On Beacon Hill 1: The Origins of the Bicknell Family

“On Beacon Hill” is a series by Marcus Bicknell started in 1995, mostly compiled from obituaries and third party material.

We received this piece from Edward A. Bicknell of Portland, Maine, USA in July 1996. It is from a book commissioned by his father in the 1920s and draws on Sydney Bicknell’s Five Pedigrees of 1912, which is drawn from his Excerpta Biconyllae of 1895 (both of which are in Marcus’s possession) and from his original study “A Forgotten Chancellor and Canon”, published in 1874 in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, vol.xl (ii), pp. 179-226. . It gives Sydney Algernon’s conclusions that John de Bykenhulle, of Beacon Hill in Somerset, is the first Bicknell, and the man from whom we are all descended. But see also “On Beacon Hill” No.8 where some of these conclusions are disputed.

 “The manor of Bykenhulle included about 1,500 acres of land with its manorial buildings, having the hill, which gave it its name, as the high point, from which signal fires, flags or other devices carried news to watchers of other beacons in other parts of England.

“About eight miles southeast from the city of Taunton, Somerset, England, and five miles northwest from Ilminster, is a projecting hill, somber, forest clad, conspicuous from Taunton. This hill, rising 820 feet above the sea, is popularly known as Beacon Hill, and the country it seems to guard is the ancient Anglo Saxon manor of Bykenhulle. The Exon Domesday calls the place Bichehalda, and the great-Exchequer one says: “William holds of the Earl Bichehalle; Aluric held it in the time of King Edward” (1004-1006). These words, Bichehalle and Bichehalds are corruptions by Norman scribes, of the Saxon name of the manor, and the hill which marks it, Bykenhulle. The derivation is clear: Anglo Saxon Bycn or Bykene, a beacon and Hulle or Hyll, a hill.

“The manor of Bykenhulle included about 1,500 acres of land with its manorial buildings, having the hill, which gave it its name, as the high point,  from  which signal fires, flags or other devices carried news to watchers of other beacons in other parts of England.

“Aluric, a Saxon, was the first holder of the manor, of whom we have record. On the accession of William, the Conqueror, in 1066, the King gave his half brother, Robert, Earl of Cornwall, seven hundred and ninety-seven estates, forty-nine of which were in Dorset and Somerset Counties, Bykenhulle manor being one. Robert accepted the tenure of William de l’Estra, whose heirs came into possession of the manor by forfeiture and legally holding the lands directly from the King, till about the year 1260, A.D., when Johanne, daughter of William de l’Estra, married Robert de Pavilly, or Normandy (English, Paveley), bringing the estate of Bykenhulle to him as her dower.

“The Paveleys were a baronial family of Pavilly, a town twelve miles northwest from Rouen, in France, where the Lord Amalbert de Pavilly had founded a monastery in 664, A.D. Some of the family crossed over from France with the Conqueror and soon became a powerful race in England, established in at least twelve counties. Reginald de Pavely joined the first crusade and fell in battle at Acre, 1104; we find Ralph de Pavely, witnessing a charter of William, Earl of Surrey, in the reign of Henry I.; and Henry III, in 1242, sent money to Thomas de Pavely for his journey to join him at Anjou.

Another Reginald de Pavely was sum-mon-ed as baron in 1260, to attend the King in council; John de Pavely was rector of Hooke, near Beaminster, in 1312; Richard de Paveley and Sir John, who died in 1361, were priors of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem; lastly Sir Walter de Paveley was one of the founders of the Knights of the Garter, the highest order of Knighthood in Great Britain.

“In 1281, John, son of Robert and Joanne (de l’Estra) de Paveley, died, seized of the manor of Bykenhulle, his heir being his son John. Prior to his death he had exchanged his French baronial name, Paveley, for the name of the manor, and was known as John de Bykenhulle. In feudal times such changes of names was common and as the Paveley family had come to England to make a permanent home it was in accord with usual custom for a member to adopt the name of the castle or manor where he lived, or any other which flattered his fancy or ambition. In this instance John de Paveley chose to give up the surname, de Paveley and became John de Bykenhulle, our first ancestor of the Bicknell name.

It was Norman fashion, for two or three generations after the conquest (1066), to distinguish themselves by the title of the lands they held in fief – “de Bykenhulle,” but by the fourth generation they dropped the French designation “de.”

Algernon Sydney Bicknell (1832-1911), family historian, son of Elhanan Bicknell

 The date when the descendants of Robert de Paveley and his wife Joanne de l’Estra became Bicknells was about 1260, A.D. Before that date, Bykenhulle or Bicknell was a place name only, in England. After that it became the family name from which our family received its surname, Bicknell.

Bykenhulle, 1260
Bykenhull, 1297
Bikenhulle, 1316
Bikenoll, 1368
Bykenyll, 1411
Bikenhill, 1443
Byconyll, 1475
Biknell, 1523
Bycknell, 1547
Bicknell, 1597
Bickenhill, 1912
John de Paveley, 1260
John de Bykenhulle 1275
John de Bykenhulle 1302
Bickernoll, 1351
Bykenell, 1425
Biconyll, 1443
Byconyll, 1451
Biknell, 1523
Bycknell, 1544
Bicknell, 1585
Bicknell, 1912
The changes in spelling from 1260 A.D., to the present time

 “There are at least forty-seven different spellings of Bicknell as stated by Mr. A. Sidney Bicknell, of Herne Hill, London, England, who spent many years of his life in studies and researches of the Bicknell family (Algernon Sydney Bicknell, author of Five Pedigrees in 1912 – pictured right).

“We are indebted to him for our exact knowledge of the origin of the family name, and reference is made to an able and scholarly address of Mr. Bicknell, on “A Forgotten Chancellor and Canon,” read by him before the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, 1894, and published in the proceedings of that Society, that year, New Series, Vol. XX.

“It may be stated that all forms of Bignall, Bignell, Bignold, and Bucknell, are in no way connected with Bicknell, and all spellings are corruptions that do not appear as B-i-c-k-n-e-l-l.

“The above well established facts set at rest the race origin and name of our family. The Bicknells are of Teutonic blood. They crossed the Rhine, invading France before the Christian era. The advance guard occupied Normandy and were known as Normans or Northmen. “The Pavilly family, of Norman blood, founded the town of that name and established its baronial character by founding a monastery through the wealth and influence of Lord Amalbert de Pavilly. On the conquest of England in 1066, William the Conqueror, being a Norman, distributed the manorial estates of England to Normans of high rank, or to those who rendered valuable military service.

“The marriage of the Paveleys with l’Estras gave a pure Norman blood to the original John de (Paveley) Bykenhulle. To what extent the Norman blood of the Paveley-Bicknells was changed from 1300 to 1600, we cannot state, but it is probable that Anglo Saxon and other strains had entered the vital stream in the veins of Zachary and John Bicknell, who settled in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1635.”

Thanks, Edward. We are looking forward to hearing more.

Uploaded to bicknell.net by Marcus on 12th February 2021

Did you know?

* John Bicknell was indicted for murdering Robert Rasebek on 25 March 1391 near York but was pardoned by Henry IV.

* Sir John Bicknell, MP for Shaftesbury, was knighted by Henry VII on the battlefield of Bosworth in 1485. He and two other commanders were so honoured, for valour, within an hour of the end of the battle.

* Of the 29,000 marriage licences issued in London between 1521 and 1869, the name Bicknell is registered only once.

* Sydney Bicknell, for sport, rode his horse over the 7 foot 6 inch high wall of Hyde Park in 1792.

* Miss Eliza Bicknell lost her life in 1819 by her skull being fractured by a bottle wantonly thrown from the gallery of a London Theatre.

* Elhanan Bicknell (1788-1861), Marcus’s great great grandfather, took his name from the American preacher Elhanan Winchester. Having made his money with a fleet of thirty ships which monopolized the Pacific sperm-whale fishery business, he patronized several celebrated artists of the time including Turner.