The Domesday Book and the early Sewells

By Eric L Sewell

This article was originally published in the November 1998 edition of Soul Search and revised in Jan 2002

The Domesday Book of 1086 is the earliest major repository of named individuals and their locations. It covers all the English counties, excluding only Cumberland (except parts of Furness), Durham and Northumberland. In trying to discover more about the origins of the SEWELLS it is worth taking another look at those Domesday names with which our surname might be associated, such as SAEWEALD and SIGVAHTR.

The Anglo-Saxon personal name SAEWEALD does not appear in the index but instead we find SAEWOLD, which the clerks recorded as SEUUOLD, SAUUOLD, SIUUOLD or SAWOLD. This name occurs in Bucks 1, Kent 1, Oxon 8, Som 1, Suffk 2, Warks 1, Wilts 1 and Worcs 2, the numbers denoting the frequency.

In Oxfordshire, SAEWOLD was possibly the last Anglo-Saxon sheriff of the county (Anglo-Saxon Oxfordshire – J Blair), and he may account for most if not all the quoted Domesday holdings in that county.  In 1086, the abbot of Bath was named SAEWOLD. In the late 11th century, SEWALD held the manor of Litcham, Norfolk (Blomfield’s Norfolk). In the Wiltshire Lay Subsidy of 1332 there is a John SEWOLD and a Christine SEWILDE.

The Norse SIGEWEALD, SIGVALDR or SIGHVATR is recorded in the Domesday Book as SIUUAT or SIWAT and is found in Lincs 5, Notts 1 and Oxon 1

In Lincolnshire, SIGHVATR was evidently a king’s man and one of four brothers who inherited the pre-Conquest land of their father in Lindsey. In 1086, SIGVAHTR held land at Boothby Pagnell and Old Somersby belonging to the Norman overlords Gilbert of Ghent and Guy of Craon.  A SIGHVATR also held land at East Keal from Eudo, son of Spirewic. Interestingly, Old Somersby and East Keal are in areas inhabited by SEWELLs in the 1580s (see IGI).

None of the post-Domesday records I have looked at refer to SIGVAHTR, but in Lincolnshire in 1289 there was a Henry SEGGEWALD (Assize Rolls).  The county, unlike other counties in Eastern England, does not seem to have been an area where the early SEWELLs resided. The first somewhat isolated SEWELL reference is in 1341 and mentions John SEWAL of Kirton (near Boston) (Inquests Post-Mortem).

Although SIGHVATR seems to disappear from the annals, its Domesday Book spelling, SIWAT, survived in at least four records:

1189        Hunts – SIWATE, son of Audwin (Pipe Rolls)

1200        Bucks –  High Wycombe – Robert & Gileberto SIWAT  (Bassett Charters).

1202        Lincs –  Whithelands, Westerholm, Esterholm, SIWATHE

1207        Lincs – Thorpe Underwood – Ralph, son of SIWAT (Feet of Fines)

As well as being an uncommon name in the Domesday Book, SIGHVATR also seems to have been a rarity in the history and literature of the period. The only persons carrying the name that I have found are:

SIGHVATR Thordarson – an 11th century Icelandic poet in the service of Olafr Helgi (St Olaf), king of Norway, for whom he composed verses concerning the king’s battles eg Ringmere, in 1010. (Biog. Dict. of Dark Age Britain – A Williams etc.)

SIGHVATR Sturluson – an Icelandic chief, d.1238

SIGHVATR Böovars – 12th century  (Icelandic Sagas- Chron. & Mem. of Gt. Britain & Ireland 1887)

SAEWIN, SAWIN or SEWIN appears in Cambs 1, Berks 3, Cornwall 6, Devon 20, Dorset 8, Essex 1 , Glos 2, Hants 9, Hunts 1, Kent 1, Northants 1, Notts 4, Shrops 2, Som 4, Suffolk 2, Wilts 1 and Worcs 1. Medieval documents mention SEWYN in Dorset and Glos.

Another Anglo-Saxon name, SAEWY, which appears in Oxon 1 and Wilts 1, re-appears as SEWY in 13-14th century Devon, Dorset, Wilts and Oxon.

Of particular interest is the Domesday name, SASWALO, which occurs in Berks 2, Derbys 3, Essex 1, Northants 1, Oxon, 2, Sussex 1 and Warks 1. Although some authorities (eg English Surnames – Reaney & Wilson) do not associate SEWELL with SASWALO, there is an example of such a derivation.  SASWALO was the Domesday tenant of the manor of Lower Ettington (Warks) belonging to Henry of FERRERS (the family name of the Earls of Derby). This SASWALO seems also to have held Domesday tenancies from Henry of FERRERS at Hough, Hatton and Etwall (Derbys), Titchmarsh (Nhants) and Whitton (Lincs). SASWALO’s grandson was named SEWALLIS and after moving to Shirley (Derbys), adopted the surname SHIRLEY (Warwickshire Victorian County History Vol 5 & The Ancestor No 3 1902).  In 1255 the Charter Rolls mention James son of SEWAL de Etindon, knight, grandson of SEWALLIS. The Garter King of Arms (A.R.Wagner in English Genealogy -,1972)  claims that It used to be thought that SEWAL, the ancestor of the SHIRLEYs, was an Englishman, but the fact that in 1086 he was an undertenant of the FERRERS, while the name SEWAL is found on the continent, suggests that he came with the Normans, though no place of origin can be proved for him.’

In 1086 a SASWALO also held land belonging to Geoffrey de Mandeville (later earl of Essex) at East & West Ilsley (Berks), at Fairstead (Essex) and at Rycote and Wendlebury (Oxon).  SAWALLUS (as a forename) and SEWALE (as a surname) are frequently found in medieval Essex. Fairstead, incidentally, is the place of a SEWELL marriage in 1548 (IGI).

In East Sussex, a SASWALO held land in the Netherfield Hundred belonging to the Count of Eu. SEWAL d’Langehers [Langney, Eastbourne ?]  is mentioned in 1199 (Pleas) and in the 14th century SEWALEs make their appearance in the neighbourhood at Rotherfield and Waldron (Feet of Fines & Lay Subsidy).

What conclusions can be drawn from the above are open to debate. It seems likely that the name SEWELL may have been derived from several sources – Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Norman and topographical.