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When I first started to think about writing about the surname, Tyler, my mind automatically went towards Wat Tyler. When I mentioned this to someone who shall be nameless, her first reaction was, “Oh, you mean the guy who invented the lightbulb?” Well, no, that was James Watt, but it got me thinking that rather than a tome on Wat Tyler, I would take an overview of the surname. This was reinforced when I re-found the family tree my mum had been working on before she sadly died and, looking at the number of Tylers on my dad’s side, I was further inspired to diversify this article.

What follows is a brief anecdote about my family tree, origin of the Tyler name and its trade standing, some famous Tylers, and, of course, some fictional namesakes.

My Family Tree

So far, my family tree on the Tyler side goes back to 1782 when William Jas Tyler was born. He married Mary Ann Tyler (two for one!) and they had seven children, one of whom, Emma, had a child (probably out of wedlock) in the Lambeth Workhouse. Generations of Tylers continued to be born in South London until my dad’s family moved a few miles outside to the suburbs just after the Second World War. My dad, John Tyler married my mum, Sylvia Evans in 1957. My sister is married with children and grandchildren, but I’m not and I’m the last with the Tyler surname in this family. How sad is that!

I remember two of my great-great aunts, Auntie Daisy and Auntie Em. Both spinsters and characters. Auntie Daisy was a force to be reckoned with and Auntie Em was a joyful, childlike soul. They had a stable door in their kitchen and an outside loo. It is very odd how certain things come back to you when you start writing.

Some Tyler Facts

The surname Tyler is taken from an old English word, tigele, which in turn comes from the Latin, tegula, which is a derivative of tigere’ meaning to cover.
It is an occupational name for a maker or layer of tiles. In the middle ages, tiles were widely used in floors and pavements and, by the 16th century, were very popular on roofs.
In 1881 the most common occupation in the UK for Tylers was agricultural labourer.
In the early 1900s, a person with the surname Tyler was most likely to live in London (my family tree agrees).
756 Tylers have been listed with a criminal record
779 Tylers served in World War One.
Top five boy names: William, John, George, Thomas, James
Top five girl names: Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Emma, Eliza

The Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers

This company is still active today (www.tylersandbricklayers.co.uk). Although there was a Guild representing these crafts for many years, the first recorded Master, Thomas White, was in 1416. The Company’s first charter was granted in 1568, by Elizabeth I, and in 1570 a City Ordinance defined the area of control as being within a radius of 15 miles of the City of London.

I find it interesting that the Company lost its monopoly and power after The Great Fire of London in 1666 led to a Royal Proclamation requiring the use of these more fire-resistant materials – bricks and tiles instead of timber and thatch. The re-building programme was beyond the capacity of the members and non-affiliated craftsmen flocked to the City from all over.

The Company continued to lose influence and fortune over the decades but is still actively involved in support of the City and its institutions. Today, it is 37th in precedence amongst the City Livery Companies.

There is a book available if anyone wants to read more about this historic institution – They Built London was researched and written by Dr Penelope Hunting and is available from their website.

Some Famous Tylers

I will start with my inspiration for this article, Wat Tyler, a leader of the Peasants Revolt, which began in Essex in May 1381. Historical records and interpretations vary in detail, from both period and modern historians. What follows is a snapshot of Wat Tyler and his involvement in the Peasants Revolt during the 14th century.

Wat Tyler was born c.1340. It has been suggested he became a follower of John Ball, a priest, who had been preaching that people should, “Throw away the evil lords.” There is also some evidence that he fought in the Hundred Years’ War and worked for Richard Lyons, a sergeant-at-arms for Edward III.

There were several factors that contributed towards the Peasants Revolt:

Some records say that Tyler’s fourteen-year-old daughter had been sexually assaulted by a tax collector when he was checking to see if she was old enough to pay the tax. When he heard the news, Wat Tyler hurried home and attacked the tax collector, breaking his skull.

With nothing to lose, he joined the main body of rebels at Rochester, where he emerged as a natural leader.

His first decision was to march to Maidstone and free John Ball from where he had been imprisoned. It has been said that Tyler and Ball were a dangerous combination – a military man in cohorts with a religious agitator.

After several localised revolts, the peasants decided to march to London to see Richard II (who was only fourteen years old). They blamed his advisers for the poll tax and believed that once the king knew their problems, he would attempt to resolve them. An estimated 30,000 peasants marched to the City on 12th June 1381 where, at Blackheath, John Ball sermonised on the need for “freedom and equality.”

Wat Tyler told the rebels that, “We come seeking social justice.”

On arrival of the peasants, the king retreated to the Tower of London. However, he did eventually agree to meet with the rebels on 14th June 1381. At this meeting, Wat Tyler listed the demands of the rebels including a free pardon for all offences committed during the rebellion, a rent limit of 4d per acre, an end to feudal fines through the manor courts, and that the king’s officers in charge of the poll tax were guilty of corruption and should be executed.

It fascinates me to read that his final demand was that no man should be compelled to work except by employment under a regularly reviewed contract and it appals me that we face similar issues in our modern world. Just think of the current day zero hours contracts and the gig economy (where workers are only paid for each individual ‘gig’ they do, such as food delivery or taxi ride). The recent Modern Slavery Act put in place to combat forced labour also comes to mind.

The king said he agreed to these proposals and many peasants returned home, satisfied. However, Wat Tyler and John Ball were not convinced and stayed in London with the remainder of the rebels.

The rebellion continued and eventually it was agreed that another meeting should take place at Smithfield on 15th June and this is where Wat Tyler received the fatal wounds that would kill him.

Reports of the time state that Wat Tyler would have killed the king if he refused the demands of the peasants and that when Tyler wouldn’t give due reverence to the king, the mayor tried to arrest him. Tyler drew his knife and tried to strike the mayor who rushed at Tyler with a sword and wounded him, knocking him from his horse. A squire then pierced his side with a sword. Some reports say he was decapitated and others say he was taken to a pauper’s hospital.

As modern historians say, peasants didn’t write the historical reports, and the evidence is always going to be skewed in the direction of those who do write it, so who knows what really happened or the real motives!

Whichever story is true, it happened, and the end result was that Wat Tyler died whilst trying to create a fairer world for the workers.

John Tyler President of the USA from 1841 to 1845 – the tenth president inherited the title when President Harrison died within one month of his inauguration.

Anne Tyler, American Novelist – I’ve read a few of her 20 novels and particularly recommend Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Accidental Tourist, and Ladder of Years. Earlier this week I bought A Spool of Blue Thread from our local charity bookshop and out of all the books I’d selected, the cashier said this was brilliant and I’d love it. It is next on my reading list.

Bonnie Tyler, Welsh singer – Going back to my late teens and early twenties, It’s a Heartache, Total Eclipse of the Heart, and Holding Out for a Hero will remain in my memory and heart.

Some Fictional Tylers

Rose Tyler, Doctor Who – Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) is my favourite companion of all time. She began her time journey with Christopher Eccleston and ended up with the best Doctor (in my opinion) from my adult years, David Tennison. Her emotional connection to the Doctor was incredible and I cried when they parted. (I know, I know, I’m in my fifties and should be more ‘grown up’ but that’s not going to happen!)

Sam Tyler, Life on Mars

Two series I will watch over and over are Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. Gene Hunt is my heartthrob (see previous article on squirrels), but Sam Tyler is also a fabulous character with so many levels to him, and the perfect ‘PC’ foil to the ‘non-PC’ Gene Hunt.

Memories of 1973 abound (I was 12).

That is the end of my missive on Tyler. It is a bit random in content, but it has been a fascinating research and memory challenge. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Maybe it will inspire you to investigate your own surname.


© Janice Tyler 2018


Sources & Accreditations








Family tree researched by Sylvia Tyler (nee Evans) aka Mum


Tyler's Tales

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