The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Early Records - Berkshire

by Eric L Sewell

This article was originally published in the December 2003 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society

With luck you can trace your ancestors back to the first parish registers, but then the search usually comes to a halt.

Despite this limitation it is not entirely the end of the trail, although the chances of adding to the family tree are unlikely. Long before parish registers were introduced in the mid-16th century, named individuals, and the places with which they were associated, had been appearing in a whole range of documentary material. The Domesday Survey of 1068 contains thousands of names each identified with a particular manor. As the machinery of post-Norman administration developed, the written record often became very revealing in its detail. What is significant is that it was not just the wealthy and influential but also those of lowly means whose names entered the chronicles.

The proceedings of the manorial courts provide the most comprehensive source of names. The minutes of the annual gathering of the tenants of the manor name those engaged in changes of tenancy, holders of offices and those charged with misdemeanours. In the village where I live, the manorial court rolls from1343 until 1939 have survived almost intact. In addition there are numerous lists of the landholdings and their tenants.

The taxation (subsidy or poll-tax) records are a more readily available name-source, many having being transcribed and published. They arise from the tax levied by the monarch whenever he was short of funds to pursue a military campaign. Every householder in a parish who qualified usually had his name recorded with the amount of tax due. Except in the case of a poll-tax, when all adults were taxed, the amount levied was ‘means-tested’, with only the poorest being excluded.

The various records of the crown, church and legal system have also been extensively published. They cover a wide range of issues where some kind of formal endorsement is required. The majority of names are of witnesses, beneficiaries, jurors and those offering surety.

Although these sources are probably too sporadic to pinpoint an ancestor they can offer some general indications about the origins of surnames and their variation. Even if one might not be able to prove kinship, it might be possible to find pre-16th century holders of your surname within a particular locality.

Berkshire provides an interesting example of how early records can provide an insight into territory lacking any apparent SEWELL associations. In the IGI listings the county has only one 16th century SEWELL entry. It appears from medieval records, however, that the name had a stronger foothold than the IGI suggests.

Domesday Survey of 1086

SEWELLE appears as a place-name. The Domesday manor of SEWELLE was near Reading and is now known as Sheffield Bottom. There does not appear to be any link with SEWELL as a surname.

Berkshire Eyre of 1248

Shinfield: Gilbertus son of SEWALLI - land claim

Lambourn Hundred: Henricus SEWELL - juror

Cookham: Henricus SEWY - juror

Sutton Courtnay Hd: Henricus SEWAL charged with larceny and acquitted

Peasemore: Reginaldus son of SEWY father of aforesaid Willelmi

Barkham: Robertus filius SEWALLI - land

Barkham: SEWALLUS de la Hide

Compton Hundred.: Walterus SEWALL - juror

Hendred: Walterus SEWALE de Hanred – surety

Sugworth (in Radley): Willelmus son of SEWY de Suggeworth - surety

Cholsey: SEWALLUS le Bercher, sons Richard & William arrested on suspicion of murder & escaped from the Abbot of Reading's prison at Cholsey, Berks.

Simon de SUHTWELL / SUWELL - surety

The hundred was an old form of subdivision of a county in which several parishes were grouped together.

The Eyre of 1248 recorded the cases tried by the itinerant justices in the county. The persons cited may not necessarily have been domiciled in Berkshire. The jurors were local men of some standing, (e.g. freeholders) and the cases often concerned land disputes.

Pipe-Roll of the Bishop of Winchester 1301 - 1302

Wargrave: Matilda SULE – perquisites

Parchment rolls were stored in pipe-like containers.

In the 14th century the SEWALE form of the surname was widespread and was probably derived from the forename SEWALLUS (abbreviated to SEWAL), which declined in use from around 1350. Whether SEWY was a true variant is open to debate. SUTHWELL or SUWELL seems to have been linked to clerics from SOUTHWELL (Notts)

1377 - 1381 Poll Tax

Easton Roberto SOLE 2s 6d

Shilton Walter SEWALE & Johanna his wife 2s 6d

Buckland & Barcote Mat’ SEWALE (Matheus or Matilda) 2s

“ Ricardo SEWALE 2d

“ Waltero SEWALE, shepherd 9d

“ Agn’s SEWALE 9d

The Poll Tax, as its name suggests, included everyone over the age of 14 (15 or 16) years of age. Except for Buckland and Barcote) (now in Oxfordshire), the other poll-tax place names do not appear to be traceable within Berkshire.

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