By Eric L Sewell
This article was originally published in the April 2001 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
The relatively few SEWELLs found in Gloucestershire records are sometimes confused with the SHEWELLs, as pointed out in a previous article in Soul Search (July 2000). The IGI lists about 60 SEWELLs events in the county, compared with 330 SHEWELLs. By 1881 the Census returns show just 3 SEWELLs to have been born in county against 44 SHEWELLs. That the ratio of one name to the other should have changed so dramatically may be fortuitous, but as this article seeks to show there may be explanations.
Between the 16-18th centuries, nearly three-quarters of the IGI events for SEWELL and SHEWELL were associated with the Stroud area, principally at Bisley but also at Miserden, Painswick, Minchinhampton and Nympsfield. Like Stroud, the upland village of Bisley is closely connected with the cloth trade. In the IGI, after 1608, there are 16 SEWELL and 70 SHEWELL events registered at Bisley. Up to 1730 there is a mixture of the two surnames within the same family, but after this date only SHEWELL appears.
In the S aisle of All Saints, Bisley is a rare, if not unique, memorial brass dedicated to Kateryn SEWELL, dated 8th January 1515. A woman is shown in Tudor dress, beneath which is an inscribed plaque and two smaller brasses displaying her six sons and five daughters. These have apparently been removed from their original position and screwed onto the wall
PRAY FOR THE SOULE OF KATERYN SEWELL, LATE
WYFE OF THOMAS SEWELL, WHICH KATERYN
DECESED THE VIII DAY OF JANUARY, THE YERE OF OUR
LORD MVXV ON WHOSE SOULE JESU HAVE MERCY. AMEN
At least as early as 1578, the SEWELLs were tenants of a small manor known as Ferris Court. The manor was sold in 1599 to John SEWELL who bequeathed the property in 1622 to his son John (d.1646). The family acquired a coat of arms employing a diagonal band and three owls – reminiscent maybe of the chevron and three bees of other SEWELL crests. By 1669, Ferris Court had passed out of SEWELL hands, but returning briefly in the 1760-70s. Ferris Court is a very modest building of the 17th century or earlier, now used as a barn, and situated opposite to Home Farm. Marked on the OS map, it is situated on the southern edge of Lypiatt Park, about halfway between Bisley and Stroud.
The 18th century historian John Bigland mentions the Kateryn SEWELL brass but gives her surname as SHEWELL. A visit to Bisley proves this to be incorrect. Bisley has a large collection of inscribed memorial plaques and Bigland includes the following:
Walter SEWELL died March 8, 1664.
Thomas his son died Feb 2, 1694.
Joan his wife died Sept 20, 1714.
Jane, Daughter of Thomas SHOWELL of Ferris Court, Yeoman, died Oct 1764, aged 32
John SEWELL of Ferris Court in the Parish of Stroud, Yeoman, died Jan 5, 1780, aged 45.
John, Son of John SEWELL, died Dec 10, 1781, aged 23.
Mary, Wife of John SEWELL, senior, died Dec 5, 1783, aged 51
Despite the IGI indicating no SEWELL events at Bisley after 1730, one notes that the name still appears on a memorial in 1781.
To add further confusion the Victoria County History, totally ignores the name SHEWELL and refers to SEWELL throughout the volume covering the Bisley Hundred.
As the VCH shows, other properties had SEWELL connections. In 1647, Calfway Farm, to the north of Bisley, belonged to Walter SEWELL of Stroud, a dyer, who passed it on to his son Robert in 1659. In 1671, Robert and Walter SEWELL, clothiers, held the estate and it was still in Robert’s hands around 1686.
By 1698 it belonged to Robert SEWELL, a baker, who was still the owner in 1745, although in the meantime he had moved to Nympsfield. Incidentally, Bigland documents both SHEWELL and SHOWELL memorials at Nympsfield. By 1770 Calfway Farm was held by John SEWELL and retained until 1819 when it became part of the Lypiatt Park estate.
Huckvale’s Court, later known as Thrupp Mill, at Far Thrupp (south of Stroud), was according to the VCH occupied in 1608 by Richard SEWELL (d.1635). Inherited by his son Giles, it passed in 1677 to Richard SEWELL. In 1752 it was known as Sewell’s Mill. A John SEWELL appears in the 1776 Stroud electoral list as a freeholder. By the early 19th century, however, there neither SEWELLs nor SHEWELLs in the Stroud Directory nor for that matter do they appear in the 1851 Census for Bisley.
Although there appears to be no references to SEWELL amongst the medieval records of Gloucestershire, the surname SWELLE or SWELE does occur several times in the Subsidy Roll of 1327. These names are probably derived from Upper and Lower Swell, Gloucestershire villages near Stow-in-the-Wold. It may be significant that at Bisley in 1327 there was a Roger SWELE who was taxed at 2 shillings – an amount suggesting that he was a man of property.
Coincidentally, and no doubt without any relevance, Bisley has ‘seven springs or wells’ – a feature some have linked with SEWELL as a place-name. It seems that Thomas Keble (brother of John Keble), vicar of Bisley 1827-83, restored interest in the wells by reviving the practice of well-dressing on Ascension Day.
Historical, Monumental & Genealogical Collections relative to the County of Gloucester by John Bigland, Garter Principal King at Arms, 1741. Reprinted by the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Gloucester Record Series, 1989.
Victoria County History: Gloucestershire, Vol 11, 1976
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