Where does the surname Leatherland come from ?

Leatherland is probably a variant of the surname Litherland which probably derives from the place of the same name. There is a town called Litherland in Lancashire, five miles north of Liverpool, with an ancient history dating back to the eleventh century Domesday book (1086). The Victoria County History for Litherland includes a reference to a Randle de Litherland who held land there in 1212, and who was probably one of the first bearers of the surname (although this may have been a by name -  a non hereditary name additional to a forename).

How rare are the surnames ?

Both Litherland and Leatherland are relatively rare surnames. The 1881 Census Surname Atlas, a software package which uses data from the 1881 census to show the frequency, location and variants of any surname, gives the following results for Litherland and its close variants :

LITHERLAND             680

LEATHERLAND         323

LETHERLAND             61

LITERLAND                  3

LEITHERLAND             2

The Surname Atlas has some additional rare variants of the surname including :

Leaverland           19

Lutherland             6

Leatheland            5

Leatherlead          4

Litherlong              4

Locative Surnames

Richard McKinley wrote a book on Lancashire surnames. He points out that locative surnames (derived from place names) are the largest surname category in Lancashire, which has been the case since the thirteenth century, and that the county has a higher proportion of locative surnames than most English counties. 

His book has one reference to a man with the surname Letherland (Liverpool Oath Rolls, 1696) who was from Litherland. 

So how did Litherland become Leatherland ?

Early  parish register entries I have looked at show various spelling permutations, for example,  the baptism of "Eadmund Lytherland, the sonn of John Lytherland" (Clifton upon Dunsmore, Warwickshire, 1624).   Edward and Elizabeth had eight children baptised in Clay Coton (Northants) between 1652 and 1668 where the father’s surname is variously spelt Leitherland, Leithorland, Lithorland and Lethorland. By the eighteenth century most of these children and their descendants appear as Leatherland in Northamptonshire parish registers, wills and militia lists, so this version of the surname seems to have stabilised in this area.

There is some evidence of the spelling of particular Individuals’ surnames varying between Litherland, Letherland and Leatherland as late as the nineteenth century. My great x three grandfather, Samuel, married as Leatherland, but he was Letherland in the 1841 census andLitherland in the 1861 census. He was also baptised as Lealon in 1790, a very rare surname / variant which does not appear at all in the 1881 census.  

Moving to the East Midlands

There were 377 Leatherland deaths registered between 1842 and 1872, with the greatest frequency in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, and then Warwickshire and Lancashire. Repeating the search for Litherland (761 results) shows Lancashire far ahead of any other county with five times as many deaths as the next county (Leicestershire) in terms of frequency.

The Leatherland version is found predominantly in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire in 1881, with a lesser concentration in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. The name is rare in the rest of the country, except Lancashire. But Litherland is overwhelming concentrated in Lancashire (430 out of 680) with small numbers in the Midlands and only seven occurrences in the south of England.

These results support the theory that the Litherland surname is derived Litherland in Lancashire but that, when Litherlands moved south to the Midlands, variants developed, possibly because priests and clerks were unfamiliar with the place name. But in Lancashire the name generally remained as Litherland. Of course it also means, as with most locational surnames, that some medieval Litherlands may not be related to each other. 

The map below shows where Litherland name holders lived in the 1881 census. This distribution map supports the place name origin theory because two thirds of those with this surname lived in Lancashire in 1881. There were also clusters in the neighbouring counties of Cheshire and Yorkshire West Riding. The surname was also found in the Midlands (Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire). But it was rare in the south of England and East Anglia.

Litherland (exact) surname distribution 1881 

I then mapped the distribution of the Leatherland variant (shown below).  Leatherland has a different distribution pattern with the name most common in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, smaller pockets in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, and only fifteen occurrences in Lancashire.  As with Litherland, the surname was not found in south west England and there were only a handful of occurrences in the south east. 

Leatherland distribution 1881