The History of the Dring Surname

Possible Derivations

The word Dring or Dringe is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as an obsolete form of the Old English word "Dreng", other authorities state that the word is of Old Norse origin. In this country and especially in Northumberland, it meant a free tenant -holding land by a tenure called "drengage- which was older than the Norman Conquest and required the holder to undertake duties which were partly military and partly servile. In modem Danish it means a young man, a lad or apprentice.
In an Anglo-Saxon folk tale, Havelok the Dane, which was written before 1335, and takes place in an area of Lincolnshire between Lincoln and Grimsby, the storyteller talks of a King who made good laws and held to them. He was loved by young and old,

"By Earl, baron, dreng and thayn,
Knight, bondesman and swain
Widows, maidens, priests and clerks
And all for his good works.."

The title "Dreng" often appears in documents together with that of "thane" -a title given to members of the Saxon aristocracy e.g. theyns and drengs. It is often associated with place names, as in Northumberland where, in 1178, Thomas, son of Gospatricus, was described as "Dreng of Beadenhale". In 1212, this Thomas, was said to hold the vill (township) of Bedinhale (present day Beadnell near Bamburgh) of the Lord King, in "drengagium". This suggests that the title Dreng, or Dring, was the equivalent of the Latin Dominus (or Lord ) used to describe the holder of a Knights Fee or manor who had not necessarily been knighted.   
Drengs held their land directly of the King and, although freemen of some standing, were bound (as already mentioned) to provide services which were normally associated with unfree status. They might, for example, have to provide plough an overlord’s fields for him. They also had to carry wood, provide a herriot (their best chattel horse, cow, sword etc. on succeeding to the family estate, and pay fines on the marriage of a daughter

Place Names & Nicknames

It is of course possible that the personal name derives either from place names such as Drengton in Staffordshire [1271], Dringhouses on the outskirts of York or even Tring (Hertfordshire). Another possible source is from a nickname, such as Nicholas Le Drenk, through an association with Dreng similar to that which gives us names such as "Bishop" or because of his youthful appearance (Danish "lad" see above). One other possibility is provided by the Swedish definition of "Drenk" –drink and "Drenkare" or drunkard. Further research is needed to establish  the true source.

Early References To The Dring Name

The earliest reference to the name I have so far identified, occurs in Lincolnshire in 1201 where one William Dreng of the Walecros Wapentake ? owed 3 ½ marks (£2-l3s-4d) to the King. Another William, son of Patrick Dring, was one of the Bishop of Donholm’s (Durham’s) men who contributed to fines levied by the King in 1219 and in 1270 a John Dreng was a tenant of the Abbey of Selby in Rushcliffe, Yorkshire. Other early references to the name that are, perhaps, of more significance than most, are those which mention Margery, wife of Simon Drenge of Ramsey, which occur between 1268 and 1294. Drings also occur in Nottingham as early as 1279.

14th to 17th Century Cambridgeshire

From the 14th to the 17th century there are occasional references to Drings living just across the Cambridgeshire border at or near Chatteris. In 1387, for example, John Dreng made a gift of "15 messuages" (houses) 21 acres off land and 2s 2d in rents Chatteris, Doddington and Wimblington, Cambridgeshire, to the nuns of Chatteris Abbey. The association of the Drings with the area was a long one for in 1640 "Richard Drinke of the ferry lands" was assessed at 50 shillings in the tax (Lay Subsidy) assessment for Chatteris that year. From at least the 17th century the parish records of Chatteris record the beginning and end and other events in Dring family lives. Chatteris is only 10 miles from St. Ives, 12 miles from Huntingdon and miles from Warboys so there is a strong possibility that these Cambridgeshire Drings may be my Grandfather’s ancestors.

Other Parts of the Country

References to Drings can also be found in other parts of the country of which the following are a selection:

As parish registers show, various Drings established themselves in London and some of them were very successful. In 1644, Oliver Dring, a relatively wealthy man, died in St. Andrews, Holborn and the records show that, in the late 17th century, Thomas Dring (a well off stationer, who may have been related to Oliver) owned 6 London houses valued at £2000 to £5000.

The Drings of Nottinghamshire

My Grandfather Dring was born in 1876, in Nottingham a town to which his father and mother, Clark and Emily Dring, came in the early 1870s. Clark Dring was not, however, the first Dring to live in the Nottingham area for Dring associations with Nottinghamshire occur from at least 1279 when one Thomas Dreng was listed in the Hundred Rolls.  
Drings lived in the Hallam, Edingley and Southwell area of Nottinghamshire from at least 1331 when on the 24th July, John Dring was charged with "trespass of the vert in Sherwood Forest" (killing deer). Descendents of this family were still living in the area in 1817. Locally at least some became leaders of their communities: a Richard Dring, for example, was elected sheriff of Nottingham in 1630 and became Mayor 20 years later. In the 18th and early 19th century the name could be found at Carlton, Nottingham and Gotham as well as in and about Hallam.

Drings Abroad

As early as the 15th century Drings were travelling abroad (even if only for a short time!) for Thomas Drynge, Esquire, was described as "a Commander for the war in France" in 1449. Almost 400 years later, in 1847, another soldier Dring -Simon- who was then living in Poonamalee, India, was awarded a pension for his services in the 62nd Regiment of Foot. One enterprising Dring established a firm bearing the name Dring & Co, Merchants of Calcutta, in Fort St.George, Madras sometime before ?. Such enterprise did not, of course, always end in fame and fortune in 1748, for example, Francis Dring, merchant, "late of Petersburg in Russia" was declared bankrupt.
At least one Dring must have emigrated to the USA prior to 1666 because in that year one Thomas Dring was born at Little Compton, Rhode Island. Thomas’s name occurs again in1696 when he married Mary Butler and the Drings obviously remained in Rhode Island because their births, marriages and deaths are recorded there until at least 1863. Other American Drings were to be found in Washington (1819), Massachusetts (1821), Ohio (1855) and Kansas (1877). Australia too became home to at least one Dring family sometime before June 1891 when Agnes Caroline Dring was born at Gol Gol in New South Wales. As yet, the author has little information about either these Drings or others who were perhaps more venturesome than most.

Aristocratic Drings

The most illustrious bearer of the Dring name appears to have been one Edward Dring, 1749-50, who bore the coat of arms described as "Argent, a lion passant gules surmounted by a pale azure" i.e. a red lion walking across a silver field beneath a vertical blue stripe. His crest was "on a chapeau a phoenix in flames all ppr." i.e. a medieval hat surmounted by a phoenix arising from flames. The Journal of the House of Commons describes these as ‘the Arms of Garforth". The Dukes of Garforth are, however, members of the Fitzroy family and trace their descent from Charles II so it would be interesting to know on what grounds Edward laid his claim.
The Dring Crest of Edward Dring

The Dring Crest of Edward Dring

In Royal and aristocratic circles, families were (and many still are) very closely related to one another with most marriages taking place within these privileged circles. Although not aristocrats, the Dring family of Woodton, Norfolk were evidently of gentry status in the 18th century for three generations of the family intermarried with the family of the Hawyards of Hardley, Norfolk. This family connection began with the marriage of Joyce, daughter of Richard Dring of Woodton, to John Hawyard of Mettingham Castle in 1750. Twenty-seven years later, Jane, daughter of another Richard Dring of Woodton, married William the son of John and Joyce Hawyard of Mettingham Castle. This process was repeated yet again with the marriage of Jane and William’s son William to Catherine (born 1781) daughter of Last Dring of Woodton in 1814.  In more recent years the Dring name has appeared in Burke’ "Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage"; the 104th edition, for example, includes Lt. Colonel Sir Arthur Dring KBE son of the late Sir William Dring.

Researched by Alan Bednall