Unwin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Unwin Meaning

Unwin was an important figure in Anglo-Saxon legend in England in the
time before the Norman conquest. He appeared as a warrior
king, as in this later version of the Waldef

“At the time after Arthur there reigned
in Norfolk a certain king called Attalus. In Suffolk ruled Unwyn,
king of Thetford, who fought in single combat against Attalus.
But the two were reconciled without the intervention of a mediator.”

The name Unwine developed as a personal name and later as a surname.

There are two Old English words from which this name might have
derived. The first was the personal name Hunwin, from hun meaning “bearcub” and wine meaning “friend.” The
second was the Old English unwine,
meaning “unfriend” or
“enemy.” Both Hunwine and Unwine appeared in 13th century
renderings of the name.

Unwin Resources on

Unwin Ancestry

The 19th century surname distribution suggests two groupings of the
Unwin name – first in East Anglia stretching down to London and second
in the north, mainly in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Derbyshire.

East Anglia. The
name seems to have originated in East Anglia.
Later sightings in that region

  • the Rev. Morley Unwin in Huntingdon in the 1760’s. His son
    William was a friend to the poet William Cowper. He was killed in
    a riding accident.
  • George Unwin who rented Baythorne Hall in Halstead, Essex in the
    late 19th century. He started a grain business there. The
    family still live at the hall.
  • and Unwin Seeds, the company first begun at Impington near Cambridge
    by William Unwin selling his sweet pea pod seeds. The firm
    celebrated its centenary in 2003 by publishing Colin Hambridge’s The
    Unwins Century.

Morley Unwin had come from an Unwin family long established at Castle Hedingham in Essex
where they
were clothiers. Thomas Unwin of this
family lived in some style at Black Notely Hall. His
sons were a clothier, a brewer, and Jacob
who went on to found the Gresham Press.

became a name in the London book publishing world. Jacob Unwin had started the
Gresham Press
in London in 1826. And Stanley Unwin of
this family founded the publishing house of Allen &
Unwin there in 1914. His son Rayner, who as a young boy had
the publication of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, followed him at
the helm.

in publishing predated Jacob Unwin.
Matthew Unwin was Birmingham’s first printer in the early 1700’s
another Matthew Unwin,
probably his
son, Leicester’s first printer and active in the book trade from 1727
to 1743.

Elsewhere. Then
there were the Unwins further north. Unwins in the
Ravenscliffe area of North Staffordshire date from late Elizabethan
times. Simon Unwyn was High Sheriff of Staffordshire in the
1670’s. Unwin was to be found in the parish records of Firbeck
and other
villages near Rotherham in the early 1700’s.

The Unwin name first appeared at Mansfield in Nottinghamshire in 1603
when William Unwin married there. Unwins were yeoman farmers in
Mansfield in the 1600’s. Samuel Unwin settled in Sutton in
Ashfield, marrying Elizabeth Fisher in 1735. He built a cotton
mill there, based on Arkwight’s revolutionary new design, in the

“The machinery of this factory was
originally propelled by oxen and horses, which, however, were soon
superseded by a large water-wheel when the concern was considerably
extended. Later, the supply of water being insufficient,
the works were put in motion by steam.”

Samuel died in 1774, as did his eldest son William. The mill
continued with his younger sons Samuel and Edward until Edward’s death
in 1841.

Unwin genealogy in England was covered in Philip Unwin’s 1937 book Unwiniana.


Unwin Miscellany

Unwin Origins.  There were
Saxon folk histories that mentioned Unwen, “son born beyond hope,”
which would have been told in King Alfred’s time.

It seems as a surname that Unwin originated
in East Anglia.  In the Domesday Book,
there was a Hunuuinus in Cambridgeshire and in 1166 a Hunwine de Batha,
called also Unwine, in Norfolk.  The
surname, either as Hunwin(e) or Unwin, was to be found in
Suffolk, Essex, and Norfolk in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The Unwins of Castle Hedingham.  The spelling
of the name was originally Onwyn alias Onion and there has been some
speculation that the family might have originally been of Flemish

They could be traced back to Thomas Unwin who
died at Steeple Bumpstead in 1566.  His
son Matthias had been born at Castle Hedingham in 1554.
Early references were to them as yeomen
farmers.  But they later became
clothiers, starting probably with Thomas Unwin sometime in the 17th

Thomas Unwin was
recorded as follows:

“Thomas Unwin, son
of Thomas Unwin citizen and grocer of London and Martha his wife, whose
father was clothier and inhabitant of Hedingham Castle, was baptized
8th by me Richard Courtman, curate of Castle Hedingham, in the year

1759 it was recorded in the Ipswich
that Thomas Unwin of Castle Hedingham married Mary Edwards

Matthias Unwin was a
merchant in Livorno for more than fifty years and died there in 1786 at
the age
of eighty six.  He was probably the
source of the family’s later prosperity.

Matthew Unwin’s 1743 Book Catalogue.  Matthew Unwin’s
1743 catalogue is an important survival.
It provides more detail than any other single source about Unwin
and his
book trade activities. There is a single copy in the British Library,
comprising thirty-eight duodecimo pages:

catalogue of books in divinity,
history, law, physick, mathematicks, poetry, classicks etc, being two
libraries, the one of a young clergyman, lately deceased, and the other
of a

catalogue – for a week-long auction sale to be held at the Feathers
in Nottingham – was printed
reasonably competently, using a moderately large typeface on paper of
quality.  Each page listed approximately
twenty-five books, categorized by size.
A wide range of prices was indicated.

book premises in Leicester were located by the Angel Inn,
the town’s main hostelry.

Jacob Unwin and the Gresham Press.  By the
late 18th century the Unwins had become prosperous merchants, living at Black
Notley Hall near Castle Hedingham.  They
were Congregationalists.  Jacob himself was
a punctilious chapel-goer and had the deep religious sense of the
nonconformist of his time.

Jacob Unwin
started the Gresham press in London in 1826 and it was continued by his
George.  They were seen as benevolent
employers.  Some idea of George’s
character can be gleaned from the following report:

belonged to that type of employer now fast dying out, who lived in
close touch
with his works and his employees.  At
master and men were like a happy family.
His high integrity of character made him trusted by all.  If we were writing his biography we should
have to devote many pages to his church work as well as to his
interests in
geology, archaeology and numismatics.”

firm had moved to Chilworth in 1871 and,
after a devastating fire, relocated to larger premises in Old Woking in
1896.  Stanley Unwin of this family formed
the book publishers Allen
& Unwin in 1914.

Unwins of Impington.  Unwins at
the small village of Impington near Histon in Cambridgeshire can be traced back
to the early 19th century.  There was a
family connection to the Chivers family which had started the Chivers
jam plant
nearby.  Alfred Unwin married Sarah
Chivers in Histon in 1873.

Close in Impington was the home of James and Frances Unwin, the parents
seedsman William Unwin who himself lived at the Walnut Tree Beer House.  It
was back in 1903 when William Unwin
rented a field on Impington Lane and sold his first
sweet pea seeds.  Impington
Lane was often
called Unwin Lane at that time because there were at least six members
of the
Unwin family living there (in the
1881 census there were a recorded 25 Unwins in

In 2003 Unwin’s Seeds closed and their large site off Impington Lane
sold to developers.

Unwinese.  Unwinese was a mangled form of English devised by the comedian Stanley Unwin in which many
of the words were corrupted in playful and humorous ways.
Thus his description of Elvis Presley and his
contemporaries was “wasp-waist and swivel-hippy.”  Unwin
claimed his gift came from his mother
who once told him that on the way home she had “falolloped over and
her kneeclabbers.”

“Unwinese” was largely improvised and spontaneous by Unwin, with many actual English phrases and sentences thrown in for contrast.  The following list of examples give some impression of this “language:”

afterlubrious or afterloon – afternoon

baselode – bowlful

brewflame or brewflade – beer

childer and childers – child and children

do a snufflode – die

falollop – fall or go

goodlibilode – goodbye

mardi – mother

nockers (as in “I did nockers”) – not

roamer – road

sleevers – to sleep

thriftymost on your banky balancer – very good value

Stanley Unwin died in 2002.  He himself prepared his own valediction which read as follows:

“Goodly Byelode loyal peeploders!  Now all gatherymost to amuse it and have a tilty elbow or a nice cuffle-oteedee – oh yes!”


Unwin Names

  • Stanley Unwin was a British publisher, founder of the Allen & Unwin publishing house in 1914.
  • Stanley Unwin, sometimes billed as Professor Stanley Unwin, was a British comedian and comic writer and the inventor of his own language “Unwinese.”

Select Unwin Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Unwin 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.




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