Recorded in a very wide range of spellings including Cauthra, Cawthra, Cawthera, Cawtherary, Cawthrew, Cawthroah, Cawthery, Cawthry, and others, this is an English surname. It originates from what is apparently a "lost" medieval village somewhere in the former West Riding of Yorkshire, although this is conjecture. The village of Cawthorn near Barnsley seems to have a similar root and spelling, and it is probable that the village from which this surname originates, was in the same area. The meaning of the name is probably the "calf enclosure surrounded by thorn trees". These trees were often planted in ancient times to provide both a defensive area against cattle robbers and other brigands, but in the main they were a place to contain the cattle off the common lands at night and in winter. Some three thousand medieval villages are known to have disappeared, and in the main these have provided surnames. In this case early examples of the surname recording taken from surviving church registers of Yorkshire include: Willam de Cawthra in the [pipe rolls of Yorkshire in 1175, Johanis Cawthrey, who was christened at Halifax Parish Church, on December 24th 1564, and Jane Cawthra, who was christened at St Peters church, Leeds, on May 22nd 1608.
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