Wainwright Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Wainwright Meaning
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 conscientious 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

Wainwright’s Folly in Halifax.  A tower on Skircoat Green in Halifax had been built by the owner of a local dye works.  He had chosen the elevated site in order to
obtain a strong draught for the fires.

However, as a result of a disagreement with the owner of the land,
Wainwright did not complete the work. Instead, he placed on the summit
of the chimney a decorative pediment, intending the structure to mock
and annoy the landowner.  The chimney’s height is 240 feet and it
cost £2,000 to build.

Wainwrights in the 1881 British Census.  The following were the numbers and distribution of Wainwrights in the
1881 census.

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
Yorkshire     2.0  32
Lancashire     1.2   19
Cheshire     0.6    9
Staffordshire     0.4    6
Elsewhere     2.1   34

The total number of Wainwrights was 6,300.  The
largest clusters were in Leeds, Eccleshall, and Sheffield, plus
Adlington in Cheshire.   Interestingly, the number one male
occupation was as coal miner.

Scurrah Wainwright and His Love of Delphiniums.  Leeds was a polluted place in the late 19th
century.  Scurrah’s father Richard had spotted the commercial
possibilities that might follow from ameliorating the effects of
unhealthy air.  He invented and marketed a gadget which earned him
the title of “Leeds smoke king.”

Scurrah himself had trained as a chartered accountant and
was able to purchase a house in leafy suburbia.  He believed
passionately in gardens.  He wrote the following in a letter to
the Yorkshire Evening Post in

“There are districts in the Leeds suburbs where the
morning and evening walk to and from the tram is made full of interest
and pleasure by a succession of open gardens with differing color
schemes and well-cultivated flowers.  The owners of these gardens
emulate and vie with each other, discuss and exchange until the whole
neighborhood becomes ‘garden proud.'”

Scurrah fell in love with one particular flower, the
delphinium, and one particular delphinium species, the Millicent
Blackmore.  In 1936 he bought a large Victorian villa called The Heath where he could showcase
its beauty.  Before long national experts were treading a path to The Heath and declaring what they
found there to be one of the loveliest gardens in the north of
England.  Delphiniums grew in such profusion, it was almost like a

Ellen Wainwright of the First Fleet.  Ellen Wainwright, believed to have been born Ellen Eccles in Preston,
had been charged with stealing a scarlet woollen cloak, a blue stuff
quilted petticoat, and a black silk hat.  She was 17 at the time
and living in Rishton.  She was sentenced to seven years
transportation and was with the First Fleet on the Prince of Wales to Australia in

Ellen gave birth to a daughter Mary Ann, born in 1789 at Port
Jackson.  Mother and child then travelled to Norfolk Island where
Ellen gave birth to Henry in 1791.  Both children soon died.
But another Mary Ann was born in 1795.

Sometime before 1800, Ellen began to co-habit with Thomas Guy and
presented him with three daughters. Thomas made an honest woman of her
when he married her in 1812.  The marriage certificate showed the
bride’s name as being Ellen Wynwright.  Ellen was then aged
42.  She lived on another 27 years and died in Hobart in
1839.  There is a plaque to her memory that was affixed by the
Fellowship of First Fleeters in 1988.

Daughter Mary Ann married Dennis McCarty in 1811 when she was 16.
David was another colorful character who had been sentenced to two
years for smuggling liquor.  But his main claim to fame was that
he had built the first road in Tasmania from Hobart to New
Norfolk.  Dennis drowned in a boating accident in 1820, some have
said under suspicious circumstances.  Mary Ann promptly remarried
and, within five months, had given birth to a daughter.

AW Wainwright and His Beloved Fells of the Lake District.  A Wainwright is the summit of what AW – as he preferred to be called –
thought were true fell tops.  There are 214 “Wainwrights,” which
many walkers try to get to the top of or to “bag.”

Wainwright’s first view of the Lake District was in 1931 and he began
the first of his seven pictorial guides to its fells in 1952.  The
following are some quotations from these books:

“The fleeting hour of life of those who
love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal.

Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent
forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits.

These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is
yet time will be blessed both in mind and body.”

“Haystacks stands unabashed and
unashamed in the midst of a circle of much loftier fells, like a shaggy
terrier in the company of foxhounds.  For a man trying to get a
persistent worry out of his mind, the top of Haystacks is a wonderful

“Time is intended to be spent, not saved.”

“Much of Lakeland’s appeal derives from the very lovely names of its mountains and valleys and lakes and rivers, which fit the scenery so well. These names were given by the earliest settlers, rough men,
invaders and robbers: they were here long before Wordsworth – but they
too, surely had poetry in their hearts?”

When AW died in 1991, his ashes were scattered by the quiet waters of
Innominate Tarn on his favorite fell, Haystacks.

The Fractious Wainwrights.  Many American families who have issues on the
scale of the Wainwrights would spend most of their time and money on
therapy.  This Wainwright tribe may have the money; what they lack
is the time as they are far too busy writing about each other.
The 61-year-old patriarch, Loudon Wainwright III, has been doing it for
decades, marking the ups and downs of domestic life in songs so frank
they are literally breathtaking.  You really could hear the
audiences gasp as he launched into the confessional Hitting You about the time he
struck his daughter when she was a child.: “I was aiming for your
buttock but I struck your outer thigh…”

This daughter, Martha Wainwright, is now in her thirties and has become
a star in her own right.  So has her older brother Rufus, whose
earliest feeding habits Loudon chronicled with a song called Rufus
Is a Tit Man
.  Not any more.  He now lives in New York
with his boyfriend Jorn, a German arts administrator.  Both these
siblings have made such an impact that if you tell anyone under forty
that you are off to see Loudon Wainwright, they look uncertain and ask
if he is anything to do with Rufus and Martha.  He sure is.

It’s not only his singing talents they’ve inherited, but also his
notions of what a song can say, and to whom. Rufus wrote a real stinger
called Dinner At Eight, apparently inspired by a dreadful row
he and Loudon had about which of the two could take the credit for
their being on the cover of Rolling Stone.  Martha showed
she could do forthrightness too, with a number about her father called Bloody
Mother F****** Asshole



Select Wainwright Names

  • Skinny Wainwright 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 Wainwright Numbers 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)


Select Wainwright 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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