Archive – Hepenstall

Fiona Fitzsimons answers Brian Hepenstall’s question:

Hi Fiona,

I am a New Zealander living in New Zealand. My grandfather on my father’s side was born in Ireland but he died when my father was just 4yrs. Consequently, my father grew up not knowing much about his family background. When my father died in 1999, my sister and myself started doing some genealogy research. With what we ascertained, using the Family History Centre in Wicklow, we largely have a family tree going back to the early 1800s. We have also connected with all known relatives alive today who are descendants of my grandfather’s siblings.

When reading the Eneclann newsletter, it indicated that one could send general inquiries to you.

The question I want to put to you is this: My family name is Hepenstall. That name would appear to have originated in England in the Yorkshire area. In Ireland, the name was largely contained around counties Wicklow, Wexford and Dublin. I have been told that the name was spelt Hepenstall/Hepenstal if it was a Protestant family and Hempenstall if the family was Catholic. What I am interested in knowing is when, or what would have been the likely reason for the migration of the name from England. From my reading I can find 2 possible explanations. Apparently weavers migrated from Yorkshire to Ireland when the linen industry was being established. However, I understand that this occurred in the North. Others came with Cromwell but I understood these were largely gentry who got land in return for funding his campaign in Ireland. My family were certainly not gentry. I also think that the name is sufficiently uncommon that they are all connected at some point back in time but I suspect that the data will not exist to prove this, one way or the other.

I would welcome your comments on this.

Kind regards

Brian Hepenstall

PS: Great win over Australia in the Rugby World Cup!


Hi there Brian,

Your question is an interesting one, and in preparing a response I found that other associated ideas cropped up that also need answers. My husband teases that I can’t give a straight yes or no answer, and that’s probably true, but bear with me while I reply.

First, I’d like to knock on the head once and for all the myth that there’s a protestant or catholic spelling of any family name in Ireland. Until the early 1900s, the spelling of surnames was not usually standardised. Most of the records that we use for genealogy were recorded either by clergy or by clerks employed by central or local government, who wrote down information provided by an informant. So in most instances, the spelling of family names as recorded in civil records, in Griffith’s Valuation, the Tithe Applotment Books or the Landed Estate Court Rentals etc., reflects two things: the regional accent of the informant; and the education and background of the clergyman or the clerk on duty, who recorded what he heard phonetically.

If you look at Cantwell’s Memorials of the Dead, you’ll see that families who spell their name as Hepenstall and Hempenstall are buried in both Church of Ireland, and non-denominational graveyards in counties Wicklow and Wexford. The evidence of these tombstones is quite definitive, because families had to pay for each letter carved in stone.

You are quite right to say that the Hepenstall name (including all variant spellings) is concentrated in Ireland, in counties Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford. This is especially evident if you key-in “He[m]p[p]enstal[l]” to Griffith’s Valuation. In the mid 19th Century, there are only 50 households of this name across Ireland: 15 in Dublin; 11 in Wexford; and 22 in Wicklow. This small number of Hepenstall households clustered in 3 adjoining counties on the eastern sea-board, would tend to corroborate your own suggestion, that in the mid 19th Century all Hepenstalls in Ireland probably had a common ancestor who had arrived relatively recently (i.e. only a few generations earlier). The key question is, exactly when did they arrive. The index to the Dublin Diocesan Court [Will & Grant Books, and Marriage License Bonds show that the earliest record for a He[m]penstal in Dublin, dates from 1730. However, McLysaght states that the name has been in Ireland “since the seventeenth century, mainly in county Wicklow.”

Given the regional concentration of the name, there now seem to be three main possibilities to explain how and when the He[m]penstal[l] family settled in Ireland:

  • The Wexford Plantation of 1618;
  • Cromwellian settlers in the 1640s and 50s;
  • English tenants on the Fitzwilliam estates, late 1600s/ early 1700s.

The Wexford Plantation

I used the occasion of your question as an excuse to meet for lunch with a friend who’s an expert on Wexford in the 16th and 17th Centuries. In return for a good lunch, he went back through his research notes in the afternoon, and was able to tell me categorically that the He[m]penstal[l] family were neither planters nor principal tenants in the Wexford Plantation.

Cromwellian Adventurers

Next, I examined the published volume of the ‘Adventurers for land’, drawn from the records of the State Papers Ireland held in the Public Records Office, now the U.K. National Archives. Between 1642 and 1659, investors known as ‘adventurers’ subscribed to raise an army to re-conquer Ireland. Their subscriptions were to be converted into parcels of Irish land. Contrary to the prevailing myth, subscribers to this scheme had a broad social base, and included urban artisans as well as gentry. These records are extensive, but again, I found no evidence of any He[m]penstal[l] amongst the Adventurers.

Tenants of the FitzWilliam Estates

This left the third option, that the He[m]penstal[l]s arrived from the late 17th Century onwards as English tenants on the Fitzwilliam estates. This is an especially plausible explanation, as FitzWilliam is known to have ‘recruited’ English tenants from his Yorkshire estates to settle in Wicklow. As you rightly said in your original question the family name Hepenstall / Hempenstall is of Yorkshire origin.

Using Griffith’s Valuation, I broke the settlement pattern down further, to see in what civil parishes the Hepenstall name occurs in, in counties Wicklow and Wexford.

In Wexford, the family occur in the civil parishes of Inch (3); Kilgorman (5); Kilnenor (2) and Kiltennel (1), to the north of the county.

In Wicklow the family occurs in the civil parishes of Arklow (3); Bray (1); Calary (2); Delgany (1); Kilbride (1); Kilcoole (6); Newcastle Upper (1); Redcross (9).

Although this isn’t definitive, it indicates that the highest concentration of He[m]penstal[l]s occurs in the general area of the Fitzwilliam estates. Remember too, that Griffith’s Valuation for Wexford dates from 1853, and for Wicklow from 1854, approximately 120 to 150 years, or 4 to 5 generations after tenants were brought in to settle from Yorkshire. This is sufficient time to allow for ‘slippage’ i.e. movement from the original place of settlement.

Records of FitzWilliam’s Estate records are in the Wentworth-Woodhouse muniments, held in the Sheffield County Archive in the U.K.

Yorkshire to Wicklow.

In a nutshell, what you need to do now is to search the Fitzwilliam Estate records for Wicklow, and cross-reference your findings with the Yorkshire estate records, to see if you can identify a specific He[m]penstal[l] family recruited there to re-settle in Ireland.

P.S. Australia beat Wales for 3rd place in the rugby Friday a.m.! At least one of the best teams in the tournament will be in Sunday’s final – Go N.Z.

 Warmest Regards


All sources with the exception of MacLysaght’s Surnames of Ireland, are published on and