Origin of the name Spiers

- An early reference to the name in England is given in Wyggeston Hospital Records - Charters of Wigston - The Hospital of William Wyggeston of Leicester (now named Wigston and close to the City of Leicester) by A. Hamilton Thompson, June 1933 (Public Record Office, Kew) There is a reference to land held by Robert Spire or Spyre on 14 December 1272.

- Another early reference is in Chester to William le Spiour 1302 given in Accounts of the Chamberlains of Chester, (‘le’ means ‘the’).

- The Yorkshire Poll Tax Returns lists Robert Spyer 1379.

- The Calendar of the Freemen of Lynn 1292 - 1836, Norfolk, records William Spire or Spyr who purchased his freedom in 1401.

- The History and Antiquities of Leicester Vol 1V p 920 (Glasgow University Library)


Ralph Spyre, Rector of Sharnford Church, Sparkenhoe Hundred, patron prior of Axholme, died 1463

There are a number of van Spier, van Spiers, van der Spiere, Spiers, van Spiers, Baptisms and Marriages from 1572 to 1669 listed in the records of Austin Friars Church in London. Ref Monumental Inscriptions of The Austin Friars Dutch Church in London, Huguenot Society, Vol V111 1509 – 1603. There is no record that any were actually Huguenots.

- In Scotland there is :

Willhelmus Sper in Perth in 1214

Gilbert Spere in Inverness in 1417

Annie Spier in Kirkaldy in 1444

There is a road in Thornliebank, Renfrewshire on the South Western outskirts of Glasgow, currently named Spiersbridge Road. Just to its north is the Auldhouse Bridge. On a map of the area dated 1590 by Timothy Pont, held by the National Library of Scotland, it was named Spyrs Bridge and it crossed the Auldhouse burn (river). The bridge obviously predates Pont’s map.

Dictionaries refer to it being Low or High German, ‘spire’, ‘spier’, Middle English ‘espyen’ to spy or Old French ‘espier’. In Gaelic it means someone who is inquisitive, the gaelic word, speir, also means an animal’s hind leg joint or an ankle. In Scotland a spier rope is to do with boats. The name is common in Renfrewshire.

The name is common in Worcestershire, England as Spier(s), a watchman or spy.

There is a biblical reference to a king sending out his spier’s to spie out the land.

As for pronunciation it is interesting that the Spiers of Evesham, Worcs pronounce their name as Spy-ers, unlike the author’s family which pronounce it as Spe-ars.

The Midlands seem to use the spelling ’Spires’.

Spier means long and thin. For example a church spire, a rope, rushes.

Spear may refer to a spear maker or user, a spearman was a soldier who used a spear. This spelling seems to be used mainly in the West Country e.g., Devon, and moved to the North East with Cornish miners, it is not as common in Scotland, London or Worcestershire. German tin miners were in Cornwall at the end of the 13th century and they may have introduced it for Spier is common in Germany.

Spier is a village in N E Holland, nr Assen-Drenth 5 km from Beilen. The Armorial General Vol 1l by J -B Rietstap (V & H V Rolland, 1887) has on p 811, Spiers as of Holland. The supplement of 1969 has Spiere of Flanders, and van Spiere of Flanders Orientale. This may be evidence that the name is from Flanders/Holland, perhaps via Germany. But early English soldiers or traders going to Flanders may have planted it there.

In the area of Tournai in Belgium was the Bridge of Spiere; records in Ghent show that the ownership of it passed to Roger of Mortagne, Lord of Spiere, Knight, who lived from 1247 to at least 1275/6. It then passed to his son, John. Ref, The Flemish Nobility Before 1300. A Flemish name book, Etymological Dictionary of Surnames in Belgium, North France includes the names Hervis de Spiers in 1295, Peter Spirs in 1449 and Digmus Spiers in 1535.

On a map of Germany from the period 919 - 1125 AD there is a village in Thuringia named Spier. It is now named Oberspiere.

Another source may be the famous German cathedral city of Speyer, where in 1529 religious freedoms were annulled, giving rise to Protestantism. It is also listed as Speier and Spire. This was the home of Martin Luther. Over the centuries many fled persecution from the city, including the Jews and Protestants. The start of the exodus was in about 1100.

See S. Runciman A History of the Crusades vol 2 pp 254-259. Spier is also of Jewish (Ashkenazic) origin. Some would have given themselves the name of their home town once the use of a surname became necessary. In Europe at War 1600-1650 p 92, one of Mansfield’s men recorded that ‘The bishopric of SPEIER is ours. We are plundering it at our ease.....’ Frederick set out from The Hague to join Mansfield and Baden-Durlach, and their forces overwhelmed Tilly to the south of Weisloch. But short of supplies Frederick and Mansfield withdrew and the Catholic, Spanish army who had gone to Tilly's aide, won. In German the word for a spear is speer.

In South Africa there is a vineyard named Spier, founded in 1712, the original owner, Hans Heinrich Hortingh named it after the German city of Speyer from which he came.

The Spiers/Speirs found in Scotland may or may not be connected to the London branch. There are also Spiers and Speers in Ireland, many Scots Protestants were moved to Ireland to counteract the Catholic influence there, but they may have arrived there from London or direct from the Low Countries, if it assumed they were from there at all. A dictionary of Irish surnames suggests that Speer and variants Spiers/Speirs, came into Ulster in the 18th century to Antrim and County Down from both Scotland and England. Whatever the assumption it is essential to work methodically backwards from the present to the past before deciding the root source of the name.

In Scotland the earliest spelling is both Spiers and Speirs but Speirs is now more the norm. Even the author’s Scottish relations spell his the latter way.

The pronunciation in the south is either Spy-ers or Spe-ars with the latter common in Scotland and the West country. As is found in genealogy the spelling is not important. Because of illiteracy, persons writing the name would spell it as it sounded . Therefore it is neccessary to look at all spelling variations the further back one researches.

The earliest references the author has in Scotland are ‘Sper’ 13th cent in Perth. ‘Spere’ 15th cent in Ayr, ‘Spyr’ 15th cent in Fife, ‘Speris’ 16th cent in Stirling and ‘Spiers’ 17th cent in Lothian. Scotland was trading with Flanders and Holland as early as David (1124 - 1153).

Speir/Spier(s) is a common name in Kilbarchan, nr Paisley, Scotland. This area was famous for its weaving. Silk gauze manufacture was introduced to Paisley at Maxwelton in 1759, as an offshoot of London's Spitalfields silk trade. Skilled silk weavers were brought from Spitalfields which it soon rivalled, with a number of firms moving to Paisley by 1773. It is quite possible that Spiers moved from Spitalfields, London, where there were a number of silk families, to Paisley, or that the reverse took place.

The name Sperre is of Norwegian origin, Ivar Sperre, a Shetlander was appointed lawman (Governor) of Orkney in about 1295. In 1367 Guthorm Sperra, of Swedish origin was captured by William Sinclair and sent from Orkney to Denmark. Some consider that the Scottish Speir name originates from it, but the author has doubts and it is more likely that the Speir name is from the south or mid-Scotland.

On the whole the main spellings are - Spier, Spire, Spyer, Speer and Spear, and any can include a final ‘s’. It is necessary to record the spelling for each person on the family tree until the most current spelling is found, for what may start off as Spyre may end up as Spiers with many variants in between.

The Guild of One-Name Studies has registered Miss Sheila M Spiers to co-ordinate the names Spiers, Speirs, Spires and Spyres. For the Spear and Speare names the registered co-ordinator is Mr Peter M Spear. It has been noted that the Spear spelling, which largely originates in the West Country, does not seem to get mixed up with the other spellings. The author has not found a Spier who should have been a Spear, but there is one case of which he is aware, where a Spiers changed his name by deed poll to Spears, and another where the birth certificate was incorrect as Speers and later had to be corrected to Spiers. However, because of pronunciation, there are probably Spears who should be Speers, Spiers or Speirs.

Much of the above is taken from the author’s book, Searching for Spiers - A History, ISBN 0 9527491 0 6, published 1996, (out of print) but a copy is held in the archives at Salt Lake City. It also covers the distribution of the name in England.