This uncommon name belongs almost exclusively to the county of Sussex, where it is a locational surname, of Anglo-Saxon origin, from the place called Backshells in Billingshurst. The placename is derived from the Olde English pre 7th Century elements "baec", back, ridge, and "cylf", rock, ledge; hence, "the slope of the ridge", or suchlike. Bashall (Eaves) in West Yorkshire is named with the same elements, and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as "Baschelf", and in the 1251 Charter Rolls as "Bacshelf", but this placename has not apparently generated the modern surnames Backshell and Backshall, although the variant form of Backshaw is found in Yorkshire in the late 16th Century. The place called Gomshall in Surrey also has the Olde English "scylf" as its second element ("Gumeselva" in 1168), and shows the same mutation to "-hall, -hell". Locational surnames were used particularly as a means of identification by those who left their birthplace to settle elsewhere. The surname development in Sussex includes: John Backshell (1591); Thomas Backsal (1608); Jone Backshill (1614); and John Bachshell (1641), while the following are examples from Sussex Church Registers: the marriage of John Backshall and Ann Dimbelle, at Steyning, on February 28th 1654, and the christening of Richard, son of James Backshall, on March 13th 1658, at West Hoathly. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Philip de Bacselve, which was dated 1296, in the "Subsidy Rolls of Sussex", 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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