Yardley Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Yardley Surname Meaning

Yardley is a composite of the Old English gerd or gyrd, meaning “pole” or “stick” which described a holding of some thirty acres, and leah, meaning a “wood” or “clearing.”  It became a place-name – in Warwickshire, in Northamptonshire, and in Essex – and then a surname.

The surname spelling came first with a “G” (Richard de Gerdelai), then with an “E” (William de Erdeleleg) and a “J” (Adam de Jerdeleye), before establishing itself with the “Y” prefix during the 14th century.

Yardley Surname Resources on The Internet

Yardley Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Warwickshire)
  • to America and Australia

England.  The place-name Yardley in present-day Birmingham dates back to 972 and is probably the basis for many Yardley surnames.  The 19th century distribution of the Yardley name showed the main cluster of the name in the West Midlands – in Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and extending up into south Staffordshire.

Yardleys in this area have included: 

  • Thomas Yardley and his family who held Gorcott Hall near Studley in the 1500’s and early 1600’s  
  • John Yardley who was vicar at Seighford from 1581 to 1616
  • William Yardley who was christened at St. Peters, Wolverhampton in 1621
  • John Yardley who married Mary Hill in Old Swinford in 1733 (Yardleys of this family moved to Birmingham in the mid 19th century)
  • George Yardley who was recorded as being burned to death in his cabin in Eccleshall woods in 1783
  • and Myrah Yardley who was born in Cradley in 1834 of an old chain making family.

Staffordshire.  Another place-name origin for Yardley has been the village of Audley in north Staffordshire.  These Yardleys trace back to John Yardley of Staffordshire in 1402 (legend has it that an earlier Yardley was a witness to King John’s Magna Carta in 1216).

The Bishop of Lichfield’s Staffordshire listing of 1532 showed one Yardley family and six Yeardleys in Audley.  Yardleys were later to be found in Ravensclough and Gayton, villages near Leek.

London.  Ralph Yeardley of Audley had made his way to London and prospered as a merchant tailor during Elizabethan times.  The family became wealthy and owned a number of mansions in the city of London. From this line came Sir George Yeardley, an apprentice to the Merchants’ Adventurers Company who went on to become the first governor of Virginia.  Another relative, William Yardley from Staffordshire, also made the journey to America, but later.

From this line also, it would appear, came the Yardley perfumiers of London; Jonathan Yardley who obtained the royal warrant to supply soap to London in the 1620’s, and William Yardley the owner who established the Yardley soap company in 1801.  Yardleys of London, now under different owners, still flourishes as a seller of traditional soaps and perfumes.  Its story has been recounted in E.W. Thomas’s 1953 book The House of Yardley.

America.  Sir George Yeardley was part of the rescue party which, shipwrecked off Bermuda, finally arrived at the struggling Jamestown colony in 1610.  He stayed. married Lady Temperance Flowerdew, was three times governor of the colony, and died in 1627. His descendants in America are Eardleys.

William Yardley was a persecuted Quaker minister who had left his home in Ravensclough, near Leek in Staffordshire, for a safe haven provided for him by William Penn in America.  He departed with his family on the Friend’s Adventure in 1682, part of a Quaker fleet bound for Pennsylvania.  They settled in what came to be called Yardley township, Pennsylvania. There were to be Yardleys there until the late 1800’s.  Robert Yardley, born in Yardley in 1850, became a Republican member of the US House of Representatives.

Captain Thomas Yardley, born in North Carolina in 1775, moved to Tennessee and fought in the War of 1812.  His family were to be found in Rutherford county, Tennessee.   John Yardley, born in Wednesbury in the West Midlands and raised by his grandparents, discovered the Mormon church and emigrated to Salt Lake valley in 1852.

Australia.  William Yardley, a stationer in south London, had been sentenced to death for burglary in 1785. His sentence was later commuted to life transportation and he was onboard the Second Fleet which arrived in Australia in 1790. Later accounts show him receiving a conditional pardon, living with his common law wife Caroline Edwards, but dying in 1805 in suspicious circumstances at his home in Hawkesbury.

Other Yardleys who came to Australia were:

  • William Yardley from London (and related to the soap Yardleys) who came on the Barrackpore to Melbourne in 1853 and married Clara Ford there.
  • William Yardley and his family from Aston Hall in Birmingham who came in 1883 and settled in Brisbane (William was a blacksmith and his wife Fanny ran a local produce store)
  • and Fanny Yardley from Staffordshire who married Edward Ashley and moved to Victoria in the early 1900’s.

Yardley Surname Miscellany

Yardley Parish in Birmingham.  Yardley today is a council constituency in east Birmingham.  The name appeared in the Domesday Book and was referred to as early as 972 in King Edgar’s charter where it was named Gyrdleah.  It was mentioned as being under the possession of Pershore abbey.

The ancient parish of Yardley, which includes the 13th century church of St. Edburgha’s, was generally considered to be part of Worcestershire and was only added to Birmingham and Warwickshire in 1911.

The Early History of Yardleys of London.  The story began in the reign of King Charles I when a young man called Jonathan Yardley paid the King a large sum to gain the concession of providing all the soap for the City of London.  However, all details of this enterprise were lost in the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Only one particular remained; that lavender was used to perfume the soap.

It was in 1770 that the soap and perfumery business now known as Yardleys was established by William Cleaver in the city of London.  Thirty years later, William Yardley, a wealthy and ambitious man from his business of purveying swords, spurs, and buckles to the aristocracy, gave his daughter Hermia in marriage to Cleaver’s son and heir William.

At that time William Cleaver had persuaded Coutts Bank to advance him £20,000 on the security of the soap and perfumery business. However, he gambled away this money and was unable to repay the loan.  Father in-law William Yardley, who had stood as guarantor, paid instead and thus came to own the business.

When Yardleys first started business in 1770, lavender was the herb chosen to perfume its range of luxury soaps.  Since that time English lavender has become established as the signature fragrance for Yardleys.

Yardleys in the 1881 Census

County Numbers Percent
Warwickshire    410    23
Staffordshire    350    19
Lancashire    190    11
Worcestershire    160     9
Yorkshire    150     8
London    130     7
Elsewhere    410    23
Total  1,800  100

In the towns the largest numbers were in Birmingham and Coventry.

Yardley Township, Pennsylvania.  Yardley today is a borough in Bucks county, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia.  The town was founded by William Yardley, a Quaker, who in July 1682 at the age of fifty left his home at Dairyhouse in north Staffordshire and immigrated to America with his family.

William had made an agreement with William Penn before leaving England to buy land totaling 500 acres for ten pounds.  A survey was completed on the land in October 1682 and the area in which William Yardley settled was named Prospect Farm.  The building, located just outside of the present borough of Yardley, still stands. William Yardley himself died in 1693 and his family in 1702-1703, all of them to smallpox.

A nephew, Thomas Yardley, came to America in 1704 to settle the estate.  He never returned to England.  He opened a ferry line which started operating in 1710 from Letchworth Avenue, the lower boundary of the village, and landing in New Jersey further downstream.  This was an important link between west Jersey and the three roads leading to Philadelphia by way of Falls, Langhorne and Newtown.

The Yardley family occupied this land for more than 150 years.

Yardleys in Rutherford County, Tennessee.  The following Yardleys married in Rutherford county, Tennessee during the first half of the 19th century.

Year Groom Bride
1817 Captain Thomas Yardley Margaret Warren, first
1829 Captain Thomas Yardley Mary Cox, second wife
1841 Thomas N. Yardley, second son Elizabeth Lawrence
1842 John W. Yardley, eldest son Sarah Fulks
1849 Thomas N. Yardley Martha Evans

Captain Thomas Yardley’s sons by his second marriage who married in the 1850’s and 1860’s were James and William.  Captain Thomas himself died in Rutherford county in 1848.

The Suspicious Death of William Yardley in Australia.  On December 8th, 1805 the Sydney Gazette reported on an inquest into William Yardley’s death at his farm on the 4th.  The Hawkesbury coroner found that he had been burned to death in a house fire which had probably been caused by a lightning storm which was passing that night.  His wife and children had escaped.  But he had been trapped while going back inside to save clothing.

The paper speculated, without much evidence, that local aborigines, “‘to whose excesses ‎[Yardley’s]‎ activity was a constant curb,” may have set the house alight.  A few days later a “fine boat” belonging to the Yardleys was wrecked on Mullet island on its way to the Hawkesbury.

Local gossip resulted in the arrest of Yardley’s widow and their convict servant in March 1806 in suspicion of murdering Yardley and concealing the crime by burning the body in the house.  Suspicious blood stains and a head wound which appeared to have been covered by a handkerchief were found on the exhumed body and Catherine was subject to intensive questioning over a period of several weeks.  A neighbor said the servant had displayed a noticeable dislike of his master, but that Catherine had been “sensibly affected” by his death.

Both were released on April 5th when the Bench of Magistrates decided there was insufficient evidence to mount a prosecution.

Yardley Names

  • Sir George Yeardley arrived in the colony of Jamestown in 1610 and was the first governor of Virginia.
  • William Yardley gave his name to the Yardley perfumery company that was founded in London in 1770.
  • Norman Yardley, born in south Yorkshire, was the captain of the English cricket team in the late 1940’s.

Yardley Numbers Today

  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

Yardley and Like Surnames

Some surnames have originated from the English Midlands – the swathe of countryside which covers such counties as Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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