A History of the Whistler Name
The Whistler name is from the Old English word hwistle meaning a pipe or a flute. One who played these instruments was a hwistlere. Osbert le Wistler was named in the Somerset Assize Rolls of 1243. In 1247 a William Wystle was recorded in the Bedfordshire Assize Rolls. Richard Whistel appears in 1297. In the 1279 Somerset Assize Rolls the scribe changed William le Wyzelere to le Vylur, ‘fiddler’ (1).
Subsidy Rolls (Poll Tax) for Yorkshire in the year 1379 reveal the names: (2)
In 1378 John Whisteler was an archer under Captain Sir John Arundel in a naval expedition led by John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (3).
It should be noted that a variety of spelling variations of names may be entered in historical records, depending on the whim of the record keeper (also, if relying on a transcribed copy of original documents, old handwriting can be difficult to decipher leading to deceptive transcriptions).
The Thames Valley of Berkshire and Oxfordshire
At the time of King Edward I (1272–1307) John le Wistler was living at West Hanney, a short distance north of Wantage. In 1375 a Richard Whysteler and his wife Joan had connections to both West Hanney and nearby West Lockinge (4). Nicholao Whistler was recorded as a resident of Wantage in the 1381 Poll Tax (5).
It appears that the family prospered and, in the sixteenth century, Whistlers were established in the area around Wantage. The link to the villages of West Hanney and East and West Lockinge endured as parish registers reveal that Margaret Whistler was baptised at West Hanney in September 1585 and, a few years later, on 24 November 1588 Jane Whistler was baptised at East Lockinge (6).
Early surviving Whistler family wills, proved in the Archdeaconry Court of Berkshire, were made by John Whistler of Stanford in the Vale (1559), Ralph Whistler of Fulscot, South Moreton (1559), and James Whistler of Kingston Bagpuize (1565).
From the early 1600s to the late 1800s Chaddleworth, south of Wantage, was the home to successive generations of the Whistler family. One of these Whistlers wrote a ‘History of Chaddleworth’ (7). Unfortunately, the whereabouts of this manuscript is not known.
In the seventeenth century the Thames Valley that tracks the River Thames from Oxford to Reading was the base for a network of Whistler cousins. The Protestation Returns for Berkshire and Oxfordshire of the 1640s, a survey of those who promised to defend the Protestant religion, a requirement for holding office, included the names (8):
In the 1550s the will of John Whistler of King’s Lynn was proved in the Archdeaconry Court of Norwich. In 1565 a man named Flanders married Joan Whistler at a wedding in the village of Bradwell (previously in Suffolk, now in Norfolk near the town of Great Yarmouth). On 2 December 1576 Frances, the daughter of John Whistler, was baptised at the Suffolk village of Groton, a short distance from Little Waldingfield (9).
From the 17th century onwards Whistlers continued to flourish in Norfolk and Suffolk. The hearth tax, a property tax to support the Royal Household of King Charles II, was levied on some Whistler households (10).
The burial of John Whisler, on 17 April 1586, was entered in the parish register for Morden, a village north-west of Poole, Dorset.
John Whistler was named in the Protestation Returns made at the Dorset village of East Stour in 1641 (15). A parish register entry records that John Whistler was buried at East Stour on 25 March 1644.
It would be interesting to know the story of ‘Garret Whistler, a Dutch man’ who was living in London at the time of the coronation of King James I on 25 July 1603. Two weeks earlier, on July 10th, the wedding of Garret Whistler had taken place at the London church of St Katherine Coleman (16). Less than two months later he was dead – on 28 August 1603 he was buried at All Hallows London Wall.
There is a record of a family in Switzerland and Germany: (17)
Wisler, a Mennonite family, found in the Emmental, Switzerland. Some immigrated to the Palatinate, Germany, where Heinrich Wissler was a preacher of the Erpolzheim-Friedelsheim congregation 1762–ca.1790, and Johann Wissler (Wiesler) preacher of the Ruchheim congregation from 1775. From Switzerland or the Palatinate the family came to America.
A connection to the English Whistlers is unknown.
In the First World War, Otto Ludwig Hans Wisseler was interned at a prisoner of war camp for German officers located at Colsterdale by Healey, North Yorkshire, where he died, aged 32, in August 1918 (18).
The Whistler Name in Fiction
The leading character in the film Hot Enough for June, made in 1964, was Nicolas Whistler played by the actor Dirk Bogarde. The plot was inspired by the 1960 novel The Night of Wenceslas by Lionel Davidson. In the novel, Nicolas Whistler, a ‘witty wastrel’ living in London, has an Uncle Bela in Vancouver (see The Night of Wenceslas at Wikipedia online).
Whistler Mountain, Canada
In British Columbia / Alberta there are two mountains named Whistler Mountain:
A British Columbia Outdoor Wilderness Guide describes that: ‘when in danger this animal gives off a shrill, piercing Eeeeeee alarm hence the nickname "whistler"’.
(1) Percy Hide Reaney and Richard Middlewood Wilson, A Dictionary of British Surnames, second revised edition, Routledge, 1976; and J. R. Dolan, English Ancestral Names: The Evolution of the Surname from Medieval Occupations, New York, 1972, pp. 287–90.
(2) Yorkshire: Some of the Subsidy Rolls (Poll Tax) for the year 1379 (transcribed from The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journals).
(3) The Soldier in Later Medieval England online database.
Oxfordshire and North Berkshire Protestation Returns and Tax Assessments
Suffolk in 1674: Hearth Tax Returns
(text online) ;
John T. Evans, Seventeenth-Century Norwich, Oxford, 1979, p. 203.
‘City of Norwich, chapter 42: Berstreet ward’, An Essay towards a
Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: volume 4: The History of the
City and County of Norwich, part II (1806), pp. 120–145
(accessed at British History Online ).
(13) Kent Archives and Local History Service online catalogue , FindingNo U908/T52/16.
(15) Webpage: Dorset Online Parish Clerks .
London Parish Records, Ancestry website.