This interesting surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a locational name from some minor or unrecorded place, perhaps a "lost" village. There are an estimated seven to ten thousand villages and hamlets that have now disappeared from Britain since the 12th Century; the prime cause of these "disappearances" was the enforced "clearing" and dispersal of the former inhabitants to make way for sheep pastures at the height of the wool trade in the 15th Century, and natural causes such as the Black Death of 1348, in which an eighth of the population perished. The original place is believed to be in Buckinghamshire, because of the large number of recordings there and in the surrounding areas. The derivation is from the Olde English pre 7th Century "beorht", bright, and "hyll", hill; hence, "bright hill". The name would probably be given to a hill with bright stones, or to a hill with bright plants growing on it. Recordings of the surname from English Church Registers include: the marriage of Agnes Britnell and Thomas Putnam on November 21st 1574, at Wingrave, Buckinghamshire; the marriage of Bennet Britnell and Elizabeth Allen on May 24th 1624, at Chinnor, Oxfordshire; and the christening of Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Britnell, on February 16th 1633, at St. Giles' Cripplegate, London. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Henrie Britnell, which was dated August 5th 1560, witness at the christening of his son, Johan, at Aston Abbots, Buckinghamshire, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, known as "Good Queen Bess", 1558 - 1603. 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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