The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Sewell - A Bedfordshire Hamlet 

by Eric Sewell

This article was originally published in the July 2000 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

The earliest appearance of the Sewell surname in its modern spelling, except maybe for an additional 'e' at the end, is in the Domesday Survey of 1086. Four places are named SEWELLE in the Latin text, but only in the case of Bedfordshire does it seem to be associated with a family surname that frequently appears in the records.

The hamlet of SEWELL is on the north slope of the Chilterns in the parish of Houghton Regis and on the edge of Dunstable. Adjacent to the hamlet is a Stone Age earthwork known as Maiden Bower. At Dunstable (Durocobrivae), the Romans founded a settlement where the A5 (Watling Street) crosses the Icknield Way. In 1131 Henry 1 established an Augustinian Priory at Dunstable.

According to the Domesday Survey, SEWELL was situated in the Manshead Hundred, and within the manor of Houghton Regis which belonged to Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). Before 1086, the SEWELL estate covered 3 hides (about 360 acres). Edith, Edward’s queen, gave SEWELL to Walraven one of her retinue. It survived as a separate manor for only a short time because, as the Domesday record shows, Ralph Tallebosc (Tallboys), the post-Conquest sheriff of the county, returned SEWELL to the manor of Houghton. There is no written evidence of SEWELL again being regarded as a separate manor before the 16th century.

The accepted view is that the place-name SEWELL is derived from the locality having ‘seven wells’. Given its position on the Chiltern escarpment this seems to be a reasonable explanation, although only one ancient well seems to have been discovered.

The association of the hamlet with a family named Sewell , tenants of the manor of Houghton, seems to be in little doubt. There are many references in the public records between 1247 and 1473. Most are clearly related to SEWELL hamlet or the immediate area, but others are more speculative - particularly those relating to John de Sewell and his connections with the Earl of Stafford (see the Soul Search article on Sewell Heraldry). The documents suggest a family of minor rank but of sufficient importance to be mentioned in the annals.

Roll of the Justices of Eyre, 1247

Dunstable: Alexander son of Peter de Sewell - for assault.

Dunstable: Henry, son of Alexander de Sewell - pledge.

Dunstable: John son of Robert de Sewell - pledge

Dunstable: Herbert de Sewell & William de Sewell - pledges

Dunstable: Geoffrey de Sewell - pledge.

Dunstable: John de Sewell - oath

Dunstable: Robert de Sewelle - pledge

Manshead Hundred: John de Seuewell - juror.

Annales Monastici [Rolls Series]

1288. Walter de Sewell refused admission to Dunstable Priory because he was too unlearned and inclined to levity.

Bishop of Lincoln’s Rolls

1290. Eversholt: Henry de Sewell presented to the living.

1291. Woburn Abbey: Geoffrey de Sewell - priest in religious orders.

Catalogue of Ancient Deeds (PRO)

1295: Houghton: John Sewell - proved his right to hunt in Buckwood .

1298: Sewell: John, son of Peter de Sewelle - grant of messuage in the hamlet of Sewell.

Late 13c: Houghton & Sewell: Ralph , son of Richard de Sewell, demises to Alexander, son of Ralph de Sewell, a rent with homages of lands and tenements in Hocton and Sewewell.

Late 13c: Sewell: Richard, son of Athelina de Sewelle, to Alexander, son of Ralph - grant of a portion of his castleage in Sewelle, witnessed by John de Sewelle.

Late 13c: Dunstable: John, son of Ralph de Sewelle - grant of land in Dunstable.

1332: Dunstable: John de Sewelle of Dunstable - grant to John de Reede of Dunstable of lands in Ravensworth at Depecombe

Lay Subsidy 1297

Dunstable: John de Sewelle 3s 10¾¾ d

Dunstable: Joan de Sewelle 2s 7½d

Inquisitions & Assessments 1284-1431

1302. Manshead Hundred - John de Sewell - juror

Calendar of Patents 1307-13

Nicholas son of John de Sewell - slain at Dunstable

Lay Subsidy 1309

Houghton: Henry de Sewell 2s 11d

Tilsworth: Henry de Sewell 7s 2½d

Merston: Henry de Sewell 5s 1½d

Dunstable: Isabella de Sewell 19¼d

Dunstable: John de Sewell 9s 1¾d

Luton : Roger de Sawell 9¼d

Close Rolls

1329-1336: Houghton - Adam de Sewell – vicar, in the king’s gift.

Calendar of Patents 1327-30

1329: Houghton Regis - Adam de Sewell - appointed vicar of All Saints

Lay Subsidy 1332

Dunstable: Agnes de Sewell 3s 8d

Houghton Regis: Henry de Sewell 10s

Eaton [Bray]: John de Sewell 3s 0½d

Rymer’s Foedra

1366: John de Sewell - accompanied the Black Prince to Aquitaine in the retinue of Humphrey and Hugh de Stafford.

Calendar of Patent Rolls

1378: John de Sewell – enfeoffed by Hugh, Earl of Stafford.

William Salt Soc. Vols XIV & XV

1380: John & Henry Sewell, Esquires among the retinue of the Earl of Stafford

1385: John Sewell - witness to a charter of Hugh, Earl of Stafford

1389-92. John de Sewell - executor to the will of Hugh, Earl of Stafford

Close Rolls of Henry IV

1400: Beds: Henry de Sewell, Esquire

1425: Wing (Bucks) – Nicholas Sewell, vicar

List of Gentry

1433: Sewell: John & Henry Sewell

Rolls of Parliament VI

1451: John Sewell said to be deceased

Victoria County History

1473: Stratton [Biggleswade]: Matilda Sewell - founded a chantry for the souls of her parents. [The chapel at Stratton no longer exists]

There are 16th century Sewells recorded in the IGI who were resident at Dunstable and Woburn. According to the pedigree of the Dyve family, Maud, heiress to the Sewell estate and sister of Henry Sewell, married Edmund Dyve of Bromley. By 1658, in the aftermath of the Civil War, SEWELL hamlet had been acquired by Henry Brandreth, a London merchant, as part of Houghton estate. There are no Sewells in the hamlet today.

At SEWELL there is a listed property known as Sewell Manor which until recently was a working farm. Its architectural heritage is largely hidden behind a 20th century façade. The central core of the house is a thick-walled, two-storey, medieval long house possibly of the 13-14th century. This part of the house evidently dates back to when the Sewell family occupied the property. An extension in the 17th century may be attributable to Dyves. As in the traditional long house, a central passage separates the two ground floor rooms, now the kitchen and dining room. The floor above the kitchen, known as the chapel, has a timber frame roof with arched braces carved with quatrefoils.

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