Bailey Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Bailey Surname Meaning

The bailey or bailiff, from the Old French bailli, was a free man of importance for the lord of the manor. He was the supervisor of the peasants who worked on the land. The term was also later used as a public administrator of a district. The word baillie is still the common form for a chief magistrate or sheriff in Scotland. 

The Middle English baille, meaning “the outer wall of a castle” and giving us the Old Bailey in London, provides a possible alternative derivation, one who lived by this outer wall. And Bailey was and is also a place name in the Ribble valley in Lancashire.

Bailey Surname Resources on The Internet

Bailey and Baillie Surname Ancestry

  • from England and Scotland
  • to Ireland, America, South Africa, and Australia

England.  Many of the early Baileys came from Wiltshire:

  • John Bailey of Cricklade was a verderer of Bradon forest from 1409 until his death in 1436.
  • a Bayley family was first recorded at Bradford Leigh in 1523. They were to remain there as local gentry until the 1750’s.
  • the Bayley name also cropped up in the early/mid 1500’s at Trowbridge and later at Bromham and at Wingfield (where they were clothiers).
  • and John Bayley was a prosperous Salisbury merchant who became its mayor in 1577.

Other Tudor sightings of the Bayley name were in Shropshire (where William Bayllie was the sheriff of Shrewsbury in 1527), in Gloucestershire (at Wheatenhurst), and in Essex (at Woodford).

Bailey later became the preferred spelling and, by the 19th century, had spread widely across the whole country, with sizeable numbers in Yorkshire and Lancashire. An early Yorkshire Bailey was Christopher Bayley, a weaver, who was born in Almondbury in 1530.

John Bayley founded what was to become Wrekin College in Wellington, Shropshire in 1880. Telford in Shropshire was in fact the top area to find a Bailey in 1881; while in 1998 it was Stoke in nearby Staffordshire.

Scotland.  The Scottish spelling has generally been and remained Baillie, rather than Bailey.

Baillies of Lamington in Lanarkshire have said that they have a descent from Scottish king John Balliol, but no linkage has been shown. The first Baillie of this line, Sir William Baillie of Hoprig, was recorded in 1346 and he was granted the Lamington estate ten years later. These Baillies were later staunch supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots.

There were Baillie offshoots at Jerviswood and Mellerstain in Lanarkshire, at Monkton in Ayrshire, and also at Dochfour in the Highlands. George Baillie from the Dochfour branch set off for the Caribbean in the 1780’s and became a slave merchant. However, his business there collapsed in 1805.

A Baillie family acquired Polkemmet in West Lothian in 1620 and the house stayed with the family until the 1950’s.

Ireland. William Baillie of Ayrshire was granted lands in county Cavan in Ireland in 1610 as a result of the Ulster plantations.

He gave his name to the town of Baillieborough. Meanwhile Alexander Baillie came to county Down in 1636 where he secured lands at Ringdufferin. His descendants were resident at Ringdufferin House for the next two hundred years.

The Baily name also appeared in Ireland. The progenitor was the Rev. Lewis Baily, born either in Scotland or in Wales. His son Nicholas became an Irish landowner and MP for Newry. Later Bailys established themselves in Wexford.

America.  There were early Baileys in Massachusetts.

New England. Thomas Bayley from Wiltshire was an early settler in Weymouth, Massachusetts, arriving there in the 1630’s. A descendant Timothy Bailey purchased an island off Maine in 1750 which is now known as Bailey’s Island.

Nearby at Pemaquid Point was where John Bayley had stepped ashore in 1635 with his two children the day before his ship, the Angel Gabriel, sank during a severe storm. This John Bayley, a weaver and also from Wiltshire, made his home at Salisbury. The land that he owned, originally called Bayley’s Neck, is now known as Point Shore. Descendants migrated to Connecticut and to Maine.

Richard and James Bailey were two brothers, probably from Yorkshire, who came to New England separately, but both settling in Rowley, Massachusetts:

  • Richard arrived in 1638. His son Joseph, a deacon, settled in Bradford in Essex county. Later Baileys of this line had moved to New Hampshire by the Revolutionary War. One account has them as shoemakers there, another as silversmiths.
  • James came in 1640. Jacob Bailey, born in Rowley in 1731, departed with his family for Nova Scotia in 1779. There he became the Anglican clergyman at Annapolis Royal and embarked on a writing career that was to make him one of the early literary figures of Canada.

Elsewhere. Among the early Baileys in Virginiawere four William Baileys recorded and one Nicholas Bailey. All four of these Baileys were in the colony by 1620, although one of the William Baileys was killed by Indians in 1622.

An arrival from Wiltshire (from Bromham parish) was Joel Baily, a Quaker who crossed the Atlantic in 1682 on the Welcome with William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Joel also met his future wife Ann Short on the ship and they later settled in Chester county, Pennsylvania.

South Africa. Thomas and Ann Bailey emigrated from Yorkshire to the Cape colony in the 1860’s. Thomas became a successful businessman in Queenstown. His son Abe grew rich from his various mining interests and was made a baronet in 1918.

Sir Abe Bailey’s second wife Mary was a pioneer female aviator in the 1920’s.  His son John by his first wife married Winston Churchill’s daughter Diana, but they were late divorced. His son Derrick by his second wife was a decorated World War Two pilot and later a county cricketer with Essex.

Australia. William Bailey from Staffordshire was transported to Australia on the Matilda in 1791. On his release he bought land at St. Albans in NSW to farm. His son Henry was known as the squire of Cedar Farm. The original two-story cottage homestead there still stands.

John Bailey, a botanist in London, arrived in South Australia on the Buckinghamshire in 1838 and was the forebear of a remarkable family of Bailey botanists in Australia. John had been appointed the Curator of the colony’s botanical gardens.

His son Frederick became the chief botanist of Queensland in 1881 and was a prolific writer about Queensland’s flora. Frederick’s son John returned to South Australia as Director of the Adelaide botanical gardens in 1917.

Bailey Surname Miscellany

Baillies and Balliols.  In the account of the Baillies of Lamington inserted in the appendix to Nisbet’s Heraldry, it was stated that Alexander Baillie of Castlecarry, a learned antiquarian, was of the opinion that the family of Lamington was a branch of the illustrious house of the Balliols who were lords of Galloway and kings of Scotland.

The connection was claimed through an uncle of King John Balliol named Sir Alexander Balliol of Cavers. He was great chamberlain of Scotland in the reign of his nephew in 1292.

In the list of captives taken with King David II at the battle of Durham in 1346 was William Baillie, the first time that the name was found in written form. After his release William Baillie was knighted by the king in 1357 and granted a charter in 1368 for the barony of Lamington.  However, no linkage between the Balliols and Baillies has ever really been established.

John Bailey of Cricklade, Wiltshire.  In February 1409 the sheriff of Wiltshire was ordered to replace John Bailey as the verderer or guardian of Bradon forest, located near to Cricklade, on the ground that he was insufficiently qualified for the office.

But he continued to hold the position and apparently was still doing so at the time of his death in 1436. He was in 1427 MP for Cricklade.

John Bayley and Wellington College.  John Bayley, the son of a Lancashire mine worker, began his career as a pupil teacher in Cheshire and, despite his own lack of formal qualifications, gained a national reputation as an educationalist.

He started Wellington College in Wellington, Shropshire as an enterprise which would combine elements of the council board school with private sector ‘refinements.’

When Wellington College opened for business in March 1880 it did so with just five pupils, all of whom were educated in Bayley’s own semi-detached home on Albert Road and a rented property next door. Bayley’s creation met with immediate success and the unique ethos of today’s school, which became Wrekin College in 1921, owes much to its founder’s vision.

John Bayley was knighted for his educational work and his name lives on in Wellington. In 1920 he made a gift of a large timber building to the local ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 War The place is now known as the Sir John Bayley Social Club.

Early Baileys in Virginia.  Among the early Baileys in Virginia were four William Baileys recorded (although three may have been the same William Bailey) and one Nicholas Bailey:

  • William Bayley, gentleman, who came to Virginia with the ill-fated colonists of 1608. He apparently went back to England but returned in 1617.
  • William Bayly, who came to Virginia on the George in 1617 and was living in 1624 in West Shirley hundred where he left issue by his wife Mary of a son named Thomas who made his home in Prince George county.
  • William Bailey, who came to Virginia on the Prosperous in 1620 and was followed soon afterwards by his wife Mary and son Thomas (probably the same as the preceding family). This William died sometime in the early 1630’s.
  • and Nicholas Bailey, a brother of the foregoing William of 1620, who came to Virginia on the Jonathan in the same year and was followed in 1621 by his wife Amy.

Meanwhile another William Bailey, a bricklayer from Northamptonshire, had arrived in the colony with his wife on the Bona Nova in 1619. However, he was killed by Indians three years later.

Bailys of Pennsylvania.  Joel Bayl(e)y or Baily, a Quaker from Westbrook in Wiltshire, came to Chester county, Pennsylvania in 1682. He and his brother Daniel were thanks to William Penn – owners of much land in Pennsylvania, although Daniel never did make it to America to claim his share.

Joel held many public offices in Chester county. He had married Ann Short and had issue by her Mary, Ann, Daniel, Isaac, Joel, Thomas, John, and Josiah Baily. Most of the descendants of this line have used the Baily spelling of the name.

Timothy Bailey and Bailey’s Island.  Either Timothy Bailey or his wife Hannah was said to have purchased Bailey’s Island off Maine in 1750 for “one pound of tobacco and a gallon of rum.” They moved there that year with their children from their home in Hanover, Massachusetts.

They were in danger there at the time of the Indian wars. Following the Means massacre, the garrison at the upper end of Short Point on Bailey’s Island, was built to protect the people on the island from the Indians. In 1753 Timothy was appointed the Deacon of the Congregational Church at Harpswell.

It was said that Timothy was despised by the local Indian tribe. The Abanaki set him out to sea without oars. He came ashore in Wiscasset, which was where he was to spend the remainder of his days.

Bailey Names

  • Nathan Bailey was the foremost English lexicographer before Samuel Johnson.
  • Sir Joseph Bailey was a pioneer of the iron industry in South Wales in the early 19th century.
  • Sir Abe Bailey was a South African diamond tycoon, financier and politician.
  • Sir Donald Bailey was the English civil engineer who invented the Bailey bridge.
  • Beetle Bailey, begun in 1950 by Mort Walker, is the oldest comic strip in America still being produced.
  • David Bailey was the celebrated English photographer of the 1960’s.
  • F. Lee Bailey was a legendary defense attorney of many high profile trials in America.

Bailey Numbers Today

  • 111,000 in the UK (most numerous in Sussex)
  • 102,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 46,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Bailey and Like Surnames

These were status positions within the feudal position of that time – usually positions serving noble families, lords of the manor, or in the church.  Here are some of these status position surnames that you can check out.


Return to Main Page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *