Uglow Family History

The Uglow name

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This curious and uncommon name is of Old Cornish origin, found chiefly in the south eastern and northern parts of this ancient region. The surname has two possible interpretations; firstly, it may derive from the Cornish "ughella", translating literally as "higher", and used originally as a byname of nickname to indicate status, the yeomen or "upper" people. Secondly, Uglow may derive from the Cornish "ughlogh", upper inlet, used as a topographical surname to denote residence by or near such a feature. The Cornish historian, A.L.Rowse wrote to my wife and explained that it meant something mundane such as 'people from the uplands'. Topographical surnames were among the earliest created in Europe, since both natural and man-made features in the landscape provided easily recognisable distinguishing names in the small communities of the Middle Ages. There are a variety of spellings and surname development has included the following examples from Cornish Church Registers: Joan Ugler (1597); Nicholas Uglo (1599); and Thomas Ugloe (1609).

However there are alternative esoteric explanations - John from Thorverton in Devon and Tony Rivett in Birmingham have researched this more than I but I remain wedded to the mundane 'uplands' theory of our name, a straightforward topographical approach. David Hey in the Oxford Guide to Family History wrote:

It is common to find a belief that the family has had a romantic past, that they are descended from someone important (perhaps in an illegitimate line), or that vast sums of money wait to be inherited....   ...remain sceptical about claims that the family are descended from King Canute, the Duke of Marlborough, Huguenot refugees, Border cattle-rustlers or all of these people...

However, as I said,  John 1921 and Tony Rivett have thought about this more than I................

A. John's thoughts on the possible origin of the name

The origin of the UGLOWs, before the early 16th century when they are recorded in Cornwall, is uncertain, and in my view, among many suggestions, there are three plausible possibilities.

  1. Descent from a local Celtic tribe.

    Celtic surnames in Cornwall (Richard Blewitt 1970) - quotesUGLO-etymology:- ugh=super, over, upper; logh (silent 'g')=inlet of water

    Handbook of Cornish Surnames (G Pawley White 1980) - quotes origin of UGALDE (mainly Liskeard area), from UGHEL-DYR meaning 'Upland'.

    Tony Rivett (notes 4:3) suggests:

    UGLOW from UGHELLA meaning 'Higher',-hence 'Yeoman' or 'Upper people', or from UGH-LOO meaning 'Upper inlet', a geographical region.

  2. Descent from a Scandinavian shipwrecked person, or person from a trading vessel

    The Scandinavian origin theory from UGGA or variations does not take into account the fact that the early family name was often spelt OGLO or OGLU as well as UGLOWE, which have near similar phonetic sound. It can be argued that the ‘U’ is easily miswritten ‘O’ and vice/versa.

    The Celtic origin theory and the Scandinavian origin theory do not take into account the information passed on from generation to generation quoted by great-uncle Edward, which could be a load of rubbish!!

    Letter (c.1988) from Don DAVEY [UGLOW mother-relative of the Denbury branch, ].

  3. "A local man in Oxford who is an enthusiastic expert in such matters, says it is a very old English name going back many hundreds of years in the West Country. He thinks that there was a tribal leader somewhere between the seventh and ninth centuries who could'nt stop his friends finding out that his name was UGGA (that’s the UG bit accounted for) and when he was buried he was placed in a 'LOW',-burial ground- so all the people that lived in this famous place where the great man was laid became known as Lofty or Tiny or whatever from UGGASLOW. This finally became abbreviated to UGLOW. That is one possibility "!!!

  4. The Spanish Connection

    Information from the Peterborough branch of UGLOW indicates that:-

    Maud 1887 was a telephonist at Woolwich Arsenal [World War 1] in August 1914. She was suspended owing to a spy scare while UGLOW family records were found in Bude church, Devon, by two detectives. But we were cleared as family records were traced back to a Spaniard landing in North Cornwall in the 16th century.

    Maurice Hones quote, "-That James UGLOW (b 1850 d 1929 at Spalding), had a family tree made at the outbreak of World War 1 as the UGLOW name was suspected of being German. Traced back to records in Bude church of a Spaniard landing in Cornwall in the 16th century."

  5. Descent is from a shipwrecked Turkish pirate as the family legend suggests

    "I (John 1921) am probably biased in my view that the Uglows originated from Turkey, because I have been  brought up with the legend passed on to me from my great-uncle Edward Picken 1848. In a letter (1925) Edward Picken 1848 to Edward Date1892 , he wrote:

    I know nothing certain about the UGLOWs beyond John UGLOW of Trevows Mill [probably Trefuese mill ] in Mary Week parish. Family legends are generally true. Father impressed that upon me... My father's story, which I heard corroborated by old members of the family was - A Turkish ship of war was shipwrecked in St Gennys Bay - which is only a few miles from Jacobstow church - towards the end of the 17th century. [If this were to be true, any wreck is more likely ti have occurred in the early 16th century or before].

    A young officer who was saved was taken to a farm house, fell in love with the daughter, married and settled in the parish.

    I have since found out that the name UGLOW is a corruption of the Turkish name OGLOU [there is no letter W in Turkish] which occurs frequently in Turkish history. One of the forts at KARS [120 miles south east of BATUM] was called Fort OGLOU. The ancient OGLOU PALACE at BRUSA, Asia Minor, the ancient capital of the Turks, according to the Daily Telegraph, excelled that of the Sultan. OGLOU PASHA commanded the Turks at St Jean D'Acre when it was besieged by Napoleon 1st, who tried to take it by assault-after severest failures and heavy losses he abandoned the siege. In the book 'The Life of Ali Pasha', the history of the governor of VIDIN, - OGLOU PASHA- is given, he could muster 10000 fighting men and defied the Sultan Salim's command.

    The shipwreck and a survivor marrying a farmer's daughter and raising a family at some place near St Genny's Bay, Cornwall - (between Crackington Haven & Bude). Also, his quotation " family legends are generally true, father impressed that upon me." and "My father's story, which I heard corroborated by old members of the family " indicates that old members born in the 18th century believed the origin was Turkish. How a foreign shipwreck survivor became accepted into the community at that time is another question!!

    The spelling OGLO and UGLOE in early records and references to Pasvan Oglou in the Life of Ali Pasha noted by Edward Picken 1848 suggests to me that the name may well be of Turkish origin. The name of a Turkish competitor at the 1992 Olympics had an ending ‘OGLU’, which means 'son'. On the 21st Nov.1994 the Daily Mail carried a news report on weightlifting as follows:-

'TURKEY'S Naim Suleymanoglu twice broke a world record at the World Championships in Istanbul yesterday, ....etc.'

Certain fact is that in the early 16th century there were some UGLOWs (however the name is spelt) in the Stratton and Marhamchurch area of Cornwall. This is indicated by the Cornwall Military Survey dated 1522, 1525, 1543 and by the Church records of burials and baptisms at Marhamchurch in the mid-16 century. Here possibly three or more different families of UGLOW were having children baptised and the earlier UGLOWs who are recorded on documents dated 1522, 1525 and 1543, were the subjects of burial records. Also, in no other parish in the UK have I found UGLOW records as early and numerous as these at Marhamchurch, Cornwall.

UGLOW church records number 38 from the start of 1558 to 1600 and 135 between 1600 to 1700 at Marhamchurch, which is probably less than 11 km / 7 miles from the legendary ship-wreck site at St Genny's Bay.

UGLOW WILLS held by the Cornwall Record Office, Truro, suggest that some of the UGLOWs were substantial property and landowners by the 18th century, although many followed "a more humble way of life".

The UGLOWs appear to have made a strong Non-Conformist break-away from the Protestant religion to the Bible Christian and Methodist Churches. I first came across evidence of this when I started my research, when two UGLOW families living in the same parish claimed they were not related. At the time, I felt it was because of differences in religious belief, but it may have been deeper rooted in the social levels of the families.

Other surnames with variation in the spelling which are fairly certain to be of the same origin :-

The earliest date noted in Cornwall is 1522 OGLOW & UGLOWE at Stratton, 1525 1543 1558 UGLOWE at Marhamchurch, 1586 OUGLO Marhamchurch, OGLO Plymouth, 1592 UGLO at Marhamchurch, UGLOE (1604 Marhamchurch), U'GLOW (1893 Falmouth), OGLE, UGLER & UGLAR, and variations spelt with Roman "V" replacing the "U". [see Anthony RIVETT notes]

Surnames with variation in the spelling which may or may not be of the same origin:-



B. Extracts from Tony Rivett’s "A Study on the origins of the UGLOWs". (Feb. 1994)

by Anthony B. Rivett
8. Martin Rise,
Marston Green,
Birmingham. B37 7AH

1. Origins of the name

'Harrison's book "Surnames of the U.K."

UGLOW - Dweller at UGGA'S (Burial) MOUND (Anglo Saxon - HLOEW-)

UGGAN genitive of UGGA of Scandinavian origin from Old Norse

UGGR - fear, awe. UGGA was presumably a Scandinavian chief of awesome or fearful aspect.

Bardsley's book "English and Welsh Surnames"

gives no derivation but says it must be looked for in Cornwall. He then by way of example gives a marriage at St Georges Hanover Square in Mayfair, London on 4/2/1750 of Sarah Uglow, whereas a Cornish example would have been much more appropriate!

2. Distribution of the name

Over the period 1558 to about 1880 the distribution of UGLOWs was predominantly Cornwall, mainly Atlantic coast, but with small pockets on the south coast and inland. Devon was the only other county with a significant UGLOW population. Minor numbers occurred in Warwickshire and London.

At the present time Cornwall remains predominant, followed by Devon, Surrey, Hampshire, Worcestershire, Lancashire and Warwickshire.

This distribution suggests an early in Cornwall/Devon with migrations to cities such as Birmingham, London and Manchester in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as agriculture became depressed in Cornwall/Devon driving those seeking work to the newly industrialised cities.

3. Variations in spelling of the UGLOW name.

(a) Phonetically similar with accent on the initial syllable - UGLOW, UGLO, UGLOWE, *VGLOW, *VGLOE, UGLEW, *VGLOWE, UGLOWER, UGLOO, U'GLOW, OUGLO, OGLOW

(b) Predominantly a Devon variation containing the intrusive "n" and possibly an accent of the final syllable. UGLON, *VGLONE, UGLONCE, UGESLONE

(c) Predominantly a Devon variation containing the intrusive "r" possibly indicating an accented final syllable. UGLER, UGLAR, *VGLORE, *VGLER, *VGLAR, UGLOR, UGLIER, *VGLYER, UGLORYE. * V=Roman U, used in late medieval times

4. The ancestral home of the UGLOWs ?

4.1. Spain

This popular suggestion as connected to the Armada is the easiest to discount as Marhamchurch records pre-date the Armada of 1588 and the UG element is unknown in Spanish dialects.

4.2. Turkey

(a) The Turkish for thief or pirate is UGRU which could by corruption approach UGLOW, but very unlikely.

(b) The Turkish explorer Piri Reis was known to have mapped the Atlantic seaboard of central and southern America in 1368 but there is no record of him or his compatriots or contemporaries visiting Cornwall, although such a visit is not out of the question.

(c) Transliteration of the Arabic style Turkish script to Roman style did not occur until 1928 and could not possibly have resulted in a terminal W as in UGLOW.

(d) The common Turkish name ending OGLU means "son" and is used in the same sense as in English when applied to personal names.

4.3. The Basque country (north Spain/south west France)

[Possible but unlikely]

The UG element of the name UGALDE

UGALDE is a pure Basque name - UG=water / ALDE=place i.e. river/coast

UGALDES are descended from Joseph UGALDE, a Basque who was shipwrecked near Looe in the early 1800's

4.4. Scandinavia

The most likely ancestral home of the UGLOWs would appear to be Scandinavia, in general, and specifically Jutland, the northern part of Denmark.

The UG/UGG element abounds in both personal names and place names in Southern Norway, Northern Denmark, and Western Sweden.

Considering North Denmark there are eight place names incorporating the initial UG/UGG and ten personal names one of which is UGELOW, Copenhagen has fourteen personal names.

Norway has two place names, Oslo has eleven personal names.

Sweden has one personal name (in Goteborg) and one place name on the coast.

4.4. In these paragraphs six possible routes by which an Anglo Saxon, or Scandinavian name could have arrived in Cornwall/Devon and are abbreviated here.

The Jute route, i.e. when the Jutes invaded England in about 450 A.D.


The Angle route when settlers came from the north west German coast.


The Saxon route when the Saxons arrived in England from 477 A.D.


The early (793 A.D.) and late (893 A.D.) Viking route.

It is interesting that the commemorative saint for Poughill parish church is St. Olaf, one of the few non-Irish, non-Cornish, non-English saints commemorated in this way in Cornwall. Olaf is a Scandinavian name, St.Olaf a Norwegian saint.

The Canute route in 1017.

- - - - - - - - - - -


There is circumstantial evidence to support a Danish/Norwegian/Viking source for UGLOWs for the following reasons.

1. Present place and personal names suggest UGGA was a chieftain living in either southern Norway, southern Sweden and Denmark.

2. A corresponding distribution in Devon and Cornwall.

3. UGGA folk could have arrived by one or more routes from 450 to 1017, possibly settling in Poughill, near Bude and spreading throughout the Atlantic coast of Cornwall and inland.

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