Desmond Holden looks into the likely origins of the name Brassington. 

Photo: Christian Brassington plays villain Osbourne Whitworth in ITV’s Poldark.

Also see ‘Origins of the Word Brassington’.

A reader from Darley Dale has asked about this name. While there is no problem in identifying it with the village near Wirksworth, there seems once to have been some question whether it should be pronounced as written or as “Brasserne alias Brassington” and the standard work on place- names in Derbyshire aligned phonetic symbols alongside the entry for “Brassington” indicating that it be pronounced “Brasserene”.

However all the forms of spelling which have been preserved since the 11th century follow a form which would uphold the sound of “Brassington” and no doubt it is everybody’s preference!

The meaning of the place-name is also a matter of some doubt but the most convincing explanation is that it describes a farm once in the possession of an unknown individual called “Brandsige”.

Absolutely nothing is known of him and even his name has had to be reconstructed since no written record survives. It is an Old English personal name, being a compound of two words “brand and sige”. The first unit may be interpreted as “burning sword”. It is related to such words as now signify “fire” and “burning”. The word “brand” itself was regularly used to describe a sword and belonged to our vocabulary even before the end of the first millennium.

In early translations of the Old Testament the word “brand” is used in texts where today “sword” appears eg. “They have unsheathed eke their bloody brands” (Psalm 37, verse 14). The characteristic gestures in wielding a sword are implied in the use of the word “brandish”. The unit occurs in the Old English and the Nordic personal name “Hildebrand” the secular name of Pope Gregory VII (1020-1085). The second unit, “sige”, means victory and it has its equivalent in the modem German “sieg”, where it also forms part of the name “Siegfried”.

The middle syllable “ing”- is another Old English construction. Among its functions was to indicate possession in the sense of “belonging to”. It still bears this meaning in a few modem contexts, as, for example, “bedding” which relates collectively to items “belonging to a bed” - ie. sheets, pillow-cases, blankets etc.

In the present context it could indicate a family or possibly a clan associated with the man called “Brandsige”. It occurs in countless place-names as in Hartington (“-of Heort” and Tissington “-of Tidsige”).

The final unit is “-ton” and this is among one of the most widely distributed elements in English place-names. There are over 120 instances in Derbyshire alone. It can loosely be interpreted as “a fenced settlement” but with shades of meaning according to individual topography. In the present case it can be taken to have referred to a “farmstead”.

So: assembling all the foregoing units in order, “Brassington could very well signify the farming - settlement which is occupied by the folk associated with Brandsige.”

The earliest appearance of this name is “Branzinctun” (Domesday: 1086) and thereafter all subsequent spellings do not materially veer from it. And there is nothing in them could induce the sound “Brasserene”.

It had already appeared as “Brassington” in 1308 whereas the first indication that it had an alternative in “Brasson” first appears in 1601. Anyway the celebrated County Atlases instituted by John Ogilby (1600- 1675) settled for Brassington!

It is very unfortunate but only one example of its adoption as a surname has yet been found, to a “Robert de Brassyntone” (1343). It would be nice to know more about him since his name appears in connection with a summons before the Assizes!

There are about 60 entries altogether in the local directories but outside the region the numbers are perceptibly fewer. Even central London yields only a dozen.

Place-names usually became surnames after an inhabitant had moved away from his native place and settled elsewhere. If his place of origin was sufficiently well-known among his new neighbours, that would have furnished his identity. If not, he acquired some other name, possibly occupational or a nickname. It may be surmised that the name “Brassington” was not all that familiar to people living much beyond, say, Wirksworth and Ashbourne, and consequently it was not carried far afield.

On the other hand the settlement had been long established, as evidence of Stone Age and Early British as well as Roman activity has been discovered. This suggests that the place might have been able to support a sizeable community and there was little pressure to move away to find work elsewhere. That might be a good enough reason to account for why the name prevails largely in Derbyshire and not elsewhere. But that is something the social historians of the county must decide!