This unusual surname is of Norse-Viking descent and therefore pre 9th century in origin. It derives from a now 'lost' medieval site called 'Griss-pveit' (or similar) and translating as 'the boar farm'. This was probably a place where the ancient wild boar were bred and reared before being released into the wild for hunting, a system not dissimilar to the pheasant breeding for todays Saturday shooter. The difference was that boars were highly dangerous, and hunting was a two way 'sport'. The Viking influence was particularly strong in both Yorkshire and Lancashire, but in this case the earliest name recording (see below) is in Yorkshire.Tracing the surname suggests that it started from somewhere in East Yorkshire, was in Rokeby, North Yorkshire in 1628, by the 18th century was recorded in Lancashire, Cumberland and occasionally in Northumberland. Examples of the surname recording include Elizabeth Griswait in Leake, North Yorkshire on December 8th 1663, Leticia Grissenthat at Castle Sowerby, Northumberland, on January 30th 1700, Cicely Gristhwaite at South Kilvington, North Yorkshire on February 11th 1776, and Joseph Grisenthwaite, christened at Altcar, Lancashire, on August 12th 1792. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard Gressenwaite, which was dated May 9th 1585, who married Margaret Wood at Doncaster, Yorkshire, 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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