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The Shakespeare Family History Site

Geographical Distribution

of the surname

The name Shakespeare is today to be found far and wide, scattered around the world, and is familiar to most due to the existence of William Shakespeare, the 'Bard of Avon.' However, it remains a fairly rare surname - surprisingly few people have actually met, or can claim to know, a Shakespeare. To illustrate this rarity let's look at the figures from the 1881 British Census, which is the only 'complete' listing available:

The 1881 Census lists only 1669 individuals with the surname, among a population of many millions - probably around 400 households. By the law of averages half of these would be female, whose surname would change if they married. This means that there were only about 800 Shakespeare males alive at this time in the whole of Britain, to pass on the surname if they married and had children. To put this into perspective a 'block' of 'multi-storey' flats, when such things were fashionable in England, housed around 100 families: it would have been possible to house all the British Shakespeare families then in existence in around four of these blocks: there can be few cities in England where this number of blocks could not be seen contained in a very small area. A surprisingly small number of Shakespeares! Breaking down the figures from the census even further by far the largest concentration is to be found, unsurprisingly, in the Midlands: approximately 680 individuals in the East Midlands (including Warwickshire) and just over 600 in the West Midlands (including Staffordshire and Worcestershire). The remaining individuals were sparingly scattered, with a concentration in and around London. The only other census for which information is available is the 1851 census of Warwickshire, which lists around 320 individuals named Shakespeare. The inference from this is that the number of Shakespeares had barely doubled in the space of thirty years.

Research has illustrated that the further back in time you go the more concentrated, with regard to geographical area, the surname becomes, with the epicentre in Warwickshire. Prior to about 1600 there were just a handful of families outside Warwickshire (one each in London, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and on the borders of Staffordshire/ Worcestershire. There was also a family in Bedfordshire in the 1570's which rapidly became extinct).

Richard Shakespeare, a researcher for over 20 years, has expressed the belief that the name originated in the Balsall Common area and spread from there to the rest of Warwickshire and beyond.

Certainly, by the very early 1500's no Shakespeares are to be found outside the area illustrated above, with the main concentration seeming to be the family at Rowington. Rowington may turn out to be the 'senior branch' of the family - it is curious that in later times the parish registers record Shakespeares from outside the Parish who have been buried there. Rowington seems to have had a long association with Shakespeares outside it's borders: a John Shakespeare 'of Rowington' was apprenticed to the printer who first reproduced the Poet's work. Much later, in the mid 18th century, the Rowington Shakespeare family still held land in Rowley Regis, Staffordshire - this is the place where the earliest ancestors of the 'Black Country Shakespeares' are to be found, leading to thoughts that there might be a possible link.

By the time of the earliest Parish Registers we find that the Shakespeares are beginning to migrate.

During the second half of the 16th century one family is to be found in the area around Fillongley. In later centuries these continued to spread, via Coleshill into Sutton Coldfield, and also Birmingham.

This family claims descent from a brother of the Poet, although there are clues that this family may derive from Rowington: The line seems to descend from a Thomas Shakespeare whose will, dated 1610, survives. A George Shakespeare (a name used in many later generations of this family) married in 1588. Both a George and a Thomas are listed among a 1574 will of a member of the Rowington family.

 

By at least 1552 the Poet's father is known to have been in Stratford, having arrived there from Snitterfield. The Poet's uncle Henry lived all of his life in Snitterfield, but seems to have had three children baptised in neighbouring Hampton Lucy. The Stratford Parish Register also records a child of an Anthony Shakespeare, 'of Hampton'

 

One family is to be found in Preston Baggot (PB on the map) in the early 1600's. Later members of this line are to be found in Ipsley and nearby Feckenham in Worcestershire, and are the ancestors of the family lited in Burke's Peerage. The 1851 Warwickshire census lists a high proportion of Shakespeares born in Henley In Arden (HA on the map), also descendants of this family.

 

An overview of all of the above map sections:

The Early Families outside Warwickshire


 

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