Wainwright Surname Genealogy

Wainwright surname is occupational, from the Old English waegen or waen, meaning “wagon,” and wyrhta, “wright” or
maker/builder. The wagon at that time would have been
horse-driven and four-wheeled.
The Oxford English Dictionary observed
that “wainwright” was not found as a vocabulary word in Middle English,
although it had appeared as a surname by the 13th century. An
Adam le Waynwrith was in Wakefield records in Yorkshire in 1285.

Wainwright Resources on

Wainwright Ancestry

Wainwright is a northern name – first, as the 1881 census shows, in
Yorkshire, then in Lancashire, with spillovers into Cheshire and
Staffordshire plus some Wainwrights in Essex.

Yorkshire Early
Wainwrights in Yorkshire were to be found in the Peak District in
the south of the county, in and around Penistone. John and
Dorothy Wainwright of Bradfield date from Elizabethan times. A
Wainwright family acquired Shore Hall near Penistone in 1631 and
Wainwrights were to be found there and in neighboring farmhouses in the
18th and 19th centuries. One Wainwright family ran an oil press
business in Thurlstone in the early 19th century (their son Joseph
emigrated to America).

There were Wainwrights
in Halifax
from the 17th century who owned the local dye
works. But the largest cluster of Wainwrights in Yorkshire was
and is to be found in and around Leeds. One remarkable family in
Leeds started with a 19th century butcher’s business and then moved
into the professional classes with:

  • Scurrah
    , a chartered accountant and a delphinium lover
  • Richard Wainwright, a conscientous objector in World War Two and
    then a Liberal MP
  • and Hilary Wainwright, the radical editor of Red Pepper magazine.

Elsewhere There was a
well-known musical
family of Wainwrights to be found in Cheshire and south Lancashire from
the 1740’s to the 1830’s. John Wainwright was best known as the
composer of the Christmas hymn Christians
. His sons Robert and Richard were choristers in

More recently, Lancashire has produced that lover of
the Lake District and producer of extraordinary guide-books, AW Wainwright.

Francis Wainwright was an early arrival to
Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1638. His family became established
there as fish and lumber merchants. But John Wainwright, the sole
remaining son, was drowned while on a Rhode Island sloop carrying oak
planking in 1721. Another Wainwright family, from different
roots, were fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts from the early

One Wainwright line originated with Peter
Wainwright, a tobacco merchant from London who came to Boston some
years before the American Revolutionary War. He married Elizabeth
Mayhew in 1790 and the line of John
Mayhew Wainwrights began with their son, a clergyman, and continued
military men who fought first in the Civil War and later, General
“Skinny” Wainwright (JM the fourth), in World War Two. Related to
these Wainwrights are the Wainwrights from South Carolina, the singer
Loudon Wainwright
and his fractious offspring.

Records of a Wainwright family in North Carolina started with a James
Wainwright receiving land in Pitt county, North Carolina in 1768.
His descendants later moved onto SE Georgia.

Bermuda. Wainwrights
were among the first settlers of Bermuda in the 1620’s. John
Wainwright held land at that time in Warwick. Some of these
Wainwrights stayed on the island, others emigrated to Trinidad and Nova
Scotia. Wainwright House, a mid 19th century townhouse, is to be
found in St. Georges.

Canada. William Wainwright was a railwayman who came to
Canada in 1862 and joined and rose up the ranks of the Grand Trunk
Railway of Canada. The town of Wainwright in Alberta was named
after him.

Australia. Ellen
was a convict on the First Fleet that arrived in
Australia in 1788. She died in Hobart in 1839 and there is
a plaque there to her memory affixed by the Fellowship of First
Fleeters in 1988.

Wainwright Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Wainwright Names

was a commander of American forces in the Philippines
during World War Two.
AW Wainwright was a writer
of much cherished guide books of fells in the English Lake District.
Loudon Wainwright III is an
American songwriter, folk singer, humorist and actor.

Select Wainwrights Today

  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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