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Home: Surnames: Britnell Family Genealogy Forum

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English Britnells & Family Name
Posted by: Bob Britnell (UK) Date: September 24, 2000 at 09:23:26
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Can an Englishman join in......My father was Frederick Abel Britnell, born in Jan 1920 in Isleworth, Middlesex, England and son of Abel and Alice Britnell, Alice we think was an Englefield before marriage. Abel was born pre 1906 but that is all I know at present. Fred, my father married Peggy Stacey of Essex, England and had three sons, all married with 7 grandchildren between them. My parents are both dead but I was brought up to believe that the family came from the Buckinghamshire/Berkshire area, but without any explanation of this. My brothers still live in Essex but I have moved to Canterbury, Kent with my family.

As an amateur student of anglo-saxon England and with a keen interest in history I have given some thought to the origin of our unusual surname; spurred on particularly by the fact that my name is often mispelt as Britwell, and yes I know my handwriting can be bad! Mispellings of names are particularly common in England in the first half of the last millenium, before a written language had settled down..even Shakespeare spelt his own name several different ways. It ocurred to me that what if Britnell was actually a mispelling of Britwell?

One of the commonest formations of English surnames is from place names and Britwell could have two derivations springing from early English, itself largely derived from Anglo-saxon. Firstly, it could be derived from bright well, indicating a spring of clear or fresh water or, more improbably it could come from the well of the British, indicating a local settlement that survived the coming of the Anglo-Saxons; I say improbably because to the Anglo-saxons the 'British' were the 'Welsh' a word denoting foreigners.

Looking up Britwell on an English map gives you only Britwell Salome, a village in Oxfordshire close to the villages of Brightwell Baldwin and Brightwell Upperton, all of which are close to the point where Oxfordshire meets Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, in fact just pretty much where family tradition suggests our family comes from. I note that all the Britnells posted on the website seem to come from Aston Rowant(Oxon), or Bledlow, Princes Risborough or Cadmore End (Bucks). These places form a group not more than 6 miles from each other and not more that about 7 miles from the Britwell/Brightwell villages.

The Britwell/Brightwell villages in turn are close to the town of Wallingford, at the point where the prehistoric Ridgeway and the Roman Icknield Way cross the River Thames; this also happens to be one of the earliest Anglo-saxon settlements in England, probably founded by the Romano-British leadership, as one of the mercenary settlements at a strategic crossing point where invaders could be checked; this would be before the coming of the Anglo-saxons to Britain in force. This would easily imply an Anglo-saxon origin for Britwell/Brightwell and perhaps subsequently for Britnell.

I was interested to see a Britnell Bookshop as my wife is an author of children's stories, her latest book is, 'Nettie Mugwort the Fairy'.

Good luck to all you Britnells wherever you may be!

Bob (UK)


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