This well known Northern surname is of Old Scandinavian origin, and is in most cases a locational surname deriving from one of the places called Smaithwaite in Cumberland, in Keswick and in Lamplugh, although there are also minor places in Westmorland and Northern Lancashire so called, which may have given rise to the modern surname. The name derives from the Old Norse "smar", small, with "thveit", meadow, piece of land; the latter element, with the Old Danish "thwet", is found most frequently in the north-west of England, where its meaning is generally "clearing in woodland, meadow-land, paddock or close". Many of the placenames with "thwait(e)" as a second element are late, such as the two Smallthwaites in Cumberland, neither recorded before 1611, but probably identical in origin to the earlier Smaithwaites. The surname has a number of modern forms, ranging from Smurthwaite and Smorthwaite to Smorfit, Smurfit and Smallthwaite, and the name development includes: Smirthwait (1562, Durham); Smaytwhat (1563, Cumberland); Smartwhat (1505, Durham); and Smorthwhat (1632, Lancashire). Recordings from Church Registers include: the marriage of Dorothy Smurthwaite and Richard Morgin in Gainford, County Durham, on October 21st 1604, and the marriage of Thomas Smurthwaite and Janet Calvert at Crosthwaite, Cumberland, on April 22nd 1657. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Henry de Smethwayt, which was dated 1285, witness in the "Assize Court Rolls of Lancashire", during the reign of King Edward 1, known as "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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