Select Riddle/Riddell Surname Genealogy

Riddle has been the English version of the surname, Riddell the more common Scottish version - although the two spellings have overlapped in a border county such as Northumberland.  The Riddle spelling has predominated in America.  Overall, Riddle outnumbers Riddell today.

The Riddle name has nothing to do with riddles.  Riddle and Riddell have, most likely, French origins, derived from the early Ridels who had come to England in the wake of the Norman Conquest and were in Scotland by the early 1100’s.

An alternative explanation for the Riddle name in England, and also possibly for the Riddell name in Scotland, was that it was derived from a place-name - the primary candidate here being Ryedale in the North Riding of Yorkshire.  An early account of the Riddles/Riddells was to be found in G.F. Ridlon’s 1884 book History of the Ancient Ryedale

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Select Riddle/Riddell Ancestry

ScotlandWalter de Ridel had received a charter for the lands at Lilliesleaf in Roxburghshire on the Scottish borders around the year 1150.  The property was to remain in Riddell hands until 1819.  The family also acquired at an early date land across the border in Northumberland.

In 1296 Sir William Riddell of Riddell appeared on the Ragman Rolls as swearing fealty to Edward I of England.  These Riddells later took the title of “Riddells of that Ilk.” 
Sir John Riddell rose to prominence under Charles I and was made a baronet in 1628.

The Rev. Archibald Riddell, the third son of the second baronet, was a staunch Covenanter who was persecuted for his beliefs.  He left Scotland to preach in New Jersey in 1685 on the infamous Henry & Francis where thirty-one people died during the journey, including his wife.  On his return four years later, his ship was taken by a French warship and he was held in captivity for two years before he was released.

There were other Riddell lines with possible links to the earlier Ridels:
  • one Riddell line made its home at Kinglass in West Lothian in the 16th century and later acquired extensive Highland estates at Ardnamurchan and Sunart in Argyll.  James Riddell of Ardnamurchan was made a baronet in 1778.
  • John Riddel was a prominent Edinburgh merchant of the 17th century who claimed a descent from the Galfridus de Ridel of 1048.  His son acquired lands at Linlithgow in West Lothian at the time of Oliver Cromwell.
  • while Robert Riddell of Glenriddell in Dumfriesshire was a friend and patron of the poet Robert Burns in the late 18th century.  His father claimed a descent from the Gervase de Ridel of 1116.  
By the 19th century many of the Riddells on the Scottish borders had migrated to Glasgow and the industrial jobs there.

.  The Norman Ridel family in England left their footprint in Northamptonshire and Essex.  But the main presence of the name was further north in Northumberland and Durham where there has been a strong Scottish influence.  Both Riddell and Riddle have appeared there (they were about 50/50 for the two counties in the 1881 census).  However, the most prominent of them has been Riddell.  

Northumberland.  The Riddells of Tillmouth, a village near Berwick on Tweed where they held the manor of Twizell, were an important family of the 13th and 14th centuries.  A 14th century effigy in the chancel of St Cuthbert's church, Norham is believed to be that of Sir William Riddell of Tillmouth, the Sheriff of Northumberland and Constable at Norham Castle.

The Riddells had acquired Fenham Hall in Northumberland by the mid-1500’s and later became merchants in Newcastle.  William Riddell prospered by investing in leases of Tyneside coal mines in the early 1600’s just at the time that the coal trade with London was undergoing an expansion. The family based themselves in Gateshead.  But these Riddells were Catholic and, as the political climate changed, they had their problems.

The Roxburghshire line has been in Northumberland since Sir John Buchanan Riddle acquired Whitefield House in Hepple in 1804.  A later Sir John was Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales from 1985 to 1990.

The Riddle spelling came later in Northumberland and they were from more humble backgrounds: 
  • Edward Riddle, born at Troughend near Otterburn in 1788 to a farm laborer’s family, became a notable mathematician and astronomer in London. 
  • two marriages around 1790 were those between William and Ann Riiddle at Wooler near Alnwick and Patrick and Margaret Riddle at Mount Pleasant near Haltwhistle.  
  • while Andrew and Samuel Riddle ran a profitable millwright business in Berwick in the 1850’s.  Samuel’s house on Ravendowne still stands.
Elsewhere.  The Riddle spelling cropped up elsewhere, in London and the west country.  There were Riddles at Redruth in Cornwall in the late 1700’s.  There were also Riddles around this time at Mells in Somerset.  The name here later spread to Kilmersdon and Midsomer Norton.

.  The earliest record of Scots Riddells in Ireland was in the 1630’s in Derry, possibly in Ballymeath or Coleraine parish, where three sons – Hugh, Robert, and James – were born to Hugh and Mary Riddell.  Among their descendants were the Riddells who emigrated to Londonderry, New Hampshire in the 1730’s.  Charles Riddell departed for Pennsylvania in the 1790’s. 

In 1803 John Riddel from county Down started a wholesale hardware business in Belfast, importing the supplies he needed from England.  It did well.  In fact it made the Riddels one of the wealthiest families in the city.  These Riddels were strict Unitarians and displayed the strong philanthropic inclinations of that tradition.  Unusually for the time, only two of the ten children of John Riddel ever married.

.  The Riddell and Riddle names both came to America.  The Riddle name, however, has been by far the more numerous, with the Riddle spelling having often taking over from Riddell and even from the English Ridley name. Many Riddles in America have Scots or Scots Irish origin and some could have German roots from names such as Riedel or Riedl.

VirginiaOne family in Virginia began with Moses Riddle who had been born in Surry county around 1710.  He lived among the Cherokee Indians and his family apparently intermarried with them: 
  • his son William Riddle was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War who was captured by patriots and hanged in 1781.
  • William’s sons dispersed.  Isaac and Joseph moved to Kentucky, with Isaac later settling in Texas.   Isaac’s son John converted to the Mormon faith and left for Utah in 1850. 
John Riddle (initially Riddell) had come to Caroline county from Scotland with his family sometime in the 1710’s.  His descendants later settled in Chatham, North Carolina.

Zachariah Riddle lived in Loudoun county, Virginia in the late 1700’s and his descendants in Stokes county, North Carolina a few decades later.  Randolph Riddle departed for Tennessee around 1810.  The family origins were in Maryland where John Riddle and Elizabeth Bowman had married in 1700.

  John Riddle, probably Scots Irish, was born in Pennsylvania around 1745 and lived most of his life in Mifflin county.  After his death his widow and children moved in the early 1800’s to Ohio.  Another John Riddle had come to Pennsylvania from Donegal in Ireland around 1810.  Nine years later he left for virgin land in Ohio.  His son James later recounted those early pioneering days in Ohio.

James Riddle had arrived in York county from Donegal in Ireland around the year 1750.  His line extended to William Riddle, a merchant in Martinsburg in West Virginia in the early 1800’s, and then to David Hunter Riddle, the President of Jefferson College in Pennsylvania in the 1860’s.

Heading South and West
Charles Riddle, a Primitive Baptist minister, moved his family from Chatham, North Carolina to Henderson county, Tennessee in 1817.  His son Nathaniel intended to migrate to Texas and in fact set off in the 1840’s.

“Nathaniel and his wife Elizabeth left their old homeplace in Tennessee and with their young son started a long journey west, supposedly to Texas.  After only a day or two’s journey, Nathaniel died and his young wife took their son and turned around and returned back to their home in Tennessee.”

This son William subsequently moved to Arkansas and enlisted and fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. He lived until 1912.

George Riddle meanwhile had been born in Maryland in 1787 and later moved to Kentucky.  One of his sons Simeon became a farmer in Bentonville, Arkansas.  Another son Tazewell, better known as Frank, left Kentucky for California at the time of the Gold Rush.  There he married Toby of the Modoc Indian tribe, also known as Winema, and got caught up in the Modoc wars of the early 1870’s.  After peace was established, Frank, Toby and their son lived near the Indian Klamath reservation in southern Oregon.

The main spelling here was Riddell, not Riddle. There were two notable Riddells from the Scottish borders that arrived in the 19th century:
  • Walter Riddell from Dumfriesshire came in 1833 to farm in Cobourg, Ontario.  His son William, born in 1844, became a distinguished lawyer, judge, historian and writer.  
  • and James Riddell from Jedburgh in Roxburghshire arrived in 1880 to farm in Manitoba.  He represented his local constituency of Lorne in the Manitoba Assembly between 1896 and 1903.
Australia.  There were Riddells and Riddles in Australia.

John Carre Riddell from Roxburghshire came to Melbourne in 1839 and was initially active in sheep and cattle farming.  He later involved himself in Victoria politics. 
His wife Mary Riddell left descriptions of the upper middle-class life they lived in Melbourne at the time.

A Riddle family were pioneers of harness racing in Australia.  The progenitors were Harry Riddle and Mary Hogg who had married in Gisborne, Victoria in 1853.  Their son Walter farmed in Cowra, NSW and bought his first horse to race in 1897.  He then divided his time between farming, horse-breeding and racing until his death in 1933.  All five of his sons took up harness racing, with Peter generally being considered the best horseman

Select Riddle/Riddell Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Riddle/Riddell Names

Geoffrey Ridel, born in France in 1044, was the first to bear the Ridel name and was probably the forefather of later Riddells.
Robert Riddell
was an antiquarian in Dumfriesshire and friend and patron of the poet Robert Burns.  Burns made him a collection of his poems which later became famous.
Edward Riddle
was an English mathematician and astronomer, based at the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich from 1820 to 1850.

Nelson Riddle
was an Oscar-winning composer and arranger, best known for his work with Frank Sinatra in the 1950’s.

Select Riddles/Riddells Today
  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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