Walpole Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Walpole Surname Meaning

The Walpole surname came from the Walpole place-name at Marshland near the Wash in Norfolk. Walpole, recorded as Walepol in a Saxon charter in 1050, derived from the Old English words welle and pol meaning “a pool surrounded by a wall.” According to the 1868 National Gazetteer, Walpole was situated by a Roman sea-wall.

Walpole Surname Resources on The Internet

Walpole Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Norfolk)
  • to Ireland, America and Australia

England. Norfolk was the county with the highest number of Walpoles in the 1881 UK census.

The forefather of the Walpole family in Norfolk is thought to have been Reginald de Walpole who lived at Walpole in the early 1100’s. A Walpole line established itself a century or so later at Houghton and they became merchants in King’s Lynn who rose to gentry status by early Tudor times.

However, because they were Catholics, they dropped out of public life under Elizabeth and were all but extinguished as a family. Some of them had become Jesuit priests – including Henry Walpole the martyr who was executed in York in 1595 in the barbaric fashion of being hung, drawn and quartered.

The Walpole line did survive and eventually prospered through the only Protestant branch at Houghton. This line, the line of Sir Robert Walpole the future Prime Minister, began four generations earlier with Calibut Walpole in the late 1500’s.

These Walpoles were pre-eminent in England during the 1700’s:

  • Sir Robert Walpole, who might be considered Britain’s first Prime Minister, held that position for over twenty years – from 1721 to 1742. Created the Earl of Orford, he used his wealth to build his palatial home at Houghton Hall.
  • whilst his youngest son Horace Walpole was the celebrated writer, art historian, man of letters, and Whig politician later in the century. He made his home at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, the neo-Gothic house he had built in the 1750’s overlooking the Thames.

Charlotte Walpole was an illegitimate niece of Horace Walpole. She enjoyed a short career on the London stage in the 1770’s before moving to France where she was recruited as an agent and spy for the royalists. Her activities had no success despite her spending considerable sums of her fortune on her missions.

Among later Walpoles were politicians, army officers, and clergymen. Somerset Walpole was an Anglican priest in New Zealand and New York before being appointed Bishop of Edinburgh in 1910. His son Hugh Walpole was a popular English novelist of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Sir William Walpole moved into real estate in the 1930’s which later proved highly profitable. The Walpole Estate had an estimated £7.5 billion in assets in 2012. The holdings of the Walpole Estate are held by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Sir William Walpole.

Ireland.  William Walpole was an English Quaker who came to Laios (then Queen’s county) in the late 1600’s and settled in the Mountmellick area. Later Walpoles did well in the linen industry. Edward Walpole invested its profits in the nid-19th century into ornamental gardens at Mount Usher in county Wicklow. These gardens remained with the Walpole family until 1980.

There were other Walpoles in Leitrim from the 18th century.

America. The following two Walpoles who came to America were from Ireland:

  • Mathew Walpole from Leitrim came to New York in 1816, followed by his two sons Martin and Mathew a year later. The family settled in Morgan county, Ohio.
  • while Richard Walpole arrived in 1836 and farmed at Schenectady in upstate New York. His son Thomas ran a general truck and express business in Oswego.

Australia.  Henry Walpole from Little Harrowden in Northamptonshire came with his family to South Australia on the Bolivar in 1850. Henry built the Bolivar Hotel in Burton and ran it from 1854 to 1866. He died at Kapunda in 1875.

Walpole Surname Miscellany

Walpoles in the 1881 Census

County Numbers Percent
Norfolk    290    25
Lincolnshire     60     5
Suffolk     70     6
London    220    18
Surrey     80     8
Elsewhere    460    38
Total   1,180   100

Henry Walpole, Jesuit Martyr.  Perhaps the most famous native of the Norfolk village of Docking was Henry Walpole, a Jesuit priest who was born there in 1558, the eldest son of Christopher Walpole.

Raised as a Protestant, Walpole converted to Catholicism after witnessing the execution of Edmund Campion in 1581 at very close hand. He was reportedly so close to Campion that his clothes were spattered with Campion’s blood when he was slain.

Walpole took Catholic orders.  He then fled London for his father’s home in Norfolk and from there he escaped his persecutors to France.

He was later sent back secretly to England, landing at Flamborough in Yorkshire in 1590.  He was arrested and imprisoned at York, before being moved to the Tower of London where he was tortured on the rack numerous times. He was eventually tried and convicted in York for the crime of Catholic priesthood, before being hanged, drawn, and quartered in 1595.

Sir Robert Walpole’s Houghton Line.  

  • Calibut Walpole (1561-1646) m. Elizabeth Bacon (who died in 1646)
  • – Robert Walpole (1593-1663) m. Susan Barkham (1595-1622)
  • — Sir Edward Walpole (1621-1667), MP for King’s Lynn, m. Susan Crane (1630-1667)
  • — Robert Walpole (1650-1700), MP for Castle Rising, m. Mary Burwell (1654-1711)
  • —- Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), 1st Earl of Orford, m. Catherine Shorter (died in 1737).

Walpole’s Suckling Sword.  Galfridus Walpole was a younger brother of Britain’s first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole.  In his youth he had joined the Royal Navy.  While commanding the Lion in 1711, his ship was engaged in battle with the French off the Italian coastline.  He was so badly injured during the exchange of fire that his right arm had to be amputated by the ship’s surgeon.

According to legend, his sword, used on HMS Lion, was given to the young Horatio Nelson who was reported to have been carrying it when he too lost his right arm in the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1797.

The Walpole sword, which had a silver-hilted hanger with a 60 cm curved blade, was made by Nixon Cutlers of London.  Due to its provenance, the sword is known as the Galfridus Walpole – Suckling Sword, having been given to Walpole’s godson and great nephew Maurice Suckling whose sister Catherine Suckling was Nelson’s mother. William Suckling, Maurice’s brother, gave the sword to Nelson who wore his uncle’s valued gift in his early career. The sword appears to have been returned subsequently to the Suckling family.

It was sold at auction by Sotheby’s in 2003 for 36,000 pounds, described as “believed to be that carried by Captain (later Admiral Lord) Horatio Nelson.”

The Walpoles at Mount Usher in Wicklow.  The Walpole family had made a fortune in the thriving linen industry in Northern Ireland in the 19th century.  Like many families of that type at that time who had become successful and wealthy, they reinvested much of their wealth into meaningful artefacts of beauty and splendor or works undertaken for the greater common good.

In the Walpoles’ case, Edward – the scion of the family in the mid 1880’s – took it upon himself to design and plant the gardens at Mount Usher in county Wicklow.

Initially he had stayed at Hunters Hotel. During his visits there had become friendly with a local miller Sam Sutton. In due course, seeing the possibilities of the beautiful setting, he initially bought the mill and two acres and then set about his life’s work.

Inspired by the ideas and ideals of William Robinson, Edward started designing a garden of his own. William Robinson had more or less created the idea of a ‘managed wild garden’ and this sheltered setting in the idyllic River Vartry valley was the perfect place to realize these ideas.

Over the next four generations the Walpole’s bought more land, and continued to plant, design, and enhance Edward senior’s original and visionary work. Elegant weirs and bridges were designed by Thomas Walpole and planting and inspired design continued apace as the property was handed down from generation to generation, until finally, over one hundred years later, the Walpole’s association with Mount Usher finally ended in 1980.

Walpole Names

  • Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, held that position for over twenty years – from 1721 to 1742.
  • Horace Walpole was a celebrated writer, art historian, man of letters, and Whig politician in the mid/late 1700’s. 
  • Hugh Walpole was a popular English novelist of the 1920’s and 1930’s who subsequently fell out of favor.

Walpole Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous in Norfolk)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 1,300 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Walpole and Like Surnames

From our surname selection here, these are the names of those who have risen in British politics to become Prime Minister from the time the office was first established in the 1730’s (although missing here are noteworthies such as Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, Attlee, and Thatcher).




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Written by Colin Shelley

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