Chambers Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Chambers Surname Meaning

Chambers is an occupational name for an officer charged with the management of his lord’s private living quarters.  The root is the Old French chambre, meaning “chamber” or “room.”  The name is synonymous in origin with Chamberlain which later became a title of high rank.  Chalmers is the spelling variant in Scotland.

Chambers Surname Resources on The Internet

Chambers and Chalmers Surname Ancestry

  • from England and Scotland
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and Australia

England.  The first recorded spelling of Chambers as a surname was Nicholas de Chambres in the Derbyshire rolls of 1219.  Robert de la Chamber held lands in Worcester in 1345.  The name appeared as Atte Chamber and Chamber in Essex records of the early 1400’s.  Chambers of Tanworth in Warwickshire date from 1461.

But the larger number of Chambers were to be found further north, in Norfolk, Leicester, Shropshire and York.

The Chambers family of Pitton in Shropshire contributed settlers in county Wicklow in Ireland in the 1600’s. Another Chambers family built Honing Hall in Norfolk in 1748.  And there was a Chambers family of clergymen in Derby in the 18th century.  The Rev. Ben Swift Chambers came from Shepley near Huddersfield in Yorkshire.

The 19th century surname distribution showed sizeable numbers in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.

Scotland.   Chambers and Chalmers are Scottish surnames.  It was said that the first Chambers in Scotland were those that had moved to Scotland from north Wales in medieval times at the invitation of the Earl of Huntingdon.  William de la Chaumbre signed the Ragman Roll of 1296 at Berwick as baillie for Peebles. The Chalmers of Gadgirth were an old Ayrshire family.

The Scottish border town of Peebles was a place for Chambers.  There is a Bible, dated 1664, signed in the name of James Chambers of Peebles.  Two famous Chambers brothers, William and Robert, were born there. They moved to Edinburgh after their father James, a draper, had gone bankrupt.  They went on to found the W&R Chambers publishing house in 1819 and became influential Scottish publishers and writers.

Ireland.  Some Chambers crossed over to Ireland after the English and Scottish settlements of the 17th century.  Hence most Chambers were to be found in Ulster.

One Chambers family had been large landowners in the New Ross area of Wexford and then established themselves in the 18th century in Meath. The Chambers of Killoyne in county Mayo came originally from Hertfordshire.   The name often appeared in lists of government officials, from 1592 when Thomas Chambers was housekeeper at Kilmainham and 1609 when George Chambers was Chief Chamberlain of the Exchequer. There were also a number of Chambers families in west Cork in the 19th century.

America.  Chambers in America may be of English, Scottish or Irish origin.

English.  There were English Chambers recorded in the Jamestown colony in Virginia, George Chambers in 1619 and James, Thomas and John Chambers in 1625.

Scottish.  In 1635 came Robert Chambers, a Presbyterian escaping religious persecution in Scotland.  He settled in Perth Amboy, New Jersey but then returned to Scotland.   However, some of his sons later made the journey, John – after a harrowing voyage – returning to Perth Amboy and Peter settling in Virginia.

“Peter Chambers emigrated to Virginia about 1710.  At that time, under his direction, a large Scotch colony was being formed on the upper Rappahannock.  For a number of years Peter would acquaint himself with the arrival of immigrant ships and, if there were any Scotch on board, he would persuade them to unite with the Rappahannock settlement.  Even as late as 1723, he was interested in building up the Virginia settlement.”

Irish.  David Chambers, who had come to America via Ireland in 1743, settled in this Scottish colony.  Then, due to Indian troubles, he moved with his family to Rockbridge county in the mountains.   His descendants migrated in the early 1800’s to Kentucky and then to southern Indiana.  These various Scottish Chambers accounts were recorded in William D. Chambers’ 1925 book Trails of the Centuries.

John Chambers was a Quaker preacher from Dublin who was known to William Penn and invited to America. He arrived in 1697 and settled along the Delaware, later moving to Trenton, New Jersey.  John Chambers, Governor of Iowa, was a descendant.

Meanwhile Judge John Chambers from Ulster was an important figure in colonial New York, being instrumental in the creation of the city’s first official park in 1733.  Chambers Street in Manhattan was named after him.

A Chambers family from Ireland arrived in Pittsburgh in the 1820’s.  These Chambers became glassmakers, one of the largest in America at the time. 

Anthony Chambers from Wexford in Ireland came to New Orleans in Louisiana in the 1840’s.  His son Joseph fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War, his grandson Henry was a noted educator and historian of the state, known principally for his 1925 work, History of Louisiana: State and People.

Canada.   Some of the Chambers from New Jersey were Loyalist and they removed themselves to Canada in 1787.  Their lineage was traced in Queen Perry’s 1983 book The History of the Chambers Family of Niagara Falls.  Robert Chambers brought his family by sea from county Tyrone in Ireland in 1819.  They were early settlers in Norwich, Ontario.

Australia.  Three Chambers brothers – James, John, and Benjamin – were early settlers in South Australia, arriving there as farm laborers on assisted passage in 1837.

James was probably first in Adelaide to open a livery stable, to take mail contracts, and to run passenger services.  His nickname “Greenhide” matched his tough resilience, although not his unostentatious benevolence.  He later found copper ore on his grazing lands, but was sold short by his partner.  Margaret Kerr’s 1980 book Colonial Dynasty: The Chambers Family of South Australia covered the family’s history.

After emigrating from Norfolk, William Chambers and his two sons established a vineyard in Rutherglen, Victoria in 1858.  Stephen Chambers is the sixth generation of the family to manage the business.

New Zealand.  Another vineyard – this time in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand – was begun by Joseph Chambers in 1892.  But, after experiencing hard times, his family sold out in 1917.

Chambers Surname Miscellany

Chambers in Early Essex Records.  The name Chambers, or variations thereof, appeared in early records of East Colne manor rolls in Essex between 1379 and 1457.  It was first shown as John atte Chamber or Chambre and later became John de Chambre or John Chamber.

The following was an entry recorded in 1402:

“At this court the jury present that one cart with iron hooped wheels from the stock of this manor with a complete harness price 20s came into the hands of Robert Boleyne and one tumbrill without a harness to the same from the stock of this manor is in the hands of John Atte Chambre.

It is presented to the same said John that he should make free the same said tumbrill to return to the bailiff of this manor against the next upon pain of 40d and one knife and one sheath from the stock of this manor came into the hands of William Breton clerk and one vat price 10s from the stock of this manor came into the hands of the said John Atte Chambre.”

The Chalmers of Gadgirth in Ayrshire.  The Chalmers of Gadgirth were apparently seated in Ayrshire from early times.  The early spelling was Camera or de Camera and it started to appear in the 12th century.  Robert the Bruce gave Reginald Chalmer a charter for Gadgirth in the 1320’s.  Alexander Nisbet in his 1816 book System of Heraldry gave the following account of the family:

“The antiquity of the house of Galdgirth is further fortified and established by the writ under the great seal of Scotland in the year 1609 where the crown asserts that Chalmer of Galdgirth had before that time possessed the barony of Galdgirth for upwards of 500 years and had lived in Ayrshire with great luster all that while.”

James Chalmer of Gadgirth was an active supporter of John Knox and entertained him at the family seat of Gadgirth in the 1550’s.  But perhaps the most famous Chalmers was the Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers, first moderator of the Free Church of Scotland in the early 19th century.  He was descended from John Chalmers of Pitmedden, a branch believed to be connected to the Gadgirth family.  Another branch of this family was in Aberdeen.

American descendants were to be found in the state of Mississippi: Senator Joseph William Chalmers and General James Ronald Chalmers.

Chambers in Peebles.  Charles Chambers was born in 1860 and became the head of the Chambers Journal House in 1888.  He had the following to say about his Peebles family in a letter written in 1900:

“The first record of my own family is contained in our family Bible, now in my possession. This book contains the autograph of James Chambers, 1664, from whom I am the 8th in descent; also many later autographs.  James Chambers claimed descent from Gillaume de la Chambre who signed the Regimen Roll or Bond of Allegiance to Edward I at Berwick in 1296, as Baillee of Peebles.

My family belonged to Peebles until Robert and William came to Edinburgh and founded the firm of W. & R. Chambers publishers in 1820, of which I am now the head.  They founded the Chambers Journal in 1832.

I may mention that the name never was Chalmers, but always Chambers, a totally different name.”

Robert and William Chambers had been born into a relatively prosperous, mill-owning family in Peebles.  Their father had extended credit to French prisoners garrisoned at Peebles during the Napoleonic Wars.   When the French did not repay these credits, the Chambers family was ruined and they departed Peebles in 1813 for  Edinburgh.

The Rev. Ben Swift Chambers – Founding Father of Merseyside Football.  Most fans of Everton and Liverpool won’t have heard of the Rev. Ben Swift Chambers.  But without him their clubs might never have been formed. Painstaking research has established that it was this modest clergyman from West Yorkshire who set the ball rolling and led to the creation of these two top football sides on Merseyside.

Chambers was born in 1845 in a weaver’s cottage in Stocksmoor near Huddersfield. Before he was five, his family had moved to Shepley where both of his parents taught in the village school. There the young man began his lifelong association with the New Connexion branch of the Methodist church.

In 1877 he was appointed circuit superintendent and minister of St Domingo Chapel in the Everton district of Liverpool.  He was to spend nine years at St Domingo’s and his work there was to leave a lasting mark on the world of football.

Soon after arriving, he persuaded members of the Young Men’s Bible Class to set up a cricket club.  Later they took up football as a way of keeping fit during the winter. Soon they were the best football team in Stanley Park and they began to attract players from other churches.  Within a year the membership of the team was no longer wholly representative of the St Domingo chapel and it was decided to rename the football team Everton after the district in which they lived.

Everton were champions of the First Division in 1891.  A turbulent period followed that season and ended with the creation of Liverpool as a football club.

The Rev. Chambers’ role might have been forgotten but for a series of oil paintings, entitled The Founding Fathers of Merseyside Football commissioned by Dr. David France, where he featured prominently.

Chambers in America.  Chambers in America may be of English, Irish or Scottish origin, many Scottish Chalmers becoming Chambers in America.  The following is a record of their names and numbers arriving in America.

Place of Origin Chambers Chalmers Total
England   531    99   630
Ireland   538    30   568
Scotland   119  308   427
Great Britain   141    40   181
Elsewhere      9     5    14

John Chambers of Kentucky and Iowa.  John Chambers left his home in New Jersey at the tender age of fourteen, setting off down the Ohio river from Fort Henry to a place near Maysville, Kentucky where he found work.  He enlisted in the War of 1812 and distinguished himself in the Battle of the Thames. General Harrison’s report stated:

“John Chambers, one of those who followed Major Payne in his dashing pursuit against General Proctor at the battle of the Thames, was mounted on a splendid charger.  The pursuit was so hot that General Proctor was forced to abandon his carriage and take refuge in a swamp, leaving all his baggage and his papers, public and private, in the hands of the victors.”

In 1827 Chambers was elected to Congress.  In 1841 he received the appointment by President Harrison as Governor of the territory of Iowa, which he held for four years.  It was while acting as the Governor of Iowa that he was much sought after throughout the northwest as an Indian Commissioner.  He returned to Kentucky in 1845 and died there in 1852.

Chambers Glassmakers in Pittsburgh.  The Chambers family, originally from Ireland, became quite prominent and wealthy in Pittsburgh through the glass and later natural gas industries.  They had probably emigrated to Pittsburgh in the 1820’s. Alexander and David Chambers were glassmakers, in business at first with John Agnew and later on their own.

By the time of the Civil War Western Pennsylvania had become the center of the nation’s glass industry. Pittsburgh’s glass trade was a seven million dollar business in 1869 with twenty bottle and vial factories, twenty-three window glass factories, twenty-two flint glass factories and a number of glass factories devoted exclusively to the production of chimneys.

And the Chambers glass company, A and DH Chambers Co, was at that time said to be the largest window glass manufacturer in the world.

Chambers Names

  • William and Robert Chambers, brothers from Peebles in Scotland, were influential 19th century Scottish writers and publishers.  They published Chambers’s Encyclopaedia in 1859.
  • E.K. Chambers was an early 20th century English literary critic and Shakespearean scholar.
  • Paul Chambers was a jazz bass player, best known for his work with Miles Davis.
  • George Chambers was Trinidad’s Prime Minister from 1981 to 1986.

Chambers Numbers Today

  • 42,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 35,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 22,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Chambers and Like Surnames

These were status positions within the feudal position of that time – usually positions serving noble families, lords of the manor, or in the church.  Here are some of these status position surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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