Drinkwater Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Drinkwater Surname Meaning

There is a view long held that the Drinkwater surname derives from a place-name, that it is a corruption of the place-name Derwentwater, one of the lakes in the Lake District. Early Drinkwaters must have come from there. But there is no evidence that they did.

The alternative derivation, as the name suggests, is someone who drinks water. In the Middle Ages weak ale was the universal beverage among the poorer classes and so cheap as to be drunk like water. The surname was perhaps a joking nickname given to a poor person unable to afford beer or it was an ironic name for a noted tippler.

Drinkwater Surname Resources on The Internet

Drinkwater Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Cheshire)
  • to America and Canada

England. The origin of Drinkwaters in England appears not to have been the Lake District in what is now Cumbria but locations in northern Cheshire and SW Lancashire. There was coverage of this genealogy in the Drinkwater and Fletcher 1920 book The Drinkwater Family of Cheshire and Lancashire.

Cheshire and Lancashire.  The name of Thomas Drinkwater was recorded at Lymm in north Cheshire as early as 1365. The first Drinkwater family of substance in Cheshire was the one that occupied the Bent estate in the parish of Warburton from the mid-16th century. In 1620 Richard Drinkwater built a half-timbered house there which was restored in the late 1800’s.

The line of descent from there went:

  • to Shrewsbury. Arnold and Richard Drinkwater moved there in the late 1700’s and prospered as merchants. Richard Drinkwater of the next generation was a well-known and respected local figure, elected Mayor in 1834. Drinkwater Street in Shrewsbury was named after him.
  • to Liverpool. George Drinkwater had moved there in the 1740’s and his descendants became prominent merchants and landowners there and on the Isle of Man. James Drinkwater was Mayor of Liverpool in 1810 and his son George Mayor in 1829.
  • and to Irwell near Manchester. From this branch came Peter Drinkwater, the man who in 1789 built the first steam-powered cotton mill in Manchester. Five years later he acquired the Prestwich Manor estate. Drinkwater Park there was his legacy.

John Drinkwater was a naval surgeon who made his home in Salford in the 1760’s.  But neither of his three sons was able to perpetuate his Drinkwater name.

Oxfordshire.  Drinwaters did spread. An early outpost was in Oxfordshire. Drinkwaters were recorded at Wootton near Woodstock in the early 1500’s. They were established as yeoman farmers at Enstone a century or so later. John Drinkwater had some reputation as a breeder of cattle; another John Drinkwater’s only claim to fame, according to his burial register of 1620, was in being lame. Their family home was called Gagingwell.

Richard Drinkwater who died in 1781 was a yeoman and victualler at nearby Tackley. Rose Drinkwater, who was born there in 1816, ended up in the poorhouse. But her son Henry was able to escape to New Zealand.

John Drinkwater, based in Banbury in the 1830’s, was an innkeeper there and a pioneer in the stagecoach developments in that area. A descendant was the early 20th century poet and playwright John Drinkwater.

Elsewhere.  The Drinkwater name, according to 19th century census data, extended in numbers to Worcestershire and Gloucestershire in the west country and to London.

America. Thomas Drinkwater’s origins in England are not known. He was first recorded as marrying Elizabeth Haskell in Plymouth, Massachusetts and settling in Taunton where he died in 1715. His son Joseph made the move to North Yarmouth, Maine and his grandson Micajah to Northport, also in Maine. Many of these Drinkwaters were mariners, including Perez Drinkwater who was captured by the British in the War of 1812.

The family name lives on in Northport in the Edna Drinkwater School. Their history was told in John Fernald’s 1904 book The Drinkwater Family.

That was it in terms of Drinkwater immigrants until well into the 19th century. The Drinkwaters in America was almost all in Maine in the 1840 census. The numbers had dispersed by 1920 in part because some of the Maine Drinkwaters had dispersed and other Drinkwaters had arrived elsewhere.

For instance Thomas Drinkwater – born in Penobscot county, Maine in 1850 – departed first for Massachusetts and then for southern California where he involved himself in orange and lemon tree plantation. Meanwhile a Drinkwater family from England had arrived in Ohio in the 1830’s. Later Drinkwaters of this family made their home after the Civil War in Howard county, Indiana.

Canada.  William Drinkwater and his family left Gloucestershire for Canada around the year 1830. They were early settlers in what became the town of Brampton near Toronto. The Drinkwater farmhouse, constructed sometime in the 1840’s, still stands. One son Isaac headed west to Port Alberni on Vancouver island in the 1880’s.

There were earlier Drinkwaters in this region. Two brothers Joseph and William had come from the Isle of Man in 1862 and were pioneer settlers in the Cowichan valley. When Joseph died in 1898 he was described as “an excellent farmer and one of the most widely loved men in Cowichan.” In 1899 a later Joe Drinkwater, a prospector and trapper, discovered Della Falls on the island which he named after his wife.

Drinkwater Surname Miscellany

The Drinkwaters of Bent in Warburton.  Old Richard Drinkwater was born in 1563 and died around the year 1651 at the age of eighty eight.  He built Bent House around 1620 and an attached barn some ten years later.  His successors at Bent House ran as follows:

  • Arnold Drinkwater 1618-1671
  • Richard Drinkwater 1648-1729
  • Arnold Drinkwater 1671-1736
  • Richard Drinkwater 1718-1754.

For the convenience of his Bent Farm property, Richard Drinkwater had in 1637 cut a new road which became known as Bent Lane.  He made every effort to keep this road private.  However, local feeling ran high that this road should be made public. Eventually in 1735 a lawsuit was brought to the Knutsford court against the Drinkwaters to this effect.  The result of the lawsuit was inconclusive.  But the lane was opened to the public.

The Bent estate passed out of Drinkwater hands in 1755 after the death of Richard Drinkwater when his wife remarried Thomas Howe.

John Drinkwater of Salford and His Three Sons.  John Drinkwater had been a navy surgeon and was later a physician in Salford near Manchester.  He was the father of three sons – John, Thomas, and Samuel – none of whom continued the Drinkwater name.

John, born in 1762, had a distinguished military career at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Colonel Drinkwater was present at the siege and relief of Gibraltar during that time and wrote an account of it. He later adopted the surname of his Scottish wife which was Bethune.   Their son Charles Bethune became an Admiral in the Royal Navy.

The second son Thomas, born two years later, was a Major in the British army but perished at sea on his return from the West Indies in 1797.  His epitaph in Trinity church in Salford reads as follows:

  • “Thrice had his foot Domingo’s island pressed
  • Midst horrid wars and fierce barbarian wiles
  • Thrice had his blood repelled the yellow pest
  • That stalks, gigantic, through the Western isles.
  • Returning to his native shores again,
  • In hopes to embrace a father, brother, friends,
  • Alas! the faithless ratlin snaps in twain
  • He falls and to a watery grave descends.”

The third son Samuel was drowned in the Irwell river while a boy at school.

John Drinkwater and the Flying Horse in Banbury.  In the early 1830’s the Flying Horse was the local stopping point for an increasing number of stagecoach services linking London, Oxford and Banbury with the West Midlands.

A central figure in these operations was John Drinkwater. He was both landlord of the inn and a partner in the Birmingham to Oxford Regulator coach. He moved to the White Lion in 1834 and by 1836 most of the coach services had followed him.  Drinkwater in fact played a prominent part in the development of Banbury as a metropolis for village carriers.

Perez Drinkwater in Captivity.  Perez Drinkwater was a lieutenant on the privateer schooner Lucy when it was captured by the British in the last days of 1813. He was landed with the rest of his crew in the southwest of England and held at Dartmoor.

He had been imprisoned there for five months by the time he wrote this letter to his brother Elbridge who was later to become a successful sea captain.

“Dear Brother,

We arrived into Plymouth on the 20th of January was put on board the prison-ship Brave on the 24th and was landed from her on the 31th and marched to this place in a snow storm. This prison is situated on one of the highest places in England and it either snows or rains the whole year round and is cold enough to wear a great coat the whole time.  There are some 10,000 of us here now but the French are about to be going home.

This is the first time that I was ever deprived of my liberty and when I sit and think of it, it almost deprives me of my senses for we have nothing else to do but sit and reflect on our present situation which is bad enough God knows.

For we have but one pound and a half of black bread and about three ounces of beef and a little beef tea to drink and all that makes us one meal a day.  The rest of the time we have to fast which is hard for the days are very long here now.  I want to get out of here before the war is over so that I can have the pleasure of killing one Englishman and drinking his blood which I think I could do with a good will for I think them the worst of all the human race for there is no crime for which they are not guilty of.

After a further discussion of the conditions Perez concluded as follows: You must tell Sally to bare her misfortunes with as much fortitude as she can till my return.   I must conclude with wishing you all well. So God bless you all and be with you for I cannot.

From your sincere friend and brother, Perez Drinkwater.”

This letter never got through to its recipient.  Perez survived the shootings in the prison in April 1815 when seven prisoners were killed and 38 injured, mostly American seamen. He was released from the prison two days after the shooting and eventually was able to return home to Maine.

Drinkwaters in America

Year In Maine Total Percent
1840    42    66    64%
1920    66   410    15%

John Drinkwater’s Divorce.  A London sensation in 1923 was the crash of two artistic marriages. Mrs. John Drinkwater obtained a divorce from her husband on the grounds of his adultery with an unnamed woman.  That unnamed woman became known when Benno Moisewitsch, the Russian pianist, obtained a divorce from his wife, the violinist Daisy Kennedy, on the grounds of her adultery with Drinkwater.

Mrs. Drinkwater told the divorce court that she and her husband had got married in 1896 and had lived happily together until July 1921 when she got this brief note:

“My dear Toby, I am going to leave you.  I have taken a flat for you where you will find every comfort.”

And meekly she moved out of their home.

The revelations of his conduct to his wife were an astonishment to those who had read his poems, and especially the lofty sentiments expressed by the heroes of his dramas.  The case lent strength to the remark of one intelligent woman that as a husband she would prefer a shoe salesman or a plumber to a poet.

John Drinkwater and Daisy Kennedy were married the next year at the South Kensington Register Office in London.

Drinkwater Names

  • Peter Drinkwater was a well-known Manchester cotton mill owner of the late 18th century. 
  • John Drinkwater was an English poet and playwright of the early 20th century.

Drinkwater Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Drinkwater and Like Surnames

These are surnames which have a small number of people bearing that name but are included here – for the curiosity of the name, its history, or because of some famous person who bears that name.



Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *