(member 1878)

Medieval byname

The surname WITHELL probably derived from a name describing a locality or geographical feature. These early occurrences are now regarded as bynames, many of which did not survive and stabilize as hereditary surnames. Such bynames have been found in a surprising number of early documents emanating from different parts of Britain- London, Wales, Oxfordshire, Devonshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Yorkshire and the Midlands.

Medieval spelling of bynames varied between localities. For example, an assize in Oxford mentions Hugo de Withhille in 1207 and Hugh de Withull a knight in 1223 while Reynold de Wythele who held land by the King in 1311 at Wythele 'beyond Trent' may have been from the tiny village of Witherly near the border of Leicestershire. The John Wythiell, Thomas Wythiale and Thomas Wythyale who were goldsmiths in London and Bodmin were possibly from the one family.
Early variations;- Wethell, Wethiell, Wethyell, Withell, Withiell, Withyell, Wothell, Wothiell, Wothyell, Wythell,Wythiell, Wythyell, Withull, Withhille, Withele.

Hereditary surname

Withell, Withiel and Withall were to consolidate as hereditary surnames in three main areas.

Cornwall The name evolved from the area centered by the village of Withiel which was part of the manor of Widie as noted in the Doomsday Book. One authority suggests a derivation from gwydhel, a 'wooded district or forest' while another proposes a compound of the Old English - gwith (trees and ial  (fertile upland).

The second part of the name of the town of Lostwithiel seems to contain the same element, suggesting that Withiel may have originally been the name of a large district, reaching in one direction as far as the Fowey.

Yorkshire It is suggested that the surname Withell in Yorkshire may have evolved from Whit(e)hill or Whit(e)well. Medieval documents and the parish records so far searched seem to support this theory and variations such as Whitell and Whitill using the initial “wh” rather than “w” were the more common spelling. Further research into early wills and other estate records for the occurrence of Whitell, Whithill and variations in Yorkshire is needed. Offers of information or research would be greatly appreciated.

Southern counties The small parish of Withiel Florey in Cannington on the estuary of the river Pallett in West Somerset gave its name to Withiell manor and Withiell Wood and the surname may have been associated originally with this parish.

However there were also a number of early occurrences of the surname in hamlets around the coast of Devon and Sussex which appear to be unconnected.  These evolved into both Withell and Withall. The Withell family found in Durham in the second half of the 19th century was the result of a migration from Sussex

Link to map of Withiel Florey Ordnance Survey 1:10560 County Series 1st edition (c.1884-1887)

19th and 20th centuries

By the mid 18th century the surname with the spelling Withell or Withiel was mainly to be found in Cornwall. Withall had become the more usual spelling in the Southern Counties and the Yorkshire dynasty was about to emerge.

The census returns for UK between 1841 and 1901 reflect a major shift in the distribution of the surname, particularly with regard to Cornwall. There had been a massive migration from Cornwall, with families moving to Wales, Devon, London and even Scotland, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Although during this time one Yorkshire family had moved to Canada and several families had settled in New Zealand, the numbers remaining in Yorkshire appear to have been reasonably stable. It also seems likely that the present-day surname WITHILL in Yorkshire may have connections with Withell in the 19th century but further research is needed.

Allowing for some misspelling of entries for known family members from both Cornwall and Yorkshire, the 1881 census recorded 141 occurrences with the variants WITHELL. WITHEL, WITHILL and WITHIEL. Cornwall had 16, Devon 14, Durham 8, Essex 5, Hampshire 1, Middlesex 7, Norfolk 2, Surrey 4, Yorkshire 54, Glamorgan 27 and Scotland 2, with 1 in the Navy. We have also positively identified family members who had been listed as Withill, Withall and Withett.

The 2002 Electoral Roll for UK listed 97 persons with the surname Withell, but no Withells currently resident in Cornwall. Because voters in UK now have a choice re the inclusion of their names in published listings, current rolls no longer give an accurate picture.

There have been later waves of migration particularly after WW II when several families of Withells of Cornish descent moved to Australia. There were 53 Withells of voting age in Australia in 2000.

I don't have current Electoral roll listings for Canada and New Zealand. The availability of US Census returns online in digital form has revealed that there were a few Withells born in America in the early 19th century. One family originally came from Germany but it has not been possible to research these names further. However several Withells have been found in US immigration files.

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