As a Langton growing up by Langstone Harbour Portsmouth I continually got called Langston. Are these three names the same? Let's deal with the easy bit first, Langston and Langstone both have the same meaning and mean long stone. This could of course refer to a natural geographical feature which is a long stone such as Langston Cliff Devon or a long stone set up by humans such as Langston Moor on Dartmoor Devon which has a long stone set up in the ground.
Langston is a reasonably common surname with about 1,500 people in the UK. By contrast Langstone has less than a hundred people. Where surnames have such a low rate of occurrence it is often a sign that it is not an independent surname. The suspicion has to be that these two similar surnames are in fact the same in origin. A matching distribution pattern would tend to confirm this hypothesis.
Langstone occurs most frequently in Worcester, Hemel Hempstead, Watford, Southall and Chelmsford. Langston occurs most frequently in Hemel Hempstead, Worcester, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Birmingham, Luton, Watford, Twickenham and Kingston on Thames. It is safe to conclude they have a common origin on the basis of both meaning and distribution.
In deciding which came first we might think that -stone had shortened to -ston. However the anglo-saxon for stone was stan, so the original name may well have been Langstan. This suggests that Langston is closer to the original and that Langstone may be something of a modern form. No doubt there was a good deal of movement back and forth between the two forms of the name.
Langston(e) looks like a typical place name that has become a surname and we could expect to find villages of that name around Hemel Hempstead and Worcester. What we in fact find is something mysteriously different. There are two Langstones in Devon but it is not a local surname. There is a Langstone Parish in Monmouthshire South Wales but it is not a local surname. There is Langstone in Hampshire but again it is not a local surname. Finally there is one in Suffolk where again despite a few Langstones in Chelmsford it is not a local surname.
The obvious conclusion is that the surname Langston(e) did not arise from any of these places. Unfortunately there are no villages called Langstone in the Langston heartlands of Buckinghamshire, Worcestershire and Hertfordshire Worcestershire. We have therefor something of a mystery on our hands. The answer might be drift from Langton to Langston. One has to say at the outset that with a 1,500 plus Langston population, that is a heck of a lot of drift. However other factors come into play. For instance are there any Langton villages in the main Langston areas. There are none in the Worcester area and the solitary example further east in Launton in Oxfordshire. It would therefore be difficult to explain an early population of Langtons in those areas to provide a sufficient viable population to drift away to Langston.
If we look at the distribution of the Langton population in Southern England this does nothing to support this theory. What we might hope for is a common distribution of Langston and Langton such as we found with Langston and Langstone. In the Worcestershire and West Midlands area of Langston concentration we find virtually no Langtons at all. The theory would need to account for this by saying virtually all Langton families allowed their name to be changed to Langston to such an extent that little trace of the original Langton remains.
Further east in the Buckinghamshire/Hemel Hempstead/Watford area a different pattern emerges. Whilst Langtons are rare in these areas they occur in reasonable numbers slightly further south in Slough and Reading. If the Langston/Langton surname was really of the same origin, the theory would need to explain why in a fairly limited area Langton changed to Langston almost completely in the northern part but hardly at all in the southern part. In reality the distribution patterns suggest that they are unrelated but similar surnames. This returns us to the problem of the origin of the Langston surname.
Looking at county figures in the 1881 census it becomes apparent that Langston has a remarkable concentration when compared to the more numerous Langtons who should produce levels of concentration three times higher than the Langstons. The reverse is true. The highest county concentration for Langton is Leicestershire with .056 with a highest adjoining county in Derbyshire of .038. By contrast the outnumbered Langstones produce .082 in Buckinghamshire but a much lower adjoining county score of .011 in Oxfordshire. In the western area Langston produces .020 for Worcestershire with the adjoining county Warwickshire on .012. These figures suggest that at least in the eastern area Langston is a highly localised Buckinghamshire name.
That being the case we should look for its origin within that county. Turning to concentrations of the name in towns we get results for Langton of Codnor, Derbyshire 1.27, Newbury .58 and Alfreton .48. Again the results of the more numerous Langtons are eclipsed by the Langstons Ellesborough Herts 2.46, Weston Turville Bucks 1.33, Great Missenden Herts .87. These results also support a Bucks/Herts origin for the name. In the Western area St Lawrence parish in Evesham produces 1.23. We have then a situation where the Langston surname has an unusual concentration in Buckinghamshire but is completely divorced from placenames which might have given rise to it as a surname.
This is not at all what we would expect. In Domesday Book 1086 Buckinghamshire is divided into districts called hundreds, so called because they had to provide a hundred fighting men when called upon to do so. The first hundred mentioned is that of Stone which covered Hadenham, Halton, Weston Turville, Great Kimble and Great Missenden. This is right in the area of Langston concentration. Moreover there are two places called Stone a few miles apart just south of Aylesbury Buckinghamshire called Stone and Bishopstone. It is probable that a stone having a place called after it had to be prominent either being a large stone or a long stone. Bishopstone is in fact in the parish of stone so we are probably just talking about one stone. The Bishop stone bit almost certainly derived from the fact that this was the bit of stone belonging to the bishop. The more westerly settlement of stone probably had a similarly distinctive prefix - Long being an obvious one.
There is of course no documentary proof of this and I'd welcome a volunteer to ferret away at the task in ancient local documents in what might ultimately prove a futile task. What we have at present is a remarkably high concentration of the Langston(e) surname coinciding with a district called Stone. If we ever found a single reference to Long Stone as opposed to Bishop Stone that would clinch it.
What we are left with is a hypothesis which has more merit than the surname being derived from far distant villages or from wholesale name drift from Langton. So this will remain my favourite explanation until someone comes up with something better. The Worcester Langstons may have spread from Buckinghamshire or may have an entirely separate origin. They have a different heraldic shield from the Buckinghamshire Langstons.