. The story goes that he was shipwrecked off the coast of Georgia and that he was the only survivor. A descendant Edward was a physician and moved to Claremont, New Hampshire in the 1760’s.

William Ainsworth was recorded as living in Virginia in the early 1700’s. Later there were six Ainsworth brothers who moved from South Carolina into Kentucky (where they were all married) and then south in the early 1800’s into Mississippi and Texas.

Australia. Alfred Ainsworth, a relation of the Ainsworth bleaching family, emigrated to Australia on the Caroline Agnes in 1852. He became a mining surveyor in the Victorian goldfields, a position he loved, and he carried on working into his nineties.

 

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Ainsworth in Lancashire.  Finding the place in history was somewhat complicated by the fact that it has always been called both Ainsworth and Cockey Moor.  The legal name of the parish church was “the Parish Church of Christ in Cockey, otherwise Ainsworth.”  In 1200 the village was referred to as “the ancient hamlet of Ainsworth.”  However, a writer in 1586 spoke of “Cockey, a wooden chapel set round with trees;” and early 17th century maps showed the place and called it “Cockey Chapel.”

At that time there was apparently not much in Ainsworth apart from the chapel.   The wooden chapel, probably a half-timbered Tudor building, was replaced with one of stone in the early years of the 17th century.

Ainsworth grew a bit at the time of the Industrial Revolution.  There are 18th and 19th century millworkers’ houses to be seen – very small row houses squashed together on the main street with tiny neat gardens in the front.   There was a very small mill in the village.  Ainsworth is now part of the town of Bury. 

The Three Peter Ainsworths, All Master Bleachers.  The first Peter Ainsworth, born in 1682, lived his adult life at The Holcroft near St.George’s church in Bolton. He was the first known bleacher of the family, a Master Bleacher at a croft near to the Ten Houses.   His had two sons, Peter and Richard.  Peter was apprenticed to his father at an early age and also became a Master Bleacher.  His other son Richard died abroad in Honduras in 1758.

The second Peter was the pioneer in chemical bleaching and founded Halliwell Bleachworks around 1739.  After his marriage he and his wife lived at Lightbounds House close to the bleachworks. He died in 1780 and was buried in the family vault on the south side of Bolton parish church of St. George’s.

It was the third Peter who became very rich from the bleachworks and was able to purchase the grand old mansion, Smithills Hall, at Halliwell.

Robert Ainsworth and His Latin Dictionary.  Robert Ainsworth was a lexicographer who compiled a famous Latin dictionary of 1736 that was the standard work for at least a hundred and fifty years and saw 24 authorized editions in England and two in America.

He was a friend of Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who mentioned their meeting in 1738 in his diary:

“I was much moved at the sight of Mr. Ainsworth, a man of great learning, above seventy, who, like old Simeon, was waiting to see the Lord’s salvation that he might depart in peace.  His tears and vehemence and childlike simplicity showed him upon the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The Ainsworth Family in America.  The first record of the Ainsworth family in America, the descendants of Edward Ainsworth who was born in Massachusetts in the 1650’s, was compiled by the printer Ambrose Ainsworth.  He had begun his printing apprenticeship in Ontario county, New York where his grandfather Amasa had moved to in the 1830’s. Ambrose later headed west with his trade to Council Bluffs, Iowa.  He completed his manuscript in 1919 at the age of eighty in the offices of his son Frank there.

It was his wish that family heirlooms be handed down and that the family records should continue.  The heirlooms included some red fox furs, wedding gifts to Hannah Ainsworth, and some plaid linen made by her in 1812 from flax grown on her father’s farm near Grauton, Connecticut.  Later there was a daguerreotype photograph of her taken in 1851.

He recorded that three Ainsworths fought in the Revolutionary War, one Ainsworth fighting at Bunker Hill and another being killed at the siege of Boston.  Popular male names in the family were Nathan, Luther, and Amasa.

Ainsworth, Iowa and Ainsworth, Nebraska.  Ainsworth, Iowa was named after Danforth Hurlburt Ainsworth.  He was an engineer on the Rock Island Railroad when it extended its tracks from the Mississippi to the Great Southwest in about 1858. Danforth and his wife Sarah donated 40 acres of their land for public use and the place was so named that year.

Ainsworth, Nebraska was named after Captain James Edward Ainsworth, a civil engineer of the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Railroad.  There are still 15 miles of track left on the line and there is a quaint dinner train that rides on those tracks.

Both Danforth and James were descended from Edward Ainsworth of Springfield, Massachusetts.

Alfred Ainsworth in Australia.  Alfred Ainsworth was the grandson of Peter Ainsworth, the prominent Lancashire bleacher.  His father Thomas had moved to Holland in the 1830’s where he had started a weaving school and modern bleachworks.  But Alfred, after growing up in Holland and England, decided to emigrate.  He departed with his wife Elizabeth on the Caroline Agnes for Australia in 1852.

He became a mining surveyor, basing himself at Alexandria in what was then still rough country in Victoria. Many of the early reefs in the more rugged areas were accessible only on foot. When roads were built his one concession to age was to drive his one-horse buggy.  His endurance became a local legend.  From Alexandria he continued his tireless travel to carry out surveys and gather statistics.

Ainsworth was fiercely loyal to the mountain districts and to the men with whom he worked there.  His writings, maps and drawings showed that he was highly literate.  His work had a ring of sincerity and conscientiousness and in practical mining matters his advice was always dependably accurate.  He died in 1920, aged 92 and working until the end, and was buried at his
beloved Alexandria.

Len Ainsworth and His Poker Machines.  Len Ainsworth had founded Ainsworth Consolidated Industries in 1933, primarily for the manufacture of dental equipment in Australia. Twenty years later an engineer at the company put it to the proprietor’s son that their factory had all the equipment necessary to build a prototype poker machine.  Len Ainsworth had never heard of a poker machine.  But he was soon convinced.  That year “The Clubman,” the first poker machine from the company that was to become Aristocrat Leisure, rolled off the production line in Sydney.

The legalization of poker machines in NSW in 1956 was a boon to the company.  And the granting of licenses for the firm to manufacture, sell and operate gaming machines in Japan and Las Vegas – the world’s largest poker machines markets -echoed this good fortune.  Aristocrat became the world’s second largest maker of poker machines worldwide.

However, in 1994, Len Ainsworth gave away the company he had spent a lifetime building. Diagnosed with cancer, he was expected to live no more than a year.  He therefore presented the company in nine equal shares to his seven sons and two wives (former and present), keeping nothing for himself.

Len defied the laws of chance and quietly recovered from cancer. The good news was that his doctors had decided he was going to live after all.  The bad news was that, like King Lear, Len was now shut out of his beloved business.

However, if anyone was expecting the Ainsworth family patriarch to retire quietly, they were wrong.  Len decided to try his luck one more time – launching a new company, Ainsworth Game Technology, in direct competition with his old one.  And, partly as a result, Aristocrat’s results have suffered.

 

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Henry Ainsworth was a prominent English Nonconformist clergyman and scholar.
Robert Ainsworth was a Latin lexicographer, author of the popular Dictionary of the Latin Tongue in 1736.
William Harrison Ainsworth was a 19th century English historical novelist.
Pug Ainsworth was an admiral of the US Navy during World War Two.

Select Ainsworth Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 3,000 in America (most numerous in Mississippi)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

 

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