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The Staples Surname History

Staples Coat of Arms

The Staples surname appears to have originated like many others, from the trade or occupation of its initial bearers.

Prior to the industrial revolution, wool was for many hundreds of years, the main product and export of England. The wool was classified, sorted and bundled into units called "staples" because this process was traditionally carried out in a building or location called a staple by people subsequently called staplers. A stapler was a wool merchant, who not only dealt in raw wool but was also responsible for grading the spun wool quality and quantifying it into "staples" of wool. This unit was based on the length and thickness of the wool. The term Staple is still in use today referring to naturally formed clusters or locks of wool fibres throughout a fleece that are held together by cross fibres. The staple strength of wool is one of the major determining factors when spinning yarn as well as the sale price.

Thus a staple was a building where mainly wool and other important "controlled" products such as leather were stored, prior to and during its distribution or sale so that levies and taxes could be applied more easily. In short a regulated wool warehouse and market. Thus people who owned, worked or lived in or near a staple, adopted or were afforded a name that had the word "staple" as its root.

An example of how commercially significant a Staple was in English history, is shown by this edited extract from the best-selling novel "Sarum" (a history of England) by Edward Rutherford:

"For many years, the English kings had given a monopoly of wool exports to the merchants of the Staple - the oligarchy of rich traders who operated only through a single mart or Staple, usually to markets across the Channel. This system made it easy for the king to levy customs duties and other taxes, whilst at the same time putting at his disposal a small group of monopolists who would be in a position to make him large loans. This system angered the smaller wool traders, who managed in 1353 to obtain a new "Ordinance of the Staple" which allowed wool to be traded locally and not just for export.

The word staple became synonymous with the word "principal" and evolved within our language to describe the main commodity produced by a country or any item necessary to a person's vital needs; hence "staple product" or "staple diet" etc.

Wool from areas surrounding the staple were "gathered together" and stored within or at the staple. This gave rise to the term of "stapling" things together. This evolved into the second meaning for a staple, the ubiquitous metal device for securing things together.

Any town that contained a staple was obviously called a staple town but this also took on a geographical significance in relation to the naming of towns and areas. Search through any map of the UK and note the many Stapleton's (staple town), Stapleford's (river crossing by a staple), Staple Hill or Staplehurst, which mean the same. Also note that the term Steeple in a town's name refers to a staple, not the church spire/tower.

Consequently, as previously stated, these place-names have also evolved into everyday surnames, which share this common root/source. The most common being Stapleton, Staples and Stapler.

One research source suggests that the Staples surname originated in the West of England, probably in the Barnstaple area of North Devon and spread throughout England due to the wool trade.

Further research shows that the term staple most definitely has its roots in Europe : they all have loosely similar meaning -

The Anglo-Saxon - stapul and stapol

The Dutch and Swedish - stapel

The German - also stapel and staffel

The Danes - stabel (a possible link here to the word stable)

The French - estaple

Further research is under way to try and establish if these words exist as original surnames in Europe, but logically it would appear that the English staple is more closely related to the French form. So it would seem reasonable to assume that the spelling possibly changed from the Anglo Saxon stapul to staple due to Norman influence.

Whatever the spelling, the original meaning of staple is not really certain and is subject to conjecture. The most common suggestion is that the term staple meant a post or pillar. This is due to the theory that historically across Europe, after farming had become established, that shared produce would have been gathered together from the surrounding farms and stored in a common location for subsequent distribution, bartering or sale to the local community. It has been suggested that this location would have been marked by the erection of a pillar or post (the staple) to show clearly the official or agreed collection point for a particular area within a village or hamlet. A prominent location such as the village square or green was probably the location. It is also reasonable to assume that this practise of gathering items together for distribution or sale gave rise to the term "trading post" and indeed the mail system of gathering and distributing letters and parcels being called "the post", particularly as it has traditionally used "pillar" boxes to gather the mail.

Another prominent theory is that the term staple actually described the "stack" of items situated at the post or pillar and therefore could also mean related words like heap or pile. Either way the theories are so closely related, there seems little point in pursuing its exact European origins further.

For the moment we will have to settle for what is known about the origins of the Staples surname within England. It is known that the wool trade was primarily established in Devon for hundreds of years and moved further east into Wiltshire initially and then on to the rest of the country.

Our particular branch of the family hails from East London and Essex in the UK. It may be that we are descended from the wool staplers who established Staple Inn, a large building on the south side of Holborn in Central London, facing Grays Inn Road. From the time of Henry the 5th until the 19th century it formed a major centre for the English wool trade. It was one of the Inns of Chancery, playing a part in the development of the legal system under the ancient office of the Lord Chancellor and explains partly why his historical seat in the House of Lords is known as the Woolsack.

The Woolsack in the House of Lords


The Staples Surname Globally

Genealogy searches have revealed that members of the Staples family can be traced to many parts of the world and so the name has passed to more than one race.

The most popular locations seem to be the U.S.A., Canada, and South Africa.



Originally a Mart or Emporium where certain goods were collected together and stored. These goods were usually the principal commodities produced by a country. The commodities were then sold or exchanged at the staple for goods mainly from abroad.

The "staple towns", as they became known, were established during the Middle Ages in England. This was a privileged title only bestowed on towns that played an important part in the export of key commodities abroad. Wool was the main product but leather, tin and lead were also exported by the staple merchants.

Barnstaple was established as a staple town and port and fortified by the Saxons in 930AD to withstand attack from the Danes. Its name actually has nothing to do with a barn, as this is a corruption of the original name Beardstapul, which translates as the Staple of Bearda.

Coat of Arms

Staples Coat of Arms

The Staples coat of arms depicted above has not been confirmed as valid, but it has been included because it is consistent with that being portrayed on a range of commercial products.

The Latin inscription reads: SANS DIEU RIEN

With apologies to Latin scholars this translates to:



Miscellaneous Information:

Mary Ann Staples became the co-founder of Sainsburys a few years after marrying John James Sainsbury in 1868. Mary Ann ran their first shop at 173 Drury Lane by herself for the first few weeks it was open, while her husband worked out his notice to his employer. Mary Ann's father, Benjamin Staples, had already started his own small chain of six dairy shops, though most of these were eventually taken over by Sainsburys.

Staples Corner a well known landmark at the junction of the Edgware Road and the North Circular Road in London, is named after a company that manufactured mattresses there for many years until the nineteen sixties. The area now hosts many diverse businesses and is overshadowed by a fly-over.

The "S" in the initials of C. S. Lewis, the well known Northern Irish author of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", the first in the children's classic series the "Chronicles of Narnia", stands for "Staples". It is not known if this is used as a Christian name or "double-barreled" to signify his mother's maiden name. It is possible that he is related to the eminent Staples family that have been in residence at Lissan House stately home in Northern Ireland since 1620.

The American owned Staples office supplies firm, which has appeared over recent years, takes its name from the staple items that are essential to an office, not a family name.

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