This unusual surname is English and locational. Cognate with the surname Smallwood, they both originally described villages which existed by a 'small wood'. This remains the case with Smallwood in the county of Cheshire, although it would seem that Smallshaw formerly recorded in Lancashire, is now only known as a 'locality' near the district of Hurst. Some three thousand surnames of the British Isles are known to have originated from now 'lost' villages, and this would seem to be another example to add to the growing list. The derivation of the place name is from the Olde English pre 7th century 'smael -sceaga' meaning small wood, with the first recording being in the county of Yorkshire. This is a good illustration of a locational name. These were generally given to 'strangers' who had left their original home, to move somewhere else. Spelling being at best erratic and local accents very thick, soon lead to the development of 'sounds like' spellings. In this case the first recording is that of Dobbe de Smaleschawe in the manorial rolls of (the now city of) Wakefield in the year 1298, and that of his son Roger de Smaleschawe, in the same rolls, but in the year 1316. A later example of the surname would seem to be that of Walter Smalsho, recorded in the county of Essex in the year 1378. However it is also possible that this recording may refer to a previously unrecorded nickname of 'small shoe', or even another lost village called "Smelesho", which would seem to translate as small hill, in the county of Bedford.
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