Sutcliffe Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Sutcliffe Surname Meaning 

Sutcliffe comes from the Old English sueth meaning “south” and clif or “cliff.”  It is a west Yorkshire name.

It could come from one of three places in west Yorkshire named Sutcliffe; or it could be describing someone who lived by a south cliff.   A foreign source for the name has been suggested.  But this looks unlikely.

Sutcliffe Surname Resources on The Internet

Sutcliffe Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire)
  • to Ireland, America and Canada

England.  The name had its origins in Hipperholme, located in the lower reaches of the Calder valley in west Yorkshire.  A Sutcliffe family – recorded as Wilelmus Sothclyff – had already settled in Heptonstall in the parish of Halifax by 1379 and the name spread strongly in that part of the valley over the next 150 years. Nearby Wadsworth accounted for 18 of the 23 Sutcliffes taxed in Yorkshire in 1509.

Robert de Southclyff acquired Mayroyd House in Hebden Bridge in 1435 and it stayed with the Sutcliffe family until 1584. Later Sutcliffes in this area were:

  • a Sutcliffe clothier family which acquired the Great House in Colden in 1627.  William Mitchell Sutcliffe, a keen bryologist (gatherer of moss), lived there in the 19th century.  The house, subsequently remodeled, was sold in 2005 for a price in the region of one million pounds.
  • William Sutcliffe of Hochoile in Erringden who died there in 1637.
  • another William Sutcliffe, this one also a clothier, who purchased Stansfield Hall in 1696.  His family were to remain there until 1851.
  • Joseph and Martha Sutcliffe of Wadsworth who moved to Stoneshey Gate in Heptonstall in the early 1700’s.  Their descendants were cotton mill owners in Hebden Bridge.
  • and the Rev. Tobit Sutcliffe who was the curate at Heptonstall when John Wesley visited the church in 1774.

Wesley wrote in his journal: “It was with difficulty that we got up the steep mountain.  When we were upon the church the wind was ready to bear us away.  The church was filled with serious hearers.  No others would face such a storm.”

The 1881 census showed that Sutcliffes were still mainly concentrated in this area, although with some spillover into Lancashire.  The main towns with Sutcliffes were Halifax and Stansfield, the main villages Heptonstall and Erringden.

Thomas Sutcliffe, the Victorian watercolorist, grew up and lived in the Leeds area.  His eldest son Frank was a pioneering photographic artist of the early 20th century.

For some reeason the Sutcliffe numbers in England declined by about 35% over the course of the 20th century.

Ireland.  Joseph Sutcliffe came to Tipperary from Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire in 1633, but died during the fighting that took place after eight years.  Later Sutcliffes were Protestant farmers in a Catholic community.  Richard Sutcliffe, born there in 1849, left to take up a post of surveyor at a colliery in Durham.  He later made his home at Horbury near Wakefield and made his mark as a mining engineer with his invention of an underground belt conveyor.

America.   The name in America was initially Sutliff as Abraham Sutliff, a Puritan, wanted to distinguish himself from the English Sutcliffes.  He had arrived at Plymouth Rock in the early 1620’s.  His son Nathaniel Sutcliffe, born in 1638, married Hannah Plympton in Medfield, Massachusetts in 1665 and then moved to an area that came to be called Deerfield.  He died there fighting Indians in 1676.

Later Sutcliffes moved westward through Massachusetts and Connecticut and in the 1790’s made their home in the Wyoming valley of Pennsylvania.  Bennet Sutliffe’s 1903 book was entitled Genealogy of the Sutcliffe-Sutliffe Family in America.

Canada.  Some Loyalist Sutliffes left America for Halifax, Nova Scotia after the Revolutionary War was over.

The Rev. Ingham Sutcliffe came from Yorkshire in 1832.  He was an energetic Methodist missionary and held forth in Canada until his death in 1885.  His granddaughter Alison was a dance choreographer in Toronto in the 1930’s.

Sutcliffe Surname Miscellany

Foreign Origin of the Sutcliffe Name.  There are many stories around the origin of the name.  Some say that they came from originally from the Low Countries and settled in England following persecution; that sons of Gamel de Zoetcliffe, a Flemish clothier, erected fulling mills in Lancashire, and Yorkshire in 1311. That is unlikely to be true.  But it is possible that immigrant families might have adopted a more English name.

Mayroyd House in Hebden Bridge.  The house on the Burnley Road, held by the Sutcliffe family since 1435, had originally been called Meherrode.  Matthew Sutcliffe, the famed Dean of Exeter, had been born there in 1550.  In 1584 Adam Sutcliffe sold the house to Brian Bentley and it later passed to the Cockroft family.

The Sutcliffes at Stoneshey Gate.  Joseph and Martha Sutcliffe had lived at Cross Ends in Wadsworth in the early 1700’s.  They raised four sons (Garmwell, Thomas, John and Joseph) and two daughters (Mercy and Sarah) there before moving to Stoneshey Gate in Heptonstall.

Garmwell was an overseer for the Poor at Heptonstall in 1767.  His son Gamaliel started the two Lumb cotton mills at Hebden Bridge in 1802.  When he died in 1840, his two sons Richard and Thomas took over the running of the business.  The mills were to stay in family hands through most of the 19th century.

George Sutcliffe’s Misdemeanors.  George Sutcliffe was a coal mrchant at Rastrick.  In 1869 he was charged at the West Riding Court in Halifax with neglecting his wife and family.

His wife – who looked a respectable woman – said that for the past two years he had not given her a half penny towards the support of her or their children. During that time he had frequently gone home drunk and ill-used her.  Last Easter he sold the greater part of their furniture and she had since been partially dependent on her mother for support.

Her husband had previously been in good circumstances, but reduced himself to penury by his inebriate conduct.  After hearing that a warrant had been issued against him, he absconded.  But he was apprehended at Barnsley shortly before the court case was to be heard.

Abraham Sutliff in America.  It was through the patronage of his uncle Matthew Sutcliffe that Abraham became an early settler in America.  Matthew Sutcliffe was the long-time Dean of Exeter, chaplain to King James I, and a leading official of the Anglican church.  He was also one of the wealthiest men in England and an early investor in the New England colonies.

Abraham from Heptonstall in Yorkshire was an avowed Puritan, which present the Dean with a tricky problem.  He resolved it by giving his nephew a land grant in New England.  Abraham set off for Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1623 and changed his name there to Sutliff.  From Plymouth he led a small group of settlers to a new spot of the coast of Massachusetts between Boston and Plymouth which they named Scituate.

Alfred Sutcliffe in America.  In 1857 Alfred Sutcliffe from Wadsworth in Yorkshire sailed on the Nonpareil for Philadelphia with his brothers Thomas and Henry.  They stayed for a time in the Philadelphia area before the three brothers and Thomas’s family moved to SW Missouri.

A family story told how the brothers bought timberland there, but were swindled out of it by unscrupulous speculators. Disillusioned, Alfred and Thomas returned to Pennsylvania, settling in Derry township.  Henry remained in Missouri.  He was a quarry owner and brownstone dealer.

Sutcliffe Names

  • Michael Sutcliffe was the Dean of Exeter and private chaplain to James I in the early 17th century.
  • Herbert Sutcliffe was an opening batsman for the Yorkshire and England cricket teams during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
  • Peter Sutcliffe was an English serial killer, known as “the Yorkshire ripper.”
  • Serena Sutcliffe is the head of Sotheby’s international wine department and one of the world’s leading authorities on wine.

Sutcliffe Numbers Today

  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Sutcliffe and Like Surnames

Many surnames have come from Yorkshire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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