The origin is Old English, i.e. the language that was in use between
say 400 and 1100AD. Obviously, over such a long period the meanings
words changed, and documentary evidence is sparse. Nevertheless,
seems clear that for a considerable time the Anglo-Saxons had two words
(or perhaps two versions of an earlier word) to denote different kinds
of untilled pasture.
One was Leah. This was a clear area in a wood; a sort of glade
space where grass grew. The last syllable in placenames like
and Rayleigh has this meaning. Sometimes it meant the wood itself,
in Ashley or Staveley. It was, and is, pronounced “lee”.
The other was Laege. This meant fallow or untilled land generally,
is the origin of “our” Leyland. The original pronunciation was
as is confirmed by the way the Norman French-speaking monks wrote it
down in the Domesday Book: Lailand.
In 12th and 13th century documents it was written as Leilandia and
The confusion over spelling persists to this day, and Layland is a
common version, phonetically based. For example, the baptism
records of children born to our Peter Leyland in the early 1800’s include
spelt with an “a” and several with an “e”, according to the whim of
parish clerk. And sometimes a clerk would write Leland in a marriage
entry even though the parties had signed Leyland! The “Leland”
derives from the fact that clerics wrote in Latin, and there is no
Latin. Even in the nineteenth century, the Roman Catholic priest at
Portico Church, Prescot, would write Ioannes Leland for John Leyland.
The version closest to the “original” that I’ve seen is one Raukin
Leygeland, who appears in the register of Halifax Parish Church in
The name clearly describes the place. West Lancashire as a whole
tended to be low-lying, marshy ground, but nowhere more so than the central
belt where the town of Leyland now is. Writing in 1698, a seasoned
traveller called Celia Fiennes wrote that “many meres and marshy places”
made travel difficult between the towns of Wigan and Preston; and Leyland
is exactly en route. The area had always been largely uncultivated,
and Yates’ map of 1786 gives some indication of the size of “the Moss”
near Leyland even at that comparatively late date. [Note the delightful
Sod Hall, no doubt aptly named in view of its location.] Indeed it was
only during the Industrial Revolution that civil engineers found ways to
drain and manage the land. However, once they did, it boasted some
of the best agricultural land in the county.
Sometimes placenames evolved into personal names, the usual explanation
being that “John of Leyland” etc. became shortened to “John Leyland”.
It seems reasonable to assume that this is what happened to us, given the
antiquity of the placename and the concentration of so many Leylands in
close proximity to the place itself. As the Victoria County History
puts it, “one or more Leyland families took a name from the place”.*
It could be, however, that the personal name arose independently of
Leyland the village. There were similar mosses right through
Ribble to the Mersey, and any one of these “Laege-lands” might have
given rise to a family name. Following this line of thought,
I like to
imagine that one day, many hundreds of years ago, a man called (say)
Thorsteinn moved from the laege-land to a village a few miles away,
was called by his new neighbours Thurstan Leyland.
Yet another speculation, perhaps even more fanciful, is prompted by
Assize lists of the fourteenth century. These record quite a
property disputes in the vicinity of Leyland where one party had only
given name followed by “de Leyland”, whilst the other party had both
Christian name and a surname - the latter indicating origins
elsewhere.** Were the landlords (particularly the Bussel family and
their offshoots) tightening their hold on the economy of the area,
did the de Leylands tend to drift away?
*Eg. The following is a thirteenth century entry in the records of the
Bussel family, lords of the manor of Leyland:
“Thomas, son of Geoffrey, son of Umfray of Layland, to his lord, John
Layland - half an acre of land at Lamforlong…If he has ten pigs he
give the second best to his lord; and if more, 2d. for each old pig
1d. for each young one.”
**Eg. 1333 Richard, son of Adam de Leyland, claimed a moiety of the
Manor of Leyland from William de Walton. [This was a protracted suit
lasting a few generations, and was eventually lost by the de Leylands].
1318 John, son
of Thomas de Leyland, claimed tenements in
Leyland and Cuerden against the Bussels and others.
1344 John, son
of Thomas de Leyland, sought a messuage and
land against Robert de Woodward, representative of the Abbott of
1350 The Bussel
family claimed five messuages and eighty acres
against Margaret the widow of John de Leyland, and his daughter Cicely.
On the other
hand, the de Leylands were quite capable of
falling out among themselves:
between Robert and John, sons of Adam de Leyland, respecting a messuage
and an oxgang of land; Emma, widow of Adam, was a party to the suit.