The occupations at which some of your medieval ancestors labored may be revealed in the surname you have today.
More than 300 family names come directly from the old building trades of England. Many English surnames can be traced back to the Middle Ages, though they were not necessarily hereditary surnames. A few family names go back to the time of the Crusades, when the English nobles and upper classes began to acquire surnames--usually the name of the lands they owned.
During the period when hereditary surnames--as opposed to bynames or second names, which were not hereditary at first--began to be established in England, our peasant ancestors lived in wretched hovels. Even our noble ones lived in barns, though they called them manor houses.
At the time of the Domesday survey, about 1086, William the Conqueror insisted that these manor houses be torn down and replaced with solid stone structures. Since English builders had little experience with stone, William persuaded stoneworkers of France and Italy to come to England. He also invited skilled plasterers from the Continent and joiners from the Low Countries, as well as glaziers, tilers and men who knew how to make various kinds of roofing.
This brought a large influx of skilled people to England. Many were freemen or franklins who were under no obligation to work the customary three days a week for the lord of the manor. Instead they paid a small sum to his lordship and then sold their expert services to anyone who could afford them.
The rise of England's merchant class during the 12th and 13th centuries is a major reason so many of our family names come from building trades. As the merchants prospered they built homes and shops. A young peasant discovered he did not have to stay one. By becoming an apprentice, he could become a master of that craft, open his own shop, join the craft guild and build a respectable house for himself and family.
Mason, Stone, Carpenter and Sawyer surnames refer to old English building trades. Carrier, believed to be of French origin, means one who worked in a quarry. However, its onomastic origin may refer to an ancestor who carried the mortar masons used. His job description today would be a hod carrier.
Surnames of English origin with a stone in them come from the Anglo-Saxon word stan . They probably are derived from ancestors who were masons, skilled in work with stone. Additionally, if you inherited a family name with wall in it--Wallers, Walman, Woller--your ancestors may have been masons who had speed and skill in laying up straight wall structures.
Carpenter skills are reflected in American surnames such as Joiner. Joiners did interior woodwork such as paneling and stairs. They also made benches and bedsteads.
Tile making is an old builder's craft, and the surnames of Tyler and Tylemann probably come from those who made or laid tile.
Roofing provides us with several surnames--Reedman, Slater, Hillier, Hiller, Ledbetter, Pitcher and Plumer. A helliar was a roofer, and the name probably comes from an Old English word helian , which indicates these men did their work with either slate or tile.
Ledbetter, and its many spellings, refers to those who beat lead into sheets for the roofers to use. Pitchers were roofers who used pitch on the job, while Plumers worked with heavy metal and probably were the ones who put roofs on churches and castles.
Slater refers to slate--the material used in roofing--and the workers, while Reedman/Redman comes from an Old English word redyn , meaning to thatch with reeds.