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Brellington? Burlington? Bridlington ?

The Chiswick House in London, built in 1725 for the Earl of Burlington to his own design.
The Chiswick House in London, built in 1725 for the Earl of Burlington to his own design.


Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 057)

Brellington? Burlington? Bridlington ?

If you have not seen the delightful display of children’s artwork from Bridlington, England at the Burlington Public Library, you have missed an interesting collaboration between Marshall Simonds Middle School students and scholars of the same age group in the Bridlington School System, under the direction of Burlington art teacher Lillian Thibodeau.* The display runs through the month of July.

Why the interest in Bridlington? Because our town is allegedly named for that town in England, which, for a short period of time during the reign of Charles I and a little while after, was known as Burlington.

There is no proof, however. Nowhere is there any explanation from our founders about why they chose the name Burlington. When people ask, the typical answer is, “We think it is named for Bridlington, England.” That answer is usually followed by, “Why?” And to that question, there is no definite answer. Here are the few connections:

  • In 1799, when our town was born, Bridlington was a market town, a municipal borough and a seaside resort. Today, one of the attractions of Bridlington is the interesting museum at Sewerby Park. The main exhibit there contains the trophies, awards and mementoes of the famous English aviatrix Amy Johnson. She flew solo from England to Australia in 1930, to Japan via Siberia in 1931, and to Capetown in 1932, making new records in each case. A pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary in WW II, she was drowned after bailing out over the Thames Estuary in 1941.
  • Although there is no town or city in England, Scotland or Ireland with the name Burlington, that name is perfectly familiar to most Englishmen. There is a Burlington Arcade, a covered shopping mall built in 1819, not far from Piccadilly Square, where Eros flies above the fountain, and a Burlington House art gallery in Piccadilly as well.
  • There was an earldom of Burlington created in 1664 and given to one Richard Boyle, second Earl of Cork, who had been made a peer of England in 1644 as Baron Clifford of Lynesborough, County York. His son, who built Burlington House, did not succeed to the title, for he died before his father. His grandson Charles became the second Earl of Burlington. His great-grandson and namesake, the famous Richard Boyle, became the third Earl of Burlington. That third Earl was distinguished by his patronage of the arts and a very splendid and refined taste in architecture, which is exemplified by the imposing villa he built called Chiswick in 1725. He was only 10 years old when, in 1704, he succeeded to his title and inherited estates in Ireland and Yorkshire, at Chiswick and in London. His wealth allowed him to travel, to build and to collect fine art pieces. Since Richard had no male heir, the Earldom of Burlington and the Barony of Clifford expired when he died in 1753. Lord Burlington believed, as Thomas Jefferson did later in the century, that architecture that followed the rules set down by the Italian Palladio was somehow the answer to a happy and rewarding life, that finely proportioned buildings surrounded by beautifully laidout gardens were a source of tranquillty, both spiritually and esthetic.
  • Burlington found its way into music in Britain 100 years ago with the “Burlington Waltz” and later in the music halls with a tune called, “Burlington Bertie, Who Rose at Ten Thirty.” But our Burlington was named much earlier than 100 years ago.

There is no question that all the early settlers here came from England. But did any of them come from Bridlington, and, if so, were they influential enough in 1799 to propose and have accepted the name of Burlington? And why not Bridlington rather than Burlington?

There is a certain amount of guesswork involved in tracing the English origins of the early families here: the Carters came from Hertfordshire; the Johnsons came from Canterbury; the Wymans came from Leicestershire; the Woods came from Derbyshire, although Wood is a common name in England, just as is Reed, a family her whose roots stem from Kent. Walker also is a common name in England and there are memorial tablets in the Bridlington church with that name, but where the first Woburn Walker came from is questionable. And the McIntires came from Scotland. Blanchard, Caldwell, Wilson???

The only early family name in this town that definitely can be connected with Yorkshire is that of Skelton. There is a village named Skelton about 18 miles the other side of York from Bridlington and six miles from Ripon, with its fine cathedral. That Skelton also has a church part that dates back to 1227. There are two other Skelton place names in Yorkshire, but neither near Bridlington. In the North Riding of Yorkshire in the urban district of Skelton and Brotton, there is a Skelton Castle that incorporates part of the ancient stronghold of Robert de Brus, who held it from William, the Conqueror.

So what is the connection to Bridlington, if there is one? The Rev. Mr. John Marrett knew the answer, but he never put it in writing, or if he did, it was destroyed in the fire that leveled the Sewall House in 1897.

*Mrs. Thibodeau is also an amateur archeologist. In recent years, she has led about a thousand Burlington students to dig at the old Amos Wyman House just over Billerica line. That house sheltered John Hancock and Samuel Adams after the fighting had ended at Lexington, and on the road to Boston. What her youngsters found in their dig is professionally displayed in Burlington’s Historical Museum.