Recorded in the popular spelling of Bagwell, and the later development of Begwell, and the original form of Backwell, this is an English surname. It is either locational from some now "lost" medieval site, or it is topographical for a person who lived at a "wella", a fresh water spring, which was presumably situated at the back of other premises, or perhaps behind another "wella". Some three thousand British Isles surnames are known to have originated from now lost hamlets and villages, so whist unusual this is not by any means a unique situation. As to where this place was, or as to why it has now disappeared, we are uncertain, but the usual reason was a change in agricutural practices in the 16th century. At the time the textile industry was growing rapidly, and the demand for wool was such that arable farming, which was labour intensive, was rapidly reduced and the lands turned over to sheep. In consequence people had little choice, but to move elsewhere in search of work, taking or being given as their surname, the name of their former home. Spelling being at best erratic and local dialects very thick, soon lead to the development of alternative spellings. In this case early examples of the recordings include: Edward Backwell, a witness at the famous church of St Dunstans in the East, Stepney, on March 21st 1575, Alse Bagwell who married Francis Drins at St Lawrence Pountney, on May 18th 1624, and Sarah Begwell who married John Ferguson at St Giles Cripplegate on February 3rd 1776, both the latter recordings being in the city of London.
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