Unsworth Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Unsworth Surname Meaning

The Unsworth surname comes from the place-name Unsworth near Bury in Lancashire. The place-name derives from the Old English personal name Hund, meaning “hound” or “dog,” plus worth, meaning “homestead” or “enclosure” – hence “Hund’s homestead.”

It was recorded as Hunderwrth in 1291 and Undesworth in 1322. The name is believed to be of Saxon origin. It appeared in The Saxon Chronicle that was compiled by monks in the 10th century.

Other worth-ending place-names, either in Lancashire or Yorkshire, that have become surnames are Ainsworth, Duckworth, Illingworth and – probably the best known – Woolworth.

Unsworth Surname Resources on The Internet

Unsworth Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Lancashire)
  • to Canada and America

England.  The Unsworths were a long-established Lancashire family.

“A mile and a half on the south side of Bury is an old farmhouse, the residence in former times of a family of some note and still occupied by a lineal descendant. The family of Unsworth has possessed this property, according to tradition, ever since the time of  the Conquest and there are certainly relics to prove its antiquity.”

These Unsworths intermarried over time with many of the distinguished families in southern Lancashire and the Wirral. The Unsworths of Redvales in Bury lived at the Goshen farmhouse on the banks of the Roach river from the early 17th century.

The Unsworth family must have spread west from the Bury area at an early date as the name began to crop up in places such as Wigan and Liverpool. Many remained strong adherents of the Roman Catholic faith. In 1717 the estates of Edward Unsworth in the Winwick area were registered as Papist and the estates of George Unsworth in Markland near Wigan were confiscated in the same year for the same reason.

Thomas Unsworth prospered as a merchant in Liverpool in the late 18th century. He lived at Maghull Hall (there is an Unsworth chapel at the local church). His son Thomas married well and inherited the estate and manor of Huyton Hey in 1814. Both he and the family he married into were Catholic. One branch of this family later emigrated to Brockway in Pennsylvania.

Another Unsworth family were butchers in Wigan from the early 19th century. Four generations of the family traded, first at Coopers Row in the Wiend and then at Greenough Street. Thomas Unsworth and his sons operated Unsworth Cartage & Haulage in Goose Green, Wigan. The company still runs.

Unsworths in Culcheth near Leigh date from the early 17th century. They were blacksmiths. The first Unsworths in Leigh appeared a century or so later. John Unsworth kept the Market Place inn in the mid 19th century. John had a small organ there and started a singing room. He was the grandfather of the Unsworths of the St. Joseph’s Brass Band.

The Unsworth name did not spread much outside of Lancashire. By the time of the 1891 census, 85 percent of Unsworths were still living in Lancashire.

Canada. Giles Unsworth was a cotton broker in Liverpool in the 1830’s who moved with his large family to Canada in 1848. They settled in Flamboro, Ontario. Robert and Sarah Unsworth from Wigan emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1906 on the City of Vienna.

America.  James Unsworth from Bolton became a Mormon convert and made the passage to Utah in 1861 with his first wife. He settled in Hyrum where he ran the general store. He was the father of twenty children from his two wives.

Unsworth Surname Miscellany

Unsworth near Bury.  Unsworth was until recently, when it had got caught up in the urbanization of the countryside, a small village four miles south of Bury. After the Norman Conquest in 1066, it had become part of the Pilkington estate before passing into the hands of the Derby family in the 15th century.

Unsworth Pole is the area around the First World War memorial at the junction of Sunny Bank Road and Parr Lane.  This Pole or “Pow” (as it was known locally in the Lancashire dialect) was named after the pitch pole fixed there by the Earl of Derby which would be greased each year for the village’s pot fair. Local men would then try and clamber up it to grab a side of bacon attached to the top; the successful contestant could keep the ham.

One of the local pubs was The Dragon. Local legend has it that this beast tormented the area until it was finally slain by that brave knight Thomas Unsworth.  In the porch of the pub there was displayed a fully armored statue of Thomas Unsworth, clutching the gun and dagger which slew the dragon, and in the public bar there was a mural showing the dragon.

The Unsworths of Goshen.  Goshen was the name of the old farmhouse situated by the side of the Roach river between Gigg Lane and Hampson Mills near Bury.   It was the home of an Unsworth family from the early part of 17th century to the late 19th century.

The first Unsworth was Giles Unsworth of Redvales in Bury.  There was for many years in possession of the family a nine-foot long Jacobean oak side-table, elaborately carved on the frieze with St. George and the dragon, a lion, unicorn, and the Derby crest with the initials G V E V (initials of two members of the Unsworth family) and the date 1618.

There was a stone on the porch of the farm-house inscribed “GV 1691.”  He was the son of Giles and Anne Unsworth of Redvales in Bury.  In 1672 Giles was granted a license to use the farmhouse as a Presbyterian meeting place.

James Unsworth was the last of the family to live at Goshen.  He emigrated to New Zealand.

Reader Feedback:  My wife is a descendant of these people and i have traced the family back to Giles. However I think that it can be traced back further to George Unsworth.  Waiting for a copy of a lease from the 4th Earl of Derby dated 1577.

John Clarke (john5clarke@btinternet.com)

Thomas Unsworth and His Will.  Thomas Unsworth, the Unsworth who grew rich as a Liverpool merchant, was Catholic and on his death in 1796 left the bulk of his estate to his two sons, Thomas and William, on the understanding not only that they would remain Catholic but that they would not marry and would pass the estate on their deaths to the Catholic church.

Thomas’s third son Richard was left just £2,000. It was said that he had gotten so angry about the situation that he changed his religious affiliation and became a brewer!

Both Thomas and William did marry.  Thomas married Frances Seel, the daughter of Thomas Seel and Frances Molyneux. In 1814 he assumed the name and arms of Molyneux-Seel.  The Molyneux and the Seels, like the Unsworths, were old Catholic recusant families. 

Unsworth Blacksmiths from Culcheth.  In 1963 a stone trough was rediscovered in Culcheth, near Leigh, across the road from the Harrow Inn.   At the time an old lady Mrs. Unsworth, the mother of the village’s last blacksmith, said that it had been used for iron quenching.

A 1750 map of the area showed a plot of land in the position where the trough was found and the plot being recorded as being in the occupation of “John Unsworth, blacksmith.”  Culcheth was a staunch center for Catholicism and these Unsworths were Catholic.  Unsworths in Culcheth in the 1881 census numbered twenty seven.

Joseph Unsworth, born there in 1791, moved north to Kendal in Westmoreland where he set up his own trade as a blacksmith.  His son Thomas was also a blacksmith there and the father of seventeen children through two wives. Later Unsworths of this family moved back to Lancashire and settled in the early 1900’s in Chadderton near Manchester.

Unsworths in the 1881 English Census

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
Lancashire         2.9    85
Cheshire         0.2     6
Elsewhere         0.3     9
Total         3.4   100

The largestnumbers were in Bolton, followed by Bury. The small village of Billinge Higher End had the highest concentration of Unsworths.

Giles Unsworth, from Liverpool to Canada.  Giles Unsworth, born in Standish parish near Wigan in 1787, had come to Liverpool where he worked as a cotton broker.  He had married Anna Crook there in 1826 and they were to have nine children.

At the age of 61 Giles set off with his large family for Canada.  In 1848 they left Liverpool by sail, came to New York, then up the Hudson and west by the Erie Canal, then across into Ontario where they settled in Flamboro.  However, the parents were not to last long in their new country.  Anna died in 1850 and Giles a year later.  Richard Unsworth, born in 1827 in Liverpool, became the leader of the family.  His Bible provides some of this family’s genealogy.

James Unsworth, from Bolton to Utah.  James was born in 1838 in Bolton, a Lancashire mill town, to William and Elizabeth Unsworth.  In 1848, when he was ten years old, his father came home from work in the mill one evening and told the family that there were Mormon elders down on the corner telling all about their new church. He was very excited and rushed out with his wife to hear them.

James, just ten, had begun working at the Eagley cotton mill at this time.  By 1861 he had married and he and his wife Alice set sail from Liverpool on the Monarch of the Sea in May for their Zion in America. Their first child was born on the voyage.

On arrival in New York, they travelled by train to Florence, Nebraska.  There they continued their journey across the plains by ox team. Alice, with her tiny baby in her arms, drove one of the teams while James walked beside the wagon. They finally reached Salt Lake valley in September 1861.  Sadly the baby died one month later.

The following year James and Alice moved to Hyrum in Cache county, Utah and were one of the early settlers there.  As city people they knew nothing about farming and learnt the hard way. They were very poor during those early pioneer years.  James did not have a shirt to wear to church.  So Alice made him one from her petticoat.

Unsworth Names

  • Thomas Unsworth was a prosperous late 18th century Liverpool merchant.
  • Geoffrey Unsworth from Leigh near Manchester was a much acclaimed British cinematographer.
  • Barry Unsworth is a British novelist, joint winner of the Booker prize for fiction in 1992.

Unsworth Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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