I've done a little thinking and research on our surname and then added a a note to our Family Story. I've included it here for your information: ------------------------------------ The main trunk of my family line is, of course, the Ashton line.Ashton is a fairly common name in England. It was used initially to indicate the name of a locality.In 'A Dictionary of English Place-Names' the origin of the name is described as "ASHTON, a common name, usually 'farmstead where ash-trees grow', OE æsc + tun". (1)
As the need for personal surnames grew in the period after 1020 AD, it became usual to use place-names as one form of identifying certain families or groups of families. Thus the first Ashton's were likely small groups of people, perhaps related more in a tribal sense than by blood, who settled near a grove of ash trees.
To quote Colin D. Rogers, from The Family Tree Detective, “Despite popular belief, place names tended to give rise to surnames near their actual location rather than far away from it – so, sooner or later, a family called Ashton will be traced to one of the eleven places called Ashton in this country.”As it happens there are two Ashton locations in Lancashire: Ashton-under-Lyne and Ashton-in-Makersfield.In his book Old English Towns, F.R. Banks points out, however, that the name of the town Ashton-Under-Lyne comes from the Norman overlord Assheton and the forest of Lyme; thus, this location does not qualify as an example of a geographical place name. (8) Rogers contention, therefore, would suggest that in the misty days of yore, our Ashton line likely originated in the vicinity of Ashton-in-Makersfield, a little south-west of Bolton in Lancashire.
I find the theories of the origin of my surname to be fascinating. I sense that in those early Saxon times, one was given a surname by people one came into contact with – more of a way for other people to be clear about who you are, or what you did, or where you came from, rather than an attempt to identify oneself. I can see people referring to this small group of farmers who lived by a grove of ash trees as the “ashtons” as a way of differentiating them from other small homesteading tribal groups in the area. I would think that this small group of families in these early times was subject to a measure of close-breeding and intermarriage, if only because they lived in close proximity to one another over many generations in a sparsely settled countryside during the times before surname came into general use. So, while the theory says that technically locality-based surnames should not imply related bloodlines, there is likely a strong chance that during the first centuries of Saxon settlement in north England many were in fact related.
As an Old English surname, Ashton would have come into use in either Angle or Saxon settlements that sprung up in the early AD 600s in the north of England. At about AD 530, Lancashire formed part of the Saxon kingdom of Deirie, which was later absorbed into the kingdom of Northumbria in AD 547. This latter kingdom became a part of the kingdom of England in AD 827. So the Angles don't seem to feature in events in the Lancashire area.What is very interesting to the author is the fact that the name “Ashton”is a product of simple Saxon words and has survived from those days unchanged.
To clarify the location of Ashton, the following 1841 description explains it all. "Ashton in the Willows, or in Macrefield, a village, township, and chapelry in the parish of Winwick, in the Warrington division of the hundred of West Derby, the fee or baronry or polling district of Newton in Macrefield, and poor law union of Wigan - 5 miles south of Wigan." Warrington by the way, is now part of the county of Cheshire, which has a more green field image than "industrial" Lancashire.
In his 1844 work, “Time Honoured Lancaster”, George Routledgite discusses the social structure of thecounty, noting that the ancient families of Lancashire county were considered to be numerous and included the Ashton surname. In 1673 the ancient families amounted, from a manuscript then published, to above 500. The principal names given in that manuscript included fifteen Ashtons. (11)Unfortunately no other details are provided; however, one could speculate that his definition of “ancient families” implied families with substance and stature – the landed gentry, and not likely to include our Ashtons. ---------------------------------------- Hopefully, this excerpt may be of interest. Cheers, Norm Ashton (logging in from Toronto and going through life like a porcupine in a room full of balloons!)