Shelley Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Shelley Meaning
The name “Shelley” appears to be locational in origin.  The
is said
to have derived from the Old English word scyf or “shelf,” a ledge or
plateau, and “ley”, a field or clearing, and describes someone who
lives at such a place.
The name is thought to have originated in Essex.  There is in
fact a
small hamlet called Shelley near Chipping Ongar in the county.  A
manor of that name has existed
on the edge of Epping Forest since
pre-Domesday times.  But other early sightings of the name can be
elsewhere, in Suffolk and West Yorkshire.
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Shelley Ancestry

England.  Shelleys in
Sussex were recorded in Rye in East Sussex in
the early 14th century.  A John Shelley was able in 1474 to
secure the
marriage of Elizabeth Michelgrove and thereby bring the Michelgrove estates near
Arundel under his control.  For three
centuries thereafter, the Shelleys were landed gentry in Sussex, with
branches in West and East Sussex. The branch in East Sussex included
the black
sheep of the family, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

A Shelley name in Kent can
be traced to the 1380’s and the Shottys manor house in Knockholt near
Sevenoaks.  Later on, this family moved to Hall Place in Bexley
where they
lived until early Elizabethan times.  Henry
Shelley from nearby Chislehurst set sail in 1609
in a mission to rescue the
New World colonists at Jamestown.  The party didn’t succeed in
venture.  But Henry Shelley did leave his
name to one of the beautiful beaches in Bermuda.

locations for Shelleys have been:

  • the county of Essex.
    Richard Shelley, born in
    1611, was the forebear to successive generations of Essex
    blacksmiths.  A
    line from there may have gone to Uriah Shelley who married in 1754 in
    village of Rivenhall southeast of Braintree.  Today Rivenhall has
    largest concentration of Shelleys in the county. 
  • and Staffordshire, in the
    area from Stoke to Wolverhampton.  Shelley Potteries, in
    business from the
    1750’s until recently, has been a well-known name in Stoke.

Although Shelley is an English-origin name, there are more than twice
number of Shelleys in America than in England.  An important
factor has
been the anglicization of foreign names by immigrants either on their
into the United States or with the next generation.  German names
such as
“Schille” or “Schelle” became Shelley in America.  So at times did
the Irish

There was a cluster of Shelleys from German Mennonite roots in
Pennsylvania.  Daniel Shelley uprooted his wife and four children
from Lancaster
county to settle in the 1770’s in what is now called Shelley’s Island on the Susquehanna
river.  Here they formed a
self-contained community.  Irish Shelleys have made their way to
California and
Idaho, amidst other places.  Kate
was, briefly, a young heroine in Iowa in 1881 for
authorities about a potential train catastrophe.

And Shelley clusters from English roots can
be found in South Carolina, Alabama, and Utah.

Australia.  There are
many Shelleys in Australia.  The first Shelley to emigrate to
was William Shelley, a
from Hanley in Staffordshire who arrived there in 1800.


Shelley Miscellany

The Michelgrove Shelleys.  The Michelgrove Shelleys were buried at Clapham church in
Sussex.  In
1772 Sir John Shelley composed the following loving epitaph to his wife
which can
still be found there:

“Here Lyeth the Body of Wilhelmina Shelley
Who departed this Life the 21st of March 1772
Aged Twenty three years.

She was a pattern for the World to follow:
Such a being both in form and mind perhaps never existed before.
A more dutiful, affectionate, and Virtuous Wife,
A more tender and Anxious parent,
A more sincere and constant Friend,
A more amiable and elegant companion;
Universally Benevolent, generous, and humane;
The Pride of her own Sex,
The admiration of ours.

She lived universally beloved, and
She died as generally revered, and regretted,
A loss felt by all who had the happiness of knowing Her,
By none to be compared to that of her disconsolate, affectionate,
And in this World everlastingly Miserable Husband,
Who has caused this inscription to be engraved.”

The Voyage of the Sea Venture.  Henry Shelley was a passenger on the Sea Venture that
departed London for Jamestown in 1609 in order to rescue the colonists
there.  The ship was shipwrecked off
Bermuda.  The following is the official
account of what happened.

“The Sea
sailed as
part of a flotilla of nine ships commanded
by Admiral Sir George Somers. The intended destination was Jamestown,

On 2 June, the Sea Venture,
flagship of the “Third Supply” (six ships and two pinnaces); departed
London. On 23 July, a hurricane at sea separated the Sea Venture from
the other vessels. After four days, she began taking on water. Land was
sited and she wrecked between two reefs off the shores of Bermuda on 28
July 1609.  All of approximately 150 passengers safely made land.

Two pinnaces were built during the following nine months, the Deliverance and the Patience. These vessels sailed on
to Virginia on 10 May 1610, leaving two men behind. On 19 June 1610,
Sir George Somers volunteered to return to Bermuda aboard the Patience for supplies for the
struggling colony of Virginia. He arrived in Bermuda, dying there in
November of 1610.  Captain Matthew Somers returned to England
aboard the
Patience with his uncle’s
body. Three men were left on the islands to hold the claim.”

Shelley Potteries.  The Shelley pottery business was started around 1748 by Randle
Shelley at Longton near Stoke.  The Shelleys produced their own
earthenware and decorated the plates and dishes made by Josiah
Wedgewood. Although two of the family, Thomas and Michael, were
to achieve some renown as potters, their business failed.  They
were declared bankrupt in 1798 and forced to sell their factory.

In 1865, Henry Wileman became a partner in what was then Foley
eventually became its sole owner, and proceeded to enlarge his
factory.  He
hired Joseph Shelley as a sales representative. Shelley became his
partner in 1872, and, when Wileman retired, Shelley became its sole
owner  He kept the “Wileman” company name until 1925, although the
goods were
marked “Shelley” from 1910.

Joseph’s son, Percy, joined the business in 1881, and had a great
desire to strengthen their export business and improve quality. He
built his own bone grinding mill, which was unheard of, and had the
animal bone ground to his specifications – using only cattle bone,
which had the best quality of all.

Shelley Potteries went out of business in 1966.  But the
Shelley name still lives on in Longton.  For a brief time,
Shelley’s Laserdome in the town was the heart and soul of the 1980’s
rave scene in the northwest. More importantly, the
Gladstone Pottery Museum was built on the site of the original Shelley
pottery works. Here, the records and works of Shelley and other
local potters are preserved.

Shelley’s Island in Pennsylvania.  How did Daniel Shelley from a Mennonite family come to be
plotting against the American Revolution?

Papers lodged in the Pennsylvania state archives suggest that he was
implicated in the plot.  The ringleader apparently was the Rev.
Daniel Batwell, an English-born local minister.  In the summer of
1777, he and two fellow conspirators were ferried across the
Susquehanna from Prunk’s Tavern in Newberry to Shelley’s Island.
There they met with Daniel Shelley at his fieldstone house and hatched
the plot to blow up the York city magazine where the firearms and
gunpowder of the Continental Army were stored.

What was Daniel Shelley’s role?  It is not clear.
But the plot was foiled when two of the conspirators had too much to
drink at Prunk’s Tavern one night and spilled the beans.  Daniel
was arrested and imprisoned in Carlisle.  He secured his release
after he agreed to turn state’s evidence and, apparently, join the
Continental Army.

Daniel returned to Shelley’s Island and sired more children.  A
family story has it that, after he had buried wife number three, he
stood at her graveside, cast his eyes upward, and exclaimed: “Oh,
Lord, must I marry again!”  He did.

Plaque on the Grave of Kate Shelley.  The following plaque is to be found at the Sacred Heart cemetery in Boone, Iowa:

“Here is a deed bound
for legend; a story to be told until the last
order fades and the last rail rusts.

On the night of 6th
July 1881,
Kate Shelley, then a girl of 15 years, crossed the Des Moines river
bridge at Moingona Iowa, in tempest and flood and prevented a C. and N.
W. passenger and express train from plunging into rain-swollen Honey
Creek where two men had died when a bridge collapsed under their

Her heroism saved the
train and those aboard and led to
rescue of survivors from the Honey Creek disaster.”

William Shelley and the Native Institution.  The following
is a chronology of events from the Australian Colonial Secretary papers:

“1814 December. Notice of establishment
of school for Aboriginal
children at Parramatta under a committee with William Shelley as

1815 December.  Earl Bathurst
of establishment of Native

1816 April. Twelve boys and girls to be
selected from the prisoners
of war of a punitive expedition against hostile natives.

1817 March. Accounts in favour of Mrs.
Elizabeth Shelley as manager
of the Native Institution.

1818 December. General order re annual
conference with Aboriginal
chiefs and tribes and encouragement for children to be put in

1820 January. Necessity for removal of
the Native Institution from
Parramatta and for suitable superintendent (by 1820, 37 aboriginal
children had been received, six absconded, two died, one taken by
father, and 28 completed their studies).

1824 January. Government and general
order thanking the committee
of the Native Institution and the Male and Female Orphan Schools for
their exertions and relieving members of their duties in consequence of
the need to model these institutions on new principles.”

The editors of a newly-published book, Great Mistakes of Australian History,
said in their introduction that it was “an act of national immaturity”
approach Australian history simply as a series of achievements, without
recognizing the “misjudgments, misconduct and missed opportunities”
that were an inevitable part of any nation’s story.

A principal “character” in this book is William Shelley, the
well-intentioned founder of the Parramatta Native Institution – the
precursor of institutions and policies that led to the “stolen


Select Shelley Names

  • John Shelley established the Shelleys as landed gentry in
    Sussex with his marriage to Elizabeth Michelgrove in 1474.
  • Sir Richard Shelley, a staunch Catholic from the Shelley
    Michelgrove branch, was active in several plots against Queen Elizabeth during the 1560’s.
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley, born into gentry in East Sussex, is one of the best-known English Romantic poets. His wife Mary Shelley (nee Godwin) wrote Frankenstein. 
  • William Shelley was a missionary from Hanley in Staffordshire who sailed to Australia in 1800. His school for Aboriginal children has now been described as Shelley’s mistake.
  • Percy Shelley reinvigorated
    Shelley Potteries in Stoke in the
    early part of the 20th century.
  • Jack Shelley of working class Irish roots was the
    mayor of San Francisco during the turbulent 1960’s.

Select Shelley Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Essex)
  • 4,500 in America (most numerous
    in South Carolina).
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Shelley and Like Surnames   These are the names of some literary giants.  If you are interested in the name behind the literary figure, please click on the surname below.




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