NOTES ON SURNAMES (HULL) 5
CAWTHRA John W. Cawthra was born Hessle, 1892, and William Cawthra was born Hull the same year. These are the earliest local notices of this name found to date. Cawthra is a mainly Yorkshire surname with a high concentration in the West Riding. The form Cawthery also occurs in Leeds and Halifax in the mid-19th century.
According to Reaney and Wilson (“A Dictionary of English Surnames”) Cawthra is one of several English versions of the French coudraie, “hazel copse”. This was, I believe the original form of the Sussex place name Cowdray, but the name could also be from some French place name, with that meaning. “The earliest bearers of the name came from France” (ibid.). The same source lists Yorkshire notices of the name spelt Caudray (1379), Cawdrey (1597), Catherey, Cowtherey, Cawthrey and Gauthrey (1671), but no Cawthra.
The earliest instance of the spelling “Cawthra” found to date is recorded in Bradford in 1823.