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 or possibly from the village of Cawthorn near Barnsley, which has a similar root and spelling. According to the dictionary of English places names Cawthorn, first recorded in the famous Domesday Book of 1086 as Calthorn means "The enclosure surrounded by thorn trees", from the Olde English pre 7th century "calu" meaning bare, and "porn", a thorn bush. Thorn trees and bushes were often deliberately planted in ancient times to provide both a defensive area against cattle robbers and other brigands, and a means of containing cattle, and keeping them off the common lands at night and in winter. Some three thousand medieval villages are known to have disappeared from the maps of the British Ilses over the past seven centuries, and in the main these have provided surnames, often as with this one, in a myriad of variant forms. 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, Jane Cawthra, who was christened at St Peters church, Leeds, on May 22nd 1608, and Robert Cawtheray, a witness at Brotherton Parish Church, on July 27th 1787.
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