Bradshaw Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Bradshaw Surname Meaning

The Bradshaw surname comes from the place-name Bradshaw primarily found in Lancashire.  Its original spelling was Bradeshaghe, from the Old English brad meaning “broad” and sceaga meaning “thicket” or “grove.”  

The surname was first recorded in 1246 for the William de Bradeshaghe who lived in a township of that name within the parish of Bolton-le-Moors (now part of Bolton) in Lancashire.

Bradshaw Surname Resources on The Internet

Bradshaw Surname Ancestry

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

England.  The Bradshaw name has been mainly concentrated in Lancashire, but has also occurred from an early time in Derbyshire and Cheshire.

Lancashire.  The Bradshaw line in Bradshaw, a district of Bolton-le-Moors in Lancashire, dates back to the 13th century.  In 1298 William de Bradshagh and his wife Mabel took possession of Haigh Hall near Wigan which was to remain with their family for the next five hundred years.  

“According to legend, Sir William Bradshaigh returned from the wars in Scotland in 1324 after having been away for ten years, promptly killed his wife’s new husband and made her walk barefoot and dressed in sackcloth to their home at Haigh Hall once a week for the rest of her life.”  

This account was made into a novel by Sir Walter Scott and the event is still marked by Mab’s Cross on Wigan Lane.  In reality his absence from Haigh was due to his banishment by King Edward II for taking part in a rebellion against the Earl of Lancaster.

There were later two lines of Bradshaws derived from these earlier Bradshaws:

  • one, the Bradshaws of Haigh Hall
  • and the other, the Bradshaws of Bradshaw Hall.

The Bradshaws but styled Bradshaigh held Haigh Hall from the early 1500’s. They were Catholic and Royalist in sympathy but managed to survive the Civil War.  Three generations of the family were Wigan MP’s and baronets. Their Haigh estate proved to be extremely profitable for its coal mining.  However, the last of these Bradshaighs died in 1787.   

The other Bradshaws held Bradshaw Hall in Bradshaw.  In the 17th century these Bradshaws were remarkable for their Puritanism in an area which was strongly Puritan.  However, around this time their fortunes began to decline and their manor was purchased in 1694 by Henry Bradshaw of Marple Hall in Cheshire, a nephew of the regicide John Bradshaw.  Bradshaw Hall itself survived until 1948.

Derbyshire.  Bradshawes were Foresters of Fee at Duffield Frith in Derbyshire from the early 1400’s, as the following verse by Anthony Bradshawe described:

  • “This forest hath foresters of fee which partly hold their land
  • By services therein to do, as I do understand; 
  • Their names be Bradborne, Bradshaw, Bruckshaw, and the heirs of stone,
  • All which at forest courts must be with others many a one.”

Francis Bradshaw built Bradshaw Hall at Eyam around the year 1611.  His son George was a merchant in Ireland.  After his death in 1646, the story goes that his widow and daughter fled the village at the onset of the plague in 1665 and never returned.  The Bradshaw line in Derbyshire died out in the next century.

Cheshire.  Henry Bradshaw migrated from Derbyshire to Cheshire in the early 1600’s and acquired Marple Hall.  His grandson John Bradshaw was the High Court judge who presided over the trial of Charles 1 in 1649; while his great grandson Henry Bradshaw purchased the Bradshaw estate in Lancashire.

Marple Hall was reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a Cavalier who wooed the daughter of a Roundhead Bradshaw.  The Cavalier drowned in the river below the Hall in sight of her window.  The Hall ended up with Henry Bradshaw-Isherwood and later with the writer Christopher Isherwood in the 20th century before being demolished.

The 1881 Census.   This census showed that the county of Lancashire accounted for almost 40% of all the Bradshaws in England.  The name was particularly concentrated in townships around Manchester such as Pendleton.  Bradshaws have been there since the 17th century and George Bradshaw of the Bradshaw railway timetables was born there.

Ireland.  Some Bradshaws crossed the Irish Sea to Ireland. Robert Bradshaw from Haigh Hall came to Tipperary in 1662 and his family settled in Cullen.  A recent book, Bob Bradshaw’s Wall describing the Bradshaws who lived on Goat’s Lane in Tipperary, indicates that the name has not died out there.

There were a number of Bradshaws in Ulster, starting with Captain James Bradshaw and his wife Anne in Drumnakelly, Armagh in the 1660’s.

America.  Early arrivals were into Virginia.

Virginia.  Richard Bradshaw arrived as a servant in Virginia on the Temperance in 1621 and survived the Indian attack a year later.  However, Giles Bradshaw and his family were killed at that time.  Richard apparently married twice and the Bradshaw lines:

  • via Zachariah Bradshaw in Stafford county, Virginia
  • and via Charles Bradshaw in Madison county, Kentucky

were said to have been descended from him.

Meanwhile John Bradshaw, an indentured servant, came to Virginia in 1687 and worked and lived in Henrico county. Bradshaws of this line were to be found along the James river in what became Goochland county and later spread across the South.

Elsewhere.  Bill Bradshaw, born in Tennessee in 1826, came west at an early age and was in California by the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846.  He later caught the gold bug, first in California and then, together with his brother Isaac, as a pioneer in Arizona.

A contemporary described him in somewhat florid terms as follows:

“He was one of nature’s most polished gentlemen and the brightest jewel in America’s collection of true born chivalry. He was brave, generous, eccentric, and in simple truth a natural lunatic; in manly form and physical beauty, perfect; in muscular strength, a giant; in fleetness of foot and endurance, unequaled.”  

He died by his own hand in 1864.  But he left his name to the Bradshaw Trail in Arizona and Bradshaw City and the Bradshaw Mountains.

Canada.  Abraham Bradshaw, a descendant of the early Massachusetts settler Humphrey Bradshaw, came to Nova Scotia in 1759 and made his home in Lunenburg county.

James Bradshaw, a Loyalist from Connecticut, arrived with his three sons in 1783 and eventually got a land settlement in Fredericksburgh (now Delhi), Ontario.

John Bradshaw, originally from Ulster, also crossed from America to Canada but not voluntarilyHe was taken prisoner by Indians and brought there and kept prisoner for some time.  He was freed after taking an oath of allegiance and becoming a British subject.  He  settled in Osnabruck (now South Stormont) in eastern Ontario.

New Zealand.  James and Thomas Bradshaw were brothers from county Armagh in Ireland who departed for New Zealand, James arriving in 1865 on the Mermaid and Thomas coming nine years later on the Wairnate.  Both married soon after their arrivals in Christchurch, SI and both had large families.

Bradshaw Surname Miscellany

The Manor of Bradshaw.  James J. Francis recorded the following of the early history in his 1977 book Lords of the Manor of Bradshaw.

“The origin of the name Bradshaw comes from the township of Bradshaw in the parish of Bolton-Le-Moors, Lancashire, England.

In the early 13th century this old district of Bolton was called Bradeshaghe, meaning a “broad wood” or copse.

In 1298 William, son of Richard de Bradshagh, and Mabel his wife were in possession of the manors of Haigh and Blackrod, which were Mabel’s right as heir of Hugh le Norreys. Her husband from his name is supposed to have been a descendant of the Bradshaghs of Bradshaw near Turton.

Of the period 1350 -1500, we have but fragmentary evidence of the Bradshaw family and their activities at Bradshaw, but the name de Bradshaw occurs many times in inquisitions post mortem, marriage settlements, and indeed law suits.”

The Derbyshire Bradshaws.  It was said that all the Derbyshire Bradshaws were descended from Bradshaw of Bradshaw in the Peak District. They became possessed of Champeyne Park in Duffield through marriage.  They were afterwards of Windley in the same parish.

The elder branch appears to have been settled at Abney in the 17th century. Francis Bradshaw, who was the head of the family about 1600, married the co-heiress of Stafford of Eyam.  George Bradshaw, the last of the elder branch, died in 1735.

A younger branch, descended from Anthony (a fourth son of William Bradshaw of Windley) was of Belper and afterwards of Holbrook. This branch became extinct with the death of the Rev. Samuel Bradshaw of Upminster in Essex in 1767.

Poor John Bradshaw.  John Bradshaw married early, to Mary Marbury.  She married young and they had no children.  Being the third son, he was not to inherit his father’s lands and title. In grammar school, tradition has it that he wrote the following prophetic lines on a gravestone there:

  • “My brother Henry must heir the land,
  • My brother Frank must be at his command,
  • While I, poor Jack, will do that
  • That all the world shall wonder at.”

He went onto become the Lord President over the High Court of Justice that tried and condemned Charles I in 1648.  When Charles II was restored to the throne, John’s body was exhumed and hung on a gallows and decapitated.

Captain James Bradshaw in Ireland.  James Bradshaw had joined a volunteer regiment of Cromwell’s army and was present as a captain at the storming of Drogheda in 1649.

He married Ann Patterson in Carrickfergus and they settled in Drumnakelly in Armagh.  He later became a Quaker.  It was said of him:

“James Bradshaw was convinced of truth as a corporal in the army and for his obedience to the Lord, he was displaced and his pay being about twenty pounds was detained from him.  He then betook to follow other employment for a livelihood.  He continued in his faith  towards God, stood in his testimony for truth during imprisonment for his refusal to pay tithes and other demands which for conscience sake he could not pay.  He kept the fellowship with friends and suffered patiently the loss of goods taken from him.”

He died in 1686 from the cumulative effects of the wounds he had received at the storming of Drogheda.

Charles and Jeremiah Bradshaw Heading Westward.  Charles Bradshaw, first recorded in Kentucky (Madison county) in the early 1800’s, migrated to West Virginia (Cabell county), and then in 1840 headed westward to Illinois.

Charles’s family left West Virginia in a small boat, taking with them their household goods and provisions for the journey.  Charles and two other family members then made the trip overland, taking with them cattle, horses, and other stock.

His eldest son Jeremiah departed the family home in Illinois in 1847 for Iowa. He fought on the Union side in the Civil War and was afterwards the first postmaster and judge in Cass county.

The prior history of these Bradshaws is not known. Entries in a family Bible suggest that they might have been descended from the Richard Bradshaw, servant to Victor Harvey, who came to Virginia on the Temperance in 1621. 

George Bradshaw and His Railway Timetables.  In 1839, soon after the introduction of railways, George Bradshaw published out of Manchester the world’s first compilation of railway timetables, entitled Bradshaw’s Railway Time Tables and Assistant to Railway Travelling. 

Two years later, this guide started appearing monthly.  It soon became a staple of Victorian life and the book in its familiar yellow wrapper became synonymous with its publisher.

George Bradshaw was a Quaker and in the early editions of his railway guide he avoided using the names of months based upon Roman deities which were seen as “pagan” usage.  Quaker usage was “first month” for January, “second month” for February and so on.   Days of the week were “first day” for Sunday and so on.

When in 1865 the magazine Punch praised Bradshaw’s publications, it stated that “seldom has the gigantic intellect of man been employed upon a work of greater utility.”

At last some order had been imposed on the chaos that had been created by 150 rail companies whose tracks criss-crossed the country and whose largely uncoordinated network was rapidly expanding.  Bradshaw minutely recorded all changes and became the standard manual for rail travel well into the 20th century.

Catherine Bradshaw Transported to Australia.  In 1839 Catherine Bradshaw, a Catholic, was twenty-three years old, could neither read nor write, was unmarried with one male child, and was working as a dairymaid in Tipperary.

That year she was convicted of stealing a cloak in Limerick and sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia.  She was transported there on the Minerva.

In 1842 she married a fellow convict Edward Ivill at Queanbeyan, NSW.  That marriage however, had an unhappy end – according to this newspaper report of September 23, 1863.

“The Mimosa steamer was totally wrecked at 3 p.m. on Friday, then some miles north of Bega River and twenty miles south of Montague Island. The crew and passengers saved except for Mr. and Mrs. Ivell.  Mr and Mrs Ivell, whom the captain asserts to have seen on board when leaving Merimbula, must have been below when the vessel sank.”

Bradshaw Names

  • John Bradshaw was the High Court judge who presided over the trial of Charles I in 1648. 
  • George Bradshaw was the 19th century English printer and publisher best known for his series of railway timetables. 
  • Bill Bradshaw was a pioneer of the American Southwest in the 1850’s and 1860’s.
  • Terry Bradshaw was the quarterback who won four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970’s.

Bradshaw Numbers Today

  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 10,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Bradshaw 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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