This unusual surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is either a topographical name from residence by a leat or watercourse, deriving from the Olde English pre 7th Century "(ge)laet", conduit, trench, or a locational name from any of the minor places named with this word, such as Leat in Devonshire, or The Leete (Essex). Topographical surnames were among the earliest created, since both natural and man-made features in the landscape provided easily recognisable distinguishing names in the small communities of the Middle Ages.Locational names were originally given to local landowners, and the lord of the manor, and especially as a means of identification to those who left their birthplace to settle elsewhere. In 1330, one John atte Lete was recorded in "Place Names of Devonshire", and on August 11th 1594, Joyce Leete and Mark Newcome were married at St. Botolph's, Colchester, Essex. In the modern idiom the name has six spelling variations: Leat(e), Leet(e), Leatt and Leates. A Coat of Arms granted to the Leete family of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, is a silver shield with a red fesse between two rolls of matches sable, kindled proper. The match is an unusual charge in heraldry, and was formerly used for firing cannons. A red demi bull issuing, gorged with a chaplet of green laurel, forms the Crest. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William (Byther)lete, which was dated 1279, witness in the "Assize Court Rolls of Somerset", during the reign of King Edward 1, known as "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307. 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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