Bannister Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Bannister Surname Meaning

The word Bannister as a stair rail did not appear in the English language until the 17th century. The Bannister surname instead is thought to have come from the French banastres, meaning a basket weaver. Another view is that it comes from balneator, the master of the bath.

In either case, there appears to be a Norman imprint to the name. A surname variant has been Banister.

Bannister Surname Resources on The Internet

Bannister and Banister Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Lancashire)
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England. Banastre appeared in 12th century Cheshire records where Richard Banastre was named as one of the barons of Chester. However, the main concentration of this name has been in Lancashire.

Lancashire  The name first appears here near present-day Wigan. Sir Adam Banastre was a landowner in the parish of Standish who led a local uprising, known as Banastre’s rebellion, in 1315. It failed and Sir Adam lost his head. Bannisters were then to be found in the dales of East Lancashire, in Altham (where they owned the manor) and in Barnoldswick.

Richard Banaster, formerly Banastre, was recorded at Bank Hall in Bretherton in the Visitation of Lancashire in 1533.  His became a Catholic recusant family.  The last of the line was Christopher Banaster, the High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1670, who died in 1690.

A Bannister family had settled at Park Hill in Pendle in the 1400’s. Nicholas Bannister was the magistrate who interrogated the so-called Pendle witches in the famous trial of 1612; and it was John Bannister who helped quell the Pendle forest riots of 1748.

Their farmhouse now forms the headquarters of the Heritage Trust in the northwest. This family produced Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four minute mile record in 1953. They were in the textile business, first in wool and then in cotton.  Since 1969 Michael and Ethne Bannister have run the country house Coniston Hotel in the Yorkshire dales.

The Bannister name also crops up in nearby mill towns such as Colne, Burnley, Rochdale, and Chorley. Billy Bannister, a footballer from Burnley, was good enough to play for England at the turn of the century. John Bannister was the late Victorian historian of Chorley.

Elsewhere  The Banastre name was also to be found in Berkshire from early times. These Banastres held the manor of Finchampstead in Windsor Forest. They became Banisters rather than Bannisters.  Their estate at Finchampstead was said to have been in the hands of this family for seven centuries until its sale in 1821.

A John Banester was bailiff of the Nether Inn in Eastbourne in 1495. Later Bannister references in Sussex were in Fletching near Uckfield, Ringmer, and in Beeding and Steyning.  John Bannister of Steyning who died in 1825 left three indigent sons – Saxe, John William and Thomas – who sought success by promoting colonial emigration, first in Canada and then in Australia.

The Bannister name also cropped up in Lincolnshire (Bourne and Sleaford), in Suffolk (Kenton), and in Essex (Doddinghurst).

America. The Banister spelling primarily came to America.

New England.  Early arrivals were:

  • Christopher and Jane Banister in Marlborough, Massachusetts.  Andrew Banister from this family ended up in Hawaii in the 1850’s.
  • and Thomas and Sarah Banister who came to Boston around 1685. Their son and grandson set themselves up as merchants in Newport, Rhode Island.  Banister’s house and Banister’s wharf remain from this colonial time.

Virginia and the South.  The Rev. John Banister arrived in Virginia in the late 1670’s and spent fourteen years collecting specimens of plants and insects and sending them back to England. Although he himself met with an untimely death, his son John built the family home at Battersea near Petersburg and was a patriot commander during the Revolutionary War.

Another Virginia line started with the birth of Burrel Banister there in the 1770’s and went via Kentucky and Indiana to Banister Hollow in Camden county, Missouri. The Banisters who arrived there in the 1840’s were apparently all musicians. Two sons, John and Will Banister later took off for Fort Worth, Texas.

Balaam Banister was first recorded in the 1800 census, aged around 24, at Abbeville in South Carolina. He migrated from there to Georgia and Kentucky before settling in Louisiana. Burrell, thought to have been his brother, moved to Kentucky and then in 1811 to Indiana when it was still Indian territory. There were also related Banister lines, according to DNA testing, elsewhere in South Carolina, in Tennessee, and later in Texas.

A Bannister family from South Carolina were early settlers in Talladega county, Alabama in the 1830’s. Edward Bannister’s bible is still held by one of his descendants.

Canada. The first Bannister in Canada seems to have been of Irish origin, a John Bannister who settled in Trinity, Newfoundland in the 1780’s. Thomas Bannister arrived in 1810 from England and settled as a farmer in Elgin, New Brunswick.

Another Bannister in New Brunswick, who came in the 1820’s, was Edward Bannister.  He was Afro-Caribbean from Barbados.  His son Edward, born in New Brunswick in 1828, made a name for himself in America as an oil painter in the French Barbizon style.

In the 1850’s William Bannister from Suffolk started his farm in Vanessa, Ontario. His descendant Mark Bannister is still growing tobacco on that land today.

Australia. George Bannister was a convict on the first fleet which arrived in Australia in 1789.

Forty years later, Captain Thomas Bannister arrived on the Atwick from Steyning in Sussex in greater style, with his own cabin and three servants to attend him. He became the first European to explore the area now known as the Williams district in Western Australia. Thomas was the brother of Saxe Bannister, the controversial first Attorney General of New South Wales.

Joseph Bannister arrived from Lincolnshire in 1853 in search of gold in the Victorian goldfields.

New Zealand.  A Bannister family came on the Bolton in 1840 from Dudley in the Black Country (where William Bannister had been manager of Lord Ward’s limestone works).  His son Edwin became a farmer in Johnsonville near Wellington.

Bannister Surname Miscellany

Early Bannisters.  An ancient pedigree of this family, preserved in a petition on the rolls of Parliament, began with Robert Banastre who held Prestatyn, one of the hundreds of Flintshire, under Robert de Ruelent. 

Robert, the son of Robert Banastre, withdrew with all his people into Lancashire where they were found holding extensive possessions under the Earls of Chester.  Bank Hall was for centuries the manorial residence of the Banastres or Banisters, lords of the manor of Bretherton.

Banastre’s Rebellion.  The Banstre rebellion of 1315 was a rising directed against Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and his favorite, Sir Robert Holland.  Sir Adam Banastre was the leader of the insurgents.  They all met at Wingates in Westhoughton and took an oath to live and die together.  

Soon the party set forth for Wigan, gaining adherents on the way.  They took Clitheroe castle, laid siege to Liverpool castle extracting ransom, and later captured Preston.  But there the sheriff, acting on behalf of the Earl of Lancaster, arrived with 300 men and utterly defeated the insurgents.  

Sir Adam Banastre and a companion, after hiding in the woods and moors for a week, were betrayed by the man in whose house they had taken refuge.  Another account states that there was a final struggle in a barn where Banastre made a stout resistance before being captured.  He was taken to Leyland Moor and executed.

The Banisters of Finchampstead.  From about 1100, the manor of Finchampstead in Berkshire was held by Sir Alard Banastre and his descendants.   Cousins of this family lived in the sub-manor of Banisters which was supposedly given to them as a reward for betraying the Duke of Buckingham to Richard III in 1483.

Banister House, built during the reign of Charles II, has the inscription of J.B.H. 1683 over the porch.  These initials represent John and Hannah Banister.  John held office as the regarder of Windsor Forest in 1695.  The last Banister, also named John, died childless in 1821 and the estate was sold.

The Death of John Banister.  In 1692 the naturalist John Banister travelled southwest to the Roanoke river to collect specimens.  With him was a woodsman Jacob Colson.  These two were undoubtedly part of a larger party of explorers, perhaps accompanying William Byrd inspecting his land on the lower Roanoke river at about this time.

Banister strayed from the group to collect plants along the river and Colson, thinking he was a wild animal, shot him dead.

John and Will Banister – from Banister Hollow in Missouri to Fort Worth in Texas.  In 1867 John Banister – at the tender age of thirteen – and his brother Will decided to leave their home in Banister Hollow, Missouri and set out for Texas in search of their father.

They had no map but seemed to have found their way by asking passing travellers about how and where to cross the rivers and how to avoid danger from Native Americans.  They journeyed nearly six hundred miles alone, armed with only a single rifle, a small amount of lead and powder, and a bag of Banister Hollow cornmeal.  Four months after leaving Banister Hollow, the brothers arrived in Fort Worth, Texas and were befriended there.

John Banister went on to be a Texas Ranger and later a sheriff in Santa Anna, Texas.  On his death in 1918 his wife Emma succeeded him as sheriff, the first woman sheriff in the state of Texas.

George Bannister To and From Australia.  George Bannister was one of three youths who were convicted  at the Old Bailey in London in 1784 for the theft of clothing (a petticoat, cloak, gown, and a pair of stockings) from a house in Millbank.

A small girl had seen one of the boys getting out of the window with the clothes under his arm.  The three boys were traced through their tracks in the snow.  Bannister said that he had gone to look for his mother’s ass and had been running along the river bank to warm himself when he heard the cry of “stop thief.”  He was found hiding behind some willows.  He said he had taken shelter there from the storm.

He was at first sentenced to Africa.  But then his sentence was changed and he was on the first fleet to Australia.  On his arrival there, he had a brief liaison with a fellow convict Ann Forbes which produced a daughter Sarah.  He served out his sentence on Norfolk Island.

He subsequently appeared as a freeman in 1794 in Port Jackson, NSW.  No later record has been traced.  As a sailor he would have had little difficulty in obtaining a working passage on a ship leaving the colony.

Ethne Bannister and the Coniston Hotel.  The Bannisters had bought the 1,800 acre estate in Craven in the Yorkshire dales in 1969.  Their first decision was a heart-breaking one: the old hall, an early Victorian pile with 100 yards of frontage, had to be completely demolished.  It was ridden with dry rot and might have fallen down of its own accord.

But Ethne’s husband Michael was used to making tough decisions.  His family had for generations been in the textile business, first in wool and then cotton, and had built up a major business in East Lancashire. However, by the late 1960’s, the writing was on the wall for British textile manufacturing and the decision was made to move into the retail side of the business.

That business acumen was also put into play at Coniston Gold.  Although the old hall was demolished, all the wonderful old stone, laboriously transported by horse and cart from Halifax in the 1840’s, was carefully stored.  They then built a new house overlooking the lake, much smaller but much more elegant.  Because the old stone was used, it is very difficult to tell that the house is just thirty years old.

Ethne’s three sons grew up to have very different careers. Nicholas became a banker and went to New York.  Richard took over the retail textile business in Colne.  And the youngest Tom, who went to the Royal Agricultural College, came home with an eye for change.  Tom today manages the hotel complex at Coniston.

Reader Feedback – Bannisters in Australia.  A Lieutenant Bannister became famous in Western Australia for the exploring the route from Frederickstown (now Albany) to Perth.  I read elsewhere that a branch of the family left Lancashire for Ireland.  I can find very little substantiation for this.  But the Scottish Tartan Authority is quite unequivocal – these Bannisters wear the county Carlow tartan.

Robert Bannister (

Bannister Names

  • Sir Adam Banastre was the Lancashire landowner who led Banastre’s rebellion (with unfortunate results) in 1315.
  • Richard Banister from Lincolnshire has been called the father of British opthalmology. In 1622 he published the first good clinical description of glaucoma.
  • Joseph Bannister was a well-known 17th century pirate who was captured and executed in Jamaica in 1687.
  • Charles Bannister was a well-known actor and singer on the London stage in the 18th century.
  • Roger Bannister was the first man to break the four minute mile record in 1953.
  • Jo Bannister the novelist was born in Rochdale, Lancashire.

Bannister Numbers Today

  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in Manchester)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in South Carolina)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Bannister and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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