Origin and history of the Micklethwait name

To date we have gleaned the following information about the origin and the history of the name Micklethwait:

5th to 9th Centuries

The origin of our Micklethwait ancestry is found in the history of Yorkshire in north east England. The Saxons from the part of Germany which extends north into the Danish peninsula had invaded England in the fifth century, and their descendants were living on the Plain of Holderness and in the Vale of York when, after decades of piratical raids the ‘great army’ of the Danish Vikings landed in England in 865, took York apparently unopposed two years later and went marauding over the country for the next nine years.

But in 876 about 1,000 Viking warriors settled down in York. They became farmers, craftsmen and traders, quickly intermarried with the local population and adopted Christianity.

10th to 12th Centuries

Old records show that there were a number of different places in Northern England called Micklethwaite which is hardly surprising because the name comes from the word ‘Muceltoit’ – Norse for Great Clearing and no doubt there were many great clearings in the surrounding vegetation of Northern England at that time.

There are still three places bearing the name: one in Cumbria, near the Lake District; and two in Yorkshire, one near Bingley and the other near Wetherby. One of the Micklethwaite places that used to exist was in the parish of Cawthorne, near Barnsley, Yorkshire. All the evidence suggests that our particular family first settled there.

To date, there is no evidence to tell us that our family were ever at the Micklethwaite villages near Bingley, Wetherby or in the Lake District.

It is reported that Micklethwaite was included in the lands and holdings of Erneis de Buron of the great Norman house of Buron, but we are not sure at this stage to which Micklethwaite this refers.

The following is an extract from a comparatively recent article which tells us about ‘The Hamlet of Micklethwaite’ in Yorkshire. It was originally published in the Yorkshire Dalesman, but here again we are not yet sure which Micklethwait is being described.

Prospect of Micklethwaite

People have lived in and around the village for over 3,000 years, and artefacts from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and the Roman occupation have been discovered there. However, Micklethwaite originated as a Viking settlement in the 10th Century, and according to the Domesday Book was called ‘Muceltoit’ (which is Norse for ‘great clearing’).

13th to 15th Centuries

The fashion of adding family names began in Britain in the 13th Century. The population was expanding, becoming more complex, and there was a concerted movement from the countryside to the towns and villages.

It had become necessary to be able to distinguish reliably between individuals for many reasons, and a number of methods evolved including the one of naming people after the area in which they lived.

Having in mind that there were several places called Micklethwaite, and that people originating from all these places are likely to have used the place name as their family name, it follows that one cannot assume that all people with the family name Micklethwait(e) are from the same family.

The ancient chronicles of England reveal the early records of the name Micklethwaite as a Norman family name, which ranks as one of the oldest. The history of the name is closely interwoven within the majestic tapestry as an intrinsic part of the history of Britain.

A family name capable of being traced back to the Domesday Book or to Hastings was a great honour for most families during the Middle Ages and still is even to this day!

A well-known publication called Hunters ‘South Yorkshire’ reports that:

The early residence of the family of this name was a farm called ‘Micklethwaite’ at Gunthwaite, Nr. Ingbirchworth in the Parish of Penistone, where three generations were named as residing before 1272.

In A volume relating to Penistone by E. J. Bedford mention is again made of the family farm in the 13th century followed by the words ‘a connected pedigree does not seem to have been traced; however beyond the sixteenth century when we find one branch living at Ingbirchworth in this parish and another at Swaithe Hall in Worsborough Dale.’

There is no doubt that both these articles refer to our family.

The family’s early history is shrouded in antiquity. However, some very old deeds found in the Chartulary of Monk Bretton Abbey and other ancient records, and seen by Hunter the eminent historian of South Yorkshire, have provided us with the names listed in the next paragraph. Please also see the page, Unconnected Micklethwaits.

Among the early written references to the name or a variant form, we read of Walter de Mickelthwayt JM1003 in 1277, Robert de Mikelthwayt JM1004 in 1303 and also de Mekilthwayt JM1005 in 1304, according to the Inquisitions Post Mortem (1236–1432) for the county of Yorkshire.

The Poll Tax Rolls for Yorkshire referred to the names of Adam de Mekkelhawath, Magota Mekkelwayth, Johanna de Mickilwayte and William de Mickilwayte JM1015 – all in the year 1379. There is little doubt that if not all, certainly most of these Micklethwaits are our ancestors because the majority of them originated from the area of Gunthwaite or Cawthorne and Ingbirchworth.

16th to 18th Centuries

In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, England was ravaged by religious and political conflict. The Monarchy, the Church and Parliament fought for supremacy. Religious elements such as the State Church, the Roman Church and the Reform Church all vied for control. All, in their time, made demands on rich and poor alike. They broke the spirit of men and many turned from religion, or alternatively, renewed their faith, pursuing with vigor and ferocity, the letter of the ecclesiastical law.

Many families were freely “encouraged” to migrate to Ireland, or to the “colonies”. Non-believers or dissidents were banished, sometimes even hanged. Despite this turmoil, The Micklethwaits survived and prospered.

It is said that the early Micklethwaites owned considerable property and manor houses in the whole of the three Ridings of Yorkshire and married into families who had land, thus compounding their holdings; they also owned collieries, owned boats and had river rights.

In the 17th Century, the family established their right to Coats of Arms, and further information on this is given on the page, Coats of Arms.

The family name Micklethwaite emerged as a notable family name in the county of Yorkshire and elsewhere in England, where they held numerous high offices including Lords of several Manors, Mayors of Leeds, Mayors of York, High Sheriffs and Aldermen, etc. See Leading Family Members page for more details.

Other Micklethwaits that we know of decided to emigrate to the USA: One family was led by Willoughby JM636 (four adults and nine children), and recent DNA tests in the UK and the US suggest that they are from Branch 1a. Another family was led by Thomas JM184G, who is directly descended from Branch 1a.

Many English emigrated aboard the fleet of sailing ships known as the White Sails. The stormy Atlantic, small pox, dysentery, cholera and typhoid took its toll on the settlers and many of these tiny, overcrowded ships arrived with only 60 to 70 per cent of their passenger list remaining. The Micklethwaits listed on the UK-USA tree were fortunate in that they emigrated of their own free will and arrived safely.

Other members of the family emigrated to Australia – examples can be seen in the Branch 1e (Bower) of the Cawthorne-Ingbirchworth tree.

19th and 20th Centuries

The following article entitled ‘Walks through the City of York’ published in 1880 and the extract from The Surtees Society 1875 Yorkshire Diaries paint a good picture of the family in the UK during the first part of this period.

More recently it was said that ‘There were many notables of this name Micklethwaite: Sir Robert Gore Micklethwait, Q.C., Chief National Insurance Commissioner, Hon. Knight, Hon. Society of the Knights of the Round Table; Rear Admiral St. John Aldrich Micklethwait, C.B. D.S.O., to name but two.’ See the Leading family members page for more details and other examples.

An excellent report has also been written, which details the fate and progress of the 13 Micklethwaits who emigrated from Yorkshire to the USA and their descendants.

To summarise, once established and after a very difficult start especially during the great depression, some of them became landowners, and in more recent times their ranks have included doctors, dentists, an attorney and a Major General of the US Army amongst their family.

Perhaps more importantly, they worked hard in the best Yorkshire traditions. Many of them have made a significant contribution to the development of their local communities; and they have set a good example earning the respect of their fellow citizens as described in various US local newspaper articles.

21st Century

The family continues with new members arriving every year!


The information contained in this paper has been taken from a variety of sources as mentioned in the introduction, but we are particularly indebted to the late Ralph Bruner Micklethwait JM734 and his sons for much of the information that we have about the Micklethwait family in the USA.

Extract from Walks through the City of York (1880) by Robert Davies (pp 134–136):

As an example of the class of city magnates who flourished in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, I will present to you a short notice of the family of an Alderman of York who resided in Micklegate, most probably in one of those sumptuous houses alluded to by Mr Drake, and who was buried in the church of the Holy Trinity in Micklegate in the year 1638.

He was Mr Elias Micklethwaite JM15, the third son of John Micklethwaite JM3 of Ingbirchworth (his Uncle Ralph Micklethwaite JM5 merchant, took up his freedom in 1553, was Sheriff of York in 1572–3 and died in August 1584, leaving a son and heir, Stephen JM18, then 24-years old) he was Lord Mayor of York in 1615 and again in the year 1627. He sprang from an ancient agricultural race, who took their family name from a small estate called Micklethwaite, situate in the township of Gunthwaite, near Peniston, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, of which they had been the proprietors and cultivators from the time of King Edward I (1272–1307).

Extract from page 1 of The Surtees Society 1875 Yorkshire Diaries:

The Micklethwaits had long been resident at Ingbirchworth and at Swaith Hall in Worsborough dale. A younger branch settled at Swine in the East Riding, from which descended Joseph Micklethwait JM113 M.P. for Hull, who was created Baron and Viscount Micklethwait in the Irish peerage, but dying in 1734, without issue, the title became extinct.