Most of my ancestors had sensible surnames, like Sturdy, Armstrong and Atkinson, so I ‘ve always been a little intrigued by my grandmother’s surname, Lambert. It had a distinctly European flavour and has always left me wondering how my Yorkshire ancestors came to have such a name. Sadly the name Lambert has died out on my part of the family tree., This is despite the fact that my great-grandparents, Thomas Lambert and his wife Sarah, had 5 boys amongst their 7 children, as all the males died out without leaving any heirs. In part this was due to two of them dying in the first World War. A third died of the Spanish Flu just after the war. I wrote a little about the boys here. Thomas himself was also unlucky, dying at the age of 40 of Pyaemia (blood poisoning). Given that he worked as a Whinstone miner this is probably not surprising.
Tracing his line back is a little frustrating. We know his father was George Lambert, a plate-layer on the railways. These men were basically track-maintenance guys, who lived permanently near the tracks they maintained. His life is relatively easy to trace. He was born in the Yorkshire village of Danby Wiske in 1824. From there we can follow his life from his baptism on the 16th May 1824, through his marriage to Sarah Readman on the 4th Feb 1855 and finally to his death on the 16th May 1890. Below is his baptism record.
His father was Richard Lambert. A butcher and the last confirmed ancestor on this line. We only know about him through the records of his children and his own marriage record, posted below:
Taking the line further back, I’ve done something that I hate doing. I’ve plugged his name into familysearch.org and looked for the nearest likely candidate. Before you all scream howls of indignation, bear with me. I understand that this is a risky research strategy, that the record set is incomplete and there is no proof that Richard came from anywhere. Let’s just assume this is a speculative match. The results from familysearch show six possible Lamberts, born in six different parts of Yorkshire. The closest location is Pickhill with Roxby, a small village roughly 14 km/8 miles from Danby Wiske. IF Richard is from Pickhill with Roxby we are lucky. There is a rather wonderful book “The registers of Pickhill-cum-Roxby, Co. York.” published in 1904 by the Yorkshire Parish Register Society. This book is now available online via either the familysearch.org, or archive.org sites. Below is a copy from the archive.org website, showing the baptism record of Richard Lambert. Interestingly there is also a baptism record (on page 161) of a William Lambert, born 1800, who would have been the brother of Richard. This would fit in nicely with the William Lambert who acted as a witness for Richard’s marriage.
If I’ve found the correct Richard, then his parents are Thomas and Mary Lambert. Their marriage record, on the 7th July 1783, shows that Mary was originally Mary Linn. This is as far back as I can go with the Lamberts. Below is a summary of what I think I know about them.
The Lambert Surname
So, the original point of this posting was about the surname Lambert. One useful source for surname original is the ancestry surname site. This identifies the Lambert surname as:
“English, French, Dutch, and German: from a Germanic personal name composed of the elements land ‘land’, ‘territory’ + berht ‘bright’, ‘famous’. In England, the native Old English form Landbeorht was replaced by Lambert, the Continental form of the name that was taken to England by the Normans from France. The name gained wider currency in Britain in the Middle Ages with the immigration of weavers from Flanders, among whom St. Lambert or Lamprecht, bishop of Maastricht in around 700, was a popular cult figure.”
The link between the name Lambert and weavers from Flanders is interesting for a couple of reasons:
The Church of St Lambert, Burneston
One of the neighbouring parishes of Pickhill cum Roxby is Burneston. The parish church here is dedicated to St. Lambert and, according to the Genuki site, is “the only one in Britain to be dedicated solely to St Lambert”. So perhaps there is a link between my Lamberts and St. Lambert”
Distribution of the Lambert Surname in England
Looking at the bigger picture it is interesting to observe the distribution of the name Lambert in England And Wales. Below is a map of the Lambert surname, based on the 1851 census, and taken from the excellent your-family-history.com website.
This shows the Lambert surname is most prevalent in the North of England and East Anglia. This fits in with the idea that the name is connected with the Medieval wool-trade. In East Anglia the wool trade with Continental Europe was the financial base that enabled the building of the “Wool Churches“. In the North of England the wool trade seems to have been dominated by the large, and enterprising, Cistercian monasteries, such as Rievaulx Abbey, Byland Abbey and Fountains Abbey For English wool-producers in both Northern England and East Anglia it would have made sense to attract weavers from continental Europe to weave their wool and in modern parlance move up the value chain. In this context it interesting to note the account of one Flemish weaver’s immigration to the city York in the article “Fourteenth Century England – A Place Flemish Rebels Called ‘Home’” taken from the English Immigrants website.
Based on the information I’ve gathered, here is a map of the relevant places connected with my Lambert Ancestors, St Lambert and the wool trade. As you can see the Church of St. Lambert (purple marker) fits at the centre of the Vale of York, close to the large Cistercian Abbeys that were key to the wool trade in the North of England. It seems not unreasonable that my Lamberts, and indeed other Lamberts in Britain, could have originally been weavers who took their name from their patron saint; Lambert of Maastricht. I admit this proposal is rather speculative, but for the lack of a better alternative it seems not entirely unreasonable.