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Name Origin: Langton

by David Langton


Langton is one of a group of English place names that have also become surnames. If you have a place name surname you are fortunate because you can work out where you came from or at least reduce the possibilities to a few options. You cannot do this for occupational names like Taylor or Smith, so its difficult to find out where you came from.


In the case of Langton, due to the frequency of the place name we have quite a few options for our origins, and not all Langtons are related to each other. With the sucess of the Langton DNA Project, we have been able to ascertain which DNA profiles came from which Langton village in almost all cases. In time, we think we will be able to match every Langton village with a distinct Langton DNA profile.


Langton is an Anglo-Saxon name and as a place name occurs in regions that were settled by the Anglo-Saxons. This area is essentially England minus Cornwall but including South East Scotland up to Edinburgh where the population is actually ethnic English.


The first element Lang is the Anglo-Saxon form of Long as such it has a sense of size either in relation to a geographical feature or in connection with human activity or characteristics. As a place name element it also crops up in a number of surnames:



The second element -ton is one of the most common Anglo Saxon place name elements, there are hundreds of them and dozens of surnames with -ton in. Ton eventually gave rise to our word town. It meant a settlement perhaps a single building. In the case of Langton, long settlement it would seem of necessity to mean several buildings.


The Villages


Whilst it may seem clear what a village is in some cases it is far from obvious. For example what is the difference between a village and a manor and indeed what is the difference between a manor and a house or houses? In the interests of inclusion contained in the list below are settlements where the claim to be villages is to say the least questionable. Most of the Langton settlements were once much bigger, and some dont even exist anymore.



View Langton Villages in a larger map

In addition there are villages that have in the past been called Langton but are now called by similar names. They may have given rise to the Langton surname before the pronunciation of the place name changed.


N.B.(There are in fact about 50 people in the UK with the surname Lanton)


The Surname


The surname arises as a means of identifying someone by where they come from.

The Norman French version of this was 'de' meaning 'of' so we get De Langton.


Not every village is well placed to become a surname. Essentially as a general principle the village has to be recognisable at a distance in the big town or city so it helps if it is very close and/or on a main road. So in terms of probability it is easy to whittle down the 22 villages.

A number of them are really the same place Great/Little in Yorkshire, East/West/Church/Tur/Thorpe in Leicestershire, By Wragby/Low in Lincolnshire.


Those Langtons which are near big cities are the obvious candidates for surname creation. The obvious candidates are therefore, Langton By Wragby near Lincoln on the main road west and Langton in Leicestershire which seems to have covered four settlements and was large enough to serve as an identifier for nearby Thorpe. Langton Yorks is in the middle of nowhere and Great Langton is off the beaten track. The Dorset Langtons are not near anything sizable. Langton by Horncastle was probably always small and was perhaps not often referred to because it failed to gain the obvious tag 'by Horncastle'. Langton by Spilsby/Partney seems to have half gained two tags.


Unusually, we do know that a Langton did come from a particular Langton village, because Bishop Thomas Langton of Winchester hailed from Langton in Westmoreland. Even more surprisingly we have a second example as Bishop Walter Langton of Lichfield came from West Langton in Leicestershire. Archbishop Stephen Langton is said to have come from Langton by Wragby, Lincolnshire, though we think this is inaccurate. Nethertheless, we know that the first two Langton villages mentioned did give rise to a surname albeit perhaps temporarily since the bishops were supposed to be celebate (though they often were not).


A number of early charters exist that confirm the name was taken by local land owners in a number of other Langton villages listed.


There could of course be other Langton villages that also gave rise to the surname.


Surname Distribution


The 1881 census gives a distinct pattern of the Langton surname distribution. All surnames eventually get a heavy London presence because of migration and the sheer size of London. This is shown by London 334 and Surrey 158. However if we sideline these two, the northern origin of the name becomes apparent:

The only southern county is Berkshire and we know that Lincolnshire Langtons moved into the Oxfordshire/Berkshire area. The origin of the name does not therefore lie with the Dorset Langtons.

The figures give support to a Yorkshire/Leicestershire/Lincoln/Durham origin. No support for Berwick, Kent or Dorset.


Frequency gives a more interesting picture since it removes population size variables.

This is clearly not a London/southern name. The Lancashire population now becomes insignificant. Yorkshire and Durham simply disappear. The support is for a Leicestershire/Lincoln origin.

A slight problem for a Leicestershire origin is when we compare the occurrence of the name in neighbouring counties where you would have expected it to spread. Taking Lincolnshire the neighbouring counties results are:-

Yorkshire-High in numbers

Notts-High in density

Leics- High in numbers and density


The Leicestershire neighbours are:-

Lincs- High in numbers and density

Notts-High in density

Derbs-High in numbers and density

Staffs-Neither

Warks-Neither

Northants-Neither


The Langton name occurs all around the boundaries of Lincolnshire but not so with the boundaries of Leicestershire where it occurs significantly to the north and east but not to the south or west.

Dating the name Langton


England had been inhabited by British tribes who lived under Roman rule. The Romans built forts to protect the country from Saxon raiders along the coast from Norfolk to Portsmouth. However in 407 AD the Romans abandoned Britain.

Mixed Roman/Germanic burial sites suggest there may already have been some Saxon/Germanic peoples settled in Lincolnshire as mercenaries. Certainly the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (ASC) relates a precedent, in 449 the first settlers Hengist and Horsa in Kent were originally mercenaries. Lincolnshire may well have had Germanic mercenaries by the early fifth century.

The earliest recorded Germanic king in the area was Winta in the mid fifth century. He probably aimed to seize the best agricultural land and drive out any ruling tribal leaders. It has started to become fashionable to argue that the Anglo Saxons were small in number and that most of the British (celtic/welsh) population remained. However the sheer number of Germanic place names such as -ton, -ham, -worth, -ing, and lack of surviving celtic names gives weight against this argument. Doubtless some of the original population did deals with the invaders including any oppressed tribes rebelling against their British oppressors.

One 6th Century Lincolnshire king was called Caedbaed which is clearly either celtic/welsh or a celtic/welsh form of the name. Further Anglo-Saxons may have been reluctant to drive out attractive welsh girls. However the name evidence suggests a more thorough population replacement than with the Viking invasions where many Anglo-Saxon place names such as Langton survived.


Langton is probably a 5th/6th/7th century Anglo Saxon place name. It may not have been the original name of the settlement because it might have taken a while to grow and to be described as 'lang'.

The Venerable Bede writes about Edwin of Northumbria's reign, the year 628 citing Paulinus preaching, baptising in the River Trent at Tiovulfingacestir and building a stone church in Lincoln. His information source was Deda Abbot of the monastery of Parteney. This shows that Partney was named by 628 AD and it would be reasonable to assume the same timescale for the three Langtons.

In the late eigth and ninth centuries the Vikings (largely Danes) invaded and settled Lincolnshire, they spoke essentially the same language as the English. The surviving place names suggest that at least some of the local population remained. Charters of Alfred the Great also make clear that there were English still living under Danish rule. The Vikings built settlements next to existing Saxon villages. One example is Wragby(Danish) right beside Langton (Anglo Saxon). There are many Viking placenames in Lincolnshire including Spilsby and Skegness often occurring in clusters whilst other areas such as north of Wragby have clusters of Saxon names.


The tenth century saw a vigourous and well organised counter attack by the descendants of Alfred the Great who built forts to secure the country such as Washingborough and Gainsborough. Disinherited English from Lincolnshire might also have been out to reclaim their lands.

The population of Lincolnshire is therefore of mixed Anglo-Danish origin. Just because you have Langton as a surname does not exclude the possibility of a Danish genetic origin. DNA tests cannot determine a difference as the Anglo Saxon and Danish populations are too closely related.


The Norman conquest of 1066 saw French become the official language. Some Norman French names linger on in place names such as Herring and Matravers. Some Anglo Normans clearly adopted new surnames often by adopting a placename such as De Langton. The earliest citing of De Langton in Lincolnshire is twelfth century. We have yet to see an earlier citing of De Langton anywhere. In time the 'De' got dropped and it became Langton. Langton seems to be one of the earliest examples of a truly English surname. De Langton suggests a Norman-French origin but one cannot be entirely certain that the origin of Langton males is Norman-French, although it does look like it. The Normans (Nord-man) were of course descendants of Vikings themselves rather than ethnic French. So whichever way you look at it we get back to the north east European coast one way or the other.


Summary

The more we have researched the Langtons the more we have realised that we have multiple origins. Rather than springing from 3 or 4 of the villages we probably derive from ten to a dozen of them. Whilst we are not related to all other Langtons we are related to some. The name itself because of Stephen Langton and Magna Charta has a unique place in history. However it is not just Stephen Langton, we do a strong line in Bishops from Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Westmoreland as well as other famous Langtons.


A separate article will appear on the Langton name and the Doomsday Book.