What’s in a name? How the Surname “Liddle” is one of Sunderland’s oldest families

Every surname tells a story. While there are millions of family names throughout the world, and their diversity is only increasing due to globalization and growing connectivity, a surname always gives us clues about a family’s given ancestral point of origin, which naturally affiliates them with certain areas. For example, we know names beginning with “Mc” or “Mac” are derived from Scotland and Ireland, as are surnames such as Fraser, Stuart or Forsyth.

But what family names are most closely affiliated with Sunderland and the North East? This is not an easy question, particularly because our region has been a product of centuries worth of immigration from many parts of the world, starting in the early modern era. Before industrialization began and large waves of people moved to Wearside from Ireland, Scotland and other areas of Europe (consider the prominence of Barella as an Italian Sunderland name), the population of the area was small, and consisted of people who’s had likely remained in the area for centuries owing to the limited mobility of the time.

Today, we look at a family name who’s lineage is rooted in Sunderland beyond the modern era, which has remained consistently in the region since at least the Middle Ages. This family name is known as Liddle. The name “Liddle”, also with historical variants of “Liddell” or “Lydal” or “Lidel”, is a Northumbrian surname which has its origins in the Scottish border regions, but soon established its presence in the towns and cities of the North East. It is a name not commonly found in other parts of England as a result.

In the year 1570, the census recorded at least three Liddles living in Sunderland, spelt then as “Liddell”. This included Charles, his wife Margaret and their son: Robert. Robert was baptized in the River Wear on Panns Bank. At the time, the total population of the area south of the river (this excludes Monkwearmouth) was just 785, as urbanization and industrialization had not yet occurred. The area was a small town which would one day transform into a shipmaking giant.

However, we can continue to trace the Liddle name directly throughout the centuries. We now visit 1631. Although it is unclear if they are descendants of the couple named above, in this year a John Liddle got married to a “Margaret Arrowsymth” at St. Oswald’s Church, in the City of Durham (which still stands today). They had at least one child also named John, who would marry in 1666 at St. Michael of All Angels Church, Bishopwearmouth (Sunderland Minster). His wife was Elizabeth Wilkinson, from the village of Herrington.

We could of course keep listing names. As with each generation, the family branches out more, for simplicity purposes we will continue to follow this specific branch of the Liddle family which remained in Sunderland (some of them would migrate to America). By the 18th and 19th centuries, the Liddles settled in the area of Deptford, and then eventually, Millfield. In 1899, John William Liddle was born in Simpson Street. John had three sons, but unusually at the age of 40, opted to fight in World War II. In 1940, he found himself in Dunkerque, but tragically did not make it. He remains buried in France.

One of John’s sons, Edward, grew up to become a maritime engineer in Sunderland’s shipyards. He died of lung cancer, owing to the implications of his work, in 2016 at 80 years old. While at this point, this was just one of multiple branches of the Liddle family in Sunderland, his ancestry makes it clear that the surname is one of Sunderland (and the North East’s) oldest, one that has been on Wearside directly for centuries. Of course, there are other names as such soon, but it is through the story of one family that we can visualize the human experience within the history of a place which has changed so much.

From early baptisms on Panns bank, to weddings at the Minster dating back centuries, to industrialization, old Deptford, the Second World War and Shipbuilding. The Liddle name tells a story of Sunderland from just one perspective, and surely there are many more.