What’s In A Name?: The Derivation of the Pickhills Surname.

My Great Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Pickhills nee Appleyard, and my Great Great Great Grandmother, Clara Pickhills nee Rickinson both have associations with the Northowram area in Yorkshire, so the below description came as quite a surprise to me. The family also has tie-ins to Halifax. My Great Geeat Grandfather, Rickinson Pickhills cannot trace back far with that surname – Hus father, Joseph Pickhills, we only know about through his marriage record to Clara Brown (Clara Rickinson was first married to John Brown). When I hired Mintwood genealogy researchers to do some tracing of the family in 2011, they could find no records for him, and thought there was a probability of him being an itinerant worker. Likewise, there are difficulties tracing Elizabeth Appleyards parentage, despite Appleyard being a common hame in the Northowram area. We only know her father’s was William (through her marriage record to Rickinson), and a possible sibling or uncle – John Appleyard – present at the Northowram death of Jane Pickhills, the daugter of Rickinson & Elizabeth. Research is ongoing, but it is possible that both families are from that area.

Pickhills is a very old name coming from the medieval period where it was written as ‘Pighills’. I have seen the name on entries in relation to early research in the Shibden valley area. Northowram old Township was a very large area covering the village and skirting the edge of Halifax right up to the other side of Queensbury (Queenshead as it was in earlier times). 

This interesting name is of early medieval English origin, and is from a topographical surname for someone who lived by a small field or paddock. The name derives from the Middle English word “pightel, pighel”, small enclosure, field, or paddock. Topographical names were among the earliest group of surnames to be created in England and other countries in Europe, as they became necessary, since both natural and man-made features in the landscape provided instant and easily recognisable identifying names for the inhabitants of the small communities of the Middle Ages. 

The modern surname can be found as Pickles, Pickless, Pickle and Pighills, and is found recorded mainly in Yorkshire. The marriage of Thomas Pickles and Sarah Tennard was recorded in Bingley, Yorkshire, on January 28th 1649. One R. Pickles, a famine emigrant, sailed from Liverpool aboard the “New World” bound for New York on June 7th 1847. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard de Righkeleys, which was dated 1379, in the “Poll Tax Returns of Yorkshire”, during the reign of King Richard 11, known as “Richard of Bordeaux”, 1377 – 1399. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to “develop” often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

Northowram Primary School
Old Northowram village before the developers moved in
Northowram Village

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