Pelling Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Pelling Surname Meaning

Pelling is a Sussex surname, possibly from the Sussex place-name of Pellinges in the Domesday Book or from a lost hamlet of Peelings near Pevensey.  Hamming de Pelling appeared in the 1296 Sussex Subsidy Rolls. 

George Pelling, one of the pioneers of modern English family history, has said that he could trace his family back to a Pelling village in Sussex.

Pelling Surname Resources on The Internet

Pelling Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Sussex)
  • to India and Australia

England.  There were 425 Pellings in Sussex in the 1881 census, which was more than half of all the Pellings in England.  Julia Rayner’s 1988 article Pelling Otherwise Young covered five generations of Pellings – from 1732 to 1970 – in the Sussex parish of Clapham.  Other Sussex villages where Pellings were to be found were Ashurst, Broadbridge Heath, Horsted Keynes, Sompting and West Tarring, as well as Brighton and Horsham.

Thomas Pelling, buried in Ovingdean churchyard, was a vicar there in 1732.  He was said to have been “the first person who introduced mangelwurzel into England.”

Curiously, two earlier Pelling clergymen were not from Sussex:

  • Edward Pelling, born in Wiltshire in 1640, was a clergyman and writer for the first generation of High Church Anglicans.
  • and John Pelling, born in 1668, was the Canon at Windsor Castle from 1715 to 1750.

Thomas Pelling from Lincolnshire, dubbed “the Flying Man,” was killed at Pocklington in Yorkshire in 1733 while attempting to descend by rope from the steeple of the church.  There is a memorial to him on the east side of the chancel.

India.  Another Thomas Pelling (origin uncertain) married Mary Cobb in Bombay in 1722 and later died in Madras.  His son Thomas was a Madras gem merchant.  He was obviously a man of some importance as there is a fine watercolor portrait of him, done in 1786, that was set in rose diamonds.

The name of Pelling meanwhile lives on in the West Sikkim hill town of Pelling near the Humalayas.  Now a tourist attraction, the town was named after an Englishman Freddie Pelling.  He organized protection for the townspeople who lived under threat from raiders from the north who stole minerals from its mines. Since then Freddie has become a local hero and each year there is a parade through the town commemorating him.

Australia.  The main Pelling numbers outside of England have been in Australia.  James and Emma Pelling emigrated there from London with their family in 1874.  They settled in Cairns, Queensland.  Their son Albert gained a reputation for killing snakes.  But Albert was later recorded as having deserted his family.

Pelling Family History in Sussex

My Pelling family in Sussex dates back to 1629, first in the village of Horsted Keynes and later in West Tarring, now part of Worthing.  Mary Ann Pelling, born there, married John Bowles in Brighton in 1834.  Their son Henry John was my mother’s grandfather.

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Pelling Surname Miscellany

The Death of Thomas Pelling, the Flying Man.  The entry in the Pocklington church burial register in Yorkshire reads as follows:

“April 10th, 1733.   Thomas Pelling from Burton Stather in Lincolnshire, a Flying Man, was killed by jumping against the battlement of the Choir when coming down the rope from the steeple and was buried.”

According to Canon Christie, the rope was fixed to one of the pinnacles of the tower and the other end was attached to a windlass placed near the Star Inn. The Flying Man was furnished with ‘wings’ of material stiffened by attachment to stays and giving the appearance of a bat.  These were fastened to his arms and legs and one heel was attached to a pulley running on the rope.  This was allowed to become slack which caused the accident.

Pellings in Hellingly, Sussex.  R.W. Gillett’s 2001 article was entitled An Unfortunate Family. 

James Pelling married Emma Parsons in Hellingly in 1835.  They had four children – Elizabeth who was born and died in 1836, James born in 1836, Emma born in 1839 and Patience born in 1841.  Their mother died in October 1841 and their father in June 1843.  The three children left were raised in the Hellingly workhouse.

Pelling Names

  • Edward Pelling was a clergyman and writer for the first generation of High Church Anglicans in the 1600’s.
  • William Pelling, a baker and confectioner from Brighton, published postcards of local scenes in the 1920’s which were much sought after.    
  • Freddie Pelling left his name to the West Sikkim hill town of Pelling near the Humalayas.

Pelling Numbers Today

  • 1,700 in the UK (most numerous in Sussex)
  • 900 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Pelling 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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Written by Colin Shelley

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