Records of the Family of Sclater

Claude Sclater

The Name and Arms

THE name Sclater appears in records dating back to the 13th century and occurs mainly in the North of England, Scotland, Orkney and Shetland. In Northumberland a William Sclater was Vicar of Chillingham in 1270 and another of the same name was accused of horse-stealing at Whittonstall in 1385. The name is also found at Gosforth and Corbridge in the 14th century and at Berwick-on-Tweed between 1580 and 1640. In Yorkshire a William Le Sclater appears at Masham in 1304, while the earliest existing Sclater will is that of Richard Sclater, a farmer, who died at Keighley in 1545. A Sclater was Chantry Priest at Clitheroe in Lancashire in 1545. In London a Thomas Sclater was a Canon of St. Stephen’s, Westminster, in 1543, and a John Sclater was tenant of a messuage named “The Cardynal’s Hatte” in 1545, while in Hampshire a John Sclater was Mayor of Portsmouth in 1558.

The name is found in Orkney as early as 1492, when several Sclaters were tacksmen (principal tenants) of King’s lands. All Sclaters of Orkney extraction believe their name to be of Norse derivation but J. Storer Clouston in his Records of the Earldom of Orkney writes, “Whether the family was native of early Scottish seems an open question”.

According to Black’s The Surnames of Scotland the name derives from the occupation - one whose trade is to lay slates on roofs of houses. The word slate is derived from the old French esclate and was generally spelt “sclate” or “sklate” until the 17th century. It is therefore probable that most present day families of “Slater” were originally “Sclater”, the original usage having only been retained by one or two better educated families.

Another possible derivation appears in Wood’s Athenae Oxomienses, published in 1691, in which a certain Edward Sclater, Curate of Putney (see Appendix III), is described as “descended from those of his name living at Sclater or Slaughter in Gloucestershire”. Some substance is added to this theory by the fact that the name of members of the family was occasionally spelt phonetically as Slaughter by others though never by themselves, and the Sclaters of Virginia, whose ancestor, the Rev. James Sclater, emigrated there in 1684, still pronounce their name in this way showing that this probably is the original pronunciation.

It is tempting for the genealogist to attribute a family name to a place of origin in preference to an occupation, but it is not easy to do so in this instance. In 1690 when William Sclater (4) composed the inscription for the monument to be set up at Leighton Buzzard in memory of his grandfather, his father and himself, he clearly stated that his grandfather, Anthony Sclater, was descended from an old Northumbrian family. This can only have been a family tradition for his grandfather had died when he was an infant and no connection with Northumberland can be proved.

William Sclater (4) sealed a deed in 1663 with the coat of arms argent a saltire azure (a blue St. Andrew’s cross on a silver shield) and used these arms on other occasions. In the London Visitation of 1664, however, these arms1 were registered by the Heralds at the College of Arms in the name of Henry Sclater, nephew of Sir Thomas Sclater of Cambridge (see Appendix III). This may be a clue that the two families were connected, though Sir Thomas Sclater himself used a slightly different coat of arms never authorized by the Heralds, but still visible on the plaster ceiling of his old rooms in Trinity College, Cambridge.

It was not usually considered fitting for the clergy to display armorial bearings and this probably explains why neither William (4) nor any of his descendants seem to have applied for the legal right to them, though they used them occasionally and added a crest, out of a ducal coronet or a demi-eagle sable with wings displayed and the Greek motto from Galations VI, 14, ΕΙ ΜΗ ΕΝ Τω ΣΤΑΥΡω (Save in the Cross). The position should have been regularised on George Sclater Booth’s elevation to the Peerage in 1887, but disagreement between him and the Heralds over some point of detail was never resolved before his death and the matter has still not been settled.


  1. The same arms were recorded for the family of Slaughter of Cheney’s Court, Herefordshire in 1683.

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