Not every example of the Heald surname necessarily reflects the same root meaning: it seems likely that the Heald surname came into existence several times independently in different parts of the country.However, the evidence for the standard reference-book explanation - 'a dweller near a slope' - is I think stronger than Bill allows for, on three counts:
The strongest evidence of a topographical origin for the name is the number of individuals named "del Helde" - "of the Heald" - or similar in early documents.
The best scholarly single-volume work cites the following examples [PH Reaney and RH Wilson: Dictionary of English Surnames, 3e (1991)] :
1207Adam de Helde -- Pipe Rolls, Kent
1246Richard de Helde -- Assize Rolls of Lancaster
1260Hamon atte Helde -- Archaeologica Cantiana 34 [Kent]
1296 } Eustace ater Hylde -- Subsidy Rolls, Sussex
1296 } Matthew atte Hulde
The Victoria County History of Lancashire mentions:
1359Ellis del Helde -- Salford
1390s Henry del Helde (illegitimate son of Ellis)
1379Margery del Helde -- Oldham
RA McKinley, "Surnames of Lancashire" (1981), cites several more early references.I have not followed these up (most or all may be available on LDS microfilms); but he finds nothing to expand on or contradict the topographical explanation.
J. Mc N. Dodgson, "Placenames of Cheshire" mentions
1279David (son of Leuk) del Helde
1415unknown person del Helde -- Wirral
Dodgson also examines the history of 'Heild Manor' in Aston-by-Budworth, using many documents which have been preserved by the Leycester family at Tabley.The placename goes back at least as far as 1200, with a deed in Latin for Helda (in Hestona).
The name then seems to have been readily adopted by occupants of the manor.Sir Peter de Leycester, in his History of Cheshire (1672), summarises from deeds held by the family:
"John, constable of Cheshire, and baron of Halton, gave the mannor of Hield in this Aston, unto Methroso Punterlinge in the reign of Henry the Second [1154-1189], rendring yearly a Welsh lance on the feast-day of St. Bartholomew. M. num 1. Afterwards Geffrey [d. 1248], son of Adam de Dutton (ancestor to Warburton of Arley) buyeth the same from one Hugh the Welsh deacon, son of Hugh del Hield, for twenty-four marks of silver, in the reign of Henry the Third [1216-1272], and gave it to Agnes de Dutton his daughter. M. num 2, and num. 5,6."
According to Dodgson, the place name is again used as a personal identifier in documents of 1328 and 1348; according to Sir Peter, in 1340 William del Helde, clerk (or cleric ?) is witness to a document releasing Roger Ward's claims in Mobberley to Nicholas de Leycester; and in 1355 John Leycester sells the manor to (the same ?) William del Hield.
So there is firm evidence that the name 'Heald' was often related to a specific location, and at least one example where we can actually identify the place in question.
(Summarised from http://www.jpm1.freeserve.co.uk/heald_uk/early.htmlhttp://www.jpm1.freeserve.co.uk/heald_uk/early.html and related pages).
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (2e, 1989), the word "hield / heeld / heald" was in regular use until the sixteenth century, meaning "a slope, incline or declivity".After this date it becomes obsolete.The OED gives several examples of use, including a charter in Anglo-Saxon from 943; a latin/english vocabulary circa 1000; "In heldes and in hulle" [on the slopes and on the hill] from a hymn, c. 1250; and "the narwe pathe bi-tven the held" (C14). Typical spellings are given as: helde (C11-C15), hulde (u") (C12), held (C14-C15), heild (C16), heald (C19).
The noun is closely related to the verb "hield / heeld / heald" which has the primary meaning "to bend downwards or to one side; to lean, incline, slope" - eg (c.1440) "A cyte sette vpon an hylle heldinge to the southe" (a city set upon a hill sloping to the south).
The word is marked as now being obsolete or in dialect use only; but one variant still survives in current language, when a sailing ship 'heels' to one side - ie it is tilting hard over.
The OED takes over a column to illustrate and define the word (I will only quote a quarter of its citations), giving the following additional senses:
1b) To bend oneself down, ie bow or submit.
-- eg (1300) All folk to rome suld heild, And truage als til hefd yeild.
2To sink, droop, decline, fall; to go or come down.
-- eg (1340) Be the sunne be-gan to helde, With israel was left the felde
3To bend one's course, turn in a particular direction; to take one's way, to go or come.
-- eg (13xx) Thenne thay helden to home.
4To turn away or aside.
-- eg (1325) Scho heldid sone to synfull layke (so turned the son to sinful sports)
5To incline /to/; to be of the party of, take up with, favour
-- eg (1325) If thou will to my langynge helde
6(transitive): To cause to take a downward or sloping position; to incline, bow, or bend something /down/.
-- eg (Beowulf, bef. 1000) "Hylde hine tha heatho-deor" (the brave man laid himself down, [to sleep])
7(transitive): To pour out (eg liquor) by sloping or tilting the vessel that contains it; hence generally to pour or shed.
-- eg (1340) As water i am helt.
According to the OED the word is Anglo-Saxon, with the usual local dialect variations (Old English hieldan, late West Saxon hyldan, Kentish heldan, Anglian haeldan).It is equivalent to Old Saxon -heldian (af-heldian = to decline); Middle Dutch, Middle Low German helden, Dutch hellen = to slope, overhang; Old High German heldan, Middle High German helden = to incline, lean.Also found are Old High German hald, Old English heald, Old Norse hallr = inclined, sloping, bent to one side.
There are a number of placenames in the UK containing variants of the word 'Heald'.For a list of the ones I have so far, see:
Some of these were probably named after people who owned or lived in them -- eg perhaps Healdmill in Mobberley; but several appear to be associated with pronounced slopes.
Thus in Cheshire:
The Yeld, Kelsall -- the road out of the village which goes up a slope.
Hield House, Aston-by-Budworth (formerly Hield Manor) -- there is a sudden slope in the road where the house is located.
Heald Wood, Romiley -- the wood lies on a steep slope.
Heild End, Wildboarclough -- next to a very sharp slope.
(On the webpage, six-figure map reference links such as 'SJ533693' point to a modern Ordnance Survey map, with contour lines; links such as 'OS 1841' point to a historical OS map of that date; and the 'note' link gives a list of uses in documents of the placename, from "Place-Names of Cheshire" by Dodgson)
Of course it would be nice to know more about these places, and the histories of the people that lived in them; and about the histories of early Healds generally.
But taken together, I think these three factors suggest that in many cases (even if not necessarily every single case), the 'dweller near a slope' explanation of the Heald surname may well be correct.