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Topliss Name Study

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Location: Englandmap
Surnames/tags: Topliss Toplis Toples
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The long-accepted explanation of this unusual name holds that it is a form of Toplass, taken to be a variant of the medieval English surname Toplady or Tiplady. This latter is taken to be from a nickname reflecting the explicit and broad humour of the Middle Ages, derived from the Middle English "type(n)", to knock over, and "ladie", lady, and bestowed on a man who was reputed to have made love to a lady higher than himself in social rank. One John Typlady is recorded in the Register of the Guild of the Corpus Christi in the City of York in 1490.

However, the earliest forms of the surname now found as Toplis(s), Taplis, Topless and Toplass suggest an Anglo-Saxon origin, as a locational surname from some minor, unrecorded, or now "lost" place, believed to have been situated in Derbyshire or Staffordshire, and named with the Olde English pre 7th Century elements "topp", top, summit (or the Olde English byname "Topp", from "topp", used in the sense of "tuft, crest" (of hair)), and "leah", thin wood, glade. Hence, "Topp's wood", or "the top wood". The surname may also be topographical, from residence in or by such a wood or clearing. The "s" of the name is the genitive form, "of the top wood".

Early examples of the name include: Topplis (1607, Derbyshire); Topleys (1609, Yorkshire); Toplea (1617, Derbyshire); and Toplesse (1638, ibid.). Mary, daughter of William Topliss, was christened at Duffield, Staffordshire, on May 27th 1668. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Topples, which was dated December 12th 1538, witness to the christening of his son, Thomas, at Alstonfield, Staffordshire, during the reign of King Henry VIII, known as "Bluff King Hal", 1509-1547.[1]

The name of TOPLEYS, TOPLISS, TOPLISSE, or as now spelt TOPLIS is of ancient standing in Derbyshire. The name is to be found of long standing at Tissington, Brassington, Kirk Ireton, Ashleyhay Wirksworth &c. The ancestors of this family as I presume were copyholders of the manor of Alderwasley & Ashleyhay in or before the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The name is however very ancient for I find Thomas TOPPELEYSE was Member of Parliament for Derby 1382 the first parliament of Richard 2nd.[2]


The name TOPLISS is seen exclusively in the north of England. Heavy density in Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, with medium density in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. The older TOPLIS spelling is decidedly of Derbyshire origin. Distribution map can be seen here.

Famous and Infamous Toplisses

18th century

  • John Toplis (1746-1826) opened a bank on The Causeway at Wirksworth, Derbyshire in 1780 that would eventually evolve into Lloyds TSB.

19th century

  • William Arthur Toplis (1857-1942) a marine artist who illustrated the Book of Sark. In 2008 his work and life was the subject of a major exhibition in the Candy Gallery, Guernsey, Channel Islands.
  • Claude Martineau Toplis (1871-1961) a mechanical engineer who invented and patented the Toplis Level Luffing Crane built by Stother & Pitt Ltd. Until the advent of containerisation this crane was the only method of safely lifting goods to and from the holds of ships.
  • Francis Percy Toplis (1896-1920) aka The Monocled Mutineer. The subject of a book and major film series on BBC television, he was shot by police in Cumbria after being pursued the length and breadth of the UK.

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  1. Origins: SurnameDB
  2. Origins: Pedigrees by Thomas Norris Ince (1799-1860) p. 093b
    (available on microfilm at Derby Local Studies Library)

Task List

  • Origins of name - DONE
  • Geological distribution - DONE
  • Famous / infamous persons - DONE
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