Radcliffe Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Radcliffe Meaning
surname Radcliffe derives from the place-name Radcliffe
meaning “red cliff.” There have been
place-names called Radcliffe in England. However,
Radcliffe as a name has basically come from just one place, the
Radcliffe parish
in Lancashire some two miles outside of Bury. Radcliffe
was one of the only four names of the
Salford hundred in Lancashire recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.
Radcliffe has been the main spelling over time.
Spelling variants have been Radcliff and
Ratcliffe. Today Radcliffe outnumbers
Ratcliffe by almost two to one in England. In
both cases the name is mainly to be found in Lancashire..

Radcliffe Resources on

Radcliffe Ancestry

The Radcliffe
parish in Lancashire
gave rise to the Radcliffe name and
family. They were a Norman family who was granted the Radcliffe
manor in the mid-12th century and built the fortified Radcliffe
Tower. Among their numbers were:

  • Sir William de Radcliffe who was considered one of the twelve
    trusted knights of the shire and was appointed its High Sheriff
    in 1194.
  • Sir Richard de Radcliffe, a knight with Edward III in the
    wars of the 14th century who was made the seneschal of the King’s
    forests in Blackburn.
  • his younger son John who fought in the French wars and
    established the Ordsall line near Manchester in the 1330’s.
  • while a later John Radcliffe who also fought in the French wars
    established himself at Attleborough in Norfolk in the early

The Radcliffe tenure at Radcliffe ended when Radcliffe Tower was sold
in 1561. The Radcliffe Ordsall line,
resplendent in Elizabethan times, lasted longer but died out in
1662. John Radcliffe of the Norfolk line was beheaded for treason
in 1495. But later Radcliffes of this line found favor in the
Tudor court and were created the Earls of Sussex. The line ended
with the death of the sixth Earl, impoverished and childless, in 1643.

Sir Nicholas Radclyffe had secured the Derwentwater estate in
through marriage in 1417. Richard Radcliffe was a henchman of
III who
met his end at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The main
line here died out ten years later after his son John was executed in
Calais and had his estate confiscated, although the line did apparently
through another son Nicholas. In favor with James II and created the Earls of
in 1688, these Radcliffes lost out through
subsequent support for the Jacobites.

These lines and others, where the spelling was sometimes
Radclyffe, were covered in Charles Hampson’s 1940 The Book of the Radclyffes.

There were a number of subsidiary Radcliffe families that continued in
Lancashire, perpetuating the Radcliffe and alternative Ratcliff and
Ratcliffe names:

  • there were Ratcliffs at Chapel Hill in Rossendale from the late
  • Edmund Radcliffe was resident in Oldham in the early
    1600’s. His son William was rector of Aston and Dinnington for
    more than forty years.
  • while the Radclyffes were prominent landowners at Chadderton near
    Oldham for a long time. Their line in fact extended back to the
    1400’s when their forebear Robert Radclyffe built Foxdenton Hall in the
    vicinity. The last of the family, Charles Radclyffe, died in
    1953. The Radclyffe comprehensive school at Chadderton was named
    after this family.

accounted for 40% of all Radcliffes and Ratcliffes in
England in the 1881 census. By that time the Ratcliffe spelling
was outnumbering the Radcliffe spelling by more than two to one.

Elsewhere. The
orginal Radcliffe family extended beyond Lancashire.

There was a line from the Norfolk Radcliffes that was seated at
Todmorden in Yorkshire from the 15th century. Radcliffes in Wakefield
date from a century or so later. Their most famous member
was Dr.
John Radcliffe
, a society doctor after whom a number of
landmark buildings in Oxford were named. Meanwhile another
Radcliffe family purchased the Marsden Moor estate near Huddersfield in
1724 and, a century or so later, Rudding Park House near

The largest number in Yorkshire, however, has been in Saddleworth,
just across he border from Oldham in Lancashire. Radcliffes held
Hall there in the 17th century and were clothiers in the 18th century.

Lancashire Radcliffes also extended to Mellor in Derbyshire, but close
to Manchester. Anthony Radcliffe was a yeoman farmer who died
there in 1658. William Radcliffe, the son of a weaver, opened a
cotton weaving factory in 1789. His factory included a
novel ratchet wheel that enabled the cloth to move forward

Isle of Man. There were
Radcliffes on the Isle of Man by the 1550’s. The forebear of the Radcliffes
of Knockaloe Moar was probably Thomas Radcliffe through
propitious marriage. Later Radcliffes generally alternated Thomas
and Sylvester until the direct male line ended in 1760. Some
Radcliffe descendants were fishermen and fish dealers in the Peel
area; others ended up in Castletown.

Meanwhile John Radcliffe, a younger son of these Radcliffes, was
recorded at Andreas in 1571 and his
descendants were masons and landowners there. The Rev. William
Radcliffe of this family was a noted Methodist minister in Victorian
times. There were 91 Radcliffes at Andreas in the 1881
English census.

Ireland. The spelling here
tended to be Radcliff. The origin for many of them seems to have
been Cumberland and they came to Ulster in the early 1600’s under the
Protestant plantation scheme. Among the descendants were:

  • Francis Radcliff who was in county Down by the mid-1600’s.
    His line produced judges, ministers and town officials in the county.
  • the Rev. Thomas Radcliff who was the Anglican rector at St.
    Paul’s in Dublin in the late 1700’s. His son Thomas fought with
    Wellington in the Peninsular Wars and later emigrated to Canada.
  • while there were Radcliffs in Beersbridge and
    Banbridge, county Down in the early 1800’s. Some of them
    emigrated to America and settled in Ohio. Samuel Radcliff
    departed county Down for Canada in 1842. Six years later he had
    married and was a pioneer settler in Blanshard township, Manitoba where
    he built himself a log cabin and farmed.

Daniel Radcliffe, the Harry Potter actor,
has roots through his father in county Down.

America. If the
name Radcliffe is known in America, it is for Radcliffe College, the
women’s college in Cambridge, Massachusetts that was founded in 1882
and was considered one of the “Seven Sisters” colleges. However,
the name Radcliffe came from someone who had never stepped foot in
America. An Ann Radcliffe, the wife of a London
merchant, had established Harvard’s first scholarship fund in

Captain John
had arrived in America in 1607 and was an early
of the Jamestown settlement. However, he did not last long, being
killed by Indians in 1609 and leaving no legacy.
later Radcliffes who stayed in America were:

  • Richard Ratcliffe from Chapel Hill in Lancashire who came to
    Virginia in 1634. A descendant was Richard Ratcliffe, the
    founder of the town of Fairfax, Virginia in 1805.
  • John Radcliffe who had come to the new colony of Charleston,
    South Carolina as an indentured servant in the 1660’s. Conditions
    there were so onerous that he escaped his master in 1672
    for what he saw as freedom in Spanish Florida.
  • James Radcliffe, a persecuted Quaker also from Chapel Hill, who
    departed for Pennsylvania in 1685. He settled in Wrightstown,
    Bucks county; his younger brother Richard moved onto Maryland.
  • while Daniel Radcliff came to Virginia sometime in the
    1730’s. He was killed by Indians in Hampshire county, Virginia in
    1784. But he did leave descendants, some of whom later migrated
    to Kentucky and Ohio.

were only
120 of the name, mostly spelt
Radcliff, recorded in the 1840 US census.

Caribbean. In 1849 the Rev.
John Radcliffe departed Castlewellan in county Down for Kingston,
where he practiced as a Church of Scotland minister.
After his wife Jane died in 1856, his three
children returned to Britain. He himself
remained in Jamaica and died there in 1892.

and William Radcliffe left Ireland with their families for
in 1832, first settling in the London area of Ontario (where they were
and captain in the local militia) and then moving in 1839 to Amherst
Island on
Lake Ontario.
Thomas died there two years later from his exertions after
rowing a
boat. William left the island in

New Zealand. James Radcliffe had
uprooted his family from
Manchester in 1880 for Wellington, New Zealand.
He prospered there and in the late 1890’s they made their home
in the
new northern suburb of Ngaio. James died
in 1912. His sons Harold, Julian and
Percy all fought in World War One.
Harold fought at Gallipoli and survived; Julian and Percy
perished on
the battlefields in France.


Radcliffe Miscellany

Radcliffe in Lancashire.  Radcliffe initially consisted of two hamlets; Radcliffe, near to the border with Bury and centered on the medieval Church of St. Mary and
the manorial Radcliffe Tower, and, further to the west, Radcliffe
Bridge at a
crossing of the river Irwell.

Nicholas de
Tailbois, a Norman knight, took possession of Radcliffe manor sometime
in the 12th
century.  He may have built the initial
Tower structure.  His son William adopted
the Radcliffe name and was the High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1194.  He was recorded in 1212 as William de Radcliffe
of the Radcliffes of the Tower family.

Radcliffe Tower was rebuilt
by James de Radcliffe in 1403.  The house
then consisted of a stone-built hall and one or two towers, probably
built with
ashlar blocks.
De Radcliffe was given a royal license to
fortify the site including adding crenellations and battlements.

In 1561, after about
400 years of rule by the Radcliffes, Robert Ashton – the lord of
the manor of
Middleton – bought the Radcliffe manor from the Radcliffes for some
2,000 marks.
manor house stayed intact
until the 19th century when it was demolished.  Only
the tower survived.  It still stands
and is listed as a Scheduled Monument.

Sir John Radcliffe of Ordsall.  John Radcliffe
married the heiress Anne Asshawe around 1570 and brought her back to
family home at Ordsall Hall.

Hall at that time was said to have been a manor house of exceptional
beauty and
one of the largest and most important seats in the county.
The antiquarian John Leland remarked on the
beauty of its surroundings as he passed by it on his journey through
in 1516.

It was a quadrangular mansion
in a half-timbered style of erection.
The hall stood in the midst of a pleasant park bounded on the
side by the clear wide waters of the Irwell river and commanding a
over a wide stretch of country to the distant hills of Derbyshire and
wooded uplands of Cheshire.  The house
stood within a moated enclosure, the sloping lands of the manor on the
side draining into the Ordsall brook which kept the moat supplied with
flow of clear running water.

The gardens were laid in the formal style of the
period.  Beyond were orchards, the
shippons, barns, and buildings of the grange.
From the end of the tree-shaded, rocky lane, which connected the
with the town of Salford, a wide drive led through an avenue of
sycamores to
the northwestern side of the hall where a drawbridge across the moat
entrance through a corbelled gateway into the inner courtyard.

On the southeast side of the courtyard was the
Great Hall, one of the finest and largest chambers in the north
country.  The
east and west wings housed the family and the domestics and, fronting
the moat
on the northern side, were the guard chambers where the considerable
retinue of the house was lodged.

In 1571
John Radcliffe was appointed a knight of the shire.
Three years later he was one of the
signatories to the Association of Lancashire Gentlemen, formed to
defend Queen
Elizabeth from the conspiracies in support of Mary, Queen of Scots.  However, he was probably a temporizer on the
of religion.  After the execution of the
Jesuit Campion, there was an extensive round-up and imprisonment of
in the hundred of Salford.  Although some
of his friends were amongst those captured, Sir John himself was not
upon to endure this indignity.

Sir John
was but fifty-three years of age when he died at Ordsall in 1589.

The Radcliffes as Earls of Derwentwater.  Francis Radcliffe was created Viscount Radcliffe
and Earl of Derwentwater by James II in 1688.  His
eldest son Edward married Lady Mary Tudor,
a daughter of Charles II.

The third
Earl, James Radcliffe, was brought up at the court of the Stewarts in
as companion to his cousin Prince James Edward, the pretender to the
throne.  He joined the Jacobite rising in
1715.  When the rebels capitulated, the
Earl was
condemned to death.  Declaring his devotion to the Catholic faith
and to the Old Pretender,
he was beheaded on Town Hill.

His eldest
son was killed accidentally and his second son died of an illness,
leaving his
third son Charles as the heir. But the
estates were confiscated and Charles condemned to death.  He
escaped to the continent and married the
Countess of Newburgh.  He was captured while on his way to
Scotland in 1745 to
join Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, and was beheaded.

Charles Radcliffe’s eldest son, James
Bartholomew, became the third Earl of Newburgh in 1755 and also claimed
Derwentwater title.  His only son and
successor, Anthony James, died without issue in 1814 and the
Derwentwater title
became extinct.

The Radcliffes of Knockaloe Moar.  Thomas
Radcliffe was by most accounts the youngest son of Sir Robert Radcliffe
of Attleborough in Norfolk.  Born in 1511, he accompanied his
father to the Isle of Man where he met and married a Miss Callister,
the daughter of an old and long-established Manx family.  It is
thought through this marriage that he came into possession, sometime in
the 1540’s, of the 350 acre estate of Knockaloe Moar in Kirk Patrick
parish on the west coast of the island.

estate remained with the Radcliffe family until 1760 when the Rev.
Robert Radcliffe died without male issue.

Dr. John Radcliffe, Society Doctor.  An obituarist
wrote of Dr John Radcliffe in 1714 that he should be accounted “the most
eminent physician this England has ever produced.  He
was a man of good sense, sound judgment,
and admirable skill in his art, chiefly founded on the best mistress,

much of his life Radcliffe was never far from the public view.
His unrivalled success as a ‘society’
doctor, buoyed by his colorful personality, provided him with a captive
before which he often indulged a weakness for publicity and speaking

He had his
critics.  One satiric skit circulating in
1709 asked: ‘When taxes shall leave off?’; and the answer given was:

Dr Radcliffe gives his visits to the
Or serves his friends and slights
his golden oar,
When dying patients on
him may depend,
And find his conscience and his manners mend,

When Bath shall court him, and her waters freeze,
Make him
their God, his naughty head to please,
Then, then, shall taxes cease.”

was never much of a reader.  But he did
bequeath a substantial sum of money
to Oxford for the founding of the Radcliffe Library, an endowment which
Samuel Garth
quipped was “about as logical as if a eunuch should found a seraglio.”

Radcliffe and Ratcliffe in Lancashire.  There
were 1,390 Radcliffes and 3,460 Ratcliffes recorded in the 1881 census
in Lancashire.  Not that many appeared at the Radcliffe original
place-name near Bury.  The 1881 census recorded only 91
Ratcliffes at Bury and many fewer Radcliffes.

These names had spread.  The table below shows where the names had
spread in Lancashire – from north to south – in the 1881 census.
We have taken here only towns and
villages with more than 50 Radcliffes or Ratcliffes.  All the
places shown are roughly within a twenty mile radius of Bury.

Town Radcliffe Ratcliffe
from north
Preston    117
Haslingden    120
Oswaldwistle     75
Blackburn    135
Darwen     65
Bury     91
Chedderton     63
Oldham    160     98
Bolton    123
Manchester     61    119
Bedford Leigh    144
Ashton under Lyne    146    101
Toxteth     53
Warrington     68
to south

In some places such as Oldham and Ashton under Lyne, as can be seen, the Radcliffe and Ratciffe names happily co-existed.

John Ratcliffe’s Death at Jamestown.  Captain
John Ratcliffe was captured by Indians at Jamestown in 1609 and met a
miserable death.  According to an eyewitness:

sly old Indian King surprised Ratcliffe alive and caused him to
be bound unto a tree naked with a fire before.  His flesh was
from his bones by women with mussel shells and, before his face,
thrown into the fire.  So for want of circumspection he perished.”

portrayed him as a greedy and ruthlessly ambitious man.  In
Disney’s Pocahontas, he is
seen as an aggressor against the Indians, believing them to have hidden
gold which he could capture.

Richard Ratcliffe and Fairfax, Virginia.  Richard’s parents
John and Anne Ratcliffe were contemporaries of George Washington in
and in fact known by him.  Washington
wrote in his diary on one date: “Mrs. Ratcliffe and her son come to

had begun acquiring land in the area that was to become Fairfax in the
1780’s.  He was appointed a Fairfax
County Court justice in 1794 and donated land for the construction of a
new courthouse
in 1798.  The offer was not completely
philanthropic.  He owned adjacent land
which he saw would benefit enormously from the commercial developments
would follow.

the year 1800 Richard’s vision grew more ambitious.
With the assistance of his son Robert he
started to lay out a plan for a new town around the courthouse.  His plan was helped by the building of a
new turnpike that would pass through the town.
Town lots were quickly snapped up.  The
town, initially called Providence, prospered and grew.
Richard Ratcliffe died in 1825.  Providence
became the city of Fairfax in 1874.


Radcliffe Names

  • Sir William de Radcliffe was the first to bear the Radcliffe name. He was the High Sheriff of
    Lancashire in 1194. 
  • Dr. John Radcliffe was
    an eminent English society doctor of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. 
  • Ann Radcliffe was an English author and a pioneer of the Gothic novel in the early 19th century. 
  • Jim Radcliffe who founded the petrochemical company Ineos was probably the richest man in England by 2020.
  • Paula Radcliffe has been an English long-distance runner and has held the world
    record holder for the women’s marathon. 
  • Daniel Radcliffe is the English actor who rose to prominence as the title character in the Harry Potter film series.

Select Radcliffe Numbers Today

  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Radcliffe 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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