Barlow Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Barlow Surname Meaning

The Barlow surname is locational, derived from place names in Lancashire or Derbyshire. The root in Lancashire is the Old English bere meaning “barley” and hlaw “hill,” giving their name to Barlow Hale and Barlow Moor near Manchester. In Derbyshire the root is probably bar or “boar” and leah or “woodland,” hence the name Barley as well as Barlow.

Some have suggested that the Derbyshire Barlows are the senior branch, originating from a Norman family called d’Abitot which had settled there and changed their name to Barley sometime in the 13th century.

Barlow Surname Resources on The Internet

Barlow Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Lancashire)
  • to America, South Africa and Australia

England. Barlow is a name mainly found in Lancashire.

Lancashire The first recording of the name was Thomas de Barlowe in the Lancashire assize records of 1260. Soon afterwards, Sir Robert de Barlow founded the long-standing Lancashire Barlow family at Chorlton (near present-day Manchester).

These Barlows were Catholic. They paid for their faith in the 16th and 17th centuries through executions, martyrdoms, and the confiscation of much of their land. Barlow Hall, probably begun in the reign of Edward I, was occupied by members of this family until 1785.

Barlows had surfaced by the late 1500’s in Manchester and nearby Cheshire (where the first sightings were in Newbold Astbury and Congleton):

  • Edmund Barlow from Bolton emigrated to New England in the 1640’s.
  • the earliest Barlow on record in Ainsworth, a hamlet near Bury, was Abraham Barlow in 1707. A Barlow family there traced itself from Richard and Peggy Barlow of the late 1700’s.
  • while the Barlow family of clockmakers in Oldham began with Edward Barlow in 1730 and lasted for 150 years.

Later on came the cricketer Dick Barlow who was born in 1851 in Bolton; while James Barlow started his cotton spinning business there at around the same time. And Thomas Barlow from Quaker roots in Cheshire began a cotton import/export business out of Manchester at that time as well. His business prospered and he later developed holdings in Asia. The family home was Greenthorne in the Lancashire village of Edgworth.

Elsewhere  There were Barleys and Barlows in north Derbyshire, originating from a place-name near Chesterfield, who spilled over into Yorkshire.

Hanry of Attercliffe, who called himself Barley, died in 1589 but left a number of descendants in the Sheffield area, including the famous cutlers who made the Barlow knives. In 1700, from these proceeds, Thomas Barlow was able to make himself a country gentleman by buying the Middlethorpe estate near York.

Meanwhile in the 19th century, Barlows from Rothwell in Northamptonshire moved into the market town of Burton Latimer nearby. Charles Barlow became a stalwart of that town’s business and civic development.

Ireland.  Barlows came to Ireland in the 1630’s with the British army and stayed. They were mainly to be found in Dublin. James Barlow was mayor of Dublin in 1715 and a Barlow family was one of the leading lawyers of that town in the 19th century. Another Barlow family dates from the mid 18th century in Rosmilan, Galway.

America. The Barlow connection began in 1584 when Sir Walter Raleigh sent Arthur Barlow on an expedition to America. Barlow landed in North Carolina and sent back such glowing reports that full-time settlement was planned.

Virginia  The Barlows who first came to Virginia were descended from Edward Barlow of the Chorlton Barlows, a merchant adventurer in Elizabethan times. From this line came Ralph and his brother Henry Barlow, merchants who were granted land in Virginia in the 1650’s. Son Thomas established himself in Isle of Wight county, Virginia in 1663.

Descendants became planters in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Other lines have been followed to Alabama and Texas. A line from Wilkes county in North Carolina was traced in Bunches of Barlows by Elizabeth Michaels and John Hawkins; and a later line is thought to go to William Barlow of Giles county, Tennessee in the 1840’s.

Barlows in Virginia and Kentucky date from the 1770’s with Robert Barlow.  Sam Barlow, born in Kentucky, headed west in 1845 and was one of the pioneers on the Oregon trail. His son William bought land there in what was to become the township of Barlow, Oregon. His home, now known as Barlow House, still stands.

New England.  Among the early Barlow arrivals to New England were:

  • John Barlow arriving in the 1630’s, settling in Fairfield, Conn. (the poet Joel Barlow a descendant)
  • Edmund Barlow who came in the 1640’s and settled in Malden, Mass.
  • and George Barlow who came in 1657 and settled in Sandwich, Mass.

George Barlow was a preacher but also apparently a heavy drinker who took it on himself to rid the town of Quakers. Later Barlows were privateers during the time leading up to the Revolutionary War.

South Africa. Barlow Rand is one of South Africa’s largest companies today. It has its roots in the company which Major Billy Barlow founded in Durban in 1902 at the end of the Boer War. It was his son Punch – who held the reins between 1927 and 1979 – who was mainly responsible for the company’s later expansion and development.

Australia. Billy Barlow was an Australian character in the song which began as follows:

  • “When I was at home I was down on my luck,
  • And I earned a poor living by driving a truck;
  • But old aunt died and left me a thousand: ‘Oh, oh,
  • I’ll start on my travels,’ said Billy Barlow.
  • Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
  • So off to Australia came Billy Barlow.”

There followed the trials and tribulations of this free immigrant, the not-so-smart Billy Barlow.

There were real Barlow immigrants as well, such as the Barlow family who settled in Wahroonga, NSW and the Barlows in the Penrith area of western Sydney. Arthur Barlow came out to Adelaide in 1893. He proved to be an astute businessman and the shoe store businesses which he subsequently established were to become an Adelaide icon which stayed in the family until 1983.

Barlow Surname Miscellany

The Barlows of Barlow Hall in Chorlton (Lancashire).  Sir Robert de Barlow, knight, had founded the long-standing Barlow Catholic family in Chorlton and Barlow Hall, probably built during the reign of Edward I, was occupied by members of the family until 1785.  By a certificate from Lichfield, dated 1397, it was evidenced:

  • that Thomas de Barlow was the sole and exclusive lord of Barlow
  • that his father’s name was Robert de Barlow
  • that the said Thomas had two sons, Roger and Thomas, the former of whom became lord of Barlow after the death of his father and that Roger’s son Roger succeeded him as Lord Barlow.

The property then passed to John, his son, and subsequently to John the younger.  In 1466 Nicholas Barlow conveyed his lands to his son Alexander.  Alexander Barlow was succeeded by his son Roger who married a daughter of Ellis Prestwich of Hulme.  When Alexander died, Ellis Prestwich seized the estate and transmitted it to his son, Ellis Barlow, so named after his maternal grandfather.  His son Alexander later inherited the lands.

Barlow Hall was probably rebuilt or renovated by this Alexander during the time of Henry VIII.   From this time belongs the sundial bearing the motto: “Lumen me regit, vos umbra” (I am guided by the sun, you by the shade).

The original outline of the building has, to a considerable degree, been lost in the alterations and additions to which it has been subjected.  As far as can be ascertained, the house consisted of an oblong pile of buildings, comprising the great hall and entertaining-rooms, with a wing, projecting at right angles from the main structure, built in that quaint half-timbered style so characteristic of the period.

My Hornby and My Barlow Long Ago.  The most famous lines of cricket were written by Francis Thompson in his poem At Lord’s.

  • “As the run stealers flicker to and fro,
  • To and fro:
  • O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago.”

Thompson had been watching a match at Lord’s in London, but in a nostalgic mood his mind drifted back to a game he had watched twenty years ago in Manchester when Hornby and Barlow had been batting.

Hornby and Barlow were a study in contrasts, Hornby being the strokemaker and Barlow the defensive batter (earning him the nickname “Stonewaller.”)  On one occasion, they was involved in a partnership of 45 of which Hornby scored 44 and there was one extra.  However, Dick Barlow was probably the better cricketer and played more times for England.

In 1908 Dick Barlow released his autobiography, Forty Seasons of First Class Cricket, which ran to two editions and was dedicated to “my old and highly esteemed friend and colleague, A.N. Hornby, Esq.” 

Charles Barlow of Burton Latimer.  Charles Barlow’s business premises in Burton Latimer included a butcher’s shop and slaughterhouse operated by his eldest son Frank and a grocery and drapery operated by himself and later by his son Alfred.  Charles’s interests expanded to include farming, brickmaking at Croxen’s Yard, and ironstone extraction.

All the time his businesses were growing, Charles Barlow was getting involved in local government.  This started with membership of the Board of Guardians in 1881, membership of the Parish Council when it was created in 1894, and membership of the Kettering District Council.

He was also a county counsellor for a total of eighteen years and county alderman for seven years.  In addition, he was chairman of the board of management of the council school, a charity trustee for 35 years, and was deeply involved in the affairs of the Baptist Church (he was a deacon for more than 25 years and Sunday school superintendent for 30 years).

All of these achievements were described in a beautifully illustrated tribute in the form of a leather-bound book which was circulated around Burton Latimer in 1914 and was signed by over 500 people.

Charles Barlow and his wife Deborah resided at The Cross in Burton Latimer where the family was to remain until the early 1960s.

Reader Feedback – Charles Barlow of Burton Latimer.  Charles Barlow came originally from Rothwell in Northamptonshire, not Rothwell in the West Ridings.   He was my great great grandfather.

So I know that his father Edward, his grandfather John, and his great grendfather Samuel were all Rothwell of Northamptonshire men.  Edward, though born in some poverty, became a prolific local builder with two homes and sat on every board locally that he could.  His sons too mostly made names for themselves in the same way.

Angela Barlow (

Barlow Adventures in India.  In 1806 Colonel George Barlow was appointed as an aide-de-camp to the then Governor General of India, his cousin Sir George Hilaro Barlow.   It was a position which took him to the heart of the governor’s household.

Here he befriended the lively and beautiful Lady Elizabeth Barlow, fifteen years his senior.  They became inseparable and an affair ensued – leading to the birth of an illegitimate child (Frederick) in 1811 and finally her divorce in 1816.

When the case came to the King’s Bench in London, the scandal was reported in The Times and became public knowledge.  Colonel Barlow supported the former Lady Barlow and set up home with her in Kensington – where they lived together until her death in 1836.

Thirteen years later, the then 65 year old Barlow married a woman thirty years younger than himself, Elizabeth Clarke.  She later wrote memoirs of their sixteen years together of married life.  But she wrote not a word about her husband’s prior affair with the Lady Barlow!

Henry Barlow in Virginia.  Henry Barlow, a merchant, was undoubtedly the man of that name living in 1623 “at the plantation over against James Cittie,” in Virginia.  He returned to England before 1625, served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy; and moved to Southampton.

In 1650, Henry Barlow was living in Elizabeth City, Virginia.  In 1653 he was a beneficiary under the will of his brother Ralph and was then a resident of Lower Norfolk.  In that year also, and in 1655, he had grants of land on the southern branch of the Elizabeth river.

His son Thomas was a factor for English merchants who had been brought to Virginia by his father about 1653.  He lived in Isle of Wight, Virginia, from 1663 and perhaps earlier.

Early Barlows in Virginia and Kentucky.  Robert Barlow and most of his children were born in Virginia and moved to Kentucky around 1820.  The following are their records from the family Bible.

1773 birth of Robert T. Barlow
1792 marriage of Robert L. Barlow and
his first wife Lena Burress
1794 birth of William B. Barlow,
their first son
1796 birth of Mary T. Barlow
1798 birth of Jemina C. Barlow (she
died in 1805)
1800 birth of Lucy F. Barlow
1801 birth of Henry W. Barlow
1804 marriage of Robert L. Barlow and
his second wife Ann Blunt
1805 birth of John P. Barlow
1817 marriage of William B. Barlow
and Barbara Lane
1832 death of William B. Barlow
1836 marriage of Richardson Eubank
and Lucy F. Barlow
1841 death of Robert T. Barlow

Sam Barlow and the Barlow Road.  In late 1845, a bill was put forward in the Legislature of Oregon Territory to authorize Samuel K. Barlow to open a road across the Cascade Mountains.

The road was approved and a notice in the Spectator gave further details.

“Authorization was given for two years – from January 1846 to January 1848 at the following rates: for each wagon – five dollars, for each head of horses, mules or asses, whether loose, geared or saddled – 10 cents, for each head of horned cattle, whether geared or loose – 10 cents.”

As soon as the weather permitted in the spring of 1846, men and oxen started to build the road, continuing on from near Philip Foster’s place up to where they had left the wagons and their plunder (as they called their goods) the previous fall.

Sam remembered something he had neglected to mention in his application bridges!  For here was the Sandy to cross and the Zigzag!  Not much could be done about Laurel Hill except to figure out ways to lower the wagons down the steep mountain slope, which they did because they had to.  The wagons, with their contents, finally reached their destination, and they were the vanguard of many years of emigration over the Barlow Road.

When Sam’s sons William and James were tending the toll gate on the Barlow Road in 1847, they met their brides-to-be, Rachel and Rebecca Larkins, the pretty young daughters of William Larkins and his wife Rachel.  Romance also traveled the road!

The Barlow Knife

  • “When I was a little boy
  • I wanted a Barlow knife.
  • Now I want little Shady Grove,
  • To say she’ll be my wife.”

Being given a Barlow knife, which is to say being considered old enough to take care of one, used to be a rite of passage for young American boys.  The Barlow was perfect for whittling away a summer day, for idly carving designs on a school desk, and for playing mumbledy-peg after school.   In Tom Sawyer’s hand, it was a pirate’s knife used to dig for treasure.  It is a knife that has made its mark on the American landscape and you can still find the names of Barlow owners, sometimes with their sweethearts’ names too, carved into the barks of old trees,

Numerous members of various Barlow families have laid claim to the title of inventor of the Barlow knife.  But the first references appear to award that honor to Obadiah Barlow of Sheffield in England.  He created his version as early as 1670.  The knife came over to America through Obadiah’s grandson in the next century and it was first made there by the John Russell Company of Massachusetts in 1785.

Barlow Names

  • William Barlow was an English bishop, an early Protestant, and a collaborator in the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII.
  • Edward Barlow of the Chorlton Barlows was martyred for his faith in 1641 and has since been canonized by the Catholic church.
  • Peter Barlow was an early 19th century English mathematician responsible for the Barlow Tables which were used until computers made them redundant in 1965.
  • Sam Barlow was an Oregon pioneer and entrepreneur who helped to build the Barlow road at the end of the Oregon trail.
  • Punch Barlow was primarily responsible for the creation and development of one of South Africa’s largest companies, Barlow Rand.
  • John Perry Barlow was the lyricist for the Grateful Dead band.

Barlow Numbers Today

  • 26,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in California).
  • 10,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

Barlow and Like Surnames

Many surnames have come from Lancashire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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