This surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a locational name from any of the various places throughout England named with the Olde English pre 7th Century "read", red, with "clif", cliff, slope, riverbank. These places include: Ratcliffe (Curley) and Ratcliff (on the Wreak), Leicestershire, recorded respectively as "Redeclive" and "Radeclive" in the Domesday Book of 1086; Ratcliff (upon Soar), Nottinghamshire, and Ratcliff in Middlesex; also, Radcliffe in Lancashire and Nottinghamshire; Radclive, Berkshire, appearing as "Radeclive" in the Domesday Book, and Redcliff, Somerset. Locational surnames were developed when former inhabitants of a place moved to another area, usually to seek work, and were best identified by the name of their birthplace. Early examples of the surname include: William de Radeclive (Lancashire, 1278) and Robert de Radeclyf (Yorkshire, 1313). Among the recordings of the name in London Church Registers is the marriage of Edmund Ratclyff and Agneta Haycock, at St. Andrew's, Enfield, on August 17th 1561, and the christening of John, son of Richard Ratcliff, at St. Botolph without Aldgate, on November 21st 1596. An early Coat of Arms granted to a Ratcliff family of Warwickshire and Leicestershire depicts a black engrailed bend on a white shield. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Walter de Radecliva, which was dated 1182, in the "Pipe Rolls of Devonshire", 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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