This interesting and unusual surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a locational name from Benwell in Northumberland. The placename is recorded as "Bynnewalle" in the "History" of St. Cuthbert (1050), and as "Benewell" in the Book of Fees (1242), and derives from the Olde English pre 7th Century "bionnan", (the place) inside, and "walle", a (Roman) wall; hence, "(the place) inside the (Roman) wall". Benwell is situated between Hadrian's Wall and the Tyne. During the Middle Ages, when migration for the purpose of job-seeking was becoming more common, people often took their former village name as a means of identification, thus resulting in a wide dispersal of the name, and often, although not apparently in this case, of the spelling form as well. The famous Victorian etymologist, Canon Charles Bardsley, himself of Lake District origins, recorded the Walter Benwell shown below, whilst other early recordings from London include: Susa Benwell, christened at St. Mary Whitechapel, on March 17th 1575, and Alice Benwell, who married Edward Palmer at St. Pancras, on June 30th 1594. A Coat of Arms was granted to Benwell of Oxford in 1761, the blazon being a silver (white) field, charged with six pellets (representing cannon balls) arranged three, two and one. The Crest is a gold wheatsheaf entwined by a serpent, suggesting a wise farmer or landowner. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Walter Benwell, which was dated July 1st 1543, marriage to Johanna Barnes, in London, by Civil Licence, during the reign of King Henry V111, known as "Bluff King Hal", 1509 - 1547. 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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