British Origins

The following is a transcript of a presentation to the Hadley Society in 1999 by John Hadley.

The  name HADLEY is actually of Saxon origin. Many call it “Anglo-Saxon,” but it is really a Saxon name. These invaders were from the Rhine in Germany and settled in eastern England in about 600 AD. Before 1066, when they lost control of England to the Normans, they were in complete control of the island with the exception of Wales and Scotland. The original Saxon name is believed to have been HATLEGH,   (by the way, the Saxons had no written language). The first written name we have seen until this writing is the Domesday Survey’s HATLEGE . The name was also spelled HATLEGA, or HEDLEGA which  are more phonetic versions. They were Saxon, they had a more guttural type of an accent. When the Normans (Viking kingdom based in Normandy, France) successfully defeated the Saxons in 1066,  Saxon names became Normanized. Versions such as de Hadley, de Haddesley, de Haddleigh are transitional examples of the original Hedlega. D. B. HADLEY from Whitehill House in Upham Hampshire, England has written to me regarding the subject of the origin of the name Hadley.

      “Dear John,
Thank you for your letter. I am sorry for taking so long to reply.
Firstly, as to the origin of the family name – Dr. Basil Cottle’s Penguin Dictionary surnames has the following entry: HADLEY = Heather Hill. Peter HADLEY’s “A HADLEY HISTORY,” May 1978 quotes H. P. Guppy from “Homes of Family Names, 1890,” as saying that Worcestershire is the home of the HADLEYS; that they derived their name from places in adjacent counties of Staffordshire and Shropshire. There certainly were a good many HADLEYs in those counties in the 1500s. Peter HADLEY also quotes John Weever’s “ANCIENT FUNERAL MONUMENTS FROM 1631” as follows:“After he, Gurmond or Gurthrum, a Danish King, had governed these counties of Suffolk and Norfolk a space of 12 years complete, he died and was buried in the Kings Town called HEADLEGA (so HADLEY was called in  the Saxon language) ‘In Suffolk, among the East English in the 889.” So, 889 is the first documented case that we have seen where our written name actually exists.”

In this first written example Hadley means King’s town, Chief town or Head town. He goes on about Alan de Hadley and all these other HADLEYs in Shropshire, but continues to say, “I am afraid that none of this is conclusive to support the name except to say that it has been around a long time, and may be connected with ‘Heather’.” It is interesting that in 1134 William de Hadley and his sons Alan and William signed their name de Hedlega as witnesses to two charters by Hamo Perevel to Shrewsbury  Abbey. This would be the first written document using the surname Hadley (de Hedlega), as signed by a family member. As a family name, Hadley appears in England in the twelfth century as de Haddeleigh, and de Haddesley.  Later, Cadogan de Hadley simplified the name which was retained by his descendants who held Bulkley in Cheshire.1

It is important to note that although HADLEY is a Saxon place name, the first to use it as a surname were certainly Norman. The Normans were Vikings who had settled in the area of Normandy, France. So the name is of Saxon origin, but our ancestors were of Norman genetics.

     A little later the name appears as Hadleigh, but as early as the fourteenth century it is spelled Hadley, Hadeley or Hadly. As England developed as an independent kingdom, the Norman influence lessened and many surnames were Anglicized.

     Lyle Hadley proposed the surname Hadley to be a cross between Anglo and Saxon HAUT + LEIGH, which meant ‘wooded meadow’, and that is what he has published in the three volumes produced by the Hadley Society. There are numerous other interpretations of this name. The HADLEY motto, which is “God is My Help” I learned from Ted and Vera Hadley who have been studying the HADLEY family for over 20 years in England. They are not related to us. But he does say, “I can confirm that there is no record of Simon HADLEY in Herefordshire, which is the county next to Shropshire. There were four towns of ‘Hadley’ in England, all place names, such as ‘Heather Hill’ or whatever you want to call it, the ‘field’, the ‘pasture where cattle graze’..”

     The best story I’ve seen on this is this was in a correspondence with a fellow named ATLEY.  That is also a derivative of our name, by the way; it’s kind of a cockney version. He said that people were illiterate back then, they didn’t write their own name, but it was a function of the parish priest, or recorder, and how much altar wine he had consumed as to how the name was interpreted and spelled.

     We have seen the name change over time through all of these variations.  One of the things said in one of the (Hadley Society) books was that it became HADLEY in the 1400 or 1500 and stayed that way. Now that is not true.  My family spelled it HADLY – and they spelled it that way up until, and right through the middle 1800s. It was HADLY. Joshua spelled it ‘HADLY’ his son Thomas, my ancestor, spelled it ‘HADLY’, and his son Benjamin spelled it ‘HADLY’ .  We didn’t change until old man John, who was born in 1820, spelled it ‘HADLEY’, so I suppose sometime about the middle of the 19th century it became the fashion to spell it with the ‘e’.  So the name has had numerous spellings through the years. Terry McLean, of the Hadley Society, told me that the Quakers thought it was flamboyant to use the “e”, which is why this generation spelled it Hadly.

     These forms continued in Ireland, where the name has never been a common one.  When the Quaker Hadleys went from Ireland to America in 1712, both forms, with and without the “e”, were used by members of the same family.2

     Our ancestor, Simon Hadley II was not the first Hadley to come to America.  The Massachusetts Hadleys, whose ancestor was George Hadley, came directly from England to Ipswich, Massachusetts in the year 1639.  A number of villages in Massachusetts bear their name.

     It is also of interest to note that the Hadleys who settled Newport, Rhode Island in the late 1600s were collaterally related to the Alabama Hadleys.  They were English but they migrated from Ireland to Rhode Island and Connecticut.  Much of the early information about our Hadley family is due to their membership in the Society of Friends, or Quakers.  The Quakers kept records of their meetings, and the references to our family members form the first verifiable branches of our family tree.

1. Visitations of Cheshire via Chalmers Hadley

2. Henry Gray, London via Chalmers Hadley