This interesting surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and may be either a topographical name from residence by a stream among lush pastures, deriving from the Olde English pre 7th Century "grene", green, with "well(a)", spring, stream, or a locational name from any of the minor places named with the above elements. These places, mainly situated in the north of England, include: Greenwell, north of Castle Carrock in Northumberland; Greenwell Ford, a former country mansion in County Durham; and Granwell Hill, also in Durham.The principal family of the name came originally from Greenwell, Wolsingham, Durham, where they are recorded as major landholders from an early date (see below). One Thomas de Grenewille was noted in the 1279 Hundred Rolls of Oxfordshire, and on November 7th 1574, John Greenwell and Katherine Hopper were married in Lanchester, Durham. A Coat of Arms granted to the Greenwell family of Durham is a gold shield with two azure bars between three red ducal coronets, the Crest being a silver eagle's head, beaked red, and gorged with a chaplet of green laurel. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Grenewell, which was dated 1183, in "Records of Landowners", Wolsingham, County Durham, during the reign of King Henry 11, known as "The Builder of Churches", 1154 - 1189. 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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