Our thanks to Graham Marshall for
this account which is his copyright but has allowed us to use here.
Geographic uses of the Pentland name include the hills,
which protect the southern approaches to Edinburgh and the firth which
separates the Orkney Islands from mainland Scotland. Less well known are
Pentland Hill in Dumfries & Galloway, the Pentland Skerries in the
Orkney Islands and Pentland Mains, which lies in what was the tiny
parish of Pentland between the Midlothian villages of Straiton and
Roslin. All that remains is the churchyard containing the family vault
of the Gibsones and the graves of many Covenanters slain at the Battle
of Rullion Green in 1666. There is but one mention of a Pentland on the
memorials which bears the legend "Here lyes John Pentland who dyed 2nd.
The word Pentland is believed to have more than one root.
Room, in 2003 suggested that it was derived from the Old Welsh or
Cumbrian word 'penn' meaning 'hills' – as in the south of Scotland uses.
Two years earlier Nicolaisen had attributed the name to the Old
Norse 'Péttar', meaning 'Picts' a more comfortable fit in the north.
Early mentions of Pentland as a family name suggest it is a geonimic
with the largest number of examples coming from around Edinburgh.
Surviving early church records place Pentlands and Paintlands (probably
a phonetic difference caused by accent) principally around the borders
of the parishes of Inveresk, Newton, Liberton and Carrington; the last
being that into which the pre-reformation parish of Pentland was
The earliest recorded mention of the surname is Adam
of Pentland, a monk of the Abbey of Holyrood who in January 1298,
along with his brethren, swore on Corpus Christi to be loyal to Edward I
of England. Four years later Royal Accounts record the expenses of the
successful mission of Ralph de Pentland, who with John Pollock,
two grooms and a clerk was sent from Aberdeen to Montrose to arrest a
vessel laden with rebel merchandise and to bring her to Aberdeen.
Shortly after that Radulphus de Pentland was paid "10 lire
ferandum pomelle" (£10 for carrying a message on horseback) and John
de Pentland was paid forty-six shillings and eight pence for
unloading a cargo of coal.
For centuries there have been Pentlands in England and
Ireland of whom the earliest known record on July 28th 1480 shows
William, a Scotsman in Oxford, granted letters of denization to change
his name to Godechild. Several fourteenth and fifteenth documents refer
to Pentlands living around Edinburgh including a sasine of October 26th,
1513, which transferred the barony of Pentland and its attached lands to
William Sinclare of the noble Caithness and Orkney family. He sold it in
1633 to the Gibsones who in their turn held the lands into the twentieth
The real story of the family is, however, not of knights
and politics but of the unsung men and women, boys and girls who toiled
on and under the land. A storyof farmers and labourers, tailors and
blacksmiths, cork cutters and publicans but most of all of coalhewers.
It was on the skirts of the Pentland Hills coal was first
hewn by Pentlands and other ordinary country folk for the medieval monks
of Newbattle. They were still toiling beneath the land when Jamie Saxt
enslaved colliers not long after his move to London and so they remained
for almost two hundred years until the eighteenth and early nineteenth
century emancipation acts enabled them to live in freedom on the lands
that gave the family their name. Now the family is scattered to the four
corners of the globe, indeed there are many more people of the name (not
clan, that’s for the Highlands) in America than there are in Scotland.