Attree Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Attree Surname Meaning

The Attree name is a topographical one.  Some have it as coming from atte tree, describing someone who lived by a tree.

However, the more likely source, appearing in medieval records from the 13th century onwards, was atte Ree – meaning “at the stream” or “at the water.”

Attree Surname Resources on The Internet

Attree Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Sussex)
  • to South Africa and Australia

England.  Attree is a Sussex surname.  The Atte Ree name occurred in a number of Sussex townships, mostly in East Sussex.  Atte Ree became Attree about 1500.  By the time of the 1881 census, Sussex still accounted for around 45% of the Attree name in England.

Sussex.  A family of that name possessed land at Wivelsfield in East Sussex and held the Otehall manor there from the early 1430’s.

There was a long Attree presence nearby at Ditchling where they lived at Theobalds from the late 1500’s until 1823.  John Attree was a maltster there in the 1700’s.  As late as 1918 Attrees were still living at Ditchling, but no more.  Meanwhile other early Attree sightings in Sussex were at Newick and Fletching.

Many Attrees moved from the Sussex Weald down to the coast at Brighton.  By 1881 some 35% of the Attrees in Sussex were living in that town.

William Attree came from Ditchling and was made the first Clerk and Treasurer of the town in 1773.  He later started his law firm Attree & Son on Ship Street which – as Howlett & Clarke – is still functioning there, the oldest firm in Brighton.

William’s son Thomas was nicknamed in the 1820’s the “King of Brighton” because of the many public offices he held.  He become very wealthy and invested in real estate, being the developer of the Queen’s Park area of Brighton where his Italianate villa was completed in 1830.  This villa was later a Catholic boy’s school and stood until 1972.

No. 136 North Road in Brighton had been owned in Victorian times by an Attree family who were auctioneers and funeral directors. One of the family had been a solicitor for the Prince Regent; whilst a descendant helped form the funeral company of Attree & Kent, still active today.

John Attree, originally from Street in Sussex, ended up in Brighton in 1830.  A much earlier presence was Cephas Attree or Tree who was born there in 1746.  A later Cephus of his family was transported to Australia in 1808.

Elsewhere.  Attrees also moved northward into Surrey and onward to London:

  • they were to be found at Shere in the Dorking area of Surrey during the 1700’s; and James Attree arrived in Dorking from Crawley in the early 1800’s.
  • while Thomas Mill Attree left Ditchling for London in the 1860’s.  He acted as a solicitor in Lewisham.

South Africa. Jesse Attree from Newick in Sussex emigrated to Cape Town around 1845.  He then moved to Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State where he died at his Waterfall farm in 1906.  A later Jesse Attree of this family was killed in North Africa during World War Two while serving with the South African Tank Corps.     

Australia.  William Attree from Wivelsfield in Sussex went out to Australia in the 1860’s, settling in the small town of Stanley, Victoria.  He and his wife Eglah raised eight children there. 

Attree Family History in Sussex

My maternal great grandmother who died in Brighton in 1925 was an Attree and had ancestors extending back in Sussex to Wivelsfield in the 16th century.  But a number of them travelled far away.  Her grandfather was transported to Australia in the early 1800’s; her father spent twenty years in India; and two of her sisters and her eldest son crossed the Atlantic and moved to Uruguay.

Just click below if you want to read more about this family:

Attree Surname Miscellany

Early Attrees in Sussex.  During the 1400’s the Atte Rees were established at a number of villages in East Sussex.  John Atte Ree was the lord of the manor of Otehall in Wivelsfield in 1438 and Attrees were later to be found at Barcombe and Ditchling.  The line here began with John Attree who was born at Barcombe in 1530.

The Ditchling church and its churchyard has many Attree memorials.  Behind the church is the village museum which has an Attree room.  Attrees held a house called Theobalds (sometimes Tibbles) for over 250 years until its sale in 1823.

The East Sussex Record Office at Lewes has research work undertaken on this Attree family in the early 1900’s by Colonel Frederick Attree (his son Francis was killed on the Western Front in 1915).  Brian Attree is a more recent Attree researcher.

Attree Blacksmiths in the 18th Century

  • Jesse and Thomas Attree in Newick, Sussex
  • Thomas Attree in Bolney, Sussex
  • John Attree in West Firle, Sussex

Will of William Attree, Bricklayer of Ditchling, 1747.  I do hereby give all that my dwelling house, outhouse or shop garden orchard and appurtenances whatsoever to the same belonging also my croft or field thereunto adjoining unto my son John Attree of Ditchling, maltster, his heirs and assigns for ever but paying out of the said house and premises three pounds a year by quarterly payments to my daughter Elizabeth Fuller now wife of John Fuller of Ditchling, timber broker, and afterwards to her children till they shall be of the age of twenty one years and no longer.

Also out of my personal estate I give to the said Elizabeth Fuller the sum of seven pounds yearly to be paid quarterly and afterwards to her children.

I also bequeath to the said child or children the further sum of two hundred pounds to be equally divided amongst them but only in case my son-in-law John Fuller shall cause my said daughter Elizabeth to be admitted into the copyhold lands and premises lately purchased by him of John Turner and Susan Palmer, and then my executor shall deliver in John Fuller’s note of hand for one hundred pounds which he owes me fully cancelled and this being done my daughter Elizabeth shall receive but five pounds instead of seven pounds yearly out of my personal estate and the child or children but one hundred and fifty pounds instead of two hundred pounds.

And I do hereby appoint my son John Attree maltster whole and sole executor of this my last will and testament and do give him full possession of my real and personal estate to pay my just debts and funeral expenses and the residue I leave to him, his heirs, executors and assigns for ever.

Death of Thomas Attree, the One-Time “King of Brighton.”  The Brighton lives of William Attree and his son Thomas were covered in Anthony Dale’s 1990 book History of Howlett and Clarke.

Thomas had the longer and grander life.  He died at his ornate Italianate villa in Queen’s Park in 1863, aged eighty-five. Two days later he was buried in Ditchling churchyard, adjoining the tombs of his father and grandfather. A stained-glass window in his memory was inserted in the north wall of the nave of Ditchling church together with two others in memory of his son and daughter.

A mystery in his will concerned his wife Elizabeth. Reference was made to his niece Frances Attree who was keeping house for him at the time, but not to his wife.   She survived him but was not mentioned anywhere in the will.  It appears that she was suffering from some sort of mental illness which necessitated her being cared for in a nursing-home.  She in fact lived on another three years.

A second mystery in the will related to the size of his estate. The £28,000 which was raised from the sale of the house and land in Queen’s Park cannot have formed part of his estate as the latter was sworn at under £12,000 – a very small sum for a man of Thomas Attree’s standing.

Memorial for Captain Francis Attree.  On 21st August 1920 at 4.30pm a memorial was unveiled in Ditchling by Colonel Frederick Attree whose son Captain Francis Attree had been killed at Ypres in May 1915.  The Scouts formed two columns at the side of the memorial while Ditchling Fire Brigade paraded at the front of the procession.  Colonel Attree spoke of the debt owed to those who gave their lives:

“What we owe to those whose names are commemorated on the monument, and others like them, could not and should not be forgotten. They gave their lives in protecting this happy land from the unspeakable horrors of war.  It is therefore fitting and appropriate that their names should be held in perpetual remembrance.”

Wreaths of laurel and bay leaves and flowers were placed around the base of the column and it was noted that a ray of sunshine fell upon the column for a moment, immediately after the unveiling.

Reader Feedback – Attree in British Columbia.  So pleased to find this site.  I am a descendent of Otehall.  Now reside in British Columbia.

Joan Attree (

Attree Names

  • Thomas Attree was a property developer known as the “King of Brighton” in the 1820’s.  He developed the Queen’s Park area of Brighton.
  • Jake Attree, born in York, is a contemporary Yorkshire painter.
  • Michael “Atters” Attree is an English comic writer and performer.

Attree Numbers Today

  • 800 in the UK (most numerous in Sussex)
  • 400 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Attree and Like Surnames

These names are locational, describing someone who lived in those medieval times by the side of a bank, or by a barn or a lane or a shaw (which means a wood) or a wood and so forth.  Here are some of these locational surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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