Select Drinkwater Surname Genealogy

There is a view long held that the Drinkwater surname derives from a place-name, that it is a corruption of the place-name Derwentwater, one of the lakes in the Lake District.  Early Drinkwaters must have come from there.   But there is no evidence that they did.

The alternative derivation, as the name suggests, is someone who drinks water.  In the Middle Ages weak ale was the universal beverage among the poorer classes and so cheap as to be drunk like water.  The surname was perhaps a joking nickname given to a poor person unable to afford beer or it was an ironic name for a noted tippler

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Select Drinkwater Ancestry

England.  The origin of Drinkwaters in England appears not to have been the Lake District in what is now Cumbria but locations in northern Cheshire and SW Lancashire.  There was coverage of this genealogy in the Drinkwater and Fletcher 1920 book The Drinkwater Family of Cheshire and Lancashire.

Cheshire and Lancashire
.  The name of Thomas Drinkwater was recorded at Lymm in north Cheshire as early as 1365.  The first Drinkwater family of substance in Cheshire was the one that occupied the Bent estate in the parish of Warburton from the mid-16th century.  In 1620 Richard Drinkwater built a half-timbered house there which was restored in the late 1800’s.

The line of descent from there went:
  • to Shrewsbury.  Arnold and Richard Drinkwater moved there in the late 1700’s and prospered as merchants.  Richard Drinkwater of the next generation was a well-known and respected local figure, elected Mayor in 1834.  Drinkwater Street in Shrewsbury was named after him.
  • to Liverpool.  George Drinkwater had moved there in the 1740’s and his descendants became prominent merchants and landowners there and on the Isle of Man.  James Drinkwater was Mayor of Liverpool in 1810 and his son George Mayor in 1829.
  • and to Irwell near Manchester.  From this branch came Peter Drinkwater, the man who in 1789 built the first steam-powered cotton mill in Manchester.  Five years later he acquired the Prestwich Manor estate.  Drinkwater Park there was his legacy.
John Drinkwater was a naval surgeon who made his home in Salford in the 1760’s.  But neither of his three sons was able to perpetuate his Drinkwater name.

.  Drinkwaters did spread.  An early outpost was in Oxfordshire.  Drinkwaters were recorded at Wootton near Woodstock in the early 1500’s.  They were established as yeoman farmers at Enstone a century or so later.  John Drinkwater had some reputation as a breeder of cattle; another John Drinkwater’s only claim to fame, according to his burial register of 1620, was in being lame.  Their family home was called Gagingwell.

Richard Drinkwater who died in 1781 was a yeoman and victualler at nearby Tackley.  Rose Drinkwater, who was born there in 1816, ended up in the poorhouse.  But her son Henry was able to escape to New Zealand.

John Drinkwater
, based in Banbury in the 1830’s, was an innkeeper there and a pioneer in the stagecoach developments in that area.  A descendant was the early 20th century poet and playwright John Drinkwater.

Elsewhere.  The Drinkwater name, according to 19th century census data, extended in numbers to Worcestershire and Gloucestershire in the west country and to London.

America.  Thomas Drinkwater’s origins in England are not known.  He was first recorded as marrying Elizabeth Haskell in Plymouth, Massachusetts and settling in Taunton where he died in 1715.  His son Joseph made the move to North Yarmouth, Maine and his grandson Micajah to Northport, also in Maine.  Many of these Drinkwaters were mariners, including Perez Drinkwater who was captured by the British in the War of 1812.

The family name lives on in Northport in the Edna Drinkwater School.  Their history was told in John Fernald’s 1904 book The Drinkwater Family.

That was it in terms of Drinkwater immigrants until well into the 19th century.  The Drinkwaters in America was almost all in Maine in the 1840 census.  The numbers had dispersed by 1920 in part because some of the Maine Drinkwaters had dispersed and other Drinkwaters had arrived elsewhere.

For instance Thomas Drinkwater - born in Penobscot county, Maine in 1850 – departed first for Massachusetts and then for southern California where he involved himself in orange and lemon tree plantation.  Meanwhile a Drinkwater family from England had arrived in Ohio in the 1830’s.  Later Drinkwaters of this family made their home after the Civil War in Howard county, Indiana.

  William Drinkwater and his family left Gloucestershire for Canada around the year 1830.  They were early settlers in what became the town of Brampton near Toronto.
  The Drinkwater farmhouse, constructed sometime in the 1840’s, still stands.  One son Isaac headed west to Port Alberni on Vancouver island in the 1880’s.

There were earlier Drinkwaters in this region.  Two brothers Joseph and William had come from the Isle of Man in 1862 and were pioneer settlers in the Cowichan valley.  When Joseph died in 1898 he was described as “an excellent farmer and one of the most widely loved men in Cowichan.”  In 1899 a later Joe Drinkwater, a prospector and trapper, discovered
Della Falls on the island which he named after his wife.

Select Drinkwater Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Drinkwater Names

Peter Drinkwater was a well-known Manchester cotton mill owner of the late 18th century.  
John Drinkwater
was an English poet and playwright of the early 20th century

Select Drinkwaters Today
  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts) 
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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