Origins of the Surname Hards

Extracts from previous Newsletters.

Issue 34 - July 2001

In 1984 at the first Hards Family Reunion at Upper Hardres, Hugh Richard Hards, our President, presented his paper on The Origins & Development of the Surname Hards. Although the subject has been touched on in this Newsletter from time to time, Hugh's paper remains the definitive statement. As we are occasionally asked about the origin of the name it may be helpful to summarise here all we can say in answer. There is no new material in what follows; it is just a digest of a number of items scattered through ten past issues of the Newsletter.

Hugh set out three main possibilities, based on the suggestions he had had from the many Hards who had replied to his circular letters. The first was that the surname belonged either to desendants of the original Hardres family of Upper Hardres, or to people who took their name from that area; the second, that it derived from those flax workers who separated the "hards" from the inner fine flax fibres; the third, that it derived from those who were associated with a hardened foreshore, or "hard", created as a landing place beside waterways in various places.

The Hardres of Upper Hardres

The Domesday Book in 1086 records that the place a few miles south of Canterbury now called Lower and Upper Hardres were both called Hardes, and owned by Bishop Odo. No tenant of the southern half (Upper Hardres) is named, although Charles Seymour, in his Survey of Kent published in 1776, said that Robert de Hardress had held some hundred acres of arable land there in 1086. The same authority asserted that the ancient family of Hardress had been in possession of the place of that name since the Heptarchy, that is, since the ninth century or earlier.

Mark Anthony Lower, on the other hand, in his Dictionary Of Family Names dated 1860 told of an "undisputed tradition" that the ancient Hardres family had origiated in Adres, in Picardy, some ten miles inland from Calais (and within the Calais Pale when it was an English possession from 1347 to 1557). The Dictionary also records that Hards was a Sussex family who originally wrote themslves Hardres, and were known to have been of that family.

So these two authorities seem to disagree, and leave the reader wondering how reliable their information was. However, the Hardres Family, whether of Saxon or Norman origin, is unlikely to have been ancestors to the large number of Hards families living in the south of England at the beginning of the nineteenth centuary. Hugh's paper explains:

For many years the Hardres Famliy had been prosperous, well-known residents of the Manor of Upper Hardres Court, until late in the 1700s the family line came to an end when the last of the male line, Sir William Hardres, baronet, died without issue in 1764. His only brother, Thomas, and his two sisters preceded him. His distant cousins Martha and Pleydell Hardres(s), as the name was later spelt, were supposedly the last to carry the name, dying about 1793. Although it is possible that there may have been stray sons of the previous generations, who had moved away before the familiy's gradual decline, it is not likely that they could have been the ancestors of the several hundred Hards who were living in Sussex and southern England in the early 1800s, as the main branch of the family died out while searching in vain for an heir to inherit the family name and estate.

Nor is it likley that the large number of Hards families could all have derived from people who moved away from Hardres and acquired the name of the village of their origin as a surname.

The Flax Hards

The growing and working of flax to produce linen is an ancient trade that has been practiced in many countries. Hugh wrote in his paper:

The actual making of cloth from flax ( a bast fibre that grows in many parts of the world) is possibly one of mankind's oldest skills. Swiss lake-dwellers used linen for fishing nets; Egyptians wrapped the bodies of their pharaophs in linen. So the process of separating the outer shorter coarse fibres from the inner longer fine fibres has been carried on for thousands of years. The hard outer sheath of the stem was removed by 'scutching', that is, scraping away the outer covering, the 'hards'. This coarse refuse of the flax was either discarded or used to make rough mats, rope, etc.

Many surnames were originally formed from a person's trade, or some aspect of it. It seems plausible that the surname Hards could have been applied in this way to those whose livelihood was to remove the outer hards from the inner fibres of flax, especially since such work was widespread and continual, and that various forms of the same word, in other times and other tougues, have applied to the material worked. Most of the hards on our family charts have been traced back to southern England, especially Sussex and Kent, where most were agricultural workers of some kind; which makes it more likely that the first Hards had been flax workers. Victor Hards (chart 14) in South Africa pointed out in 1990 that the word 'hards' had also been used in the edible fats trade - but that seems too modern and limited a trade to have produced a long-established surname.

Hards Beside The Water

The third possibilty of a source for the name Hards is likewise derived from a trade or occupation, but it seems less likely source because the occupation was far less wide-spread. The word 'hard' for a hardened foreshore or landing-place beside the water has generally applied to a tempory or makeshift stucture. Although the word survives in the name of Bucklers Hard, a Hampshire village downstream from Beaulieu on the Beaulieu River, there is little evidence that the making of such hards was sufficiently widespread, or their use permanant enough, for those who made or used them to have been thought of as practising a trade. The tansition from trade to surname therefore seems unlikely in that context, although it is interesting that a German correspondent, Martina Hardes, made the same suggestion in 1989; that her family name was associated with a "hard foreshore," and that the word Hardes had been used in that sense by seafarers in the Hamburg area.

A German Connection?

Martina's correspondence had been with Ilona Hards (Chart 2) who had been exploring a German connection with the surname. George Hardess (Chart 60) who had settled in London in 1750, had been born in Germany in 1725 where, according to his grandson Henry Thomas Hardes he had lived "in great opulence... and had a very noble estate," but subsequently "fled to England." Ilona's researches revealed two old aristocratic families that had existed in Germany down to the eighteenth century: the Hardes, or Hardes'd Alstein (whose coat of arms illustrated her article in Newsletter 10 ; and a Harde family at Wilkinghege near Munster in North-Rhine (whose former property and armorial bearings illustrated her article in Newsletter 14 ). She thought it unlikely that the German families, established there for centuries, could have been related to the Kentish Hardres, unless both German and Kentish had originally descended from a Norman French family still further back. All record of the German families ceased during the eighteenth century, and it seemed quite possible that George Hardess had belonged to one of them, and took refuge from the wars and upheavals of the time when he settled in London in 1750.

Or A Viking?

Ilona's researches had revealed that the words Harde, Hardes, and Hards were still to be found in the German dialects spoken in East Friesland and Schleswig-Holstein. A Harde was a country area with some autonomy, and in former times each would have had its own Hardesvogt, or sheriff. The word harde, meaning an administrative district, had also been in use in Scandinavia back in the eleventh century.

In fact the word, or syllable, hard has familiar Scandinavian connections today that go back to Hardi Canute, King of Denmark 1035/42, and of England 1040/2, and Harald Hardrada, "stern counsellor", King of Norway, who was defeated by the Saxon King Harold at Stamford Bridge in 1066. The particular surname Hard has been associated by some with a Scandinavian or Viking origin. Could the name Hard have been applied to remnants of Hardrada's army stranded in this county and assimilated to the native population? Well, it could be, bearing in mind that Hard and Hards were apparently interchangeable in past times when spelling was anarchic, and there was rarely an occasion for writing a name down. A 1988 Newsletter article about the Hards at Ringmer in Sussex in the 1690's showed that the spelling "Adds" had also been used, presumably because that was how some pronouced the name.

As Hards is a surname similar to a common word with various different shades of meaning, and with forms current in other languages, tracing its origin is particulary problematic since it may well have been acquired independently from more than one source. So there can be no firm conclusion, only a continuing debate.