One of the matters discussed by John Fenton during his lecture on Thursday night last was the spelling of the name of MIDLETON – why only one ‘d’? The solution is remarkably recent – and not as obvious as might first appear.
If you do an internet search for towns called Middleton or Middletown, you will get a nice long list of towns located mostly in England, the United States, Canada, Australia and other English-speaking countries, usually former British colonies.
Here in Ireland we have Middleton in County Armagh. But until the 1840s there was a Middleton in County Cork. In 1685, Sir Richard Cox wrote a manuscript account of the county of Cork for the benefit of William Molyneaux who intended to publish a modern description of the whole of Ireland. He calls the town Midleton – the date of this account is important, for the town was only named in 1670. Dr Charles Smith, in The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Cork (vol 1, 1750), calls the place Middletown! A slight variation of this name, Middle Town, is also used by John Rocque in his Map of the Kingdom of Ireland (1760). Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) calls it Midleton. The Ordnance Survey’s first edition map (c.1840) names the town as Middleton, and this is repeated in the second edition of c.1897. So which is it? Middleton or Midleton?
The source of the town’s name lies in the Charter of Incorporation issued by King Charles II in 1670. But, sadly, the original charter document with its florid writing and royal seal does not survive. What does survive is a leather-bound manuscript verbatim copy completed by the Rev. Verney Lovett on Saturday, 7th February, 1784. The embossed cover states that it contains the Charter of Middleton. Two ‘d’s. But the text of the charter on the inside starts off using the spelling ‘Midleton‘ – only ONE ‘d’. The pages towards the end of the document spell the name ‘Middleton‘ – TWO ‘d’s! But we must make allowance for seventeenth century spelling – you pretty much made it up as you went along and only in a Latin text did you dare to employ consistency of spelling! The text of the Charter of Midleton was in English. Bizarrely, Samuel Lewis (see above) illustrated his account of the town with an engraving of the seal of the corporation, and the seal itself contained an original inscription which read Corporation of Middleton 1670.
When Sir Alan Brodrick was made Baron Brodrick of Midleton in 1715, the title employed only ONE ‘d’ in the town’s name. Then he was promoted to Viscount Midleton in 1717, and the name of the town was still given with one ‘d’. Consistency had arrived at last, but only for the title in the peerage!
The matter of the town’s name was resolved, at least for the Post Office, by George Alan Brodrick, 5th Viscount Midleton (of Midleton in County Cork), in a correspondence with the Postmaster General in London on March 12th 1845. Lord Midleton commented that there was some confusion in the delivery of letters to the correct destination (presumably letters to Middleton in Armagh or Middleton near Birmingham in England were misdirected. The local historian Richard Henchion states that a letter addressed to someone in Middleton in County Cork was forwarded by the postmaster in that same post office to his colleagues in Middleton near Birmingham in England. That post office sent it back with the comment – ‘This is for YOUR office.‘ And they were right! I do wonder if this misdirected latter was actually addressed to Lord Midleton himself, for there was also a Lord Middleton with a seat at Middleton, Warwickshire, England! In his letter, Lord Midleton admitted that there would be some expense in getting the steel stamps changed for Midleton Post Office, and was prepared to accept this as a valid excuse for not changing the name.
(I suspect that Lord Midleton didn’t refer back to the charter of 1670, perhaps he was aware of the variable spelling in that document.)
The Postmaster General’s reply was written on 26th March, 1845. He said he had looked up the title of his correspondent and found that he was the ‘Viscount Midleton of Midleton in the County of Cork!’ He directed that the spelling on the stamps be changed to MIDLETON to avoid further confusion. So it was Viscount Midleton’s title in the peerage that confirmed the name of the town – Midleton with ONE ‘d’! So, by direction of the Postmaster General in London we have our name spelled as it is today! The new spelling of MIDLETON didn’t catch on for several years, but now it is clearly fixed. And no, we’re NOT changing it!