Wagstaff Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Wagstaff Meaning
A quotation from the medieval
writer Myles Coverdale read as follows: “Be not afraid for the King of
Assyrians that he shall wag his staff at thee.”
The Wagstaff name derives from “wag a
staff,” just as the Shakespeare
name comes from “shake a spear.” Wagstaff,
possibly a nickname, would describe some medieval official
like a bailiff or a beadle who carried a staff and shook it for effect

Wagstaff Resources on

Wagstaff Ancestry

England. The Wagstaff surname may well
have started out in Warwickshire in the English Midlands.

was recorded a coal pit in the Haunchwood area of Stockingford in
Warwickshire in
the 14th century worked by a man called Wagstaffe.
It was referred to as Wagstaffe’s pit

The Wagstaffes had been at Harbury near
Stratford-on-Avon since 1500 and possibly earlier.
They in fact described themselves as an
“ancient” county family. The local
church has a large stone slab dedicated to Alice Wagstaffe who died in
1563. The
letters of Elizabeth Wagstaffe
, dating from about 1614, have
been preserved. And the village still
has the Thomas Wagstaffe school which the family founded in 1611.

Wagstaffes were Royalist at the time of the Civil War. Sir Joseph Wagstaffe, a younger member of the
family, was
a soldier of
fortune abroad who returned to join the Royalist cause.
In 1655 he led the Penruddock uprising in
Wiltshire in an effort to restore the monarchy, but had to flee the
after its defeat. The Wagstaffe male line
did continue at Harbury and at
Bishops Tachbrook
near Warwick until the death of Sir Thomas Wagstaffe in 1709.

Wagstaff name was to be found in two distinct family groups at Bedworth
Nuneaton during the 18th century. Thomas
Wagstaff kept the Bull Inn at
Nuneaton in the 19th century, while William Wagstaff was the proprietor
of the New Inn at Attleborough.

Elsewhere. From
Warwickshire the Wagstaff name seems to have stretched eastward,
Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire into south Yorkshire.
These four counties recorded the most Wagstaffs in the 1881 census.

Wagstaffe was living at Hasland near Chesterfield in Derbyshire in 1611. And Wagstaffs were farmers around Darley Dale
in north Derbyshire from the late 1600’s – Josiah
Wagstaff, born in 1672, at Aldwark
Grange and George Wagstaff, born in 1676, at Toadholes.

Wagstaffs were recorded
in Yorkshire at Ecclesfield near present-day Sheffield from about 1500
onwards. Thomas Wagstaff married
Elizabeth Slater there in 1565. By the
18th century the Wagstaff name appeared in and around Barnsley and in
the Holme
valley. John Wagstaff was a clothier at
the Fox House in Holmfirth in 1789. And
that great rugby league footballer Harold Wagstaff was born in
Holmfirth in

Bedfordshire. There was a
southern outpost of Wagstaffs near London, in Bedfordshire.

These Wagstaffs were rural agricultural people in a part of NE
Bedfordshire that was sometimes known as the Wagstaff belt. The largest number were in Wilden, the first
recorded there being Richard Wagstaff who was born in 1498. Later they were to be found at Northill. Many left for America and Canada in the
mid/late 1800’s.

America. Dr. Alfred Wagstaff, born in 1804, was the
progenitor of a prominent Wagstaff
family in New York
. He had
invested well in real estate and made
his family country gentlemen. The line
continued through his son Alfred Jr and grandson Samuel, both lawyers
and high
on the Social Register, to Sam Wagstaff Jr, a well-known art curator
collector in New York in the 1970’s.

The largest Wagstaff numbers in America
have not been in New York, however, but in Utah. Many
Wagstaffs from rural Bedfordshire joined
the Mormon church and departed
for Utah and
the American West
in the 1850’s. Prominent
among them were three Wagstaff brothers – William, John and

Canada. Wagstaffs from
Bedfordshire also departed for Canada.
Henry Wagstaff came in the 1880’s but then moved onto Utah. Charles Wagstaff settled in Medicine Hat
where he was an engineer with the Canadian Railways.
John Wagstaff also came to Alberta and made
his home there.


Wagstaff Miscellany

The Wagstaff Name.  Mark Lower in his 1860 Patronymica Britannica described the Wagstaff name as follows:

“Applied to one who could brandish or
wag a staff with effect. It belongs to the same class as Shakeshaft,
and Shakspere and is the most common of that class. It is curious to observe
among the archives of Stratford-on-Avon a record of proceedings between
Wagstaff and John Shakspere, the latter being William Shakespeare’s

The Letters of Elizabeth to Her Husband Timothy Wagstaffe.  Elizabeth married Timothy, the son of
Thomas Wagstaffe of Harbury in Warwickshire, in 1604.
Timothy purchased the manors of Tachbrook
Mallory and Bishop’s Tachbrook near Warwick in 1613.
Elizabeth’s letters, which have been
preserved, were written from Warwick and provide an interesting
glimpse into the running of the couple’s busy household.

They also include
snippets of news concerning many of the local gentry.  There is
mention, for
example, of Sir Bartholomew Hales the J.P. at Snittersfield, the
in which Shakespeare’s grandfather was a tenant farmer and where the
father, John Shakespeare, was born.

The letters were written
around 1614, about the time that her son Thomas was born.
Her husband Timothy died in 1625 and Thomas
was the heir to the estate.

Leading Counties for Wagstaff in the 1881 Census

County Number Main Locations
Warwickshire    341 Coventry area.
Derbyshire    339 Darley Dale in the Derbyshire
Nottinghamshire    283 Selston (with Alfreton in
Derbyshire nearby)
Yorkshire    517 Sheffield and the Holme valley.

The Wagstaff Family in New York.  Dr. Alfred
Wagstaff was born in New York City in 1804, from Wagstaffs who had
there before the Revolutionary War.  He
lived at Waverley Place and became wealthy as a doctor.
However, his real fortune probably came from
the investments he made in real estate in the city as it was expanding
northward in the 1830’s and 1840’s.

In 1853 he built himself a large
Italian-style estate named Tahluah on
land he had acquired at West Islip on Long Island.
There he became a true country gentleman.
He had a good stable of horses and kennel of
dogs.  All four of his children built
homes on the West Islip estate.

He died
in 1878 and the family fortunes then somewhat subsided.
His house Tahluah was sold at auction
in 1904.  None of his sons were as good as him at
money-making.  Cornelius bred dogs at
West Islip and was a charter member of the Westminster Kennel Club.  Alfred Wagstaff Jr and his son Samuel were
both lawyers.

Samuel’s son Sam Jr. took time to find his metier as an
curator and collector.  He became known
in the 1970’s for supporting new movements such as minimalism, pop art,
conceptual art.  He had met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in
1972, beginning a
fifteen-year relationship that would last until Wagstaff’s death.  Mapplethorpe was his guide to the gay
demimonde of extreme sex and drugs that flourished in New York at
time.  Sam Wagstaff died of an AIDS-related illness in 1987.

The Wagstaff Exodus to Utah and the American West.  Wagstaffs encountered Mormon
preachers in rural Bedfordshire and many joined up with the Church of
Day Saints.  Many then left their homes
for a long voyage by ship and covered wagon to the American West,
starting in
the 1850’s.

here were three brothers – William, John, and Samuel Wagstaff
– who were joined by four of their sisters and a mother as well.  William and John settled in Salt Lake City,
Samuel in American Forks.

were other Wagstaffs from Bedfordshire who also made
the journey, although not all of them were Mormons:

  • William
    Wagstaff who
    migrated to Preston, Idaho.
  • John
    Wagstaff who came to Evanston, Wyoming and later
    moved to Croydon, Utah.
  • and
    Henry Wagstaff who settled in Brigham City, Utah.



Wagstaff Names

  • Sir Joseph Wagstaffe was a Royalist officer during the
    English Civil War. He unsuccessfully led
    the Penruddock uprising in 1655 in an effort to restore the monarchy. 
  • Harold Wagstaff was a champion rugby league footballer for Huddersfield and England in the early 1900’s. 
  • Sam Wagstaff was an American art curator and
    collector who acted as a mentor to the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe
    in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Select Wagstaff Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in Utah)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Wagstaff and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply