The Hope family’s origins in County Durham

Prior to the 14th century, the concept of a surname, passed on from father to son, was not well developed.  In England at this time, there were only about 20 first names for children.  About half the population had first names from the New Testament, such as John, Thomas, Joseph, Mary & Elizabeth.  So distinguishing between the numerous Johns, Williams and Thomas’s, which were the most common boy’s names in a village, was a problem.

In the 1370s, the word “surname” begins to appear in legal documents and by 1450, most Englishmen had a fixed hereditary surname.  Most of the surnames that appear in England in the 15th century evolved from four sources: occupation; nature of residence; father’s name or from some personal characteristic or physical feature, for example:

Occupation:                        Carpenter, Cook, Miller, Smith, Taylor, Butcher

Topography:                      Underhill, Brook, Wood, Hill, Marsh, Craig, Field, Forest

Father’s name:                   Williamson, Johnson, Robson, Dickson, Watson, Thomson

Characteristic:                   Little, Longfellow, Fox, White, Redhead, Brown, Stout

It is generally accepted that the word Hope is Anglo-Saxon (Old English).  It is recorded in Derbyshire well before the Norman Conquest.  The conventional wisdom is that the surname Hope is a topographical term describing someone who lived in a small, enclosed valley, usually a side valley such as the Hope Valley in the Derbyshire Peak District.  There are Hope valleys dotted throughout northern England and Southern Scotland, so there is no one geographical location for the origin of the Hope surname.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, my forebears were either lead miners or agricultural labourers (many men had dual occupations at this time) around Stanhope in Upper Weardale in County Durham.  Lead has been exploited in Weardale since Roman times.  From the thirteenth century, lead mining was encouraged by the Prince Bishops, who profited from the mining of the ore.  Weardale is closely associated with the ‘Prince Bishops’.  For many centuries, County Durham was virtually an independent state ruled, not by the King but by powerful Prince Bishops.  After the Norman Conquest in 1066, William the Conqueror soon realised that the very north of his territory, Northumbria, could not easily be protected from the Scots.  He, therefore, appointed the Earl of Northumbria and the Bishop of Durham to defend the north of England from the Scots.  The Earl of Northumbria had control of the area north of the River Tyne and the Bishop of Durham, the area between the rivers Tyne and Tees.  It was William the Conqueror’s son, William Rufus, who created the first Earl-Bishop, William St. Carileph, in 1081 and created him head of the ‘County Palatine of Durham’.  Carileph and successive bishops had nearly all the powers within the ‘County Palatine’ that the king had in the rest of England.  They became known as the ‘Prince Bishops’, with powers to hold their own parliament, raise armies, appoint sheriffs, administer their own laws, raise taxes and customs, create fairs and markets, collect revenues from mines, administer forests and mint their own coins.  The ‘Prince Bishops’ lived like kings in their castles or ‘palaces’ at Durham and Bishop Auckland.

Weardale made up the second largest hunting ground in England after the New Forest in Hampshire, which of course belonged to the King.  Westgate and Eastgate in Weardale marked the boundary of Stanhope Park, the Prince Bishop’s hunting ground where the famous ‘Great Chases’ (hunting expeditions), celebrated with much pomp and pageantry, were held.  All the inhabitants of Weardale were required to provide hounds for the hunt, along with enormous quantities of food, wine and beer for the hunters.  They were also required to assist with the construction of a large temporary hunting lodge, a chapel, kitchen and larder, which were purposely built for the annual chase.  An account from 1183 provides an insight into what was required of the local population of ‘Aucklandshire’:

“All the villeins of Aucklandshire, that is North Auckland and West Auckland and Escomb and Newton, provide 1 rope at the Great Chases of the Bishop for each bovate and make the hall of the Bishop in the forest 60 feet in length and in breadth within the posts 16 feet, with a butchery and a store house and chamber and a privy. Moreover they make a chapel 40 feet in length and 15 feet in breadth, and they have 2s as a favour and they make their part of the enclosure around the lodges and on the Bishop’s departure a full barrel of ale or half if he should remain away.  And they look after the hawk eyries in the bailiwick of Ralph the Crafty and they make 18 booths at St Cuthbert’s fair. Moreover all the villeins and leaseholders go on the roe hunt on the summons of the Bishop”

and under the entry for Stanhope:

“…all the villeins build a kitchen, and larder and a dog kennel at the Great Chases and they provide straw for the hall, chapel and chamber, and they lead all the Bishop’s supplies from Wolsingham to the lodges. “

The word ‘hope’ occurs in the names of a number of burns (streams) in upper Weardale, such as Kilhope, Welhope and Hope Burn.  Rookhope is a former lead and fluorspar mining community, originally a group of cattle farms in the thirteenth century.  The valley of the Rookhope Burn, which joins the River Wear at Eastgate, was the setting of the Rookhope Raid in 1569 when a large group of moss troopers from Tynedale raided Weardale whilst most of the men of Weardale were in Teesdale plotting against the Queen in the famous ‘Rising of the North’ [The Revolt of the Northern Earls or Northern Rebellion, was an unsuccessful attempt by Catholic Nobles from Northern England to depose Queen Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots].  Resistance to the raid was expected to be low but there were still a number of Weardale men left to defend the dale.  The raiders were pursued north into the Rookhope valley, as they made off with Weardale cattle and sheep, where a fray ensued in which four of the Tyneside raiders were killed.  The event is remembers in a 24 verse Weardale ballad called the ‘Rookhope Ryde’.

The ‘Rising of the North’ was led by Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland, and Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland.  Seven hundred knights assembled at Raby Castle, south west of Bishop Auckland, and occupied Durham in November 1569.  From Durham, the rebels marched southwards to Bramham Moor, near York.  After abandoning the siege of York, the rebel earls, faced with a superior force led by the Earl of Sussex, retreated northwards and dispersed.  The Earls of Westmorland and Northumberland fled to Scotland.  Northumberland was captured and turned over to Elizabeth in 1572 and beheaded in York.  Westmorland escaped to Flanders where he died impoverished.  Queen Elizabeth declared martial law and exacted terrible retribution on the ordinary folk of the area, with a demand for at least 700 executions.  Were my forebears involved in this historic event and did the Hope family suffer the consequences of this debacle?

During the 17th century, my forebears resided in and around the Wear Valley.  My seventh, great grand-father, John Hope (b.1655), was born at Toft Hill, near St. Helen Auckland. He was one of four children born to Thomas Hope (b.1627).  Thomas was one of at least eight children born to William Hope and Janet Rowles, married in 1619.  The earliest records of St. Helen’s, Auckland Church, which are in Latin from 1593-1635, record the baptisms of Henricus (1620), Jane (1622), Christopherus (1624), Thomas (1627), Guilielmus (1630), Mergareta (1633), Anna (1635) and John (1638) to Guilielmi [William] Hope.  William (born c.1597) was the son of William Hope and Margaret Howe, married in 1595.  William Hope (b. c.1570) was my tenth great grand-father!

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Hope family formed part of that widespread migration in the north-east of England from the rural areas of the Pennines to the Durham coalfield further east.  The next post will describe this episode in the Hope family history.

Hope family

One thought on “The Hope family’s origins in County Durham

  1. This is absolutely fascinating. I am also a descendant of John Hope b. 1655 and last fall (2019) I was in County Durham to explore the Hope’s home area, before my Hope ancestor emigrated to North America. I found information in the City of Durham archives back to William Hope, who was buried at St Helen Auckland in 1624. But the information is minimal, and it sounds like you know a lot more context. I cannot tell how old this post is, but if you can point me toward more of your writing or other information, I would be very grateful.

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