Many English surnames are described as habitational, and derive from residence at some prominent natural feature or at a place with the same meaning. In the case of Clift, originally recorded as "Clyft", we have a name of Olde English East Anglian origins which may derive from a now "lost" medieval village called "Clyft" or may refer to one who lived by a Cleft. As the name is reasonably well recorded, it suggests that the derivation is from a lost village, possibly one that was destroyed by the sea, a fate of many villages on the East Coast.From the mid 16th Century the surname is recorded in the Mildenhall district of Suffolk, and well inland, it is also an area that is almost completely flat! Early recordings include: Grace Clift, who married Simon Frost at Mildenhall, on May 29th 1592, whilst on July 1st 1696, Robert Clift married Mary Geff at Chipping Ongar, Essex. Amongst the unfortunates of the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion was James Clift of Somerset. He was a weaver, aged 20 yrs., who was sold into slavery in the West Indies for ten years. His fate is unknown. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard Clyft, which was dated 1524, in the "Subsidy Rolls of Suffolk", 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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