Quite a lot of theories have been suggested as to the origin of our name, although the majority of them have been well thought out and put forward there is little chance of us ever proving if any of them are correct. I would like to put forward my theory on the origin and my reasons.
I am sure that most of us have relegated the tale of “Three Pirate Brothers” to Fairy Tales along with Captain Hook in Barrie’s “Peter Pan” Firstly, if they had taken a name from their supposed region in France they would have had a French name, and secondly, the link with Barbarosso. We all know that the time scale is 300 years out. It is well recorded that the Caldwell name was already established as a surname in Ayrshire before the 14 th century. The most important bearer of our name recorded in the early years is William Caldwell, the Prebendary of Glasgow who was appointed Lord High Chancellor of Scotland from 1348 or 49 until 1354, during the reign of King David 2nd. A very important post, he was involved in the negotiations for the ransome/release of the King after he had been taken prisoner at the disastrous Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. I presume he was related, possibly an uncle or cousin to the Heiress of Caldwell who in 1347 married Gilchrist Mure/More of Cowdams, taking with her as dowry the main Caldwell estate.
Gilchrist was the second son of Sir Reginald Mure or More of Polkelly who had held the office of High Chamberlain of Scotland (not as powerful a job as the Chancellor) The fact that the lady was designated “The Heiress of Caldwell” would suggest that the Caldwell name had been in use, and had some importance for many years before 1347. At this point I will tell you that up until the late 19th century the Caldwell Estate was actually in North Ayrshire or Cunningham and not Renfrewshire as it is now.
There are also quite a few other mentions in historical documents from mid 14th century on, almost all exclusively in Cuningham, North Ayrshire, the following are shortened versions of a few of them: – “Petrus Caldwell granted the lands of Scottischaw now called Gaylis (Gailes) by Sir Adam Fullerton in 1391, (an uncle of my father was farming Gailes in the 1900s). Robert Caldwell, merchant in the service of Sir John Montgomerie, witness to a document in 1419. William Caldwell of Toddrigs in 1496, Johnne Caldwell in Annanhill 1544 (my gr.gr.gr.gr. grandfather was still in Annanhill in 1753). We don’t seem to have anything in the nobility lines, but after all most of the Ayrshire nobility came in to Ayrshire from the South with King David 1st in the early to middle 12th century.
Cuningham or Ayrshire North of the River Irvine had been part of the Ancient British Kingdoms, which were established before the Roman invasion. They covered all the land West of the central divide of lowland Scotland, running South from the Firth of Clyde or “Sea of the Britons” with it’s capital on Dumbarton Rock (Fort of the Britons) down to the Midlands of England. Even after the Romans left it held on to its diminishing territory, King Arthur carried on his campaigns against the invading Angles, with the Cheviot hills being his pivotal point; he ranged from Kelso to Ayrshire and south through Catterick. Although the Angles eventually established themselves as rulers in the East or the Lothians, and in the South in Northumbria, and temporarily in Galloway and parts of Carrick, Ayrshire managed to retain its identity.
King Ryderch laid the foundation for what was to become Strathclyde and a definite Kingdom, his favoured monk was St Kentigern, also known as St. Mungo, patron Saint of Glasgow. Later rulers enlarged and consolidated the kingdom, and although there was some colonisation along the peripheries by Irish/Vikings and the Scots it maintained its independence until 1018 when it was united with the Dalriadan Scots under Kenneth MacAlpin to become Scotland.
English became the official language after Malcolm Canmore married Margaret Atheling and she brought with her, her English priests. Malcolm and Margaret’s son David of Huntingdon when he became King David of Scotland in 1124 set the boundaries of what we now know as Ayrshire, he increased the English (not necessarily Angle) influence by bringing with him to Scotland many landless Knights and second sons of Norman barons. Incidentally some of them were descendants of Britons who had fled to Northern France from the Angles/Danes in three waves of migration in the late 4th and early 5th centuries to establish Brittany or Britannia Minor.
Count Alan of Britanny who brought a large contingent over with William the Conqueror was awarded land in Shropshire near the Welsh border where his people still understood the dialect spoken by the local Welsh/British, and of course Walter Fitz (son of) Alan who came North with David was the ancestor of Walter “the Steward” founder of the Stewart dynasty of Kings of Scotland, which means that the present day British Royal family who are descended from the Stewarts are of the original ancient British as well as Dalriadan/Pictish stock.
In the oldest maps we have from 16th/17th century there are two townships named “Englishtown/Ingliston in the NW Ayrshire/ Central Scotland area. This would suggest to me that there was not a big influx of English immigration when the two areas where named and localised thus.
The ancient inhabitants of Cuningham were Celtic British who spoke a language very similar to ancient Welsh, they would already have given names to most of the natural landmarks such as hills, valleys and rivers, and man made ones such as forts, duns and even some of the farms long before the 12th century. On several of the older farms, even the fields had their own names. Sadly, with the changes in ownership of farms, these names are now being forgotten; before we have translated what they actually meant and so also losing their history.
Although most of the power had been passed on to incomers the bulk of the population were still of the ancient stock, mainly Brythonic, with a smattering of Viking and Gaelic as a study of place names shows us. A few of the towns and farms have more modern names as some of them would be established after Anglicisation, but the bulk of them belong to the past and can still tell a story.
When it became compulsory to have a surname instead of just John son of Malcolm, some took the Gaelic way like Ian McMalcolm, while others took the name of their profession, like Smith or Wright, from blacksmith or wheel wright. Gowan also means Blacksmith so McGowan is “son of the smith” Bowman is different, it doesn’t mean “Archer” but “Cattleman” from Gaelic “Bo” for cattle, (in fact when I was a child in Ayrshire a person who looked after someone else’s cattle was still called a “Bo’er”) The tradition of taking a name from a trade still continues in Wales and in some parts of the Western Highlands of Scotland, where for instance if there are too many “Jones” or “MacNeils” with the same Christian name, they will be known locally by their occupation, such as “Jones the Milk” or “MacNeil the Post”.
Some used their appearance: – Little or Begg which means little in Gaelic, or their hair colour: – White, Brown, or Ross for a red head. A lot more took their names from their surroundings or district, such as Muir, Craig, Kyle, Irvine or Johnstone (old name for Perth) Johnson, of course, means just what it says. In the rural areas of Scotland it is still common practice for a farmer to be known by the name of his farm almost as well as by his given name. I was called “Inchgotrick” it being the name of our farm in Ayrshire. When we moved to Wigtownshire in 1972, it wasn’t long before the locals were calling me “Southcairn” after my new farm, so old habits die hard.
As I mentioned with Bowman, similarly even place names have been misunderstood. A prime example is the village of Stoneykirk. Simple, a stone church? Wrong. The parish of Stoneykirk has very few stones. The first church, probably wooden, was dedicated to St Stephen, locally the name Stephen is shortened to “Steeny” to English map makers Steenykirk sounded like broad Scots Staneykirk so it became Stoneykirk.
Caldwell for a cold well is, I think simply another example of mistaken identity. In Ayrshire where I spent the first 30 years of my life there has always been an abundance of water, above ground and beneath, especially in North Ayrshire. It is all cold so why single out one source particularly? Anyway, the old name for a well is “Tiobar” or “Tibber” as in Auchentiber (field of the well) or Knockentibber (hill of the well), both places in North Ayrshire. If a well was dedicated to anything it would have been to something more revered, such as a Saint in St. Mary’s Well or King’s well. Not for the temperature of the water when all well water is cold.
In North Ayrshire/Cuningham, where the Caldwell Estate was, there is a Calder river (there is also one in Renfrew/Lanark) The “CALD” in this case is almost certainly “Calltuin” or “Collde”; both Gaelic meaning “Hazels”. Hazelnuts would have some importance to the ancients as a source of food; there are nearly always many hazelnut shells in prehistoric middens. The farm Caldons is almost definitely named after the Hazels. “ER” is from Celtic for river or water as in rivers Ayr, Urr, Oure, Orrin and Irvine. Since we are in the same area surely Caldwell would be “Cald” hazels and “Weil” meaning pool, so “pool by the hazels”.
In central Scotland we also find place names like the area of the Calders, Cadder, Cawder and ofcourse Caledonia meaning, “Land of the Caledones”. There is also the chance that it could have some connection to the early Christian sect of the Culdees sometimes spelled Caldees, as in Kircaldy. There was also an old ruined church in the South West named as Culcaldie. (My nickname at school was Caldie)
If you look up all the births, deaths, & marriages for the whole of Scotland from 1553-1853 and make note of the localities you will find that of the total, roughly 56%, are in Cunningham or North Ayrshire, 68% in the whole of Ayrshire and only 32% for all the rest of the country of Scotland. Most notable is the lack of entries for the Annan/Solway area. Surely this confirms that the name belongs to the Cuningham area and not some mountain in France.
I have pointed out before that there is an Annandale in Ayrshire, just outside Kilmarnock and neighbouring Annanhill. In fact, when I was over in Scotland in February 2004, I visited a second cousin of mine named John Caldwell who is living at Annandale, just across the field from Chamberhouses where there were Caldwells in the early 1600s. In Armstrongs map of Ayrshire dated 1775, South of the Largs, in the Breedsorrow region, can be found reference to “the ruins of South Annan”, but by 1800s it is shown as Southenan.
The question “who first used the name for a personal surname?” is more difficult. As the Norman/English in King David’s train who were made Lords over the larger land masses mostly brought their names with them, this would indicate more a local minor laird (or one demoted by the incomers) rather than an incomer taking his name from his domain, as is indicated when he was termed “of Caldwell”. Obviously his descendants legal and otherwise and even his servants could also assume the surname.
The name Caldwell even sounds British, if we look at British King names from the dark ages we find: – Cadwalan Lawhir, originally from Ayrshire, who ruled North Wales c.500 AD. He was probably a grandson of Coel Pen (Old King Cole) by his daughter Gwawl and her husband Cunedda, “who moved from his home in the North (around the Strathclyd/Renfrew area) with his 8 sons in the first half of the 5th century and expelled the Irish with much slaughter, so that they never came back there to live again” (Nennius writing).
Cadwaladr, a descendant of the above, defeated his brother Owain at the Battle of the Menai straights in 1095. Catwallaun, son of Cadfan, ruled “from the Thames to the Forth” but only for a year c. 633 AD. Bretwalda, grandson of Cadda, “ruler of the Britons”. Caedwalla, King of the Southern Saxons in 670 AD, had a British sounding name. Wal, or Wahl, appears in a lot of Kings names and may even mean ruler; a person of power in the Far East was called a “Wallah”.
The Ulster Caldwells are almost certainly a branch of the Ayrshire Caldwells. This is where the Solway could have crept into the history, as I’m sure that although most of the Ayrshire Lanarkshire farmers would have sailed from Ayr or Troon, some of them could have embarked from a port on the Solway. About twenty years ago, I was talking to a retired gentleman from County Fermanagh, where the Irish Castle Caldwell is. When I mentioned the Castle to him, his reply was “Aye, but the Caldwells were Planters you know” (the natives of Northern Ireland referred to all the Scots English Protestant Settlers of the early 17th Century and later as “Supplanted” or “Planters”).
Some of the larger landlords of Ayrshire were given Estates in Ulster on condition that they put their own tenants into the farms on them, displacing the Catholic farmers and enlarging the Protestant population. But also to improve the agricultural production by draining the many mosses and bogs and bringing them into cultivation. My branch are supposed to be descended from a Caldwell of Annanhill who went or was sent over to Ulster by his landlord. Subsequently, either he or his son returned to Ayrshire, Scotland, and was taken under the wing of Lord Bentinck, the Duke of Portland, who by then had taken over a lot of the Estates around Kilmarnock.
He was employed by Lord Bentinck as a haulier of coal, both to the Port of Troon, whence it went to Ireland, and also to the many local Lime kilns which were springing up in Ayrshire as the land improvers saw the importance of lime on the heavy acidic Ayrshire soils. Eventually he was given the tenancy of a farm “Thirdpart Limeworks”. So the story goes, “The Duke of Portland even picked him a wife” (I hope that there’s a wee bit more romance in the family since then).
There are obviously many questions still to be answered. I know that there were Caldwells in England from early times as well. Whether they took their name from a different source or not, I don’t know. Remember that the old British Kingdom extended from the Clyde down to the Welsh borders, so the old language could have left the “pool of the hazels” just as easy as “cold well”, just as earlier, when I showed that the names Johnstone and Johnson are derived from two different reasons.