Richards Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Richards Surname Meaning
Richard comprises the elements ric meaning “powerful” and hard “ruler.” This personal name was introduced to England by the Normans. It gained popularity in the 13th century because of the Crusader exploits of King Richard the Lion Heart.  Richards as a surname meaning “son of Richard” took root in the west country and in Wales; while the surname Richardson is generally to be found in the north of England and in Scotland.

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Richards Surname Ancestry

England. The Richard name arrived with the Normans and has been mainly associated with the west country. Richard FitzScrob, a Norman knight, built Richard’s castle on the borders between Herefordshire and Shropshire in 1050. An early surname record was that of Thomas Richardes in Worcester in 1327. The Richards surname subsequently appeared in border counties such as Shropshire and Staffordshire and in the southwest in Devon and Cornwall.

Cornwall.  Richards is very much a Cornish name. Alexander Richards, born in Wendron in 1586, was the forebear of one Cornish Richards family based in St. Ives. Another Richards family (which subsequently emigrated to New Zealand) traced itself back to Zennor and St. Ives in the mid 1700’s.

Many Richards were engaged in tin and copper mining. William Richards was a mine captain in Camborne in the early 1800’s; and Isaac Richards mine agent for Devon Great Consols (briefly the richest copper mine in Europe) in the mid 1800’s.

Elsewhere.  The Richards name was also to be found in Elizabethan times along the south coast in Kent and Hampshire.

Wales.  Richards only seemed to emerge as a surname in Wales in the 1700’s. Sometimes the early name was Richard and it only changed to Richards in later generations. David Richard, for instance, was born in the Llandovery area of Carmarthenshire around 1750. A descendant, Timothy Richards, was a Baptist missionary to China in the late 19th century.

The best known Richards was probably Sir Richard Richards of the Coed family from Dolgellau in present day Gwynedd. He was a well-known judge who eventually became Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer. In 1785 he secured through a propitious marriage Caerynwch Mansion which has remained with his family until the present day. The Dolgellau area also produced Richards Quakers and Richards Baptist ministers.

Other notable Richards of the late 18th century were:

  • Edward Richard, the son of an inn-keeper from Ystradmeurig in Cardiganshire. He was a scholar and poet and he started a school in Ystradmeurig which became famous in Wales.
  • the Rev. Thomas Richards of Darowen in Montgomeryshire. He and his large family were all active in Welsh church and cultural affairs, in particular his eldest daughter Mary who compiled over twenty volumes of transcripts and memoranda.
  • and Walter Richards of the Richards farming family of Llanharan in Glamorgan, a well-known herbalist of his day. His recipes have survived.

Richards has been very much a name of south Wales and this became even more so during the 19th century as industry developed there. The name distribution in the 1891 census showed that half of all Richards in Wales were to be found in the county of Glamorgan.

Ireland. Colonel Solomon Richards came to Ireland in the 1650’s under Cromwell and was appointed governor of Wexford City in 1658. He later was granted the Solsborough estate in Wexford and his family settled there:

  • a descendant was the Dublin doctor Solomon Richards, who had the reputation of being the fattest surgeon in Britain.
  • later came the naval Edwin Richards and his three sons – Edwin (killed in the Crimean War), Frederick (who became Admiral of the Fleet and after whom Richards Bay in South Africa is named), and Urban (who served in the British Army and later emigrated to New Zealand).

Another Richards line in Wexford produced Elizabeth Richards, an Irish sympathizer who recorded the events of the 1798 rebellion in her diary.

America.  Among the early Richards in New England were:

  • Thomas Richards from Somerset who came to Dorchester,
    Massachusetts in 1630. His son Benjamin was a merchant in Boston.
  • Edward Richards, an indentured servant from Plymouth, who crossed the Atlantic in 1633. He trained as a carpenter in Lynn, Massachusetts. His descendants are numerous. One branch headed west in the 1840’s to Utah and later to Wyoming.
  • and Edward and Nathaniel Richards, brothers from Southampton, who settled in Dedham, Massachusetts in 1638.

Pennsylvania.  The Welsh Richards came later and entered mainly via Pennsylvania. Some of these early Richards were Quakers, seeking relief from persecution at home:

  • Daniel Richards arrived from Dolgellau in Merionethshire in 1686 and settled in Chester county (as did Maud Richard from Carmarthen some seven years later).
  • Owen Richards from Merionethshire came around 1715 and settled in Berks county (his descendants were traced in Lewis Richards’ 1882 book A Sketch of Some of the Descendants of Owen Richards).
  • while Matthias and John Richards, Pennsylvanian Congressmen after the Revolutionary War, were the sons of German immigrant Matthias Reichard.

Elsewhere.  Two Richards brothers, David and Joseph, were responsible for a large influx of Welsh settlers to America in the years following the Civil War. They began the Knoxville Iron Company in Knoxville, Tennessee and invited other Welsh immigrants to work for them in the coal mines and iron works there.

Canada. The French Richard and Richer could become Richards in Canada. The Richard name appeared in Acadia (Nova Scotia) with Michel Richard as early as 1650. When the British ejected the Acadians in 1752, Richard descendants made their way to Louisiana and they formed part of the new Cajun community there. Some Richards remained in Canada, in and around Montreal and in New Brunswick.

Australia. Thomas Richards, born in Dolgellau in Wales, was a ship’s surgeon when he came out to Tasmania in the early 1830’s and stayed. He turned his hand there to writing and journalism and has been called “the father of the Tasmanian press.”

A number of Richards came this way from Cornwall later in the 19th century, including:

  • Simon Richards, who arrived in the 1850’s, married, and settled in Singleton, NSW.
  • John Richards, who came to Victoria during the gold rush of the 1850’s. He and his family later moved to Queensland.  Two sons, Tom and Bill, represented Australia in rugby football in the early 1900’s.
  • and Richard Richards who brought his mining skills to the Moonta mines in South Australia in the 1860’s. His son Robert became a mine union official and later a Labor politician.

The Rev. William Richards arrived in South Australia from Portsmouth in 1865 and helped establish the Methodist church there.

New Zealand.  Joseph and Henry Richards came from a long line of Richards farmers in Shropshire. Apparently their father was angry with them and sent them packing to New Zealand in 1850. Both bought land and farmed near Christchurch, South Island. Joseph was described in middle age as “a typical John Bull, one who could carry an enormous amount of liquor and could still still sit on his horse as it carried him home.” He weighed about twenty stone.

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Richards Surname Miscellany

Sir Richard Richards and the Gardens in Caerynwch Mansion.  Caerynwch Mansion near Dolgellau in north Wales was built by Sir Richard Richards, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, after he had acquired the Plas Hen estate following his marriage to Catherine Humphreys in 1785.

Current owner Andrew Richards, the great great great grandson of Sir Richard, said:  “The gardens date back to the 1800’s and were neglected in the 1950’s and ’50’s before my parents began to restore them.”

He is now continuing his parents’ work in restoring the garden with the help of a part-time gardener.

Mr. Richards continued:

“My grandmother was a well-known botanist and she brought back rhododendrums from China in the 1900’s.  We have a woodland garden with special rhododendrums and at the end of March we have a mass of daffodils and bluebells.  In the front of the house there is a terraced garden with herbaceous borders and the grounds run down to the Clywedog river. The two open days in May will include a three-quarters of a mile walk around the riverbank.  Because we live in such a beautiful spot, we want to let other people share our enjoyment.”

Richards Name Distribution in Wales.  The table below shows the number of Richards by county in Wales according to the 1891 census.

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
Glamorgan     6.5    50
Carmarthenshire     1.7    13
Monmouthshire     1.6    12
Pembrokeshire     1.0     7
Cardiganshire     0.9     6
Elsewhere     1.5    12
Total    13.2 100

Daniel Richards, a Quaker.  David Richards, a Quaker, came to Pennsylvania from Wales in 1686, accompanied by Lewis Walker.  They both settled near Philadelphia in Chester county and Port Kennedy.  Daniel purchased a farm there in 1707 and named it Tredyffin.  It remained in the Richards family for four generations.

Daniel married Elizabeth Evans and they had four children.  There are many descendants in the area today.

The Rev. William Richards and Rhode Island’s Brown University.  The largest gift to the Brown University library in the early 1800’s was the Richards Legacy.  The Rev. William Richards, a native of North Wales, was a man of considerable learning, a dissenting Baptist minister, and an author of a number of political, historical and philological works.  Responding to a letter from President Manning in 1790, the Rev. Richards wrote:

“I rejoice exceedingly in the prospect which your letter exhibits of the growing greatness and the increasing felicity and prosperity of America.  I have long been partial to your country, and at a very early period of my life was on the point of removing from Britain thither.  But the War deterred me.”

Richards then consoled Manning on the small size of the College Library and added: “I have myself near fifteen hundred volumes, some of them of value.”

Over the years, Richards and the College maintained cordial relations, with the College conferring upon him the degrees of A.M. in 1793 and Doctor of Laws in 1818.  By coincidence, on the very day that the latter degree was conferred, Richards had drawn up a will bequeathing his library to Brown.  He died before learning of his honor.

Solomon Richards and the Footpad.  Solomon Richards, who died in 1819, was in his day a leading Irish surgeon.  He had the reputation of being the fattest and biggest surgeon in the United Kingdom.

Ireland at the beginning of the 19th century was in a most unsettled state.  Even the roads about Dublin were not safe after dark, robberies and even murders not being uncommon.  Richards had been called on to perform an operation near Santry, a village some ten miles from Dublin, and was detained with the patient till long after sunset.  It was winter and he was returning in his carriage, having with him a Dr. Obré, who had called him in, a physician at that time in good practice, and who was as spare and insignificant as Richards was the reverse.

Suddenly the carriage was stopped and a footpad, opening the door on the side next which Richards sat, presented a pistol and demanded his purse.  Richards, begging him to lower his pistol, handed him the purse, and then his watch, which the robber demanded. Then followed the demand: “Have you anything else?”

“Yes,” replied Richards, “here is my case of instruments,” handing them out promptly.

All this time Obré was concealed – hid by Richards’s huge frame, which in the dark seemed to fill the carriage – and the footpad, not observing him, called to the coachman to drive on.  But Richards stopped him, saying: “Oh, no; not till you speak to my friend on the other side of me.”  So Obré too, thus pointed out, was relieved of his money and watch.

Then the robber politely said: “Good night.”

But Richards was not yet done with him and said: “My friend, you would not have got that gentleman’s money if it had not been for me.  Now, my instruments won’t bring you ten shillings in Charles Street (a street which was, and still is, the mart for all kind of second-hand tools and iron), while to me they are of value.  I think you might give me them back.”

“Well, I will,” was the prompt reply and the case was handed in.

“One word more,” said Richards, “you will get very little for that old watch.  I care for it because it was my father’s. Let me have it.”

“Well, you are a decent fellow,” said the robber, “here it is.”

Then they drove on.  Obré then in great anger broke the silence and in unmeasured terms abused Richards, declaring that it was mean of him to point him out as otherwise he would have escaped.

Richards let him talk for a while, and then quietly said: ” Do you think I was going to allow you to boast in the club to-morrow how well you got off while Richards was robbed?  Oh, no; if I was to be robbed you must be also.”

John Richards – from Cornwall to New Zealand.  Tin and copper mining in Cornwall suffered in the second half of the 19th century and large numbers of Cornishmen emigrated at that time, often taking their mining skills with them.  One such was John Major Richards from St. Ives, at first a blacksmith and then a miner.

John, aged 25, set off with his wife Catherine and his three young children – John, Catherine and Thomas – for New Zealand.  They arrived in Auckland on the Oxford in 1874.  Their young daughter Catherine died soon after their arrival.  But another daughter was born, whom they named Kate.

John went to work as a miner at the Thames goldfield, as did his two sons later.  Son John died there in a mining accident.  But Thomas lived to 81 and daughter Kate to the grand old age of 102!

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Richards Names
  • Henry Brinley Richards was a 19th century pianist and composer from Carmarthen in Wales. His best remembered piece is God Bless the Prince of Wales.
  • Sir Gordon Richards is thought to be Britain’s finest jockey. He finally won the Derby on Pinza in 1953.
  • Keith Richards is founding member and lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones.
  • Viv Richards is considered one of the greatest cricketers to have come out of the Caribbean.

Richards Numbers Today
  • 83,000 in the UK (most numerous in Surrey)
  • 50,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 36,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).
Richards and Like Surnames  

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.

AdamsHarrisNicholsStevens
AndrewsHicksRichardsWalters
DanielsMatthewsRobbinsWilliams
GibbsMorrisSimmonsWillis

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