Weir Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Weir Surname Meaning

Weir is a Scottish name, but of Norman origins.

The place-name Vere in Normandy, from the Norse word ver or “dam,” gave rise to the powerful de Vere family who came to England and held the title of Earl of Oxford from 1141 to 1703. A branch of these de Veres were to be found in Scotland from 1165. They became Weirs in Scotland around the year 1500. 

Weir Surname Resources on The Internet

Weir Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Lanarkshire)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and New Zealand

ScotlandThe Weir family was said to have begun in Scotland in 1165 when Ralph (or Radulphus) de Vere fled to Scotland after a dispute with his Anglo-Norman father, the Earl of Oxford. In return for his new allegiance to King William I, the Lion of Scotland, Ralph was granted lands in Lanarkshire.

The Weirs of Blackwood in Lanarkshire claim descent from him. Richard de Vere was proprietor of the barony of Blackwood around the year 1296 and is often called the ancestor of all Weirs in Scotland. However, it was not until the time of Thomas Weir, around 1500, that the de Vere name became Weir in Scotland.

The 16th century saw many skirmishes between the Weirs and their neighbors:

  • the Weirs seem to have had a long-running feud with the Lockharts who were accused of many murders during this time but were never punished because of their rank.  
  • they feuded also with their cousins the Weirs of Stonebyres who in retaliation changed their name back to Vere in the 18th century.
  • James Vere of Stonebyres frittered the family fortune away at that time. From the Stonebyres line came Thomas Weir who was burnt at the stake with his sister for reputed sorcery in 1670.

The area around Lanark remained the focal point for Weirs in Scotland. By 1881, 70% of all Weirs in Scotland were still based in Lanarkshire. The town of Cathcart near Glasgow was where the global Weir Group started its life in 1871.

Ireland. Many Weirs began to migrate to Ulster when persecution started at home against the Covenanters. The Rev. John Weir, the Presbyterian minster at Dolserf (near Lanark and Lesmahagow) was sent to Antrim “to administer the Covenant to all of the officers and soldiers and Protestants in Ireland.” However, he was imprisoned and died in Mingarie castle in 1643.

Other Weirs followed the path to Ulster. In 1664 John Weir had married Jane Adams and moved to Straid in Antrim. These Weirs became the village corn millers. By the 1890’s the family business had expanded to include a farm, a forge, and a carpenter’s shop. Many Weirs settled around Ballymena. Other Weirs were to be found in Desertcreat parish, Tyrone.

America. Scots Irish Weirs transplanted themselves to America:

  • some Covenanters settled in the Cathcart community in Chester county, Pennsylvania (the graveyard shows George Weir who died there, aged 92, in 1806)
  • other Weirs headed for Bucks county in Pennsylvania or to the Borden land grant in Virginia’s Shenandoah valley.
  • while Robert Weir, who arrived in 1718, was one of the first settlers of Londonderry, New Hampshire.

Another Robert Weir, born in Paisley, had come to America around 1790 and settled in New Rochelle near New York. His son Robert became well-known as an educator and painter, being one of the leaders of the Hudson river school of painting. Robert and his wife had sixteen children, many of whom were painters in their own right. The youngest, Julian Weir, was the best-known.

Canada. Many Weirs from Scotland made their way to Canada in the 19th century. Two William Weirs came to Montreal in mid-century and had very different outcomes.

The first William Weir arrived in 1842, starting out as a book-keeper and rose to become an influential businessman and banker in Montreal. However, in 1899 he got caught up in a bank collapse and went to jail. His son committed suicide and he died six years later, a discredited man.

The second William Weir came in 1852 and he spent his time as a Surveyor of Customs in the port of Montreal. He had two more famous sons – William who became a Quebec Cabinet Minister and Robert who wrote the lyrics of O Canada, the Canadian national anthem.

Robert de Vere Weir, the so-called Laird, headed west to Vancouver Island in 1852.

New Zealand. Daniel Weir came out from Edinburgh with his family on the Blundell in 1848. He settled to farm in Otago, South Island. He had six sons by his first wife Catherine who all became successful farmers; and, after she died, six sons by his second wife Alison.

Weir Surname Miscellany

The De Vere Family.  The de Vere family was of ancient lineage.  The family was said to have taken their name from the village of Ver near Bayeux on the Normandy coast.  Ver here came from the Norse word for station or staging post.

The earliest de Ver on record was Rainfroi de Ver, Duke of Anjou in the 8th century.  Despite being defeated by Charles Martel, his descendants remained a powerful and influential family in Normandy.  Alberic (Aubery) de Vere came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066 and became one of his most favored knights, holding land and lordships in many counties.  Alberic’s grandson Aubery was created Earl of Oxford by Henry II in 1141.

One of the Earl’s sons Ralph (or Radulphus), who had defected to the Flemish side over succession in England and control of Brittany, fled to Scotland in 1165 and declared his allegiance to the Scottish crown. Having opposed his father in these struggles, Ralph was disinherited.  But he was subsequently rewarded with lands in Scotland.

The de Veres held the title of Earl of Oxford in England from 1141 to 1703 when the 20th Earl died without any identifiable heirs.  They were a particularly powerful family during medieval and Tudor times.  Their primary seat was Castle Hedingham in Essex, but they held lands across England as well.

The Veres/Weirs of Stonebyres and the Feud.  Thomas de Vere was said to have been the laird of Stonebyres Castle, just outside Lanark, as far back as 1300.   A story about those times, which may or may not be true, ran as follows:

‘Thomas De Vere, lord of the castle of Stonebyres, had “strenuously opposed the rapacious claims of the English king who illegally aspired to the sovereignty of Scotland.”

But now, at the dawn of the 14th century, he had no choice but to allow Saxon officers to occupy the halls of his mansion.  Many of these officers had tried without success to win the affection of his daughter, the beautiful Ada.

A handsome young Saxon officer named Ferrars came to the Lanark garrison “scornfully despising everything which pertained to the conquered Scots.”  Hearing from his fellow soldiers of the beauty of Ada De Vere, he secured an opportunity to visit the house of Stonebyres that he might personally judge her charms.

Kindly received by Thomas De Vere, Ferrars finally met Ada and was profoundly smitten. “A mutual flame had now been kindled in their youthful bosoms and they would frequently ramble for hours alone in the woods.” William Wallace, having “retired to the dens and caves that had been his lurking places in times of old, whence he sallied out with the utmost secrecy and continually harassed the Saxon soldiery that garrisoned the various fortresses,” was the noble leader of a guerilla band who would hang, without mercy, any unwary Saxons.

One evening, Wallace jumped from a thicket, “eyes flashing with rage and right hand uplifted,” and confronted the unaccompanied Ferrars and Ada.  Addressing Ferrars, Wallace bellowed: “Draw and defend thy dastard self, if one single drop of manly blood still flows in your veins.”‘

Later on, the Stonebyres had feuds with the Blackwood Weirs which went on for most of the 16th century.  They culminated in the murder of John Weir of Pownell in 1587.

There followed some attempts at reconciliation.  William Weir of Stonebyres signed a charter pledging his personal and family allegiance to James Weir of Blackwood, chief of the Weirs, a charter that was ratified by Parliament in 1592.  Then George Weir, the son of James of Blackwood, married Margaret, the daughter of William of Stonebyres.

The Stonebyres branch, however, was a stubborn and independent lot.  They soon disassociated themselves from the Weir spelling of Blackwood and reverted to Vere.  Although James Vere frittered away most of their money in the 18th century, their home at Stonebyres House along the Clyde stayed intact until it was eventually sold by the family in 1906 and demolished in 1934.

Thomas Weir the Reputed Sorcerer.  Thomas Weir’s grandfather was William Weir of Stonebyres castle and his father the laird of Kirkton in Lanarkshire.   Thomas himself was a Covenanter who had led an active professional life, serving in Ulster during the Irish Rebellion in 1641 and obtaining the post of commander of the Edinburgh Town Guard in 1650.

Following retirement, Weir fell ill in 1670 and from his sick-bed began to confess to a secret life of crime and vice.  The Lord Provost initially found the confession implausible and took no action, but eventually Weir and his spinster sister, Jean Weir (known to her friends as Grizel), were taken to the Edinburgh Tolbooth for interrogation.

Major Weir, now in his seventies, continued to expand on his confession and Grizel, having seemingly entirely lost her wits, gave an even more exaggerated history of witchcraft, sorcery and vice.  Grizel maintained that Weir derived his power from his walking stick, topped by a carved human head, giving rise to later accounts that it had often been seen parading down the street in front of him.

Whilst as a high-ranking public figure Weir was not believed at first, his own confession together with that of his sister sealed his fate.  Both were quickly found guilty at their trial and sentenced to death.  Weir’s last words while being urged to pray for forgiveness were:

“Let me alone.  I have lived as a beast, and I must die as a beast.”

Weir’s stick was consigned to the flames after him, reportedly making “rare turnings” in the fire.

The Weirs’ house in the West Bow stood empty for over a century because of its reputation for being haunted.  It was eventually bought cheaply in about 1780 by an ex-soldier William Patullo who moved in with his wife.  They were said to have fled the house on their first night there after experiencing a strange apparition of a calf approaching them in the night, propping itself up with its forelegs on the bed-end and staring at them in bed.  According to Walter Scott, the house, which remained unoccupied after the incident, was demolished in 1830.

Robert Weir and the Founding of Londonderry, New Hampshire.  In 1717 Robert Weir was a Commissioner in county Antrim.  In less than a year he and his wife Martha boarded one of the five ships bound for Boston, joining 600 other Presbyterians to seek religious freedom and better economic conditions in New England.

They arrived in Boston Harbor in August 4, 1718.  “Forbidden to land by the intolerant Puritans, the immigrants moved up the Kennebec to Maine and there settled.”  Sixteen families sailed to Casco Bay to claim a tract of land there, but were frozen in the Bay by early winter weather.  It was a severe winter even by New England standards and they suffered greatly from lack of shelter and food.

When the ice broke in the spring they journeyed to Haverhill and heard of a fine tract of land about 15 miles away called Nutfield.  James Gregg and Robert Weir sent a request to the Governor and Court (assembled at Portsmouth, New Hampshire) for a township ten miles square.  However, the majority of the Scots Irish could not wait any longer and traveled overland to the Scots Irish settlement in Northampton county, Pennsylvania.

On the second week of April 1719 some of the remaining families gathered under a large oak tree on the east side of Beaver Pond on land that would soon be theirs.  Robert Weir and James Gregg remained to receive the deed for the town of Londonderry, New Hampshire on June 19, 1719.  They voted to give lots in the town to the first comers “which is the number twenty.”   Robert Weir was one of the twenty to receive a lot.  He was evidently well regarded in the community because he became the first sheriff of Londonderry, New Hampshire.

The Weir Group.  In 1871 two brothers, George and James Weir, founded the engineering firm of G. & J. Weir.  At their Cathcart works in Glasgow the Weirs produced a series of ground-breaking inventions in pumping equipment that were crucial to the development of steam ships being built on the Clyde at that time.

Over the intervening century, Weirs have manufactured pumps and valves for ships’ engines around the world, oil pipelines and desalination plants, armaments (in both world wars), and heavy equipment for power stations.

In 1912, James’s son William succeeded his father as chairman of the company.  He held the reins until 1953 and, as Lord Weir, was a much respected businessman of his time. Many famous people visited him at his home at Eastwood Park in Giffnock (near Glasgow) over the years. The black and gold triple gate with six pillars, now the main entrance to Eastwood Park, was presented to Viscount Weir soon after 1945, in recognition of his contribution to the Second World War effort.

William Weir’s 2008 book The Weir Group narrated the company’s story.

Robert de Vere Weir to Vancouver.  Robert de Vere Weir, affectionately referred to by family and friends as “The Laird,” left his native Scotland to emigrate to Vancouver Island in 1852.  He had in fact been a grieve or land steward.

Robert, a widower, was accompanied by his elder sons, William and John, and by four minor children – Isabella 15, Hugh James 14, Robina Helen 12 and Adam 11 – when he shipped aboard the steamboat Trident in Edinburgh for the voyage to London on August 11, 1852.  He left behind one elder daughter Jennie who had married.

In London three days later they boarded the Hudson’s Bay Company barque Norman Morison at the East India Docks on August 14th.   After five months at sea, anchor was cast in Royal Bay, Victoria on Sunday, January 16, 1853.

In 1854 he took up land in Metchosin on Pedder Bay including William Head.  Robert along with his sons had a large flock of Southdown sheep, as well as some dairy cattle and a beef herd. He built his home Gordon Bush at the east end of what is now Swanwick Road.  It was destroyed by fire in 1922.  Adam, the youngest son of the Laird, built his home Crosby nearby.  It is no longer standing.

Weir Names

  • Ralph de Vere, who arrived in Scotland in 1165, is considered to be the forebear of the Blackwood Weirs of Lanarkshire.
  • Robert Walter Weir was one of the leaders of the Hudson river school of painting in America in the mid-19th century.
  • George and James Weir founded the engineering company Weir in Cathcart near Glasgow in 1871. This has now become the global Weir Group.
  • Peter Weir is an accomplished Australian film director who has had numerous hits in America.

Weir Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Weir and Like Surnames 

These are surnames from the Scottish Lowlands.  Some are clan names; some – like Gordon, Graham and Hamilton – have Anglo-Norman antecedents that crossed the border into Scotland; and some – like Douglas and Stewart – were very powerful in early Scottish history.  Stewart in fact became the royal Stuart line.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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