This most interesting surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a topographical name for someone who lived near a meadow, pasture or patch of arable land, from the Olde English pre 7th Century "aet", Middle English "atte", meaning "at" with the Olde English "leah", Middle English "lee", wood, clearing in a wood. Hence, Atlay has retained the preposition "aet" which has, down through the ages, been fused to the second element, as in the case of the names Byfield, Uphill, Underdown, and many more. The surname is also found in the modern idiom as At(t)lee, Atley and Attle. It first appears in records in the late 13th Century (see below), and John Attele was recorded in the Hundred Rolls of Berkshire in 1276. Other early examples of the surname include: William atte Leye, recorded in the Subsidy Rolls of Sussex in 1296, and Thomas Attlee, who was mentioned in Suffolk in 1327, in the Pinchbeck Registers. An interesting namebearer, mentioned in the "Dictionary of National Biography", was one Rev. James Atlay (1817 - 1894), who was bishop of Hereford from 1868 - 1894, and was granted a Coat of Arms which depicts a fesse between three black crescents on a silver shield. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Robert Atte Lee, which was dated 1275, in the "Subsidy Rolls of Worcestershire", during the reign of King Edward 1, known as "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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