The Ancient History of Brownridge

The northern border of England, interfacing with lowland Scotland, produced a thirty mile wide corridor from Carlisle to Berwick from which many of the prominent names of the world emerged. Amongst these distinguished surnames was Brownridge.

Research of ancient documents including the Inquisitio, the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, the Ragman Rolls, The Hearth Rolls, the Domesday Book, parish cartularies, baptismals, and tax rolls revealed that the first record of the name Brownridge was found in East Lothian, Scotland, where they were seated from very early times.

Although your name, Brownridge, occurred in many references from time to time, the surname was also officially spelt Brownrigg, Brownridge, Burnrig, Brownrig, and these changes in spelling frequently occurred, even between father and son. Sometimes a different spelling on each occasion through a lifetime at the same person's birth, death or marriage.

The family name Brownridge is believed to be descended originally from the Strathclyde Britons. This ancient, founding race of the north were a mixture of Gaelic/Celts whose original territories ranged from Lancashire in the south, northward to the south bank of the River Clyde in Scotland. They were divided into three sub-kingdoms, the Selgovians south of the Clyde, the Novantii in Galloway in south west Scotland, and the Rhiged to the south in Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire.

From 400 A.D. to 900 A.D. their territory was overrun firstly by the Irish Gaels, then the Angles from the east, and, finally the Picts and Dalriadans from the north. However, their basic culture remained relatively undisturbed. By 1000 A.D., however, the race had formed into discernible Clans and families, perhaps some of the first evidence of the family structure in Britain.

By the 16th and 17th centuries many of our modern family names descended directly from this ancient race, including Brownridge. Many of these families were later found scattered, not only throughout England, Scotland and Ireland, but all over the world, surnames which can now be traced back to this locality and time period. Tracing its ancient development, the name Brownridge was found in East Lothian where they gave their name to the lands of Brownrigg three miles north west of East Linton in East Lothian at the time of FitzAlan the Steward who arrived in Scotland in 1089. Alan was the progenitor of the Royal Stewarts. They also acquired lands at Alanshaw in that territory. They flourished in this area until the 15th century when they became affected by the border turbulence. They moved south to Devon the scion of the southern branch became the Bishop of Exeter and his tomb is in the Temple Church. Notable amongst the family at this time was Sir Thomas Brownrigg who became noted for his diplomacy in the Governorship of Kandy the southern Indian state and much of his fortune was from this source.

The natural division of Scotland and England, an arbitrary line from Carlisle to Berwick, posed an artificial division to the unity of the ancient Strathclyde Britons and their family groupings. To the north they became Scottish, to the south English. However many of the family structures would continue to be unified clans, powers unto themselves, owing little allegiance to either Scotland or England, having territories and political interests on both sides of the border.

Soon after the Norman Conquest border life was in turmoil. In 1246, 6 Chiefs from the Scottish side and 6 from the English side met at Carlisle and produced a set of laws governing all the border Clans. These were unlike any laws prevailing in England or Scotland or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. For example, it was a far greater offence to refuse to help a neighbour recover his property, wife, sheep, cattle or horses than it was to steal them in the first place. Hence the expression 'Hot Trod', or, a hot pursuit, from which we get the modern 'Hot to trot'. For refusal of assistance during a 'Hot Trod', a person could be hanged on the instant, without trial. Frequently, the descendants of these clans or families apologetically refer to themselves as being descended from 'Cattle or horse thieves' when, in fact, it was an accepted code of life on the border.

In 1603, the Union of the Scottish and English crowns became reality under King James VI of Scotland, who was also crowned King James 1st of England. The Crown dispersed these 'unruly border clans'. In 1587, an Act of Scottish Parliament had condemned certain border families for their lawlessness. Scotland was moving toward breaking up the old 'border code'. Hence, the Border Clans were banished to England, northern Scotland and to Ireland. Some were outlawed directly to Ireland, the Colonies and the New World.

Many of the Border Clans settled in Northern Ireland, transferred between 1650 and 1700 with grants of land provided they 'undertook' to remain protestant. Hence they became known as the 'Undertakers'. Many became proudly Irish. In Ireland they moved into Dublin where they became great allies of the Spedding family.

But there were many who were dissatisfied with life in Ireland, and sought a more rewarding life. They looked to the New World and sailed aboard the 'White Sails' an armada of sailing ships such as the Hector, the Rambler, and the Dove which struggled across the stormy Atlantic. Some ships lost 30 or 40% of their passenger list, migrants who died from dysentery, cholera, small pox, and typhoid. In North America, some of the first migrants which could be considered kinsmen of the family name Brownridge and their spelling variants were Mathew Brownridge settled in Virginia in 1637. From the port of arrival many joined the wagon trains westward, moving to the prairies or the west coast. During the War of Independence those that remained loyal to the Crown moved north into Canada and became known as the United Empire Loyalists.

Meanwhile, the family name Brownridge continued to play an active and important role in the New World and in the politics of the old country. There were many prominent notable contemporaries of this name Brownridge, Philip Brownrigg, Director of Copper Consortium; Sir Nicholas Brownrigg.

The most ancient grant of a Coat of Arms found was:
Silver with a black lion rampant holding a sword between three red crescents.

The Crest is:
A sword entwined with a snake.

The ancient family motto for this distinguished name is:
"Virtute et Sapientia"

(The History of the Brownridge name that appears on this site was obtained from a company that sells family name histories.)