Barclay Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Barclay Surname Meaning

Berkeley and Barclay as surnames both derived from the place-name Berkeley (meaning birch wood) in Gloucestershire. It was a Norman lord who took his name from this place and built Berkeley castle there.

The Berkeley name reached Scotland by the 12th century, a Berkeley having, it was said, joined other Normans who had headed north to Scotland at that time. Walter de Berkelai was Chamberlain of Scotland in 1165.  The Berkeley spelling changed to Berclay and then Barclay during the 15th century.  In America the Barclay and Barkley spellings are found.

Barclay Surname Resources on The Internet

Barclay and Berkeley Surname Ancestry

  • from NE Scotland and England
  • to Russia, America and Canada

Scotland. The Berkeleys were granted lands at Towie near Turiff in Aberdeenshire by the Scottish king in the 12th century. The family was to remain there.

“In the early days of violence, there was a black day when a nunnery was plundered by the Towie Barclays. Following this event, Thomas the Rhymer wrote the following lines: ‘Towie Barclay of the Glen, happy to the maids, but never to the men.’ The curse was said to haunt the male heir. It was a belief so strongly held that in 1755 it was given as a reason for the heir’s sale of Towie Barclay castle.”

The main Barclay lines were those of Towie and Gartly and Mathers.

One later Barclay Mathers line established itself at Urie near Stonehaven in Kincardineshire. Its first laird, Colonel David Barclay, had been a professional soldier serving abroad who, on his return, became a Quaker. His son Robert published a Quaker manifesto in 1659 when he was just twenty seven and he was friends with all the leading Quakers of his day.

The last laird of Urie, Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce, was known as the Great Pedestrian. There were many tales of his walks over the Scottish hills. His most famous record, accomplished in 1809, was that of walking one thousand miles in one thousand hours.

A three Volume History of the Barclay Family appeared over a ten year period beginning in 1924.

England. David, the second son of Quaker Robert Barclay, left Urie and went to London where he became a wealthy merchant. His second wife was the daughter of John Freame whose premises on Lombard Street became a banking center. The name Barclays was connected to this business in 1736 when David’s son became a partner. Barclays Bank became known as the Quaker bank.

The subsequent dynasty of bankers begun by John Barclay was reinforced by marriages with other Quaker banking families:

  • John’s grandson Robert marrying Elizabeth of the Quaker Gurney family
  • their second son Joseph marrying Mary of the Leatham banking family
  • Robert (who formed Barclay & Co in 1896) marrying Elizabeth Buxton (whose mother was a Gurney)
  • and there were even some Barclay marriages with the Quaker Lloyds of Birmingham.

The Barclay family involvement with Barclays Bank continued well into the 20th century for three further generations until the last Barclay office-holder, David William Barclay.

The Barclay brothers, David and Frederick, were born in London in 1934 to Scottish parents, their father being a travelling salesman. They began building their business empire in the 1970’s which has extended into media, retail and property. In 1993 they bought the island of Brecghou, one of the Channel Islands, as a tax haven and built their own mock-Gothic castle there.

Russia. In 1621 two Banff merchants, John and Peter Barclay, moved to Riga on the shores of the Baltic where they became silk merchants and burghers. Some of these Barclays settled in Oslo; others stayed in Riga. Peter Barclay de Tolly served as mayor of Riga in the 18th century.

His grandson Michael distinguished himself in the Russian army and was given command of the troops in 1810 when Napoleon invaded. His “scorched earth” policy of retreating and hibernating forced Napoleon into his horrific retreat from Moscow. After the war the Czar elevated him to Field Marshal Prince Michael Barclay de Tolly. A statue to Michael Barclay de Tollycan be found in Riga today.

America. Thomas Barclay came to America from Scotland in 1708 and he was chaplain of the Albany fort in upstate New York. His son Henry moved to New York City in the 1740’s and was made rector of Trinity church. Henry’s son Thomas was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War. His estate was confiscated and he departed for Nova Scotia. However, he lived out the last years of his life in Manhattan.

Robert Barclay, a Quaker, came via Ireland to North Carolina in the 1750’s. His descendants, many of whom were Barkleys, moved onto Kentucky, Missouri and Texas. Alben Barkley, who was born in a log cabin in Kentucky and became Truman’s Vice President in 1948, was apparently the descendant of another Robert Barclay living in Rowan county, North Carolina in the late 1700’s.

Canada. John and Mary Barclay from Perthshire, accompanied by their children and his wife’s Pitcairn family, departed for Quebec in 1842. They returned to Scotland a year later but then left for good to Quebec in 1859. Royce Miller’s 1971 book History of the Barclay Family told their story.

Barclay Surname Miscellany

Berkeleys from England to Scotland.  It was from the manor of Berkeley in Gloucestershire that the Norman Roger de Berkeley took his name. The castle of Berkeley – in whose dungeon Edward II died – was started by his sons and completed by his grandson.

This family is said to have provided the Berkeleys who went north and prospered as Barclays in Scotland. Family tradition has John de Berkeley accompanying the Scots Queen Margaret north in 1069.  The Barclays in Scotland then descended from his three sons, Walter, Alexander and Richard. Another suggestion has been that the de Berkeleys came much later in 1124, following in the train of Maud, wife of David I of Scotland.

And some doubt that there was a connection at all.  G.W.S. Barrow wrote in 1973:

“There are surely more published histories of the Barclays than of any other Scottish family. The Barclay histories published in this century are worse than those published in the 18th and those in turn are distinguished for the low level of their medieval scholarship.

It has been assumed, on no concrete evidence, that the Scottish family of Barclay (de Berchelai etc.), which first appears at the end of Malcolm IV’s reign in the persons of Robert and Walter de Berkeley, must be a branch of one or other of the two Anglo-Norman families of de Berkeley of Berkeley in Gloucestershire.  Despite this assumption, it has never been possible to point to a single piece of evidence which would link the Scottish and English families.” 

Barclays of Towie and Gartly.  Sir Patrick Barclay, Baron of Towie, was described as “Chief of the Barclays in Scotland” in a document dated sometime in the 1460’s.  This document also alluded to the marriage of the house of Towie to a daughter of Gartly and that Sir Patrick included the Gartly insignia in his coat of arms.

Sir Patrick in fact married Catherine Barclay of Gartly, a branch of the Barclays that had dated back to the late 14th century.  They had two sons – John who succeeded to Towie and William who inherited Gartly.

Barclay Memorials in Riga.  In 1621 John and Peter Barclay, merchants of Banff, wished to settle in Rostock in Livonia.  Sir Patrick Barclay, Baron of Towie, signed a letter of safe conduct in their favor – a letter that was handed down in the family and was last held by Auguste Julie Barclay de Tolly who was born in Riga in 1863 and married Baron Edward Sass.

The most famous of these Barclays in Riga was the Russian commander Prince Michael Barclay de Tolly of the Napoleonic Wars.  A statue to him was unveiled in Riga in 1913.  However, the statue disappeared during the evacuation in 1915 and an empty pedestal stood in its place for many a long year.  Finally a replica statue of the commander was put up in Esplanade Park on a public vote in 2001.

Robert Barclay of Rowan County.  Robert Barclay was born in 1717 in Dublin. He was apparently of the Ury and Mathers line, his father, a Quaker, having moved to Dublin five years earlier to manage the family’s shipping interests there.  John Barclay operated two ships, the Barclay Frigate and the Diana, which traded wheat to Barbados.

Robert came to Rowan county in North Carolina sometime before 1755, as that was the year that the congregation at Malapan in New Jersey, formerly Quakers, had gone to North Carolina to start a Baptist church.  Some of the children of Robert Barclay were buried in their churchyard and it is presumed that he was too.

Robert was granted a large land plot of 700 acres in Rowan county in 1761 which he had expanded to 900 acres by 1778, as well as acquiring land in Kentucky.  He grew weaker as he got older.  His will of 1786 stated that he is weak in body but strong in mind, but that he was not able to sign the will, marking it instead because of his incapacity with an “X.”

Captain Robert Barclay Allardyce’s Day of Glory.  The Times, which usually carried little in the way of general interest news, was emboldened on July 14, 1809 to print the following report on the exploits of Captain Robert Barclay Allardyce.

“The gentleman on Wednesday completed his arduous pedestrian undertaking, to walk a thousand miles in a thousand successive hours, at the rate of a mile in each and every hour.  He had until four o’clock P.M. to finish his task; but he performed his last mile in the quarter of an hour after three with perfect ease and great spirit, amidst an immense concourse of spectators.

One hundred to one odds were offered on Wednesday; but so strong was the confidence in his success, that no bets could be obtained. The multitude of people who resorted to the scene of action, in the course of the concluding days, was unprecedented. Not a bed could be procured on Tuesday night at Newmarket, Cambridge, or any of the towns and villages in the vicinity, and every horse and every species of vehicle was engaged.

Captain Barclay had a large sum depending upon his undertaking. The aggregate of the bets is supposed to amount to £100,000.”

Over the 42 days of this exercise, his weight dropped from 13 stone four pounds (84 kg) to 11 stone (70 kg).

History of the Barclay Family.  A three-part history of the Barclay family was written by Charles W. Barclay, Hubert F. Barclay, and Alice Wilson Fox. It appeared over a 10-year period, with Part I being published in 1924.  It was a history from 1066 to 1924 and concentrated upon the arrival of the progenitor in the wave of feudal lords who accompanied Duke William of Normandy in 1066.

Part I therefore concentrated upon the settlement of Roger de Berchelai in England and upon his descendants and their activities in Gloucestershire through the late medieval period.

Part II appeared in 1933 and concentrated upon the Scottish line. This second volume has chapters on the Gartley, Towie, Brechin, Mathers, Knockleith, the Russian De Tolly line, the Collairnie line, and finally the Barclays of the west of Scotland, including Ardrossan, Kilbirnie, Crawford-John, Ladyland and Pierston lines.

Part III appeared in 1934 and completed this study of the Barclays with chapters on Colonel David Barclay, 1610-1686; Robert Barclay the Apologist; the Urie line; David Barclay of Cheapside; the Barclays of the Bank; and the senior line, the Barclays of Bury Hill in Dorking, Surrey.  There are also extensive pedigrees and appendices.

Reader Feedback – Barclays of Bury Hill in Dorking, Surrey.  I am the great grand-daughter of Charles Wright Barclay of Old Bury Hill House at Westcott in Dorking, Surrey.  I have much Barclay/ Berkeley family history info if anyone needs help with tracing family.  I am happy to help.

Angel Barclay Browne (

The Early History of Barclays Bank.  The start of Barclays Bank can be traced back to April 1690 in the City of London.  John Freame and Thomas Gould, both Quakers, started a partnership as goldsmiths.  At that time goldsmiths acted as bankers giving loans to merchants and businessmen, for this was the very earliest stages of private banking in England.

This partnership was the start of several generations of fluctuating partners drawn from complex family relationships and careful marriages.  In 1728, John Freame’s son-in-law, James Barclay, became a partner in the private bank.  It was his name which became the origin of the bank’s name.  The partnership was known as Freame and Barclay and later as Barclay, Bevan & Co.

Soon afterwards the partnership moved to a new banking house in Lombard Street where several other banks were located.  It was to occupy that site through the life-time of five different offices.  Over time the private bank was called just Barclays.

By the end of the 19th century there were family connections to several other provincial private banks and it was decided to amalgamate these banks and form a limited liability company.  In July 1896 Barclays and nineteen other banks were merged by Robert Barclay to form Barclay and Company Limited.  It was now one of the six largest banks in England.

Reader Feedback – John and Mary Barclay in Canada.  I would like to make contact with any descendants of John Barclay/Jane Cameron (Canada). John was the son of John Barclay III/Mary Ross Pitcairn, as featured in Royce Miller’s 1971 book History of the Barclay Family. I have a direct connection to David Barclay/Katherine Gordon through the Lochiel Camerons. Any assistance will be most welcome.

Sue McPhee (

Barclay Names

  • Alexander Barclay of Mathers was the first of his clan in Aberdeenshire to have his named spelled in the modern way. He was a noted 15th century scholar and poet .
  • Alexander Barclay was a poet of the Scottish borders of the early 16th century. His best-known work was The Ship of Fools.
  • James Barclay was the man who gave his name to Barclays Bank when he became a partner of the London bank in 1736.
  • David and Frederick Barclay are twin brothers who have large business investments in media, retail and property.

Barclay Numbers Today

  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in Aberdeen)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Barclay and Like Surnames

Many surnames originated from SW England, the principal counties there being Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire.  These are some of the prominent and noteworthy surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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