The earliest mention of the surname Mead, Mede or atte Mede dates back to about 1250. There may have been people with this name before that, but very few records survive from before 1200.
At this early date this was not a hereditary surname, just a nickname indicating someone who lived at a meadow. At the same time in the early records there were people called de prato or ad pratum, the Latin equivalent of atte Mede. This was not a surname, just a descriptive name, like faber (smith) or filio Ricardi (Richard's son).
By about 1300 there are indications that the name had become hereditary, particularly in Somerset and in the counties north of London, especially in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Interestingly, this pattern continued at least until 1881. Some of these families can be traced for several generations during the 14th and 15th centuries, but they are not related to each other. The surname Mead originated in several locations, so there are several unrelated families with the same name.
This is a work in progress. The author reserves the right to make changes without prior notice. My own research covers the Mead family in England between 1250 and 1600. It is based, as far as possible, on wills, parish records, patent rolls and other contemporary sources, and is as accurate as I can make it. No doubt I have made mistakes. Caveat emptor.
vance dot mead at welho dot com