Select Wainwright Surname Genealogy

The Wainwright surname is occupational, from the Old English waegen or waen, meaning "wagon," and wyrhta, "wright" or maker/builder.  The wagon at that time would have been horse-driven and four-wheeled.

The Oxford English Dictionary observed that "wainwright" was not found as a vocabulary word in Middle English, although it had appeared as a surname by the 13th century.  An Adam le Waynwrith was in Wakefield records in Yorkshire in 1285.

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England.  Wainwright is a northern name - first, as the 1881 census shows, in Yorkshire, then in Lancashire, with spillovers into Cheshire and Staffordshire plus some Wainwrights in Essex.

Yorkshire  Early Wainwrights in Yorkshire were to be found in the Peak District in the south of the county, in and around Penistone.  John and Dorothy Wainwright of Bradfield date from Elizabethan times.  A Wainwright family acquired Shore Hall near Penistone in 1631 and Wainwrights were to be found there and in neighboring farmhouses in the 18th and 19th centuries.  One Wainwright family ran an oil press business in Thurlstone in the early 19th century (their son Joseph emigrated to America).

There were Wainwrights in Halifax from the 17th century who owned the local dye works.  But the largest cluster of Wainwrights in Yorkshire was and is to be found in and around Leeds.  One remarkable family in Leeds started with a 19th century butcher's business and then moved into the professional classes with:
  • Scurrah Wainwright, a chartered accountant and a delphinium lover
  • Richard Wainwright, a conscientous objector in World War Two and then a Liberal MP
  • and Hilary Wainwright, the radical editor of Red Pepper magazine.
Elsewhere  There was a well-known musical family of Wainwrights to be found in Cheshire and south Lancashire from the 1740's to the 1830's.  John Wainwright was best known as the composer of the Christmas hymn Christians Awake.  His sons Robert and Richard were choristers in Manchester. 

More recently, Lancashire has produced that lover of the Lake District and producer of extraordinary guide-books, AW Wainwright.

   Francis Wainwright was an early arrival to Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1638.  His family became established there as fish and lumber merchants.  But John Wainwright, the sole remaining son, was drowned while on a Rhode Island sloop carrying oak planking in 1721.  Another Wainwright family, from different roots, were fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts from the early 1800's.  

One Wainwright line originated with Peter Wainwright, a tobacco merchant from London who came to Boston some years before the American Revolutionary War.  He married Elizabeth Mayhew in 1790 and the line of John Mayhew Wainwrights began with their son, a clergyman, and continued with military men who fought first in the Civil War and later, General "Skinny" Wainwright (JM the fourth), in World War Two.  Related to these Wainwrights are the Wainwrights from South Carolina, the singer Loudon Wainwright and his fractious offspring.

Records of a Wainwright family in North Carolina started with a James Wainwright receiving land in Pitt county, North Carolina in 1768.  His descendants later moved onto SE Georgia.

Bermuda.   Wainwrights were among the first settlers of Bermuda in the 1620's.  John Wainwright held land at that time in Warwick.  Some of these Wainwrights stayed on the island, others emigrated to Trinidad and Nova Scotia.  Wainwright House, a mid 19th century townhouse, is to be found in St. Georges.   

  William Wainwright was a railwayman who came to Canada in 1862 and joined and rose up the ranks of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada.  The town of Wainwright in Alberta was named after him.

AustraliaEllen Wainwright was a convict on the First Fleet that arrived in Australia in 1788.   She died in Hobart in 1839 and there is a plaque there to her memory affixed by the Fellowship of First Fleeters in 1988.

Select Wainwright Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Skinny Wainwright was a commander of American forces in the Philippines during World War Two.
AW Wainwright was a writer of much cherished guide books of fells in the English Lake District.
Loudon Wainwright III is an American songwriter, folk singer, humorist and actor.

Select Wainwrights Today
  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in Florida) 
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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