Recorded in several spellings known to include Cowmeadow, Cowmedow, Cowmadow and Cowmedon, this is a most extraordinary surname. It is almost certainly English and locational from a place probably called Cow(s)meadow, as there is a place called Cowsfield in the county of Wiltshire, as well as Cowstead, a village on the Isle of Sheepey in Kent. However no such place as Cow(s)meadow has been found in any of the gazetters of the British Isles for the past three centuries. This suggests that either the place name spelling has changed and is no longer recognizable, which is possible but unlikely, or that the place itself has literally disappeared. If so it is one of the three thousand villages and even small towns of the British Isles which form a group known as "Lost Medieval Villages". After they disappaered most of these places left behind as their only public reminder, a surname, often as with this one in a variety of spellings. As to why so many places have disappeared has been the subject of several books. The usual culprits are changes in farming methods, the draining of the fens, and growing urbanisation, although The Great Plagues, and continuing coastal erosion have played a part. One might ask why, as most if not all meadows were used for grazing cattle, this place name existed at all. We think that the prefix "Cow" may have been originally Kaus, a Norse personal name meaning tom-cat, and hence "Kaus meadow". The earliest recording that we can find although there must be earlier ones, is that of John Cowmedow at St Olaves, Southwark, city of London, on February 21st 1733.
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