Biddulph – Theories behind the name

There are many theories regarding the name Biddulph, some of which are listed below.

Theory 1
By the Diggings or By the Mine

Bydelf - Meaning: This is believed to be an Anglo - Saxon word, meaning “by the diggings or by the mine”, as by means “near” and delf means “the digging place”. Hence what most people class as “by the diggings” or “by the mine”. Sometimes the spellings used are bī dylfe or bī dylf.

This is the most commonly held belief of those who study Biddulph’ history and is mentioned in most books as the origin of the word due to all the mining in the area for coal, iron and stone. However it is really a corruption of Theory 2.

It is interesting to note that in Anglo-Saxon 'bī ' means 'be' and 'by' means 'boan' which itself means to 'stay', 'dwell' or 'live'.'Delf' is also a word taken from another word 'delfan', which along with meaning 'dug', 'quarry', 'excavation', 'trench' and 'canal' can also mean 'bury'. This is why I say it is a corruption of the theory about a burial place. So it does not really sound right when taken in full context (why would you name a place "BE DUG or STAY DUG etc."?). I would also like to say that the spelling used for this does not even conform to that of the Domesday Book spelling (Bidolf) or that of the first recorded surname spelling (Bidulf). The Taxatio Ecclesiastica documents of Staffordshire record the name as Bydulf, which by the way 'dulf" does not exist in Anglo-Saxon as a word. 'Dulfon' does though as the plural of 'Delfan'.

The word delf does appear in Middle English and is derived possibly from the Anglo – Saxon word delfan which means ‘to dig, dig out, delve, burrow and bury’. This in itself puts doubt on this theory as a major contender for the origin of the word Biddulph, as it is to late a date to have had an impact on the town name.

Theory 2
A Burial Place

Meaning: This possibility comes from the word Bedelfron which is an Old English word that means “burial place”.

This is a theory that is a major contender for the reason Biddulph is named as it is. Now the Old English word Bedulfron meaning burial place does sound like a word that could have been corrupted over time to its present incarnation and there is a burial place nearby called The Bridestones. Written slightly different such as Bedealf it can also mean to dig around or bury. However I do feel that this word is very unlikely to have been the source.

Theory 3
To Make a Stand in Battle

Meaning: This theory is suggested due to the word Bidstael and is an old word that means to “make a stand in battle”.

It is suggested that the area was named after the fact that it is surrounded on three sides by various hills and would have been an excellent place for tribal people to live and defend.

Yes Biddulph is a valley land, but it would have been highly unlikely that the Ancient Britons of the area would have used it for defensive purposes. There is also the problem that most people believe that the first inhabitants of the area were on Biddulph Moor, rather than the valley area. This would also make much more sense archaeologically as ancient peoples did prefer the higher ground.

Theory 4
Home of the Wolf

Meaning: This comes from the old word Bi-d-ulf which is a word that is believed to mean “the home of the wolf”.

From the word Bidulf - Of all the theories suggested I believe this to be a real contender. This would have probably been the kind of animal that people would have been scared of but may have used as a totem for the area due to its ferociousness. It is also known that in Edward I’s (1272 – 1307) reign a man was given permission to hunt and destroy all the wolves he could find. Now this is quite a significant act as it is almost as though the King was trying to take away what was probably a tribal emblem so that his rule could be better implemented in the area. It is also worth noting that the area was originally a wooded valley which would have been perfect for the wolf to live.

Theory 5
The Lingering Wolf
(Theory of Robert Worrall, Curator of Biddulph Museum)

Meaning: This comes from the old word Bid which is a word that means “lingering” and Ulf which is a word that means "wolf".

I would also like to add that the Modern English word Bid originates from Old English Beodan, which means to "offer" or "command" so Bidulf could actually mean Wolf Offering.

This is a different breakdown from the above Bi-d-ulf meaning Home of the Wolf. I personally believe that ancient Britons would have chosen a simple merging of words such as Bid and Ulf to formulate The Lingering Wolf.

Theory 6
(Anglo / Saxon - Roman)

The above is a name I found in an official guide to Biddulph, Staffordshire. (Late 1960's)

It states on page 29, titled Biddulph in Earlier Times:

"In Medieval Days

The original place name seems to suggest both Roman and Saxon associations, for it was Wulfracester. After the Norman Conquest the manor of Biddulph was granted to one, William, by Robert the Forester who was the overlord of what was then the extensive forested area of Lyme."

If we break down the word we get: wulf (wolf) and cester (fort). Now this leaves ra in the middle of the word which has been hard to trace. However I have found some possibilities which are:
Pre 7th Century Anglo Saxon ra could mean post or marker. In Anglo Saxon / Norse ra can also mean road or boundary.

So was Wulfracester's meaning Wolf Boundary Fort or Wolf Marker Fort / Wolf Post Fort?

I must say though that apart from this book I cannot find any further information about this name or what source the Biddulph Urban District Council got it from.

There are many other theories that surround the wolf. A list of these follows and does include those above:

Home of the Wolf
Wolf Offering
Lingering Wolf
Bed of the Wolf
Wolf Slayer
A Wolf
War Wolf
Town of the Wolf
Wolf Killer

Historically it is known that the area now known as Biddulph did have wolves in residence, as it is mentioned in documents that during Edward I reign as King a man was given permission to hunt and destroy all the wolves he could find around the Biddulph area as well as the rest of the country where there was wolves. It is worth noting that the Biddulph area was originally a wooded valley which would have made the perfect home for wolves.

We also know that ancient man and his tribal ancestors did use animals as totems and emblems. The act of hiring someone to hunt and destroy the wolves could have been the King’s way of telling the locals he was in charge.

Across the border in Cheshire the wolf is remembered in at least 20 place names to this day such as Wolfe Lowe in Rushton Spencer. There are also many names of places in Staffordshire that derive from the Wolf such as Wolseley (from the Anglo Saxon words for Wolves and Leys) and Hilderstone, which is from the Anglo Saxon Hildewulf’s Ton meaning “Warrior Wolf Town.” So you can see how important the wolf really was in this area.

In “Memorials of Staffordshire”, 1909 by William Beresford a footnote on p43 reads: - Mr. Duigan’s interpretation of Biddulph as meaning ‘The War Wolf’ is curious and suggestive.

We also find on p106

At Darleston, which is a manor house, and inn, and a few farms, one steps at once back into a very remote past, long before the place was called Derlaveston. I have not been able to trace the connection between this old Darleston and Darleston in the Black Country, but there seems a link in the sign of St. George at Meafford and the dedication of the parish church at the town of Darleston to the same saint. The name seems to be a corruption of De La Eston, as if the place belonged to an East Town, probably from its being the property of Burton Abbey away to the east. Bury Bank was its old name, and Wulfhere lived at Bury Bank as King of Mercia. I have a theory that he passed his three years of hiding in the Moorlands of Biddulph about twenty miles north, and that Biddulph (1) took its name from him; but when he emerged from the shades of exile he reigned at Bury Bank, which is literally a bank with traces of an old British encampment. Wulfere was son of Penda and father of Kendred and Saint Werburgh, and also father of those two legendary young men, Wulfade and Rufin, whom, it is said, he slew at Stone because they had become converts to Christianity – a reckless blackening of character by the monks, which really almost reconciles one to the abolition of their Priory of Stone. Wulfhere was a very brave man, and the whole history of the period of the fierce struggle between Heathenism and Christianity is deeply interesting.
(1) War Wolf

We also found mention of the meaning of Biddulph on the Family Tree Maker. In an article about the family of Lord of Darlaston Ormus le Guidon (b.Abt. 1075, d. Bef. 1141) (Biddulph-McLeod.FTW)

It states: Biddulph, variously written Bydulf, Bradulf, &c. is a word purely Saxon, compounded of Bid, Biedw, and Ulf, or Wulf, literally the Wolf Killer. The latter entered into the composition of a vast number of names during the Heptarch, as Ethelwulf, Ceolwulf, &c. when skill and courage in the chase of the hordes of this ferocious animal must have been held in high estimation. (A different origin of the name is suggested in our Baronetage, but as this is confirmed by the arms, and was adopted by the late learned antiquary, the Rev. John Whittaker, a connexion of the family, it is probably correct.)

In an old school project that dates from between the 1970’s and early 1990’s we find that they list some of the theories as well. The ones they list are as follows:
Burial Place
A Forrester
A Wolf
A Valley
a Coal Mine
Home of the Wolf

They also state that “the Biddulph family Coat of Arms 1664 has a wolf rampant”. Along with this they give the main belief of time. They say “The most accepted meaning of Biddulph appears to be “The Town of the Wolf”.

A list of some of the different versions of the spelling of Biddulph can be found below.
Bidul, Bydoulf, Bidduff, Byddell, Bedulfe, Beadulf, Bidolf, Bedulle, Biddll, Bedulphe, Bydolphe, Bidolfe, Bedille, Biddle, Byddulf, Bydulph, Biddulf, Bydell, Beidell, Byddelph, Biddulphe, Byddulfe, Beddell, Byddylle, Bidulphe, Beadwoulfestun and Biddulph.

We have also noted that the 29 names of Biddulph by Mr. Richard Biddulph (Former headmaster at Knypersley School) has one listed twice. So we have only listed 28 of these as the 29 th would be another Byddulf. We are unsure whether this is a mistake by Mr. Biddulph himself, or Congleton Chronicle when they printed the extracts or if it’s a mistake in the printing of “A History of Biddulph” by Richard Biddulph, published by The Biddulph and District Historical and Genealogy Society. We are though trying to find this out.

It is first recorded as Bidolf in 'The Domesday Book' of 1086 and as Bydulf in the 1291 'Taxatio Ecclesiastica' documents of Staffordshire.
In Old English Bid and Byd can have the same meaning ‘lingering’. Just as olf can mean wolf as ulf can?

It must be stated also that the first instance of this as a surname when Richard the Lionheart made them a requirement was in 1199 and spelt as Bidulf.

In Summary

From the above theories it seems that the more I look into the name of Biddulph, the more it seems likely that it has something to do with "wolves", whether it be "Home of the Wolf", "Lingering Wolf", "Bed of the Wolf", "Wolf Slayer", "Wulfracester" (Wolf Boundary Fort) or Wolf Offering. Yes it is nice to think that the name originates from all the mining in the area as Biddulph does have a rich history of this, but from my investigations this seems more and more unlikely, as all the evidence seems to suggest its origins lie with the wolf. I have also spoken with many older people of Biddulph, who also remember hearing their long dead relatives mention that the name has a wolf theme. However most of these cannot remember what the exact theories were.

I know some people say there is no archaeological evidence for the theory that the name is based around wolves, but there are many ancient texts out there where the authors suggest a wolf theory. These cannot be ignored as historically the other content is believed to be correct. Even when you look at the word in myths and legends and study the etymology of the word Biddulph, it all seems to revolve around the wolf. There are also other areas that have began to give credence to the wolf theories such as the archaeological evidence suggesting that tribal peoples of Britain did name places after animal totems, just like in other countries. (There are even suggestions by some archaeologists that certain post holes at Stonehenge may have been for a type of totem pole).

With regards to “by the diggings or by the mine” This is based purely around a word that resembles the old word for Biddulph. In fact only one of 29 different spellings can give you something similar to what the mining theory suggests. This word is in all probability Middle English and not Anglo – Saxon. Yes it sounds good, due to the coal, iron and rock that have been mined here, but in all probability these mines are of too late a date to have affected the place name. We can also say that before the book "Biddulph (“By the Diggings”) A Local History" Edited by Joseph Kennedy in 1980 the general consensus was that the Wolf had something to do with the origin of the name Biddulph. Most believed it to be either home of the wolf or war wolf. With our investigations this seems more and more likely. With this book adding “By the Diggings” to the title in such a way it has culminated in many people believing it as fact when in reality it isn’t, and is in all probability based around Middle English rather than Anglo – Saxon as suggested.

I am also quite curious that the name used in the Domesday Book is 'Bidolf' , as this could be Anglo - Saxon for the Old English legendary hero Beowulf , as 'Bi - dolf split into bi 'bee' or 'be' and dolph 'wolf ' can mean the same as Beowulf which also means Beo 'bee' and wulf 'wolf' . Could our town have been named by the Anglo - Saxons on behalf of our hero Beowulf or a local who resembled the hero. The actual meaning is Bear. It was given this title due to a bear having a face like a dog and eating honey..

Compiled and written by Robert Worrall (Curator, Biddulph Museum)

Sources and Credits:
Various local residents for myths and legends about the name
Biddulph ("By the Diggings") A Local History - 1980 - Keel University Press
Biddulph, Staffordshire Official Guide - Late 1960's - by Home Publishing Ltd
Bailey's Book of Biddulph by Janice Deane - 2008
Staffordshire Past Track
Robert Worrall - Theory 5- (Biddulph Museum, Curator)
Taxatio Ecclesiastica - 1291
The Domesday Book - 1086
Old English Dictionary
Etymology Dictionary
Anglo Saxon Dictionary
Family Tree Maker. In an article about the family of Lord of Darlaston Ormus le Guidon (b.Abt. 1075, d. Bef. 1141) (Biddulph-McLeod.FTW)
Memorials of Staffordshire, 1909 by William Beresford a footnote on p43 and p106
Oxhey First School Biddulph Project

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