Bradley Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Bradley Surname Meaning

Bradley is a place-name, found in various places in the north of England. The name is derived from the Old English brad meaning “broad” and leah meaning “meadow.” The surname Bradley (and its variants Bradlee and Broadley) originally meant someone from Bradley.

In Ireland Bradley is the anglicization of the Gaelic O’Brolchain or O’Brollachain. They were an Irish clan that started out in county Tyrone and spread across Ireland. The word comes from the Gaelic brollach, meaning “breast.”

Bradley Surname Resources on The Internet

Bradley Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England and Ireland (Ulster)
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

England.  Early Bradley locations have been Durham, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and Staffordshire.

Durham  The earliest mention of Bradley as a surname appears to have been in Durham, from the Bradley lands near Wolsingham on Lanchester Moor. Roger de Bradley was said to have held land there in 1183 in lieu of forestry work and William de Bradley in 1341. Bradley descendants were resident at Bradley castle.

A branch of the family migrated south to Gloucestershire and from them in the 18th century came the Astronomer Royal, James Bradley.

Yorkshire   The Bradleys of Yorkshire were on both sides during the Civil War:

  • those in Ackworth near Pontefract were Royalist. Thomas Bradley had been chaplain to Charles I and is believed to have attended him to the scaffold in 1649.
  • on the other hand, Bingley near Bradford was a center for Puritan sympathizers. One such Puritan was William Bradley who later emigrated to America with his family.

A century or so later came the Yorkshire Giant, William Bradley, from Market Weighton in the East Ridings.

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  One Derbyshire family may have originated in Bradley, Derbyshire as their early records were from Ashbourne nearby. Another began in the early 1600’s in Elkesley in Nottinghamshire. These Bradleys were farmers who later moved to Derbyshire and coalmining.

Their conclusion on the Bradleys: “The fact that the 1881 distribution of Bradleys in England also reflected the main English coalfields was no coincidence.”

Staffordshire. The Bradley name was also evident in south Staffordshire. Thomas Bradley lived at Gornal Wood in Sedgley in the early 1600’s. Later Bradleys in this area became prominent as iron-founders – Richard Bradley in Tipton, Staffordshire and, most famously, John Bradley in Stourbridge, Worcestershire. His plant at Woolaston produced in 1829 the first locomotive to run on rails in America.

Ireland. The O’Brolchain sept had reached county Derry from Tyrone by the 12th century. Flaibhertach O’Brollachain was recorded as rebuilding the Derry cathedral in 1164.

The name in Derry later anglicized to Bradley. There were Bradleys as well in Donegal, in particular on the Inishowen Peninsular from the early 1700’s, and further south in county Cork, in addition to English Bradleys.

America. The early Bradley arrivals were English.

English Bradleys.  William Bradley came in 1638 from Yorkshire with like-minded enthusiasts to found a new colony. This colony was to be New Haven in Connecticut. The construction took three years and William spent the first winter with his companions huddled in holes in the ground near the site.

Another Bradley, Isaac Bradley, moved to New Haven in 1683. He was the patriarch of a great number of Bradley descendants, as tracked in Leonard Bradley’s 1917 book Descendants of Isaac Bradley.

Meanwhile, Stephen Bradley was growing up in nearby Guilford. From him came a succession of Abraham Bradleys, including the Abraham who helped set up the national post office in Washington DC. And George Bradley of Tolland, Connecticut was the forebear of the Cleveland shipping Bradleys.

“Alva Bradley was one of the foremost figures in the shipping industry of the Great Lakes. He began as a sailor before the mast, was a vessel master many years, and built and owned vessels until the Bradley fleet was one of the largest under individual management on the lakes.”

Then there were the New England Bradlees. Sam Bradley of Dorchester, Massachusetts changed his name to Bradlee in the 1750’s because, he said, “there were too many Bradleys in the Boston area.” His four sons and daughter Sarah Bradlee were reportedly responsible for carrying out the Boston Tea Party in 1773. A descendant has been Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal.

Irish Bradleys.  Later Bradley arrivals were more Irish than English. Those in the 18th century included:

  • John Bradley and his wife Martha, who arrived in the 1760’s and stayed in Raleigh, North Carolina before moving onto Tennessee. In 1818 their Bradley children would become pioneer settlers in Arkansas.
  • a Bradley family from Antrim, who arrived in South Carolina in the 1770’s. A descendant Patrick Bradley was a planter in the White Hall section of Abbeville. The town of Bradley in Greenwood county grew up around the railroad depot built near his home.
  • and Charles Bradley, who arrived in the 1770’s, fought in the Revolutionary War, and settled in Cambria county, Pennsylvania.

Larger numbers would come in the 19th century. In this second wave was a Hugh Bradley from Draperstown in Derry and his son, born in America, the legendary Colonel Edward Riley Bradley.

Canada. The first Bradleys in Canada were probably Empire Loyalists, William and Lewis Bradley, both from Savannah in Georgia:

  • William Brown Bradley had first moved to New Brunswick and, after fighting in the War of 1812, was granted land in the Ottawa valley where he and his family settled.
  • while Lewis and Elizabeth Bradley moved to a log cabin in Mississauga, Ontario. They built a small saltbox-style farmhouse there in 1830 to cope with their growing family, a farmhouse which has been restored as a museum to show how the early settlers lived.

George Bradley was an English immigrant to Vaughan township in York county in the 1840’s. There were also a number of Irish Bradleys who had arrived around that time in the Ottawa valley. These included William Bradley in March township, William and Jane Bradley in Huntley township, and John and Jane Bradley in Marlborough township.

Australia. There were two Bradleys on the First Fleet to Australia in 1788:

  • Lieutenant William who compiled a journal of the voyage illustrated with water color drawings
  • and convict James from London whose sentence was seven years.

Another Bradley convict, William, was on the Matilda three years later. Both he and James convicts were married in Australia and have living Bradley descendants. The convict James Bradley, who arrived in 1813, had no fewer than five marriages and liaisons during his time in Australia.

However, the Bradley that made the most impression on early Australia was the Jonas Bradley of the NSW Corp who came with the Third Fleet in 1791. Jonas Bradley was the first successful grower of tobacco in Australia. His son William Bradley began the Goulburn brewery and became an important political and social figure in the early days of the NSW colony. Today these Bradleys are recognized as one of the seventy pioneer Australian families.

New Zealand.  William Bradly of a naval family in Kent came to Auckland in 1842 and settled down in the Helensville area. Franklin Bradley, a Presbyterian minister from Down in northern Ireland, arrived there in 1863. He was one of the pioneer farmers in Arapohue.

Meanwhile another minister, the Rev. Robert Bradley, arrived in Christchurch, South Island in the 1850’s and bought land for farming in Charteris Bay. Much of this land is now the Orton Bradley Park, having been donated by his son Orton after his death in 1943.

Bradley Surname Miscellany

Bradley Place Names.  The earliest mention of Bradley as a surname appears to have been in Durham, from the Bradley lands near Wolsingham on Lanchester Moor.  But the Bradley place name has also appeared in other counties:

  • Yorkshire.  Bradley is a village in North Yorkshire, between Skipton and Keighley.  It is divided into two parts, High Bradley and Low Bradley.  Bradley is also today a district of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire.
  • Lincolnshire.  Bradley is a village in northeast Lincolnshire.  There is a Bradley Woods as well.  They lie just outside of the western boundary of Grimsby.
  • Derbyshire.  Bradley is a parish in Derbyshire just to the east of Ashbourne. Its name can be found in the Domesday Book.
  • Staffordshire.  Bradley is also a south Staffordshire village near Bilston.  This Bradley was home to John Wilkinson, first of the mighty ironmasters of the area.
  • Cheshire.  Bradley Green was the name of a deserted medieval village in Cheshire.

Bradley as a surname followed in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, and Staffordshire. 

The Yorkshire Giant.  Standing almost eight feet tall and weighing 27 stone it goes without saying that William Bradley had some problems finding somewhere to live.  If he wasn’t banging his head on the ceilings his huge bulk was forever getting stuck in the doorways. In the end the giant Mr. Bradley, the tallest man to have lived in Britain, had no choice but to have a house specially designed.

This house – Bradley House in Market Weighton – went on the market in 2006 for the first time in eighty years after its owners decided that it was time to “downsize.”  The three-storey town house has extra high ceilings and big wide doors as well as a bedroom named the Long Room, where Mr Bradley, who was seven foot nine inches, slept.

Nicknamed “the Yorkshire Giant,” he was born in February 1787 and weighed 14 pounds.  By his 19th birthday he tipped the scales at 27 stone and measured seven foot eight inches.  The following year he grew another inch.  His father John was just five foot nine inches while his mother Ann was of average height.  His twelve brothers and sisters were also not exceptionally tall, although one sister would have been almost as tall if she had not died at the age of sixteen.

The house was built over two hundred years ago to accommodate his huge bulk.  It had high wide doors and massive high ceilings to allow him to move around freely.  Other features – including the high ceilings, the Long Room, and the huge fire place with black and white marble surrounding – also remain.  An imprint of Mr. Bradley’s foot, which was fifteen inches long and five and three quarter inches wide, hangs outside on a plaque.  The giant used to hang his walking sticks from hooks on the ceiling.

William Bradley made a small fortune as a fairground freak before deciding the cramped caravan that he travelled in was bad for his health.  He returned to live in his four-bedroomed property.  When he died in 1820 at the age of 33 he was buried inside a local church for fear that someone would steal his body.

The Brolchains of Ireland.  The Brolchains claimed descent from Neill “of the Nine Hostages” in their forebear Brollachan of the 11th century.  They were described in Keating’s History of Ireland as follows:

“The Brolchains, a name often changed to Bradley, were a numerous clan near Derry, but originally of the Kinel Feradaigh in the south of Tyrone and a branch of the Kinel Owen.  The sept was adventurous and not only did they establish a branch in Cork, but a number of them also moved to Scotland.  From them descend the O’Brologhans of the Western Highlands whose name was subsequently anglicized to Brodie.  A small group of the Derry sept also settled in county Cavan in Ireland where, strangely, they adopted the Norman name Brabazon.”

Reader Feedback – Isaac Bradley of New Haven.  My ancestor Isaac Bradley is mentioned as an early settler in New England in the colony of New Haven.  True enough.

However, he is first recorded in the town of Brainford (now Branford in Connecticut) on the 20th of January 1667, he and others signing a church covenant.  He milled about in New Haven but finally settled in the East Haven part of the colony of New Haven.   All three towns are in a row and East Haven were once called the East Farms – of New Haven as well as being a physical part of New Haven, hence the reference to New Haven.

It was in 1683 that he finally sold out his land in Branford and was allowed to settle in East Haven, the colony of New Haven.

Leslie C. Bradley from Cebu, Philippines  (

Two Heroines in Wartime and One in Peacetime.  The wartime heroines were Sarah Bradlee in the Revolutionary War and Amy Morris Bradley in the Civil War and the peacetime heroine Lydia Moss Bradley.

Sarah Bradlee.  On the eve of December 16, 1773 Sarah Bradlee was said to have helped her four brothers, Nathaniel, Josiah, David and Thomas, and their friend David Fulton, to disguise themselves as Indians and she saw them take part in throwing the tea overboard.

She was one of those who helped to dress the wounds of the soldiers who were in the Battle of Bunker Hill. She was a true patriot; General Washington honored her with a visit; and she married David Fulton.

Amy Morris Bradley.  Amy came from a small farming community in Maine and served as a nurse at the Sanitary Commission convalescent camps during the Civil War.

After the war she set out from Boston to seek to establish a free school for poor black and white children in Wilmington, North Carolina.  That free school started up in early 1867 and, despite initially much local opposition, the school became a success.  Not for nothing was she called Saint Bradley.

Her simple headstone in Wilmington Oakdale cemetery reads: “Our School Mother.”

Lydia Moss Bradley.  Lydia grew up on a farm in Indiana where she met and married Tobias Bradley.  They moved to Peoria, Illinois and Tobias prospered there as a businessman.  But disaster then struck.  All six of their children died of frontier diseases at young ages and in 1867 Tobias himself was killed in a freak horse-and-buggy accident. She was left a childless widow.

When Tobias was alive she often talked about leaving a permanent memorial for their children.  Thirty years later, having become wealthy through her various business activities, she was able to realize that dream. She founded the Bradley Polytechnic Institute in Peoria.  It runs now as Bradley University.

The Bradleys in Arkansas.  The Bradleys had set out in flatboats in 1818 from Tennessee along the Mississippi and its branches to Long Prairie in what was then Arkansas territory.  Onboard was nine year old Polly Bradley who would later marry Governor James Sevier Conway and become the first “first lady” of Arkansas.

Bradley county in south Arkansas was named in 1840 after the Captain Hugh Bradley who had led this expedition.  Popular belief is that Warren, the county seat of Bradley county, was named after Bradley’s most trusted slave who was called Warren.  It was true that Pennington township, in which the city of Warren is located, was named after Bradley’s son-in-law.

Bradley county has become known nationally as the prime producing area for tomatoes.  The Bradley Pink, labelled “Arkansas’s gift to the nation,” is said to set the standard for quality for the entire tomato market in the United States.  A Bradley county Pink Tomato Festival draws thousands of visitors each year.

Colonel Edward Riley Bradley.  He was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and was the son of Captain Hugh Bradley, an Irishman who had fought in the Civil War.   He was mysterious about his early years, but he was almost certainly not a colonel in the army.

Legend records him as a gold miner, cowboy, friend of Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid, and an Indian scout.  He got into bookmaking and then in 1898 bought his first racehorse.  That was where he discovered his true metier.  He was the pre-eminent owner and breeder of thoroughbred racehorses in the southern United States during the first three decades of the 20th century.

Time magazine put him on their cover in 1934 and said the following about him:

“A Derby would not be a Derby without an entry by Colonel Edward Riley Bradley, whose green and white colors have come out on top more than those of any other owner: four times, and twice in succession.  The best of his possible entries this year is a big brown filly named Bazaar.

Last week Colonel Bradley, an erect old gentleman with a tall hard collar and high black shoes, was already on hand at Churchill Downs to inspect his horses and, incidentally, to watch two of them. Barn Swallow and Tick On, come in second and third in the Clark Handicap, the first day’s feature at the track and a race as old as the Derby.

Only one filly had ever won the Derby, Regret in 1915.  And to all who talked to him last week, Colonel Bradley repeated his axiom: “Fillies are no good in the spring.”  But everyone around the stables knew that, largely due to the successes of Bazaar, Mata Hari and Wise Daughter among the two year olds, the year 1933 had been “a filly year.”  They also knew that Kentucky’s foxiest and most renowned horseman was hell-bent on another victorious drink out of the old Derby cup.”

In Senate hearings earlier that year, Bradley described himself as “a speculator, raiser of racehorses and gambler.”  “I’d gamble on anything,” he added.

James Bradley in Australia.  James Bradley, who was born and grew up in Derry in Ireland, ended up as a convict in Australia.  His crime was unusual:

“Imposter John Lindsay Crawfurd appeared after the 1808 death of the 22nd Earl of Crawfurd and 6th Earl of Lindsay, claiming that he was the legitimate heir with precedence over the late Earl’s sister Lady Mary Crawfurd.  The pretender and his accomplices forged documents to substantiate his claims. Unfortunately a falling out saw members of the gang cash in by revealing the truth to Lady Mary.John Lindsay Crawfurd and his accomplice James Bradley were sentenced to fourteen years transportation, arriving at Botany Bay in 1813.”

James obtained his release in 1822 and went on to found a school, the Springdale House Academy, in Parramatta.  He was also involved for a while in the Female Orphans Home there.

He was, it would appear, a bit of a ladies’ man.  The record shows five marriages and liaisons:

  1. A first wife Margaret Morton, whom he married in Ireland around 1811 (she and daughter Jane came to Australia sometime after James obtained his release but Margaret died soon after).
  2. A liaison with Charlotte a fellow convict, which produced a son, William Bradley, in 1815.
  3. A liaison with Maria Roberts of the Female Orphans Home, which produced a son, Thomas Bradley, in 1822.  Maria later married someone else.
  4. A second wife Dorothea Fenn nee Roberts, whom he married in 1832.  This marriage produced one daughter Catherine.  Dorothea died in 1848.
  5. A third wife Elizabeth Howell, a widow and fellow teacher, whom he married in 1849.

James Bradley died in 1857 at his home in Lane Cove at the age of seventy five.

Reader Feedback – John and Jane Bradley in the Ottawa Valley.  John and Jane Bradley in Marlborough township might very well be my twice times great grandparents – John Bradley (1805-1891) and Jane Taylor (1813-1893) who settled in Marlborough sometime in the late 1820’s.  We’re trying to determine where in Ireland they came from.  We think they might have come to Canada from county Cork.

Harold Bradley (

Bradley Names

  • James Bradley was the astronomer who discovered the aberration of light mutation of the earth’s axis. He was appointed Astronomer Royal in 1742.
  • William Bradley, born in 1787, was said to have been the tallest man in England. He was measured at seven feet nine inches.
  • William Bradley was a pioneer sheep farmer in Australia and one of the leading social and political figures in Sydney during the 1840’s and 1850’s.
  • Omar Bradley was one of Eisenhower’s leading generals during World War Two.
  • Ben Bradlee was the editor of the Washington Post at the time of the Watergate scandal in the 1970’s.
  • Bill Bradley was a Rhodes scholar, professional basketball player, and Democrat Senator for New Jersey.

Bradley Numbers Today

  • 53,000 in the UK (most numerous in Teesside)
  • 48,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

Bradley and Like Surnames

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


Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *