Recorded in the spellings of Clayill, Clayal, Clell, Clelle, Cleal, and Cleall, this very unusual and interesting name is of Anglo-Saxon origin. It is locational and originates from a place called Clayhill or Clay Hill, of which there are or were, at least seven examples in different parts of the country. The one near the city of Bristol, or the one which is now registered as a "lost" medieval village in Devonshire, seem to have provided most nameholders. An estimated three thousand villages and hamlets have disappeared from the maps of the British Isles, or such as existed, since the 15th century, leaving in many cases as their only public reminder, the surname, and often as with this one, in a variety of spellings. The reasons why villages disappeared is complex, but the usual reasons given are plague, particularly the Black Death of 1348, and "Enclosure of the Commons" when such lands were the subject of legalised seizure by landowners, and the tenants driven off. In this case the place name and hence the later surname, derives from a fused form of the Olde English pre 7th century words claeg meaning clay, and hyll. Early examples of the surname recording taken from surviving church registers of the post medieval period include those of: John Clelle at Oakford in Devonshire on February 10th 1572, Alsopp Cleell, who was christened at Bideford, also Devon, on June 18th 1645, and the marriage of William Cleal and Elizabeth Meecham at South Perrott, Dorset, on October 29th 1759. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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