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History of the Dengate / Dungate name



Much scientific research has been carried out around the world on DNA family groups

and the results from the Dengate / Dungate DNA tests showed that this family belong to the  Haplogroup E1b1b (formerly E3b) Ongoing studies show that this Haplogroup first appeared in the Horn of Africa approximately 26,000 years ago and dispersed to North Africa and the Near East during the late Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods. This Haplogroup only has a frequency in Britain of around 1-5%. To take the family line back as far as is currently known, it first appeared 20,000 years ago in the Middle East. Descendants of this family were among the first farmers and helped spread agriculture from the Middle East into the Mediterranean region. According to the National Geographic, “At the end of the last ice age around 10,000 years ago, the climate changed and became more conducive to plant production. This probably helped spur the Neolithic Revolution, the point at which the human way of living changed from nomadic hunter-gathers to settled agriculturists.”


It is not currently known when members of the family first arrived in Britain. Once here, however, they settled in a relatively small geographical area around the East Sussex / West Sussex / Surrey border in the south of England.


The earliest known document relating to the family is dated 23 January 1420 and is held at the East Sussex Record Office (DYK/310). The record pertains to five pieces of land at Lamberhurst, Kent called 'Dungates', which were held at the time by one Thomas Dungate. Unfortunately, the first parish registers int he country only began in 1538, so further details about this man are unknown.

East Sussex Record Office also has a pedigree of the Dungate family (AMS 6218/1), created by Ernest Charles Watt, which purports to go back to Richard Dungate of West Hoathly, West Sussex in 1539. The validity of this document has not been verified.

The next earliest reference to the family is Thomas Dungate, who was burnt at the stake in East Grinstead in 1558 for holding Protestant views during the Catholic reign of Queen Mary. More information about him can be found here.

After this date, the next earliest document pertains to Nicholas Dungate, a fuller from Maidstone, Kent (QM/RLv/1/3), who is named in a register of victualers in 1573.

The first recorded wills made by a member of the family were Stephen Dungate and John Dungate in 1652. Stephen hailed from East Grinstead, whilst John came from West Hoathly.

As you can see, the earliest spelling of the name is exclusively Dungate. Other documents, which exist in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, almost always show the name spelt in this way. One exception to this is Stephen Dengate, who was recorded on the Hearth Tax of 1664 as having 3 hearths in his home in Reigate, Surrey, although I have not seen the original document to confirm this spelling.

The spelling variant of Dengate begins to appear in the eighteenth century, but even then it does not appear consistently in either form. Due to high levels of illiteracy in the seventeenth century and mispronunciation in the heavy rural Sussex accent, it is very difficult to establish exactly when the name Dengate was deliberately spelt with an 'e' as opposed to a 'u'. In fact the name is spelt in both ways throughout the eighteenth century and perhaps only chance gives a modern day Dengate their current spelling. Indeed, it was Thomas Dengate (Wittersham Tree) who seems to be responsible for the name switching from Dungate to Dengate in this branch of the family. His parents appear in the parish registers as Dungate and Thomas himself was baptised as Dungate, but signed his own name as Dengate. Indeed, he used the spelling Dengate on his marriage certificate and the baptism of his children. What little remains of his gravestone also shows that it was spelt Dengate.

In early 2006 DNA tests were carried out on three male Dengates (from the Wittersham Tree), where a relationship had been established back five generations—the common ancestor being James Dengate (1764-1851). These results were then compared with a male Dengate from the Ticehurst Tree and three Dungate males, where a paper trail connection had not been established. The result was that all the men shared the same DNA. This pointed to the name splitting into Dengate and Dungate around the year 1600.

The oldest of the main Dengate branches is Wittersham Tree, which commences (so far) around the year 1637 with Thomas Dungate who was buried in St John’s Church, Wittersham on 13 March 1670. It was Thomas and his wife, Anne who established the Dengate family there. Indeed, owing to the DNA connection between Wittersham Tree, and Ticehurst Tree, they must also have to be related to the common ancestors of both trees, if they are not actually the common ancestors themselves.

Wittersham has without doubt the highest number of Dengate / Dungate baptisms, marriages and burials among any known parish records. There are still members of the Dengate family living in the small village today and evidence of the family exists in the churchyard, cemetery and buildings, such as Dengate Cottage and on the war memorial.


The second oldest branch of the Dengate family is the Ticehurst Tree, which currently dates back to c.1703 with John Dengate (c.1703-1743) at its apex. The family continued to flourish in Ticehurst until the 1950s, taking a very active role in village life. Although no members of the Dengate family continued to reside there after this date, the family still has many surviving descendants around the world. 


Despite the deep-rooted family connections to Wittersham and Ticehurst, it is highly unlikely that the family originated from these areas, since no mention is found in the earliest parish records for these villages, despite the fact that the records for each area date back to the 1500s. It is therefore clear that prior to the name split of c.1600 the history of the Dengate name is to be found in the spelling variant of Dungate, somewhere around the West / East Sussex / Surrey border, in the region of East Grinstead and West Hoathly, where the family can be found among the very first pages of the parish registers. Many of the Dungate family there went on to be wealthy yeomen and farmers.

Using a map of the first available national data, the 1841 census, it makes very clear how deeply rooted in Kent and Sussex the Dengate name is. Of the 110 Dengates recorded on the 1841 census, 65 resided in East Sussex, 45 in Kent. There are no Dengates recorded outside of the these counties in England at this time.

Comparing the 1841 census to the 1998 statistics, it is clear to see that little has changed! There were 170 Dengates recorded in 1998 in Britain, a drop of –46%, meaning that the name occurs five times in every million.

Screenshot 2019-07-07 at 19.23.12.png
1841 Census population distribution for the surname Dengate
Screenshot 2019-07-07 at 19.23.12.png
1998 population distribution for the surname Dengate

Emigration in the nineteenth century forced many branches of the Dengate family to various parts of the world, in particular North America and Australia, where the family name spread rapidly and continues to flourish to this day. There are few states in America and Canada or territories in Australia that do not have a contingent of the Dengate family currently residing in them. All however, find their roots back in Kent and Sussex.

A rather interesting post-script to the discussion as to the origins of the Dengate / Dungate family exists and that is that the family were French Huguenots escaping religious persecution in Catholic France. The story goes that three or four brothers by the name of De Barre (or De La Barre) crossed the channel and settled in England, but one of the brothers was captured and burnt at the stake. The remaining brothers then changed their names directly into English, i.e. De La Barre (of the gate) became Dengate or Dungate. This tale may well prove to be apocryphal but for a few facts which point to it perhaps being credible. First of all, is the reality that a Dungate certainly was burnt at the stake for holding Protestant views. Second of all, and a part of the argument which gives it a degree of conviction is the sheer number of Dengates who believe this story to be true, spanning generations and branches of the family who could never have come into contact with one another and spread the story amongst themselves. Among the numerous people who have recounted this story to me over the years, I have a letter written in 1935 from somebody researching the Dengate family tree stating that an elderly Dengate relative of hers believed the story, taking it back to the mid-to-late 1800s. So convinced was Charles Dengate (1876-1969), from a different branch, of his Huguenot ancestry that he named his cottage De Barre. 

Although persecution of the French Protestants began in 1536, wide-spread massacres were not commonplace until after the martyrdom of Thomas Dungate in East Grinstead. Tentative investigations into Huguenot families and name-change registers have revealed nothing of substance, leaving this an intriguing tale, something to be proven or disproven with further research.

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