Different surnames might be used in different documents, or more than one surname given in one document. Early descriptions were fairly elaborate and by the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries these were simpler, but still variable, and indeed the instability of surnames continued until well into the seventeenth century.
Although some Normans would already have had hereditary surnames on their arrival in Britain. the passing on of a surname from generation to generation only became customary in Britain gradually during the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. At the end of this period most of the population apparently had surnames.
Variations in the spelling of a family's surname continue to be found until the present century. Before this, as most people could not read or write, the parish clerk or other official would write down the name as they heard it.
There are four main groups of surnames:
Many surnames have uncertain origins, but the name Carswell (which in this report is treated together with its variants) clearly falls into Category A.
There are several surviving English place names which derive from the Old English words caerse (cress) and wiella (well or spring); watercress needs a plentiful supply of fresh spring water to grow and it evidently grew in many different areas in medieval times.
The place name survives today in Berkshire and Devon as Carswell, as Caswell in Dorset, Northamptonshire and Somerset; as Crasswall in Herefordshire; as Cresswell in Derbyshire and Staffordshire; as Kerswell in Devon and Worcestershire; and as Kerswill in Devon. There is also a Carsewell in Renfrewshire in Scotland. It will be noted that there is a particular preponderance of the place name in Devon.
The surname Carswell is evidently related to this group of place names and might have originally been applied in two different ways: firstly to describe someone who lived in one of the places so called; or secondly to describe someone who lived near a watercress stream, which did not necessarily acquire a formal place name.
To try to narrow down the place names that might have given rise to forms of the surname Carswell, it is necessary to look at how the place names appeared in manuscripts at the time when surnames were developing. Eilert Ekwall's Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names (1987) draws upon a general survey of early and secondary sources including charters, deeds, the Domesday Book and maps, to chart the various early forms of a given place name and thus explain its meaning. He charts the following examples under Carswell, Caswell, Crasswall, Cresswell and Kerswell:
Ekwall states that Caswell in Dorset and probably also Caswell in Somerset are identical in origin to the Oxfordshire place name.
The early form Cressewella. found in Oxfordshire, Herefordshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire, survives as the surname Cressweller.
Additionally Ekwall found the following interesting variations on the Devon place name:
In 1086, Abbotskerswell was held by the Abbot of Horton and Kingskerswell was held by the King.
The surname Carswell has been found in several variant forms including Casewell. Casswell, Caswall, Caswell, Caswill, Crasswell, Craswell, Cressal, Cressell, Cresswell, Creswell, Crisswell, Criswell, Crissell, Kerswell, Kerswill and Cresweller.
Reaney and Wilson's Dictionary of English Surnames (1995) cite the following medieval examples of the surname:
Other early examples of the surname are as follows:
The preposition 'de' clearly indicates a place name origin and was common in Anglo- Norman usage. In most cases the preposition would have been dropped by the end of the fourteenth century. It will be seen that again there is a cluster of examples from Devon , where the place name appeared as Carswill in the thirteenth and fourteenth century. In Staffordshire the place name appeared as Cressvale in the Domesday Book which gave rise to the surname Tomas de Cressewella, the only example in which the later form 'cress' rather than 'caerse' appears.
The Patronymica Brittanica (1860), a very early but still useful surname dictionary, gives the following explanations for the surnames Carswell, Cresswell and Kersewell:
The existing volumes of the English Surname Series (which is very incomplete) show the following references to the name:
H R Moulton's Palaeography, Genealogy and Topography, printed in the 1930s, is primarily a sale catalogue printed in the 1930s listing historical documents, ancient charters, leases, court rolls etc., but provides a useful overview of the national distribution of surnames. Here there were several examples of the surname:
10 May 1595
14 May 1593
As might be expected of a surname deriving from several different place names, itwas widespread throughout the country and had even reached the West Indies where R C Cresswell was the deputy registrar.
In 1890 H B Guppy published his Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, still the only published work on surname distribution in Britain as a whole. His work was based on printed genealogies and a survey of county directories for the 1880s, in which he looked especially at the names of farmers, reasoning that they were among the most stable groups in society. The names Casswell and Cresswell (but not Carswell) both appeared in sufficient quantities to be mentioned; Guppy restricted his study to names which appeared in a proportion of 7:10,000 or higher:
Guppy also noted that Caswell or Caswall was 'a very notable name in Leominster' in Herefordshire; several bailiffs or mayors of Leominster were called Caswell or Caswall and Sir George Caswell represented Leominster in parliament in 1720; he lost his estates through the South Sea Scheme. Guppy also noted that 'Caswell is the name of a Somerset tithing and of a Dorset hamlet.'
We had been asked to specifically consider the possibility of Scottish origin for the surname Carswell. George F Black. in The Surnames of Scotland (1946), declines to comment on the original etymology of the name (there is to date no Scottish equivalent of the detailed academic studies of English surnames and placenames) but be notes three possible place name derivations for the surname Carswell in Scotland; firstly Carsewell in the parish of Neilston, Renfrewshire, where a Carswell family is said to have been settled for centuries but rarely appear in the records there. Secondly, Carswell, in the barony of Carnwath in Lanarkshire, was shown as Creswell and Carswell in the fifteenth century. Thirdly, there was a tenement Carswell in the barony of Hassendean, Roxburghshire. Black gives the following examples of the surname in Scotland which indicate that the placename Cressewell had been formed by about 1200 at least:
Thus in Scotland the name appears to have had an independent existence, but etymologically speaking the origins of the three place names cited by Black are probably the same as in England. The placename Kirkcarswell near Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire, to which we had been alerted, might have a separate origin related to the great Northumbrian King and Saint Oswald, but this is something of a red herring in the overall context of the history of the many place names and surnames in the group to which Carswell belongs. Northumberland has its own Cresswell, which as far as the evidence goes would seem to derive from the growing of watercress as do the other English place names.
There was no sign of the name in Edward MacLysaght's Guide to Irish Surnames (1965) or in T J and Prys Morgan's Welsh Surnames (1985).
Many of the sources available for charting surname distribution through the centuries are necessarily confined to the wealthier sectors of the population: In general, nobody wanted to know the names of the poor but the names of those with money or land were naturally of interest to the authorities. However, one source that avers the whole of the social spectrum is provided by English parish registers, the earliest of which began in 1538 following a mandate that all parish priests should keep a weekly record of all baptisms, marriages and burials that took place in their parish. A survey of a cross section of parish registers for the years 1601 and 1602 was carried out in 1910 by F K and S Hitching; incidences of a particular surname are noted by parish and county, although with no indication of numbers of references.
Very few examples of the name was found in 1601 and 1602, but those that were found were widely scattered across the country from Devon in the south west to Derbyshire in the north west to London in the east.
A useful guide to the distribution of surnames for the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England is provided by the indexes to wills proved, and administrations granted, at the Prerogative Court of (the Archbishop of) Canterbury in London, which had superior jurisdiction over local ecclesiastical courts where wills were proved until 1858. The PCC thus provides a national index, although it is not a completely representative one, as testators whose wills were proved in the PCC were mostly among the wealthier members of society, and a disproportionate number of them were from London or Middlesex.
A search of the printed indexes for the years 1558 to 1583; 1584 to 1604; 1605 to 1619; 1620 to 1629; 1653 to 1656; 1657 to 1660; 1661 to 1670; 1671 to 1675; 1676 to 1685; 1686 to 1693; 1694 to 1700; 1701 to 1749; and 1750 to 1800 found many entries for the following variants of the name:
No examples of Carswell were found during this period. Creswell was the most prolific, as it would be from now on.
Carswell appears in Devon, London and Somerset. As can be seen, Creswell and other variants are all widely scattered across the country during the seventeenth century.
For the nineteenth century, H B Guppy's survey has been mentioned above. Another important Victorian source is the Return of Owners of Land of 1873, sometimes known as the Modern Domesday Book. This source lists, county by county, every owner of an acre of land or more, with their residence (not necessarily the address of their property) and the acreage of their holding.
It will be seen from this list that the surname by the nineteenth century had, in very general terms, crystallised into local variants, with Carswill and Kerswill or Kerswell being specific to Cornwall and Devon (but also found in one instance in Lancashire). The highest showing of any variant of the name was in Lincolnshire where ten Caswells owned land; this bears out Guppy's findings for that county; and in general, the survey confirms Guppy's indication that the surname was found in greatest numbers in the centre of the country. The form Carswell appeared in Cornwall and Lancashire only. Again, Cres(s)well is the most widely found variant.
In The Personal Names of the Isle of Man (1937) J J Kneen mentions only Creswell as an English place name, and states that it appears in the parish registers of Douglas in 1773.
Famous bearers of the name
The following references for the name were found in the Dictionary of National Biography for the British Isles:
There are six coats of arms listed in Burke's General Armory granted to men of the name Carswell. One for Cressall, a Cressel and six Cres(s)wells:
Carswell (Hach Arundel) co Devon the heiress m Langworthy) Sable a bend or
Carswell (Staffordshire) Sable three bars gemelles argent
Carswell Argent two bars gemels sable Carswell Or fretty gules a fesse ermine Carswell Azure fretty argent a fesse gules.
Carswell ( London) Argent three bars gemelles sable. Crest - An Arm embowed in mail proper hand holding a cross crosslet fitchy or.
Cressall Azure on a pile Argent three crescents in pale proper. Crest - Two lion's paws erased. supporting a bezant.
Cressel (Scadbury, co Kent) Sable a fesse argent between three chaplets or
Creswell (co Hams temp Edward 1) Argent three bars gemelles sable Crest - A sinister arm in chain armour, holding in the hand proper a cross bottonee fitchee or.
Creswell (Purston, Co Northampton. Arms conflrmed and crest granted to Robert Cresswell Esq of Purston by Dethick, Garter 31 Elizabeth) Azure three plates each charged with a squirrel gules cracking a cut or . Crest - A Branch of a tree barways vat, thereon a squirrel gules cracking a nut or between two twigs of hazel of the first, fructed of the third. Another crest - A Saracen's head proper.
Creswell (Ravenstone, co Leicester) Same Arms and Crest.
Creswell (Pinkney Park, Barnehurst, co Stafford and Sidbury co Wilts) Gules three plates each charged with a squirrel sejant of the field. Crest - A Saracen's head, proper wreathed about the temples vert and argent. Motto - Aut nunquam tentes aut perfice.
Creswell or Creswyll . Argent on a bend sable three rams' head cabossed of the field (another or).
Cresswell (Cresswell to Northumberland, exemplified to Addison John Cresswell esq of Creswell on his assuming in right of his wife Elizabeth Mary Reed cousin of John Baker esq of Hinton the additional surname and arms of Baker) Quarterly, 1 st and 4 th erminois three torteaux two and one, each charges with a squirrel sejant argent for Cresswell; 2 nd and 3 rd gules a goat statant armed and crined or between three saltires of the last for Baker; on a shield of pretence 1 st and 4 th for Baker as above; 2 nd and 3 rd azure two chevronels argent between two garbs in chief or for Reed. Crests – 1 st Cresswell: A mount vert thereon a torteau charges as in the arms; 2 nd Baker : A goat's head erased argent armed and crined or gorged with a collar gemel and charged on the neck with a saltire gulfs. Motto - Cressa ne careat.
Cresswell (of Creswell, Northumberland) Argent on a bend sable three bulls heads cabossed of the field.
Two references have been found to printed genealogies of Carswell families. Re also note other printed genealogies for Cressell, Cres(s)well:
To conclude, the name Carswell is one of a group of family names that can clearly be derived from a similar group of place names, in England and Scotland, which indicated the proximity of a stream in which cress grew; and there seems to have been no shortage of watercress in medieval England or Scotland. Within these groups, certain regional patterns can be discerned; for example, the surname Carswell or Kerswell in Cornwall and Devon is likely to derive from the place names there, which maintain similar forms through the centuries. However, Cornwall and Devon, being just about the most remote corner of England (until about 1600, virtually a separate nation), are something of a special case, and given the general mobility of the population and the great flexibility with which surnames changed form in the pre- literate age, it would be unwise to make too many attempts to disentangle strands of surname and relate them to a specific place. It is only by tracing a specific family back through ancestral research that the exact place of origin of its surname can be safely identified. Nevertheless, if a family has been traced back as far as records allow in Scotland it is probably reasonably safe to assume that their name relates to one of the place names identified by Black; unless, of course, they came from over the border in Northumberland.
A research report supervised by Wendy Roberts of Debrett Ancestry Research Ltd. originally published in:
DeBoo, R.F. 1999. Carswell of Torkirra. Self published, Victoria, B.C., 28 pp., with appendices.
P H Reaney, The Origins of English Surnames (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1967)
P H Reaney & R M Wilson, Dictionary of British Surnames (London: Oxford, 3rd edition 1995)
P HReaney, Dictionary of British Surnames
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2nd edition 1976)
P Hanks & F Hodges, A Dictionary of Surnames (Oxford University Press 1988) M. A Lower, Patronymica Brittanica ( London 1860)
C W Bardsley, Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames (1901: reprinted. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. 1967)
C L'Estrange Ewen, Guide to the Origin of British Surnames (London: John Gifford 1938)
H B Guppy, Homes of Family Names in Great Britain( London 1890)
Ernest Weekley, The Romance of Names (London: John Murray, 2nd edition 1917) Ernest Weekley, Surnames (London: John Murray 1917)
Oswald G Knapp, 'Unusual Surnames' (MS, 1949)
Ceorge F Black, The Surnames of Scotland (New York Public Library 1946)
Edward MacLysaght, The Surnames of Ireland(Dublin: Irish University Press 1977) Edward MacLysaght, Guide to Irish Surnames (Dublin: Helicon 1965)
Sir Robert Matheson, Special Report on Surnames in Ireland (1909)
T J & Prys Morgan, Welsh Surnames (Cardiff: University of Wales Press 1985)
F K & S Hitching, References to English Surnames in 1601 (Walton on Thames: Bernau 1910)
F K & S Hitching, References to English Surnames in 1602 (Waluon on Thames: Bernau 1911)
The Dictionary of National Biography: Index & Epitome ( London 1906)
Tice Concise Dictionary of National Biography, Part II, 1901-1950, ( Oxford 1975) Burke 's Family Index (London: Burke's Peerage Limited 1976)
H R Moulton, Palaeography. Genealogy & Topography (1930)
Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills 1558-1583; 1584-1604; 1605-1619; 1620-1629; 1653-1656; 1657-1660; 1661-1670; 1671-1675; 1676-1685; 1686-1693; 1694-1700 (British Record Society); 1701-1749 (Friends of the PRO); 1750-1800 (Society of Genealogists)
G W Marshall, The Genealogist's Guide (1903; reprinted, Baltimore: GPC 1973) J B Whitmore, A Genealogical Guide ( London 1953)
Charles Bridge, An Index to Pedigrees ( London 1867)
Geoffrey B Barrow, The Genealogist's Guide (London: Research Publishing Co. 1977)
Sir Bernard Burke, The General Armory ( London 1884)
C R Humphrey-Smith ed., Burke's General Armory Volume II (Tabard Press 1973) The Return of Owners of Land (1873)
Eden Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 4th edition 1987)
E G Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2nd edition 1950)
W J Hardy & W Page, A Calendar to the Feet of Fines for London and Middlesex: Vol 1 Richard I - Richard III (1189-1485) ( London 1892)
Richard McKinley, The Surnames of Oxford, (Leopards Head Press, 1977) Richard McKinley, The Surnames of Sussex, (Leopards Head Press, 1988) Richard McKinley, The Surnames of Lancashire. (Leopards Head Press, 1981) Richard McKinley. The Surnames of Norfolk and Suffolk (Phillimore 1975)
R A McKinley, A History of British Surnames (Longman 1990)
David Postles, The Surnames of Devon, (Leopards Head Press, 1995)
George Redmonds, The Surnames of Yorkshire West Riding, (Phillimore 1973) Mr Avenell, The Norman People, ( London 1874)
J J Kneen, The Personal Names of the Isle of Man, ( Oxford, 1937)