Peel Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Peel Surname Meaning

The Peel surname may have had Norman origins, deriving from the French word pel meaning a “boundary marker.” The name Radulphus Pele occurred in Normandy in 1180 and Robert, son of Robert le Pele, gave lands in Monk Bretton, York, to the abbey there around that time.

However the name can also be topographical and describe somebody who lived inside a palisade or piel. From this origin developed the concept of the Peel tower, a tall defensive structure which was a relatively common feature of the countryside in the Border country between England and Scotland.

Mention should also be made of the term “peel” being used for the long-handled paddle that was used to remove loaves from deep-bread ovens. The Baker’s Peel in London was the site of early Quaker meetings there in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Meanwhile Peel could become Peele or Peelle in America.

Peel Surname Resources on The Internet

Peel and Peele Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire and Lancashire)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America and Australia

EnglandPeel is very much a name of northern England.

Although Peel towers are associated with the border with Scotland, not that many Peels came from the counties there. One family that did was the Peel yeoman family of Caldbeck in Cumberland, including John Peel, the huntsman of D’ye ken John Peel fame. The Peel name also existed in the Newcastle area, the most famous holder being Dolly Peel, the fishwife and smuggler of the early 1800’s.

Instead, the main Peel numbers have been in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

George Peele, the Elizabethan dramatist and contemporary of Shakespeare, was born in London, although some think that his family originated in Devon.

The family of Sir Robert Peel, the great Victorian statesman, was also originally Peele.

“William del Peele was the first to take the name of Peele in the late 1300’s; and Thomas Peele was said to have fought at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Peeles settled in west Yorkshire near Skipton.”  

These Peeles were subsequently to be found at Hole House and Peele Fold near Blackburn in Lancashire. They became Peels by the late 1600’s. They were a family of yeomen farmers of middling status who, like others in the Lancashire hills, combined farming and domestic textile production, at any rate from the mid-1600’s onwards. Sir Robert’s grandfather, known as Parsley Peel, still hawked his goods about the countryside and only moved into the town of Blackburn in 1750.

This Robert Peel established a calico printing firm in Blackburn in 1764. His eldest son Robert became a wealthy cotton merchant.  And his son Sir Robert Peel was the famous statesman.

Subsequent Peel lines were active in many directions:

  • many became politicians, like Sir Robert. His eldest son Robert served as Lord of the Admiralty, his second son Frederick as railway commissioner, and his youngest son Arthur as Speaker of the House of Commons. His third son William meanwhile had been a Royal naval officer who was awarded the Victoria Cross during the Crimean War.
  • from Sir Robert’s brother Edmund came the wealthy Peel cotton merchants of Egypt, based in Alexandria. Sir Teddie Peel of this family was well-known for his sporting activities.
  • while Sir Robert’s cousin Thomas, as a promoter of the Swan River Colony, was an early settler in 1829 in Western Australia.

Ireland.  There were Peels in Ulster, presumably of English origin, from the 1700’s onwards.  The main line sppears to have been along the Antrim/Down border.  Many Down Peels were to be found in Lisburn and the nearby townland of Ravernat.  Some early Peels in Armagh were Quakers.  Hannah Peel, a young Irish singer/songwriter, originates from Armagh.

America. There are roughly equal numbers of Peeles and Peels in America today.

Peeles. The forebear of most American Peeles seems to have been Lawrence Peelle, origin in England unknown, who came to Jamestown, Virginia on the Margaret and John in 1621 and survived the Indian massacre a year later. There followed four generations of Robert Peelles in Virginia who farmed at the Sleepy Hole plantation in Nansemond county. Sometime in the 1670’s these Peelles became Quakers.

The fourth of the Robert Peelles came to North Carolina in the 1740’s. The spelling here soon became Peele. Robert and Mary Peele started the family cemetery at Laurinburg, North Carolina in 1856. A later descendant, William Walter Peele, was made head of the Methodist church in 1938.

North Carolina today has the largest concentration of Peeles in America. A Peele Quaker branch has continued in Ohio.

Peels. Many of the Peels in America seem to have had Irish origins.

Thomas Peel from county Down came to Pennsylvania and fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War. Afterwards he and his family migrated to Virginia and Tennessee before settling in Independence county, Arkansas in 1815.

Samuel Peel, a descendant, was a Civil War veteran who, at the end of the war, had risen to the rank of colonel but was rendered penniless. He later prospered as a lawyer and politician in Arkansas and was able in 1875 to build himself a fine mansion in Bentonville, now known as the Peel Mansion Museum.

Other Peels who came to America from Ireland included:

  • Richard Peel, his wife Mary and son William, also from county Down, who arrived with other settlers on the Brittania in Rev. George Galphin’s party to Savannah in 1772. On arrival they all trekked around a hundred miles to virgin land on the banks of the upper Ogeechee. William later moved to Georgia.
  • and Allen Peel from Belfast came to Pennsylvania in 1831 and settled with his wife Margret much later, in 1856, in Iowa.

Hunter Peel’s origins are uncertain. But he was to be found in Bedford county before the Revolutionary War. His son Volney migrated south to Mississippi where, around 1840, he started a cotton plantation at Hickory Park near Galena. Volney’s daughter Mary married in 1846 at the young age of sixteen. Her husband died in a hunting accident before the year was out and she was recorded as insane in 1850 and died a year later. His son Albert was killed during the Civil War. Another son Robert became a doctor.

Some Pihls of Swedish ancestry may have become Peels.

Australia. Jonathan Peel from county Armagh came out to Australia in the 1850’s at the time of the Victoria gold rush. He ran a store there which made enough money for him to return to Ireland and build himself a home where Belfast airport now stands.

Peel and Peele Surname Miscellany

Peel Towers.  The Border counties of Northumberland and Cumberland have more castles and fortified buildings than any other part of England. These fortifications included stone Pele or Peel towers with walls three to four feet thick.  Most were inhabited by reivers.  But the vicar’s Peles were inhabited by local clergy.

Charles Bardsley in his 1896 A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames commented as follows on the Peel name:

“Many old mansions still bear the name of the Peel in the north of England.  Peel Castle in Furness is well-known and no doubt John Peel of Cumberland hunting celebrity got his name from that spot.  The name is still well known in that county. Within my recollection almost every old house in the dales of Rede and Tyne was what is called a peel-house, built for securing the inhabitants and their cattle in moss-trooping times.”

Lyrics of D’ye ken John Peel.  The first verse and chorus are the best known:

  • “D’ye ken John Peel with his coat so gay?
  • D’ye ken John Peel at the break o’ day?
  • D’ye ken John Peel when he’s far, far a-way.
  • With his hounds and his horn in the morning?”


  • “For the sound of his horn brought me from my bed,
  • And the cry of his hounds which he oftime led,
  • Peel’s “View, Halloo!” could awaken the dead,
  • Or the fox from his lair in the morning.”

The words were written by Peel’s friend and hunting companion John Graves in the Cumbrian dialect. He tinkered with the words over the years and several different versions are known. They were set to the tune of a traditional Scottish rant Bonnie Annie.  The most popular arrangement of it in Victorian times was William Metcalfe’s version in 1868.

From Peele to Peel in Lancashire.  Robert Peele left the parish of East Marten-in-Craven west of Skipton in West Yorkshire and settled at Hole House in the hundred of Blackburn, Lancashire where his descendants have ever since been connected. He died in 1608 leaving a son William Peele who married Margaret Livesey in 1619 and died in 1651.

His son Robert Peele of Hole House had two sons.  The younger, the Rev. Nicholas Peele, was curate at Blackburn; the elder, Robert Peele of Peele Fold, married Anne Ward in 1681 and died in 1733.

His son, William Peele of Peele Fold, married Anne Walmesley in 1712.  Their eldest son was Robert Peel of Peele Fold who married in 1744.

Sir Robert Peel and Bury.  Sir Robert Peel was born in the town of Bury on February 5, 1788.  It being Shrove Tuesday on which pancakes are a universal feast in England and his birthday recurring on that day, the boys of his own age fixed on him the name of ‘Pancake Bob.’

It was said that, having been insulted on a visit to Bury and later as an MP heard the cry of ‘Pancake Bob,’ he ever afterwards avoided the town.

Bury was famous for its cakes.  His later years were identified with the untaxing of bread and Bury was the first to propose a monument to his memory in gratitude for that legislation.  This monument was completed and opened to public view in 1852.   It bore the following inscription, quoted from one of his most recent speeches:

“It may be that I shall leave a name sometimes remembered with expressions of goodwill in the abodes of those whose lot it is to earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow, when they shall recruit their exhausted strength with abundant and untaxed food – the sweeter because it is no longer leavened by a sense of injustice.”

Robert and Mary Peele in North Carolina.  Robert Peele was the 8th generation descendant of the original immigrant to Virginia, Lawrence Peelle, in 1621.  He and his wife Mary Adams were buried in the Laurinburg family cemetery in North Carolina which was first begun in 1856 when their son Jonathan was buried there.  Four subsequent generations of Peeles have also been buried there.

Robert and Mary were Quakers who at one time attended the Piney Grove Quaker Meeting House in Marlboro county. Later he and his family became Methodist.  But when you view his tombstone today marked with one of the American flags, look at the bottom of it and there you will see that his age written in the old Quaker style – years, months, days.

Peel Names

  • John Peel was the legendary huntsman in Cumberland in the early 19th century who maintained his own pack for over fifty years. 
  • Sir Robert Peel was the British 19th century Prime Minister and statesman who had earlier founded the Metropolitan Police. 
  • Bobby Peel was an English cricketer, primarily a left-arm spin bowler, who played for Yorkshire and England in the 1880’s and 1890’s. 
  • John Peel, born Robert Ravenscroft, has been the longest-serving BBC Radio One disc jockey, broadcasting regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004.

Peel Numbers Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Peel and Like Surnames

From our surname selection here, these are the names of those who have risen in British politics to become Prime Minister from the time the office was first established in the 1730’s (although missing here are noteworthies such as Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, Attlee, and Thatcher).




Written by Colin Shelley

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