Hilton Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hilton Surname Meaning

There is uncertainty as to how the name Hilton and its variants Hylton and Hulton originated. The Hiltons of the northeast believe that the name pre-dates the Norman Conquest and has possibly a Viking origin. They look back to the year 924 when Adam de Hilton presented a silver crucifix engraved with the Hylton arms to the monastery at Hartlepool.

The original spelling is thought to be Hyltun, “hyl” meaning a hill and “tun” a Norse word meaning first a fence, then an enclosure, and then a town.  Did the place Hyltun, a settlement on the hill, come first and the surname later; or was it the other way round?

Hilton Surname Resources on The Internet

Hilton Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England and Norway
  • to Ireland, America, Caribs (Jamaica) and Australia

England. Hilton is a name of the northeast of England and also of the northwest.

Northumberland.  Henry de Hilton, granted lands from William the Conqueror, started building Hylton castle at Monkwearmouth, near present day Sunderland, in 1072. The barons of Hilton remained stalwarts of the northeast for the next five hundred years, inter-marrying with the other prominent families in the region. Their story is recounted in the book, The Hiltons of Hylton Castle, by E.W. Lamberton.

The family position crumbled in the early 1600’s.  But this situation released many of the younger Hiltons who were among the early settlers in America.  

Lancashire.  Hilton may have been a name in the northeast. It was more of a name in Lancashire. The 19th century census data show that more than 60 percent of the Hiltons in England were to be found in the county of Lancashire.

Their presence dates from 1304 when Richard de Hulton was recorded as a land owner at Westhougton near Bolton. This family held sway there for a long time. However, they will probably be remembered for the magistrate, William Hulton, who in 1819 ordered the yeomanry to fire on the demonstrators in what has become known as the Peterloo massacre.

The towns in this part of Lancashire became mill towns in the 19th century and the Hilton name can be found in parish records in many of these mill towns, such as Oldham, Chorley, Stalybridge, Blackburn, and Ashton under Lyme.

Abraham Hilton set up his cotton mill at Croft Bank in Oldham in the early 1800’s. But most Hiltons were mill workers, not mill owners. John Hilton was a handloom weaver in Ashton under Lyme who was active in the Chartist movement of the 1840’s. George Hilton was a yarn twister from Stalybridge. His son Jack Hylton, known in his youth in Bolton as “the singing millboy,” later became a celebrated British bandleader and impresario.

James Hilton from Leigh achieved renown as a writer. The Hilton rugby league stadium in Leigh was named in his honor.

America. Hiltons were among the first English settlers in America, both in New England and in Virginia.

New England. William Hilton was onboard the Fortune which sailed for New England in 1621, a year after the Mayflower, to bring succor to the struggling colonists. He was soon joined by his wife and two children. Later, being uncomfortable with the Puritan regime there, they moved onto what is now New Hampshire.

Virginia and the Carolinas.  In 1663, William Hilton set sail from New Hampshire on the Adventure to explore the Carolina coastline. He didn’t stay; but left his name to Hilton’s Head, now the well-known resort area. Other Hiltons made it to Virginia, and later to Maryland.

Irish Hiltons. John Hilton had come to New York in 1811 from Derry in Ireland. Of his four sons, two became lawyers, Archibald who died young and Henry who, through his connections with the Tweed Ring, prospered exceedingly.

Another son Judge Henry Hilton became one of the wealthiest men in the country, leaving an estate of four million dollars on his death in 1899. However, he is most remembered for his anti-Semitism. As owner of the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga Springs, he instituted a policy that “no Israelites should be permitted to stop at this hotel.” One of the first to be excluded was Joseph Seligman, a prominent German Jewish banker and friend of Abraham Lincoln.

Conrad Hilton. There was, later, a more famous Hilton line which was not from England and not really a Hilton. Gus Hilton had arrived from Norway in the 1880’s. The family name, originally Nilsen, had been changed to Hilton, the name of their farm outside Oslo.

His son, Conrad Hilton, started his business life in 1919 by buying a small inn in Texas. From these modest beginnings grew the Hilton Hotels Corporation which Conrad ran until 1966 (when his son Barron took over). Paris Hilton, the present day socialite, comes from this family.

Caribbean. Some Hiltons got into the plantation business in Jamaica. One branch, in St. Ann parish (Seven Oaks), can trace their ancestry back to James Hilton who had arrived in the 1740’s; another branch in St. Elizabeth parish (Hopewell), to William Hilton, born around 1820.

Australia.  William and Ann Hilton were free settlers from Manchester who arrived in Sydney on the Agnes Ewing in 1842.  The male line continued through his son William and his grandson William who settled in Liverpool, NSW.

Hilton Surname Miscellany

Hylton Castle.  The first castle on the site, built by Henry de Hilton, was likely to have been built from wood around 1072. The castle was later re-built in stone by Sir William Hylton as a four storey, gatehouse-style, fortified manor house.  It was first mentioned in an inventory of 1448 as “a gatehouse constructed of stone.”

Although no construction details survive, it is believed the stone castle was built sometime between 1390 and the early 1400’s (due to the coat of arms featured above the west entrance).  Although called a gatehouse, it belongs to a type of small late 14th century castle.

The inventory taken on Sir William’s death in 1435 mentions a hall, chambers, two barns and a chapel, in addition to the castle.  The gatehouse featured in another inventory taken in 1559 as the “tower” when floors and galleries had been inserted to subdivide the great hall.

The ruins of the castle are said to be haunted by the ghost of a murdered stable boy known locally as the Cauld Lad of Hylton.  One story states that the stable boy was caught courting Baron Hylton’s daughter and was killed.  Another story says that the baron ordered that his horse be prepared for an important journey, but the stable boy, Robert Skelton, had overslept.  The enraged baron was then said to have killed the boy.

William Hulton and the Peterloo Massacre.  By 1819 William Hulton has obtained a reputation as a man who could be relied upon to deal severely with working class people arguing for political reform.  It was therefore no surprise when he was appointed as chairman of a new committee set up to deal with the social unrest that was taking place in the new industrial towns.

On July 16, William Hulton and nine other magistrates met at a house in Mount Street to discuss what they would do about the planned meeting at St. Peter’s Field that day.  Hulton had already arranged for a military force to be in Manchester to deal with the large number of people expected to arrive to hear Henry Hunt speak on parliamentary reform.

The house in Mount Street overlooked St. Peter’s Field and the magistrates could see the large crowd assembling below.  After watching events for a couple of hours, Hulton came to the conclusion that “the town was in great danger.”  He therefore decided to read the Riot Act and to arrest Henry Hunt and the other leaders of the demonstration.  It was while the military were attempting to make these arrests that eleven people were killed and over four hundred injured.

William Hilton of Lucknow.  Sergeant William Hilton enlisted in 1825, landed in India in 1826, and in time took up the position of Senior Sergeant at La Matiniere College in Lucknow.  While there, he and his wife Jane had three children, William, Edward, and Sarah.

He was amongst the members of the Lucknow garrison who defended the Residency during the 1857 siege. All members of his family survived.  William and his son Edward were both recipients of the Mutiny Medal. William retained his position at La Martiniere College until at least the late 1870’s.  His son Edward became a local historian of the events that took place at the Residency during the siege.

Today, William and Jane’s descendants are spread around the globe, living in England, Australia, America, Canada, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and Denmark.

Jack Hylton Starts Out in Show Business.  Jack Hylton was born in 1892 at 75 Boundary Road in the village of Great Lever on the outskirts of Bolton. Jack’s cousin Fred recalled the event:

“I remember Jack Hilton being born quite well.  His mother was knitting a pair of socks to earn a shilling on the day he was born.”

His father George worked in a cotton mill, along with a great number of people in that area of Bolton in the late 1800’s.   However, unlike most, Hilton senior seized the initiative to make a better life for his wife and children.  He was an active trade unionist and helped form a local Socialist Clarion Club.  Jack’s first interest in singing would have developed through his father’s talent as an amateur singer, mostly of Victorian ballads.

Amongst its many purposes, the Clarion Club offered music lessons to local children.  It is here that Jack got his first real taste of music at the age of seven.  By the time Jack reached the Higher Grade school in Bolton, his father had become the licensee of a public house called the Round Croft on James Street in Little Lever.  Here George would sing to the customers as well as serving them drinks.  And it was here that Jack gave his first public performances, accompanying his father as he sang the popular songs of the day such as Thora and A Miner’s Dream of Home.

From the available evidence, Jack had no career intention other than show business.  There is no record of his school successes or failures and there is nothing to suggest that he began to work in the cotton mills, as his father had.  By the time he was thirteen, he had begun his first professional engagement in Rhyl.  Jack would sweep the stage at Rhyl and dress as “Happy Jack Hylton, the Diminutive Comedian” for £5 a week and a share of the collection.

Judge Henry Hilton and Joseph Seligman.  The Judge Henry Hilton who shut the doors to Joseph Seligman was a prominent New York Irish politician, lawyer, and the executor of the estate of the late A.T. Stewart, the merchant prince.

The press had a field day on Hilton’s action.  Some papers sided with Hilton; but most opposed him.  American Jews were angry because an attack on Seligman was deemed an attack on them, an assault that was the more keenly felt because it was a rejection of a very rich cultured gentleman.  So they declared war on Hilton and boycotted his businesses.

Judge Hilton then retreated, offering gifts to local Jewish charities and professing his respect for the old-line Jewish families.  He said he was only opposed to “trade” Jews such as Seligman. However, this explanation did not go down very well.

Seligman was in fact an old enemy of Hilton.  Hilton was a pro-Tweed man, Seligman a member of the Committee of Seventy that had fought Boss Tweed.

Paris Hilton’s Ancestry

  1. Nils Halvorsen (1775-1832), born Klofta, Ullensaker, Akershus married Kari Trulsdatter
  2. Halvor Nilsen (1810-1864), born Hilton, Ullensaker, Akershus married Karoline Hansdatter
  3. August (Gus) Halvorsen Hilton (1854-1919), born Hilton, Ullensatter, Akershus married Mary Laufersveiler died in San Antonio, Texas
  4. Conrad Hilton, hotelier (1887-1979), born San Antonio, Texas married Mary Barron died in Santa Monica, California
  5. Richard (Rick) Hilton, real estate (b. 1955), born Los Angeles, California married Kathy Richards
  6. Paris Hilton (b. 1981), born New York City

Hilton Names

  • Henry Hilton was the forbear of the Hilton family at Monkwearmouth in the northeast. 
  • Captain William Hilton was an early explorer of the southern coastline of the US. 
  • Jack Hylton was a celebrated British bandleader and impresario.
  • Conrad Hilton built up his Hilton Hotels Corporation into a worldwide hotel name.

Hilton Numbers Today

  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Hilton and Like Surnames

From our selection, these are the surnames of those who have made their business mark in America – as pioneers, inventors, developers, or corporate leaders – over its long history from colonial to modern times.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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