Today is one of those days where I had a whole slew of subjects that I could write about but one thing led to the other which is why I am here writing about Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet whose birth was celebrated on January 25th as it is every year. Or actually I’m not, as Burns is said to be an ancestor of mine. We both write, don’t you see the connection is obvious! Which led me in a round about way to talk about my surname, Liddell, and where we came from.
My blood is definitely multi-cultural but whereas multi-cultural in modern Britain is more likely to mean Indian, Carribean or Polish mine is altogether less exotic unless of course you are reading this in some distant land then you may be thinking that this Stephen guy is just too exotic sounding to be true.
It’s just that my multi-cultural heritage is all from a rather concentrated area and how much genetic influence each one has one my make-up is questionable to say the least. From what I can tell my bloodlines all emanate from within the British Isles with just a smattering of Viking to spice things up a little.
From one blood line I have deviations to North Wales and the beautiful rugged Snowdonia region. Related to this is a branch of the family who no more recently than 150 years ago came from Ireland. Of course that does not mean that they are really Irish any more than I am really British. Although the more famous and recent history is that Britain ruled Ireland, if you go back further in time you’ll see that the Irish spent much time occupying and raiding western Britain. They caused us hell after the Romans left and it took centuries to fight them off before the Normans turned the tables and started fighting them on their own turf. Most likely Irish and British come from the same area, either just west of Birmingham or from the Great Rift Valley in eastern Africa, whichever takes your fancy.
Another blood line comes from South Western England, not far from Stonehenge and it is not inconceivable that centuries past they were either Saxon or Welsh too. Individual people didn’t move around very much until the late 19th Century but national boundaries did. One thing is for sure, somewhere deep inside me if Stonehenge is anything to go buy I have the ability to build some really cool and long lasting structures. If you want a genuine stone-age monument in your garden, just let me know. I can promise it will look stone-age but not that it will last thousands of years but then that bloodline has probably been watered down somewhat.
Another branch of the family comes from Lancashire which for those not in the know is a county just above the northern cities of Manchester and Liverpool. A lot of my family came from the new industrial centres in the Industrial revolution where they used to make the worlds supply of cotton products. In the 19th Century one went onto to be a leading physicist and another architect. I’d quite like to live in Lancashire and from the War of The Roses when the two great Houses fought each other for the crown of England in a Game of Thrones-esque saga it is no doubt where I gained my love of Red Roses from. Perhaps my family lived close to the border though as I also like white roses. I don’t have any family from Yorkshire but that’s most likely because no-one has delved deeply enough.
The final part of my jaunt through family origins is that of my surname, Liddell. Liddell is an old Anglo-Saxon name. We come from the borders between England and Scotland from a particular valley where the river Lidell still flows to this day. Liddells are a relatively rare name in Great Britain as a whole but are relatively common in the sparsely populated counties of Cumbria and Northumberland in England and Dumfries-shire and Roxburghshire in Scotland. Northumberland in particular used to be the most important kingdom in Britain and ruled most of the country from Edinburgh in Scotland hundreds of miles down to central England but them being the violent sort they refused to acknowledge the new Norman rulers which led to much of the country being virtually wiped out and even today, that combined with the harsh weather and landscape means it is an isolated though maybe most beautiful part of England. Like Scotland, Northumbria also has its own bagpipes and tartans as well as wonderful and famous ballads, most of them sounding very sad to reflect the history and wild nature of the area.
Our ancestors had a castle, Liddell Strength. For centuries the borders between England and Scotland were about as lawless as Afghanistan is today. Large extended families or clans would raid either side of the border for sheep and booty with neither kingdom being able to get a hold of the place. I’ve seen maps where Liddells hold a relatively large area of land 50 or 60 miles in extent. It was a very tough area and still is in parts very remote. The site of the Roman wall, scenes of murderous pillages from Norway and Denmark and at times incessant wars between England and Scotland. The Liddells along with a handful of other families managed to make a living from this chaos and more than likely we made quite a bit of chaos ourselves until the Union between in England and Scotland in 1707 and then the game was up. To see just what I mean about my ancestors coming from both sides of the border, have a look at the map below the white dot is the now totally ruined Liddell Strength castle and the white dashed line is the England-Scotland border.
The Liddells were on of the border reivers. Reiver being an old English word meaning ‘to rob’. This comes from the old Northumbrian (yes we have/had our own language too) and Scots verb ‘reifen’ or the old English word ‘reafian’ which is where the modern word ‘ruffian’ originates from.
Something about this wild part of the world meant that the English-Scottish borders (or The Borders) bred many internationally important names, far beyond their actual numbers with many of the best engineers, soldiers and even American Presidents tracing their lines back to here. The Armstrongs come from this neck of the woods so “we” were the first on the moon too. Of course whilst some of the Liddells stayed in their quite villages and desolate moors others went around the world too. Alice Liddell went through the looking glass, Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame could run like the wind, no doubt due to his ancestors having half of England and Scotland chasing us but we haven’t lost our tough guy sense of self. For that look no further than Chuck ‘Iceman’ Liddell, the most celebrated and toughest mo-fo in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Would he have been the best fighter if his ancestors had just ran a little Apple orchard in Somerset, no of course he wouldn’t.
Surnames only became prominent due to the need to pay taxes so before then there were no such Liddells, just those of us who lived in the valley with the very loud river which is what our name means. We have a coat of arms although I have never seen one. I do like it though, maybe I should add it to my email signatures. One of the first mentions of the Liddells in anything like a good way is Richard de Lidell who witnessed the signing of a charter in Scotland in 1202.
Traditional Border houses looked this one below. Many are in ruins but some are still functional homes. The homes had to look like this due to the terrible cold and snowy weather and also the continual raiding and slaughtering of families, often with dozens and dozens being killed at a time leading to multi-generational feuding that makes the Hatfields and McCoys look like a day in the park.
The more civilised and learned of us went into business. Some of us were Members of Parliament of MPs in London, eminent writers or famous historians… hmm I was wondering where I got that from. We did our fair share of globe-trotting also with Thomas Liddell landing in Virginia in 1657, John Liddell in Mississippi 1841 and others reaching California in 1850. Those ancestors who preferred Cricket to Baseball headed off to Australia with John and Thomas Liddell arriving down- under on the Summer ship in 1857.
Whereas Liddell Strength was ruined by the Normans nearly a thousand years ago, we didn’t look back and instead went on to bigger and better things like this one…
Unfortunately though we also got into coal mining, some of us doing the mining and some doing the owning and the aristocratic side of the family lost their home due to subsidence as you can see below although there is a movement to rebuild it.
Apparently Liddell is also a very rare first name for boys in America and my clone, Stephen Liddell who must be descended from one of the young men who landed in Australia in 1857 is a big name in website, film and television. Stephen of course was the first Christian martyr and Saint being stoned to death at Jerusalem and the name ‘Stephen’ means crowned or anointed one. So technically Stephen Liddell means the king of the valley of the loud river. I wonder if in 500 years someone will look on Google and read about me? With a name meaning like that I surely deserve it!