Burton Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Burton Surname Meaning

The surname Burton derives from the place-name Burton, found mainly in the midland and northern counties of England (the best known today being Burton on Trent in Staffordshire). 

The derivation in most cases is from the Old English burh meaning “fort” and tun an “enclosure” or “settlement.”  Ioluard in Burhtun appeared as a name in Yorkshire as early as 1150.

Burton Surname Resources on The Internet

Burton Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Midlands)
  • to America and Canada

England.  The Burton name appeared in the English Midlands from an early time.

Robert de Burton was recorded in the village of Ibstock in Leicestershire around the year 1200.  From him came Sir William Burton, standard bearer for Henry VI who died at the Battle of Towton in 1461:

  • there followed the Burtons of Lindley Hall where Ralph Burton was a country gentleman.  One son Robert was an Oxford scholar who wrote the classic book The Anatomy of Melancholy.  Another son William was a noted antiquarian.
  • from another line via Sir William’s brother came Richard Burton, the sheriff of Derbyshire in 1628.

Other early Burtons were:

  • Burton MP’s in Nottinghamshire before and after the year 1400
  • Thomas Burton the wool merchant of Loughborough in Leicestershire
  • and the Burtons of Longner Hall near Shrewsbury in Shropshire. 

Burtons have been living at Longner Hall since 1346 and perhaps earlier and are still there. Edward Burton of this family survived Towton in 1461 and was knighted afterwards by Edward IV.  Richard Burton, the 19th century explorer and orientalist, was a later descendant of this family.

In the mid 19th century John Burton from Collingham in Nottinghamshire trained as a printer and then set up a photography studio in Leicester.  He prospered and even attracted royal patronage. On his death in 1881 two of his sons, Oliver and John, carried on his business,  Two other sons, Alfred and Walter, emigrated to New Zealand in 1868 and set up a successful photography studio in Dunedin (although Walter later sadly took his own life).

Yorkshire  The Burton name soon extended north into Yorkshire.  Henry Burton was a Puritan from the West Riding who had his ears cut off in 1637 for his anti-establishment pamphlets. 

Richard Burton who emigrated to Virginia in the 1630’s came from a Yorkshire family in the West Riding.  Ralph Burton from Cottingham in the East Riding was a colonial administrator in Canada in the 1760’s.  Burtons were recorded in the Grewelthorpe area of north Yorkshire from the 1770’s.

Elsewhere  The Burton architect family in London was originally Haliburton from Scotland who had shortened their name.  Father James Burton designed much of the Georgian London in the early 1800’s. His son Decimus (the tenth in the family) was also a notable architect, another son James a well-known Egyptologist.

America.  Richard Burton, who came to Virginia from London in 1634, was probably the first Burton to come to America.  His sons Thomas and John owned nearby plantations, at Cobbs and Longfield in Henrico county.

Descendant Robert Burton fought in the Revolutionary War and later served in the Continental Congress for Virginia.  He was a guardian to his nephew Hutchins Burton who became the Governor of North Carolina. Numerous Burtons of this family served on the Confederate side during the Civil War.

John Burton from Raburn county in Georgia also fought on the Confederate side.  His father Jeremiah had moved there from South Carolina in the 1840’s, gave his name to Burton township, and, after it was flooded out in 1919, to Lake Burton. 

Canada. Joseph Burton, a plumber from Romford in Essex, brought his family to Canada in 1818.  Later joined by relatives, they made their home in Scarborough, now a suburb of Toronto.

Samuel and Hannah Burton from Lincolnshire came around the same time and settled in Amherstburg, Ontario where Taylor, the tenth in their family, was born. Taylor was ordained an elder in the Mormon church in 1843 and departed for Salt Lake valley five years later.  He practiced plural marriage and had twenty seven children.

Burton Burton Miscellany

Burton Place Names.  

  • Cheshire – Burton on the Wirral
  • Cumbria – Burton-in-Kendal
  • Leicestershire – Burton Overy, Burton-on-the-Wolds
  • Lincolnshre – Burton, Burton-upon-Stather
  • Nottinghamshire – Burton Joyce
  • Staffordshire – Burton-upon-Trent
  • Yorkshire – Bishop Burton, Burton-in-Lonsdale, Burton-cum-Walden.

Edward Burton of Longner Hall.  Burton family has lived at Longner Hall since the 14th century.  Edward Burton of this family, a zealous Protestant, was often on the run at the time of Queen Mary.

One day in 1558 he could hear the sound of church bells in Shrewsbury and, knowing that Queen Mary was dying, he sent his son to Shrewsbury to see if her sister Elizabeth, a Protestant, had acceded to the throne.

He told his son that when the young man could see Longer Hall from the road he was to throw his hat into the air if Elizabeth had indeed acceded.  His son did just that, but old Edward was so overcome with emotion that he died on the spot.

He was refused burial at St Chad’s church in Shrewsbury because of his Protestant faith and was buried in the grounds of Longner instead. There is an inscription around the memorial there which tells the tale:

“Was it for denying Christ or some notorious fact That this man’s body Christian Burial laced? Oh no! not so his faithful true profession was the chill cause which then was held transgression.”

John Burton and the Leicester Clock Tower.  It was a bright Monday morning on March 16, 1868 when the mighty foundation stone of Leicester’s new Clock Tower was put into place.  Originally known as the Haymarket Memorial Structure, the Clock Tower was the brainchild of John Burton, the proprietor of the Leicestershire Mercury and the founder of John Burton and Sons, the famous printers and photographers of Leicester.

It had all begun in the 1850’s when, after years of campaigning by the East Gates Improvement Committee of which Burton was Honorary Secretary, the dilapidated Haymarket where the people of Leicester would meet to buy and sell hay was torn down to pave the way for a large open space.  The area was then paved.  But the town’s hay was still stored there, making it still untidy.

What was proposed for the space was “a sort of Gothic square tower” with a bold, illuminated clock on each of the four sides.  However, the town council made it clear that the building of such a Clock Tower would have to be paid for by those wanting to construct it.  So subscription arrangements therefore had to be made.

John Burton led the way, using his own newspaper as his tool to request money.  The final number of subscribers to Burton’s “little hobby” was 472 people and they raised £872 in total.  John it was who laid the foundation stone for the new structure.

In March 1869, when the work was finally complete with the clocks connected and statues erected, John Burton was presented with a final gift for his vision.  About a dozen subscribers presented a valuable signet ring containing a large sardonyx stone, on which was engraved a view of the tower, Mr Burton’s initials and the year 1868.

Governor Burton’s Ghost.  The circumstances of Governor Hutchins Burton’s death have long been part of family oral tradition and North Carolina lore.  As Armistead Gordon recounted in Marguerite du Pont Lee’s Virginia Ghosts and Others:

“Among the historic homes in the old county and town of Halifax, North Carolina is Rocky Hill the summer residence of Governor Hutchins G. Burton, a distinguished lawyer and statesman of the Revolutionary period.

Governor Burton and his family were staying at Rocky Hill in the spring of 1836, when he was called to Texas where he owned a large tract of land. Setting out by stage coach, he arrived at Salisbury in the western part of the state and stopped there on his way south to look after some business in court. Meeting his cousin Robert Burton of Lincoln county he went home with him to spend a few days. On the trip to Lincoln county he and his cousin visited the Wayside Inn and spent the night. Here he was taken ill and he died within twenty-four hours.

His wife had been on a visit and was returning to Rocky Hill about dusk in her carriage. As her entourage approached the house up on a high hill she saw Governor Burton coming down the hill on the white horse which he usually rode. Her attention was distracted momentarily by the crying of her child. When she looked again, expecting her husband to speak as he approached the carriage, both rider and horse had vanished.

On account of the slow mail facilities of the time, Mrs. Burton did not hear of the Governor’s death until three weeks after it occurred.  She then learned that he had died at the very hour when the apparition had appeared to her and her carriage driver.”

Burtons and Lake Burton in Georgia.  In the 1840’s Jeremiah Burton and his wife Edy and their family made their way from South Carolina to Rabun county in Georgia.  Jeremiah acquired over 1,000 acres of land along the Tallulah river.

Being quite industrious, he built the Burton store that contained the Post Office and he constructed near his store the first bridge across the river.  He participated in numerous civic functions and occasionally served as bailiff in the local superior court.

It seems that Jeremiah Burton was so well respected by his peers that they started referring to the community as Burton.  Jeremiah died in 1902.  According to family legend, he was buried with his hat on.

Three generations of Burtons lived there.  Jeremiah’s eldest son John fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. He was said to be a talented man.  He built a turning lathe that was powered by a foot treadle and a grain mill “to grind coarse to fine and with the ability to adjust for a grinder that was just right to the stills.”

Records indicate that in 1902 the community was being called Burton.  However, Burton never was an incorporated town. It disappeared when the township and the surrounding land was flooded in 1919 to create Lake Burton.  John Burton moved to Clarkesville where he died in 1922.

Richard Jenkins aka Burton.  Richard Burton the actor was born Richard Jenkins in Port Talbot, Wales in 1925, the twelfth of thirteen children of a coal miner.  His father was a “twelve-pints-a-day man” who would sometimes go off on drinking and gambling sprees for weeks.

The young Richard found succor and inspiration at school from a master there, Philip Burton. Philip Burton was his surrogate father who tutored him so that he was able to study at Oxford University. Richard took his name and became Richard Burton.

Gone for a Burton.  Gone for a Burton was common RAF slang in World War Two.  The expression referred to RAF pilots who failed to return from their missions.  Burton here probably meant Burton’s Ales from Burton on Trent. The pilot had supposedly gone for a beer but wasn’t coming back.

Burton Names

  • Robert Burton was the 17th century scholar at Oxford University, best known for his The Anatomy of Melancholy
  • Sir Richard Burton was a famous 19th century explorer and writer. 
  • Montague Burton, born Moshe Osinsky in Lithuania, founded Burton the large UK men’s clothing chain.   
  • Richard Burton, born Richard Jenkins, was the Welsh-born actor of the 1960’s and 1970’s, known as well for his marriage to the actress Elizabeth Taylor. 
  • Tim Burton is an American film director and producer.

Burton Numbers Today

  • 49,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 35,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Burton and Like Surnames

Some surnames have originated from the English Midlands – the swathe of countryside which covers such counties as Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  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 *