A Branch from Cumberland and Anglesey

Written by Jill Coulthard, wife of Captain John M. Coulthard, Master Mariner



Captain Alfred Coulthard has made an exhaustive study of the various branches of this family.   As they were originally to be found exclusively along the Scottish/English borders and in conjunction with the Norman Percy family, he concluded that their origin was probably in the French hamlet of Couherde.  He did not subscribe to the alternative theory that they were "Colt Herders" as this derivation would have led to a more widespread coverage of the surname in early records.   We have a copy of his book "A COULTHARD!" in which our chart is numbered 29 on page 140.

We were fortunate enough to be contacted by Alfred Coulthard many years ago now and visited him and his wife at their home in Dorset.   Here, his study had a complete wall dedicated to a chart detailing various branches of the Coulthard family.   I must say we subscribe to his "Coutherde" theory and have visited this tiny village in northern France.   It stands in the middle of a theatre of fierce fighting in World War II and now consists of a hamlet of only a few houses.   We were unable to find anyone to ask for further details.   On the hill above is a large and impressive war memorial which we also visited.   There is (or was) an ironmongers shop in the town of Bayeux named "Coutherd" or something similar which led us to believe it is the French equivalent of the surname.

However we recently talked to at their stall in Abergavenny Market.   They had recorded the surname but had never heard of Alfred Coulthard's research.    It appears they think the name appeared in Galloway prior to the Norman Conquest.    I am investigating this and will comment on their findings when I know more.

As we live in the south of England where the surname is virtually unknown we frequently get reports made to us of Coulthart/d genealogical sightings in the belief that since the name is so rare, we must be related.   However, when we go up to Cumberland we never have to spell our surname as it is so common around these border areas as to be very familiar.


Our story goes back to ALEXANDER COULTHART who appears on the scene in Distington, just north of Whitehaven, in Cumberland.   Alexander was born c. 1753 - his granddaughter said in Dumfriesshire.   This is born out by Alexander's will when he uses the Scottish term "seisine" for handing on rights to his nephew, also named Alexander, son of an unnamed brother.   The documents have been searched but no record has been found of either Alexander.


When Alexander crossed to live in Cumberland we do not know.

For more explicit maps of the area, see Maps 1a

ALEXANDER  married MARY WILKINSON of St. Bees on 19 October 1795 at St. James Church, Whitehaven.   Mary came from a family with long links to the area and her sister had married into a Whitehaven family with shipping and stone mason links.   Mary was baptised 30 April 1757 at St. Bees and was therefore some 38 years old at the marriage, Alexander being about 42.   It was a first marriage for Mary and probably for Alexander too as he does not mention in his will any children of a former marriage.



  "The finest Georgian church interior in the County" Pevsner

Alexander was a Stone Mason and they started married life at Barngill House, Distington which I have been fortunate enough to visit quite recently and which is being restored by its present owners, after a period of neglect, to the state in which Mary and Alexander would have commissioned and furnished it.   The house was part of the Lonsdale Estate as was so much of that part of Cumberland but the deeds show that it was built about the time of Alexander and Mary's marriage, possibly by Alexander and his workmen.   It is a substantial, two storey house of the Georgian period.


Despite Mary's age, they produced three children, ROBERT (later Rev. Robert) in 1797, MARTHA (named after her maternal grandmother) about 1799 and ALEXANDER junior (Alex) about 1801.   The children were apparently baptised at the High Meeting House in Whitehaven, the records of which no longer exist.   We have Robert's baptismal date as he has to provide this information before being ordained.

Alexander senior died in 1807 and was buried in Mary's home village of St. Bees.   It was apparently a very fine tombstone, crafted either by himself, his workmen or another colleague.   This tombstone confirmed that Alexander was a Stone Mason, as read by other members of the family and not a Mariner as read in later years by Alfred Coulthard and printed in his book "A COULTHARD!".   This misreading sent me on a wild goose chase in earlier years especially as my husband is a Mariner too and it was quite disappointing to realise that Alexander had "stayed at home" rather than travelling to exotic lands.

The tombstone, along with several other family graves has now "disappeared" from St. Bees Churchyard.   There is a large stack of huge gravestones on top of each other in one section of the graveyard so it is hoped that one day these will be restored to a place where they can be read.


After Alexander's death, Mary promptly moved the family to Sandwith near St. Bees and certainly in later years the family had quarries and a small farm in that village.   She also changed the spelling of the surname to Coulthard, under which name she made her will and was buried in 1814 with her husband.   From Alexander's death onwards this family became entirely English in their speech and outlook.
As their eldest son was only eight at the time of Alexander's death, there was no question of him inheriting his father's business and so his tools and equipment were left to the nephew Alexander, mentioned above.   There is no indication as to whether or not this nephew lived in Scotland or elsewhere but presumably he was also in the trade and near enough by for him to collect or have collected the tools, if he wished to have them.

Apart from this there is no clue to Alexander's parentage and place of birth.   From the Scottish naming pattern I would be most surprised if his father's name was not Robert.  Despite many searches over the years I have been unable to find any other family for him either in Cumberland or Scotland.   If anyone has any family information that might identify his origins I would be most grateful.   Please no random sightings of the surname but any solid evidence on either Alexander senior or his nephew Alexander.   It may even be that some of his family emigrated and have left records.



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