Weir Surname Meaning, History & Origin
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 Resources on
- The Name is Weir
Bill Weir’s website.
- Weir Family Origins
Ancestors of Alexander Nicholl Weir.
- The Weir History
Weirs in America.
- Weir DNA Project
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
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.
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.
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
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:
in the Cathcart community in Chester county, Pennsylvania (the
graveyard shows George Weir who died there, aged 92, in 1806)
Weirs headed for Bucks county in Pennsylvania or to the Borden
land grant in Virginia’s Shenandoah valley.
who arrived in
1718, was one of the first settlers of Londonderry, New Hampshire.
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
- 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.
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
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:
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
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,
sallied out with the utmost secrecy and continually harassed the Saxon
soldiery that garrisoned the various fortresses,” was the noble leader
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
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
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
a Covenanter who had led an active professional life, serving in Ulster
the Irish Rebellion in 1641 and obtaining the post of commander of the
Edinburgh Town Guard in 1650.
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
implausible and took no action, but eventually Weir and his spinster
Jean Weir (known to her friends as Grizel), were taken to the Edinburgh
Tolbooth for interrogation.
now in his seventies, continued to expand on his confession and Grizel,
seemingly entirely lost her wits, gave an even more exaggerated history
witchcraft, sorcery and vice. Grizel
maintained that Weir derived his power from his walking stick, topped
carved human head, giving rise to later accounts that it had often been
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:
me alone. I have lived as a beast, and I
must die as a
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
them in the night, propping itself up with its forelegs on the bed-end
staring at them in bed. According to
Walter Scott, the house, which remained unoccupied after the incident,
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
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
settled.” Sixteen families sailed
to Casco Bay to claim a tract of land there, but were frozen in the Bay
winter weather. It was a severe winter
even by New England standards and they suffered greatly from lack of
When the ice broke in the spring
they journeyed to Haverhill and heard of a fine tract of land about 15
away called Nutfield. James Gregg and
Robert Weir sent a request to the Governor and Court (assembled at
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
On the second week
of April 1719 some of the remaining families gathered under a large oak
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
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
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
that were crucial to the development of steam ships being built on the
Over the intervening century,
Weirs have manufactured pumps and valves for ships’ engines around the
oil pipelines and desalination plants, armaments (in both world wars),
heavy equipment for power stations.
1912, James’s son William succeeded his father as chairman of the
company. He held the reins until 1953 and,
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
to Eastwood Park, was presented to Viscount Weir soon after 1945, in
recognition of his contribution to the Second World War effort.
Weir’s 2008 book The Weir Group narrated the
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.
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
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.
- 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.
Select Weir Numbers Today
- 16,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 7,000 in America (most numerous in California)
- 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select 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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