Holt Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Holt Meaning
England, Holt as a name is Anglo-Saxon in origin and describes a wood
or copse and, by extension, one who lived by a wood or copse. A
spelling variant is Hoult.
This name or its near-equivalent has also appeared in Germanic and
Scandinavian languages. The German Holz, when anglicized, may often
receive a “t” between the “l” and “z.” Holt is to be found in Danish and
Norwegian, Hult and Hulte in Swedish, and Hulti in Finnish. The German Hold or Holde, meaning “friend” or
“servant,” may also sometimes get anglicized to Holt.

Resources on

Holt Ancestry

Holt as a place-name occurs in Norfolk and in north Wales; but Holt as
a surname appeared elsewhere:

  • a Holt family was said to
    have held lands in Wimboldsley in Cheshire since the time of King
  • John Holt was a 15th century English judge and landowner in
  • and then there were the Holtes of Nechells and Aston in
    Warwickshire (whose numbers included Sir Thomas Holte, an ardent
    Royalist and the man who built Aston House in 1631).

Lancashire It
has been the county of Lancashire which has had the most Holts, over
half of the Holts in the country according to Victorian censuses

Hugo Holte was recorded as a landowner in Lancashire in 1190.
Later Holts were:

  • the
    of Gristlehurst
    near Bury who were a long-established
    family. Their most
    distinguished member was Sir John Holt, the Lord Chief Justice of
    England after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
  • then there were the Holts who held
    near Rochdale from the early 1500’s to

Many of these landed Holts would appear to have frittered
their inheritance away during the 18th century.

Rochdale remained a hub for Holts in Lancashire. A public
petition signed by 2,100 men of Rochdale in 1642 contained the
dignatures of no fewer than 67 Holts. Robert Holt in fact left
the town for America during those turbulent times.

A century or so later,
a Holt family in Rochdale was involved in cotton
manufacturing there. In the early 1800’s George Holt set himself
up as a cotton broker in Liverpool and laid the basis for the family
fortune. Alfred Holt who came later started up the Blue Funnel Line to China in
1865 (a story recounted in Francis
Hyde’s 1956 book, Blue Funnel).
Coincidentally, there was another shipping Holt in Liverpool, John Holt
from Lincolnshire, who began a trading business to West Africa in

A Manchester landmark today is the Joseph Holt brewery chain, with its
127 pubs in and around the city. Joseph Holt, the son of a Manchester
weaver, began this enterprise with a small brewery there in the
1850’s. Edward Holt had a summer house built in the arts and
crafts style in the Lake District in 1900. The brewery chain
remains in the hands of this

Ireland. The Holt name,
brought over from England, could be found in Wicklow, Offaly, and
Monaghan. The earliest presence, in Elizabethan times, was in

Wicklow was also the most prominent presence – when Joseph
Holt, a Protestant farmer, became General Joseph Holt, leader of the
United Irish on the battlefield in the 1798 Rebellion. When that
revolt was crushed, he was exiled to Australia, where he worked as a
farm manager, and he eventually returned to Ireland in 1814.

America. Holts
came to Virginia and Maryland mainly.

Virginia and Maryland
The first arrival was a Randall
Holt from Prestbury in Cheshire. He arrived at the Jamestown
colony in Virginia in 1620 as a 13 year old indentured
servant. He survived the early traumas, was released from
his indenture, and married well.

Robert Holt, from
Rochdale in Lancashire, came to Maryland in the
early 1650’s with his wife Dorothy and they later crossed the Potomac
into Virginia. Some of
the family remained there in Amelia county, others migrated south into
North Carolina. James Holt was the first to head for the rich
farmlands of western Tennessee in 1847. Many of his descendants
remain there today.

Thomas Holt of Virginia had a good Revolutionary War, being at
Lafayette’s side at the surrender of Cornwallis in
Yorktown. For this he was granted bounty land in
Kentucky. His son Joseph became a leading figure in the
Republican party during the Civil War and is commemorated by many place-names.
Judge Joseph Holt House in rural Breckinridge
county, where he grew up, still stands.

Other Holts Some
Holts in America had come originally from Germany or
Scandinavia. Jonas Hold, mayor of Stettin in Wurttemberg, is the
earliest known ancestor of the Holt family of Virginia and later of
North Carolina (the Holts of Alamance county). Edwin Holt took
over the cotton mill
there in 1851. Son Thomas
carried on the business
and later rose to become Governor of North Carolina.

Canada. Canada’s
best-known Holt was probably Herbert Holt who arrived from Ireland in
1875 and became one of Montreal’s richest industrialists. But he was not
liked. In the midst of the Depression he was quoted as

“If I am rich and powerful while you
are suffering the stranglehold of poverty and the humiliation of social
assistance, it is foolishness on your part and, as for me, it is the
fruit of a wise administration.”

The crowd cheered when his death was announced at a baseball game in


Holt Miscellany

Holt Origins.  Holt appears in England from Anglo-Saxon times and also in Germanic and
Scandinavian languages as a word meaning wood or copse. The Holt name can also be found in Viking history.  “Holt the axe”
was a Viking king, said to be cursed to remain immortal until he had
physically died twenty one times and been reborn twenty one times (this
number representing the number of priests he had slaughtered when he
was king).  He appeared in different decades always as the same
man, aged 40 and wielding the same axe.

Sir Thomas Holte and the Cook.  In 1608 Sir Thomas Holte of Aston obtained damages against one
William Astgrigg for a slanderous statement which alleged:

‘Sir Thomas Holte
took a cleaver and hit his cook with this cleaver upon the head, and
clave his
head, that one side thereof fell upon one of his shoulders and the
other side
on the other shoulder, and this I will verify to be true.’

On appeal, however,
it was ingeniously argued that although it had been stated that the
halves of
the cook’s head had fallen on either shoulder, there was no statement
that the
cook had in fact been killed.  The
judgment of the King’s Bench was consequently given in favor of the

This slander gave rise to the curious local tradition that Holte
murdered his cook in a cellar at Duddeston ‘by running him through with
a spit’
and was subsequently compelled by way of punishment to adopt the red
hand on
his coat of arms.

The Holts of Gristlehurst.  Ralph Holt obtained the estate by marriage in 1449.  Gristlehurst
Hall was a large half-timbered house with thirteen hearths.  The
high fireplaces had chimney place beams that were carved with armorial
crests.  The house itself had gable ends and long casements and
was set in seclusion in 127 acres.

These Holts married well and this gave them a prominence and rank above
other Holts in the area.  However, the estate was squandered away
by Thomas Postumus Holt in the late 17th century.

The Holts of Balderstone.  The Balderstone land lay in the manor of Rochdale in the
county of Lancashire.  Henry Holt lived in a Hall of some
pretension there, but died without issue in 1520.  Balderstone
then had several owners until the Holts of Stubley acquired it in 1582.

This Holt family were farmer-weavers.  The wool
would probably have been fulled by hand or foot and stretched out on
tenter frames to dry.  Charles Holt farmed thirty acres around the
Hall in the early 1600’s. He built himself a water-powered cornmill
sometime before his death in 1628.

The Holts sold the mill along with the estate in 1713.

Alfred Holt and the Blue Funnel Line.  The history of Alfred Holt’s Ocean Shipping Group began
in 1865 when Alfred and his brother Philip set up this company and its
famous shipping subsidiary, the Blue Funnel Line.  Its purpose was
to provide a regular steamship cargo service from England to China, at
first via the Cape of Good Hope and then via the Suez Canal.

At that time the steamship was not considered an economic
long-distance cargo carrier.  But Alfred, who had studied as a
marine engineer, came up with a new design for a compound engine and
screw propeller in an iron-clad ship which would result in a
competitive long-haul steamer.

Three Blue Funnel ships using this new design had been
built for the Holts by Scotts of Greenock: the Agamemnon, Ajax, and Achilles.  These ships began
sailing to China in 1866.  More ships were added to the fleet over
the years as the trade and competition increased.  In 1935 Blue
Funnel acquired the Glen Line, a company that had traditionally been a
great rival in the China tea trade.

The trade with the Far East continued until the late
1980’s when the company’s traditional ships gave way to
containerization.  But the Blue Funnel ships – with their familiar
tall vertical blue funnel and black top – will always be remembered
with affection by those who served in them.

Holt Places in America

Place Founded Named after:
Holt county, Missouri  1841 local politician Dr. David Rice
Holtsville, New York  1860 Postmaster General Joseph Holt
Holt county, Nebraska  1862 Postmaster General Joseph Holt
Holt, Michigan  1865 Postmaster General Joseph Holt
Holtville, California  1908 city planner and community
founder W.F. Holt

Edwin Holt’s Cotton Mill.  Edwin Holt built his home Locust Grove in the 1830’s on the
plantation where his ancestors had fought the battle of Alamance in
North Carolina.  His sister married a man named Carrigan and he
and Carrigan started a cotton mill in Alamance.  When Carrigan
left North Carolina for Arkansas in 1851, Edwin wrote to his son
Thomas, who was then living in Philadelphia, to return to Alamance to
help him manage the mill.

Thomas Holt later recalled:

“In 1853 there came to our place of
business on Alamance Creek a Frenchman who was a dyer and was hard up
and out of money.  He proposed to teach me how to color cotton
yarns, that is if I would pay him the sum of one hundred dollars and
give him his board.

I persuaded my father to allow me to accept
the proposition and he immediately went to work with such appliances as
we could scrape up (including a large cast-iron washpot and an eighty
gallon copper boiler which my grandfather had used for boiling

As speedily as possible we built a dye house and acquired the necessary
utensils for dyeing.  The Frenchman remained with me until I
thought I could manage by myself.  I got on very well, with the
exception of dyeing indigo blue.  Afterwards an expert dyer in
blue came from Philadelphia and he taught me the art of dyeing in that
color.  He then put two negro men to work with me.”

Henry Holt the Brick Collector.  Henry Holt accidentally found a brick marked “E.H. & Co.
Accrington” in 1963 and it generated an interest.  In 1964 he
found another marked “E. Holt & Co. Rosendale” and he was a convert
to brick collecting!  By the end of 1977 he and his wife Mary had
a collection of over nine hundred bricks.  They were to be
involved in cataloguing them for nearly thirty years.  In the
spring of 1996 Henry (by then a widower) moved part of his collection
out of a rented garage into his own back garden and greenhouse.
He died at the end of that year.

Henry seemed to have been primarily interested in the bricks themselves
and where they were made.  His interest in the buildings from
which they were removed was apparently very high for many of the local
and Lancashire sources, but less so for sources out of the area.
He would make several visits to some big demolition sites,
photographing them and adding bricks to his collection in the process.

Mary was primarily responsible for writing up the catalogue entities
whilst Henry sought out the bricks and the information about
them.  The catalogue of the collection was handwritten onto both
sides of a mixture of A4 and quarto feint ruled sheets filed in ring
and lever arch files.  The bricks were numbered sequentially
according to the order the bricks had come to hand.  Each brick
was given a unique number applied to it, using yellow Harbutt’s
waterproof marking crayons.  The numbering sequence ran from one
to 5,103.


Select Holt Names

  • Sir John Holt was Lord Chief Justice
    of England from 1689 to 1710.
  • Alfred Holt was the leading
    figure of the Holt shipping family of Liverpool who started the blue Funnel steamship service to China.
  • Benjamin Holt established the
    Holt tractor company in Peoria, Illinois which evolved into the Caterpillar Company in 1925.
  • Winifred Holt was an American
    sculptor and philanthropist who founded the first Lighthouse for the
    Blind in New York in 1913.
  • Harold Holt was briefly Prime
    Minister of Australia before he died through drowning in suspicious circumstances in 1967.

Select Holt Numbers Today

  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 28,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Texas)
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).


Select Holt 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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