Redgrave Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Redgrave Surname Meaning

The surname Redgrave comes from the place name of Redgrave, which lies northwest of Eye in Suffolk close to the border with Norfolk. The root of the name appears to be the Old English hreod, meaning “reed,” and graef, meaning “ditch.”  The early spelling of the place was Redgrafesthorpe, suggesting possibly an early Danish settlement.

Redgrave manor was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The manor passed from the King to the illustrious Bacon family in 1542.  The village population numbered about forty in the early Middle Ages. Because this number is not very large, there is some reason to believe that all Redgraves might have come from a single ancestor.

Redgrave Surname Resources on The Internet

Redgrave Surname Ancestry

  • from England (East Anglia)

England.  The surname Redgrave would designate that you came from Redgrave in Suffolk, not that you were living there. Thus an early Redgrave might well be living somewhere else. Early examples of the name were in fact in Norfolk – Robert de Redgrave of Norwich in 1344 and Adam de Redgrave in Norfolk in 1477.

The name was mainly to be found in London and in East Anglia. Of the 750 Redgraves recorded in the 1891 census:

  • 36% lived in London
  • 15% in Norfolk 
  • 14% in Suffolk
  • and 5% in Essex.

Samuel Redgrave and his wife Elizabeth, who were living at Seething in Norfolk in the 1750’s, are believed to have been the forebears of the Olympic rower Steve Redgrave. From William Redgrave, a wire worker and fence manufacturer of limited means in Pimlico, came two cultured brothers of early Victorian London – Samuel, a civil servant and writer on art, and Richard, an artist and teacher of art.

Some Redgraves came from outside of this area of eastern England. One family of Redgraves was to be found at Earls Barton in Northamptonshire in the late 16th century. Later Redgraves included the famous acting family of Redgrave:

  • George Redgrave (1851-1881), the inventor of the board game Bagatelle
  • Roy Redgrave (1873-1922), the stage and silent film actor (who left his family for Australia)
  • Sir Michael Redgrave (1908-1985), the well-known stage and film actor
  • and his daughters Vanessa and Corin and grand-daughters Natasha and Joely, who all made their marks as actresses.

Tim Adler’s 2011 book The House of Redgrave: The Lives of a Theatrical Dynasty described this family.

A Redgrave family in Warwickshire traces itself back to John Redgrave who was born around 1733 in the village of Bishops Itchington.

Redgrave Surname Miscellany

From Samuel to Olympic Rower Steve Redgrave.  One Redgrave line from Suffolk crossed the border north into Norfolk and settled at Seething, just northeast of Norwich. Steve’s probable five times great grandfather Samuel Redgrave and his wife Elizabeth were living there in the 1750’s.

Steve’s earliest proven ancestor was Joseph Redgrave who was born in neighboring Kirstead around 1783.  He left Kirstead and travelled south into Suffolk, seeking work as a farm laborer.  He and his son William labored at Walpole.

However, Harry Redgrave of the next generation, Steve’s great grandfather, departed this area with his childhood sweetheart Susannah Chapman in search of new opportunities.  They travelled south until they reached the Thames and the prosperous market town of Marlow in Buckinghamshire. Here in 1897 they stopped, married, and raised their family.

And Steve himself was born in Marlow in 1962.

The Adventures of Roy Redgrave.  Born in 1873, George Ellsworthy (Roy) Redgrave, an English stage and silent film actor, is considered the first of the Redgrave acting dynasty.  He also had some tumultuous love affairs.

His first wife was the actress Ellen Pratt, the daughter of a prosperous Devon farmer.  Their careers reached a high point with their joint debut at the Hoxton theater in London in 1900. However, by then Roy had fallen in love with a young actress named Ettie Carlisle.  Ellen discovered the affair and Ettie fled Britain for South Africa. Roy followed her.

Ettie married Clayton Parrett by special licence in Cape Town on a Sunday in 1903.  Roy arrived in Cape Town two days later on the Tuesday. Ettie then left Parrett and went with Roy to Australia where she then bore him a son, Victor Redgrave Parrett, who was born in Australia in 1906.

At some point after his initial Australian theatre work, Roy left for England alone.  He toured with the American actress Minnie Brune.  His first wife Ellen then pursued Roy back to Australia, arriving in time to pay his unsettled hotel bills.  But she was unable to persuade him to return home with her to their family.

However, Roy did return to Britain, appearing in repertory at the Theatre Royal in Brighton.  There he met the actress Margaret Scudamore. They married at the Glasgow Register Office in 1907 while touring in the north and had one child, the actor Sir Michael Redgrave who was born the following year.

Six months after Michael’s birth, Roy left Margaret and returned to Australia again, this time permanently.  He died in Sydney in 1922.

Redgrave Names

  • Sir Michael Redgrave was a well-known stage and film actor and the father of famous Redgrave actresses Vanessa and Corin Redgrave.
  • Sir Steve Redgrave was the Olympic rower who won five consecutive gold medals, from 1984 to 2000.

Redgrave Numbers Today

  • 1,200 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 200 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Redgrave and Like Surnames

Many surnames have come from East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) and surrounding areas in eastern England.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.





Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *