Pelham Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Pelham Meaning
Pelham, thought to have derived from the Old English peol
meaning “house by the pool” and ham or “homestead,”
cropped up in various places in England.
Peleham, which appeared in the 1086 Domesday
Book in Hertfordshire, later became the village of Ferneux Pelham. Pelham manor in Cambridgeshire, part of the
Bishopric of Ely, was held by Peter de Pelham in 1201. Either
of these two place-names may have
been the origin of the influential Pelham family of Sussex.

Pelham Resources on

  • Brocklesby Pelhams in
    Brocklesby in Lincolnshire.
  • Pelham Pelhams from Sussex
    to Australia.

Pelham Ancestry

to family lore, the Pelham family in Sussex has as its emblem the
buckle – the result
of a
supposed surrender of the French king to Sir John
Pelham in 1356 after the Battle of Poitiers.
Tradition says that when the king handed over his sword, Pelham
kept the
sword buckle and henceforth used it as his crest.

A more prosaic ancestry has these
Pelhams originating from Cambridgeshire.
John Pelham was a vicar at West Wickham in 1347 and a later John Pelham,
from this
Cambridgeshire line,
the son of a sometime
coroner in Sussex.

Sussex. This
John Pelham’s fortunes rose during the reign of Henry IV and, on the
death in 1413, he was named as one of the five executors of his will. From that point onward the Pelham family of
Sussex was a wealthy and influential one.
Their principal homes in Sussex were Laughton Place from 1390 to
Halland Place from 1595 to 1730, and Stanmer
near Brighton from 1730 to 1926.

1545 Sir Nicholas Pelham defended the Sussex coast against an attack by
marauding French. His exploit was
recorded on a memorial in St Michael’s Church in Lewes:

“What time the
French sought to have sacked Seaford

This Pelham did repel them back

William fought on French soil at Le Havre in 1562 and later served as
Justice in Ireland. His son Sir Thomas
was made a baronet in 1611 and a subsequent Sir Thomas was the father
of two
British Prime Ministers during the time of the Whig supremacy:

  • Henry Pelham in
  • and Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, in

One Pelham family came from
Chichester in Sussex. Peter Pelham, who
had been born there in 1695, was trained in London in the then new
technique of
mezzotint engraving. He left London for
America in 1725.
Pelham line, traced from Playden in the
early 1700’s and later settling in Brede, emigrated to Australia in

. Pelhams from Sussex spread
elsewhere in
England. They came to Brocklesby near
Immingham in
Lincolnshire in 1565 and, as the Earls of Yarborough, have remained
there to
this day.
In Brocklesby Park stands the Pelham Mausoleum, completed in

Another line was to be
found in Hull where Peregrine Pelham had been apprenticed to a merchant
in the
1620’s and became a prosperous merchant there himself.
He was an ardent Parliamentarian and one of
the regicides of the King in 1649.
However, the Civil War had ruined him and he died penniless the

America. Herbert
Pelham had been among the founding investors of the Massachusetts Bay
in 1630. In 1638 he departed for America
with four of his children and bought a house in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. During his short time in
America he was
appointed the first Treasurer of Harvard University and his house almost
burnt down
He returned to England in 1646.
But his daughter Penelope remained to marry Josiah Winslow in

Peter Pelham, who had
arrived in Boston in 1725, made his mark there as a portrait painter. One son Henry, another painter and engraver,
was a Loyalist who departed America for London in 1776.
Another son Peter was an organist and
harpsichord teacher who made his home in Williamsburgh, Virginia:

  • one of his
    sons William was a well-known bookseller and publisher in Boston in the
    18th and early 19th centuries.
  • another son Charles fought in the Revolutionary
    War and later settled in Maysville, Kentucky. His
    grandson John Pelham, born in Alabama, was an artillery
    officer in
    the Confederate cavalry during the Civil War. He
    was dubbed the
    Gallant Pelham

    for his military prowess and personal courage.

Pelham is a well-known place-name
in the New York area but has no connection with the Pelham family. Thomas Pell bought the area known as Pelham
from the local Indians in 1654. He named
his manor Pelham in honor of his tutor Pelham Burton


Pelham Miscellany

John Pelham in Search of a Wife.  John Pelham may have come from humble origins in
Sussex.  But he was a pushy type.  In 1376
he was brought to trial for an alleged
trespass on the land of a royal clerk at Brede and for assaulting a

However, he had some friends in high
places which helped his subsequent rise to public prominence.  His relations in Cambridgeshire provided one
source of support, the influential de Vere family.
He also had the patronage of Henry of
Bolingbroke who was to become King Henry IV in 1399.

In 1387 Pelham laid siege
by night to the house of Sir John Shardelowe at
Fulbourn in
Cambridgeshire and gained entry by placing ladders against the walls.  Once inside he abducted Shardelowe’s
step-daughter and son’s widow Margaret.
He subsequently married his captive.
She was the principal heir of the estates of her late father,
Sir Roger
Grey, which came under his possession.

His action was seen as a crime.  But he was
able to obtain a royal pardon for
this crime in 1389 two years later, thanks to the intercession of Henry

The Pelhams and Stanmer House.  Thomas Pelham it was, cousin to two British Prime Ministers, who built the new Pelham home at Stanmer House in the 1720’s, having
succeeded his elder brother Henry to the family estates.
Thomas had
been apprenticed
at a young age to a Turkish merchant in Constantinople, from which he
got the
nickname Turk.

Thomas did not meet with his cousins’ approval.
They complained
of his drunkenness and “imprudent and
extravagant” talk when at his cups.  Thomas
fact died in 1737 at the young age of
32 from the effects of alcoholism.

house was built of sandstone quarried in the Weald.  Much of the
interior decoration of the house was carried out by Thomas’s son Thomas
who was created the Earl of Chichester.  Both he and his son were
skilled in forestry and it was through their initiative that the woods
at Stanmer had been so well planted.

Pelhams lived at Stanmer House until 1926 when the 6th and 7th Earls
died of flu within a few days of each other.

The Pelham Mausoleum.  In 1763 at the age of 14, Charles Pelham, having inherited Brocklesby Park, was already extremely rich.  He met his future wife,
Sophia Aufrere, during a Grand Tour of the continent while still in his

Though beautiful, Sophia had little fortune of her own and was not
considered a
suitable match by his friends at home.
Despite this, however, Charles and Sophia were married as soon
as he
came of age, she being only seventeen at the time.
When she died some sixteen years later, Charles,
by then the 1st Baron Yarborough, built the mausoleum to contain her

The Pelham mausoleum, completed in 1787, was
based on that of the Temples of Vesta at Rome and Tivoli. Twelve Doric columns, standing on the plinth
formed by the rusticated burial chamber, encircle the upper chamber and
the cornice and balustraded copper dome.
Inside is a statue of Sophia by Joseph Nollekens.

The memorial also houses fitting memorials to
his forbears, starting with Sir William Pelham, a former Lord Deputy of
who died in 1587.  There are also
monuments to Francis Anderson, Charles’s father, and to Charles Pelham,
his great-uncle
from whom he had inherited Brocklesby Park.

The Fire at Herbert Pelham’s House.  In 1641, in the middle of a bitterly cold New
England December night, Herbert Pelham’s house in Cambridge almost
burned down
and his 8 year old daughter Penelope narrowly avoided death.

incident was described by Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop in
his journal:

“Mr. Pelham’s house in Cambridge took fire in
the dead of the night by the chimney.  A
neighbor’s wife hearing some noise among her hens, persuaded her
husband to
arise, which, being very cold, he was loath to do, yet through her
great urging
and pestering he did, and so espied the fire, and came running in his
and had much to do to awake anybody, but he got them up at last, and so
all.  The fire being ready to lay hold
upon the stairs, they had all been burnt in their chambers, if God had
not by
his special providence sent help at that very instant.”

The Gallant Pelham.  John Pelham, a young West Point-trained artillery officer in the Confederate Army, was buried in Jacksonville, Alabama, on March 31, 1863.  Pelham, who had been killed two weeks earlier at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, a relatively minor
in Virginia, had been promising and widely respected.

less than Robert E.
Lee had remarked, after observing Pelham’s skills at the Battle of
Fredericksburg, where he used two small cannons to disrupt the entire
formation for almost an hour: “It is glorious to see such courage in
one so

The hagiography began almost

to The Richmond Sentinel, Pelham’s body was
placed in a metal coffin and lay in state at the Capitol.  The mourning public poured in to see the man
people quickly came to call “the Gallant Pelham.”

honors continued after Pelham’s body
returned to Alabama.  A lavish funeral, planned by the city
leaders, was held at
the First Baptist church, after which a procession followed the funeral
the few
blocks south to the city cemetery.  Nor
was he later forgotten.  In 1873 a
monument was placed over his grave and in 1905 the Daughters of the
erected a marble statue on the site, which still stands today.
Pelham was far from the only promising young
officer to die in the war. But the outpouring of collective and
official grief
over his death, which only seemed to grow louder in subsequent years,
underlines how thoroughly Pelham’s memory became a part of the Lost

in 1838, Pelham grew up
in northeast Alabama, in and around Jacksonville and Alexandria.  His father, Dr. Atkinson Pelham, was an
Alabama planter with several hundred acres who owned four slaves at
birth.  At the time of the Emancipation
Proclamation, Dr. Pelham owned 25 to 30.  When
John Pelham died, he owned a trunk, a
sabre, two servants, and two horses.


Pelham Names

  • Sir John Pelham, advisor to Henry IV in the early 1400’s, was the forebear of the Sussex Pelhams. 
  • Henry Pelham and Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Dukes of
    Newcastle,  served as consecutive Prime Ministers of England in the mid-18th century. 
  • John Pelham was a Confederate cavalry officer during the Civil War who was dubbed the Gallant Pelham because
    of his military prowess and personal courage

Select Pelham Numbers Today

  • 800 in the UK (most numerous
    in Sussex)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 400 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Pelham and Like Surnames

Some surnames have come from SE England, in particular the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.



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