This rare and intriguing name is of Medieval English origin and is locational, from some 'lost' place in Sussex, deriving from the Old English pre 7th Century 'pil', a pile, or stake, with 'beam', a beam or footbridge (made with stakes). The phenomenon of the 'lost' village was generally a result of enforced land clearance in the 12th and 13th Centuries at the height of the wool industry, to make way for sheep pasture, as well as the more natural causes such as the Great Plague of 1348, and war, etc..It is estimated that there are between seven and ten thousand such places that have disappeared from British maps. Amongst the sample recordings in Sussex are the christenings of Anne Pilbeam at Ardingly on May 21st 1598, and Edward Pilbeam on October 10th 1602, at Westmeston. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Adam de Peltebhem, which was dated 1296, Subsidy Rolls of Sussex, during the reign of King Edward 1, '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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