Recorded in several spelling forms including Richly, Richley, Ritchley, Riteley, Righley, Reightley, and even Reteley, this is an English surname. It almost certainly locational and probably originates from a now 'lost' medieval village called Reightley or similar, derived from the pre 7th century words 'hrycg' meaning a ridge, and 'leah', an enclosure, or literally an area of land on a ridge, cleared for agriculture. Lost villages are a phenomena of the British Isles. It is estimated that several thousand surnames originate from this source, as it is known that at least five thousand places which existed in former times, have disaapeared from the maps. The reasons are multiple, and include civil wars, plague, urbanisation, but most of all changes in agricultural practice, which over many centuries has lead to a requirement for fewer workers on the land. When people moved in search of work, they took or were given, as their surnames, the name of their former homestead. Education until late Victorian times being at best primitive, and local dialects very thick, lead to the development of variant or 'sounds like' spellings. There has been a suggestion that this name may have developed from the famous French surname Richeleau. This is possible but unlikely as Richeleau is not recorded in England until the year 1783, when John Richeleua married Elizabeth Kirke at St Johns church, Shoreditch, on July 22nd of that year. Earlier examples of this surname taken from the surviving registers of the diocese of Greater london include examples such as: John Richley, a christening witness at St Brides church, Fleet Street, on January 13th 1638, and Joseph Riteley, a witness at St Dunstans in the East, Stepney, on August 24th 1690.
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