Attenborough Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Attenborough Surname Meaning

The Attenborough name is derived from the place-name Attenborough, originally meaning “at the fortified place,” in Nottinghamshire.  This village has an ancient history and was known in Saxon times as Addensburgh.

Attenborough Surname Resources on The Internet

Attenborough Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Nottinghamshire)
  • to Australia

EnglandToday the village of Attenborough lies within the borough of Broxtowe some five miles southwest of Nottingham town centre.  Nearby there is the Attenborough Nature Reserve that was opened by Sir David Attenborough in 1966.

Nottinghamshire.  The Attenborough surname was localized and did not travel very far from here.  Nottinghamshire accounted for almost half of all Attenboroughs in the 1881 census.  The town of Nottingham had the largest numbers, followed by Basford and Stapleford.

Stapleford had been the home, for close on 250 years, of the Attenborough family of film and broadcasting fame.  Richard and David’s father Frederick Attenborough had been born there in 1887, before moving to Leicester as the Prinicipal of University College.

Thomas Attenborough, born in 1869, was a coal miner from Greasley in south Nottinghamshire.  Two of his sons, also miners, died during the Great War – Thomas from TB after having been discharged from the army and William from shrapnel wounds in 1918 at the end of the war.

William Attenborough, born illegitimately, was twenty when he married in Greasley in 1877.  He was also a coal miner.  Somewhat earlier in 1864, John Attenborough, also illegitimate, had left Greasley and emigrated to Australia.

Derbyshire.  Nearby Derbyshire accounted for 20% of the Attenboroughs in the 1881 census.  They were mainly to be found in the town of Ilkeston some seven miles west of Nottingham.

Isaac Attenborough, who was born in Stapleford in 1760, moved to Ilkeston as a young man.  In 1797 he bought up five cottages, pulled down two of them, and erected stables on the site. He converted the other three cottages into the Sir John Warren Inn and his family lived there until 1878.

Isaac’s line ran to his son Mark, who took over his father’s inn in 1818, and then to Mark’s sons William and Tommy.  William became the landlord of the Horse and Groom Inn.  His younger brother Tommy was known locally as a cricketer and as a somewhat disreputable cattle dealer.

Australia.  The Attenborough numbers in Australia are around 470 today.  There were several 19th century arrivals.  

An early arrival was James Attenborough, a convict from Nottingham.  He was transported to Sydney on the Coromandel in 1803.  He later made his home in Hawkesbury. 

Robert Attenborough, the son of a Nottingham book-keeper, came to Melbourne on the Maitland in 1849.  And three Attenborough brothers – George, Joseph and John, farm laborers from Nottinghamshire – arrived in Adelaide on the Navarino in 1851.  George arrived with his wife Sarah.  They settled in Balhannah where they raised six children.  

David Attenborough’s Family Ancestry

David Attenborough’s grandparents and parents were upwardly mobile – from his grandfather who was a successful baker in Stapleford and from his father who was a university Principal in Leicester.  Just click below if you want to read more about this story:

Attenborough Surname Miscellany

William Attenborrow’s House.  William Attenborrow was a prosperous farmer in Stapleford, Nottinghamshire in the early/mid 1700’s.  James Choulerton, who was born in Stapleford in 1860 and wrote about the town, had this to say about his house:

“This house is unique for the time as it has the only inventory which mentions any stairs.  The usual method of reaching the upper chamber of a house or cottage had been by means of a ladder placed against the edge of the boarded upper floor.”

The Death of Tommy Attenborough.  Even at the age of 70 in 1903 Tommy Attenborough still enjoyed turning over his arm and taking up his bat.  He seemed happy and content, living with his daughter Ada Annie and son-in-law Herbert Nicholson in Ilkeston. However, he later broke a finger and probably never played cricket again.

Perhaps his domestic harmony made more shocking and sensational what happened on January 21st, 1907.

While the rest of the household slept, Tommy came downstairs, went into the kitchen, took a carving knife and cut his throat with fatal consequences. He was found in the morning, dead and cold lying by the back door, by his son-in-law Herbert.

Robert Attenborough – from Nottingham to Australia.  His father Thomas Attenborough, born in 1798, was a book-keeper in Nottingham.  His mother Mary Ann died in 1846 when Robert was twenty-four years old, his father a few years afterwards.

His father was not wealthy.  He left to his sons John and Robert seven pounds each, as well as his wearing apparel.  Robert decided to emigrate with a wife Hannah.  They departed for Melbourne on the Maitland in 1849.

On arrival, he made his home in East Melbourne.  What happened to Hannah afterwards is not apparent.  But Robert did marry again, to Mary Ann Lockhart, around 1852.  They were the parents of four children.


Attenborough Names

  • Richard Attenborough was the acclaimed international actor (in films such as BrightonRock in 1948 and Jurassic Park in 1993) and director (in films such as Oh! What a Lovely War in 1969 and Gandhi in 1983).
  • David Attenborough is a British conservationist and TV producer, best known for his Life Series programs with the BBC.  

Attenborough Numbers Today

  • 1,100 in the UK (most numerous in Nottinghamshire)
  • 700 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Attenborough and Like Surnames  

Some surnames have originated from the English Midlands – the swathe of countryside which covers such counties as Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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