Author Topic: My quest for my roots  (Read 258 times)

Michael Caswell

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My quest for my roots
« on: November 25, 2019, 02:46:53 am »
The Origins of the CASWELL Surname by Mike Caswell

My quest for my roots started about 20 years ago, when I first saw the TV program ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley. It was a story about a black man who traced his roots through slavery back to Africa. I was intrigued to know ‘where I came from’ and how my name ‘Caswell’ originated.
Many times, during my genealogy adventure, I came across the explanation for the CASWELL name as being’ someone who lived by the side of a watercress bed’, and derived from a corruption of ‘Cresswell’. This seemed to conflict with another viewpoint, which said we came from the British warlord ‘Cassivellaunus’, a man who fought Julius Caesar. The latter, for many years, seemed more plausible to me, as many Wiltshire Caswells surnames were spelt Casswell, but as time wore on, I began to realize that spelling was not something ancestors or their scribes were particularly good at, and one could only rely on the fact that the name was spelt in a variety of ways.

The years rolled by, gradually I pieced together all the available data from the IGI, the Wiltshire records office and my own relatives information. Almost every single event was fitted into the Caswell tree, and it stretched back to 1594, when a Robert Casswell lived in Yatesbury. He was one of the first available entries in the village's church records. Surnames seemed to be well established then and there was no sign of a watercress bed, or anything else that pointed to the name’s origins. Then, one day I read and article about Calstone, a small village near Yatesbury, having a watercress bed. Could this be it? If it was, no other clues were forthcoming.

More years rolled by as I tried to research the village of Yatesbury a little more. It was a fairly uneventful place, nestled in an uphill fold of the Marlborough Downs. It kept whatever secrets it had to itself, until I found an entry dated 1284ad regarding a tax payment by a Hugh de Carswell and his wife Idonea. They owed the landlord a sore sparrow hawk. (Sore meaning red, and young sparrow hawks were red)
In the Edington Cartulary vol 36, p 153, -588, John Carswell is mentioned as a witness to a charter of Thomas Webbe of Bourford (Burford is near Curbridge/Witney, Oxford), dated 1 5 Sep 1394.

He is mentioned, same page, item 590, on July 1 1396, as a witness to a charter of John Lake of Langeford, Berks. (Langford is also now in Oxford and very close to Curbridge)
Also, item 596 on 21 Dec 1361, in a charter of John Laundels, granting in fee, with warranty, to the rector and brethren of the house or monastery of Edington property in Westwell.

This is one of the very first records we have of Caswells living in Yatesbury. In a tax list of 1332, William de Carsewelle paid taxes of 5s 4d and John de Carsewelle paid 6s 8d. This is recorded in the Edington Cartulary Vo l.45 page 43.

My big question remained, if Hugh, William and Thomas were all ‘de Caswell’, or ‘of Caswell’, where was this place? There was certainly no mention of it anywhere nearby or anywhere in Wiltshire. ‘de Caswell’ sprung up again several months later when I was given an enormous family tree of the Buckeridge Family. The very first entry was Henry Buceric. The Buckeridge’s came from Berkshire, but I couldn’t find any place named Caswell in Berkshire.
The entry for Henry Buceric reads: 8 Hen.III 1224 Pedes Pinium
(Lands in Carswell, Berkshire)

I also noted that Caswell of Berkshire was mentioned in the Domesday book, but it said, 'now abandoned', and that was 1088ad.
In the end, technology came to my aid, as I asked my friends on the Internet if anyone knew of a place near Wiltshire called Caswell. The reply came quickly, as the hamlet of Carswell Marsh, near Witney instantly appeared on an Internet location search map. This area was once in Berkshire, now Oxford, which explained why it couldn’t previously be found.

This warranted more research, so I engaged the services of an Oxford researcher, who came up with several very useful pieces of information, not the least being an old book which had a drawing of Caswell Farm with a brief description stating there was a moat, and the remains of a castle or baronial mansion. My researcher took photos of the entrance to the farm, but never ventured down the long lane.

 HISTORY OF WITNEY by the Rev. Dr. Giles 1852ad
From the Oxfordshire County Record Office
The small hamlet of Curbridge lies about two miles out of Witney, on the Bampton road. It is a lonely looking village, with little to attract notice Some of the houses appear to be built on the foundations of older edifices, and here and there is seen a wall, evidently of considerable antiquity. Almost half the land belonging to the whole parish of Witney, lies in this hamlet, and a small chapel of ease has lately been built here
There are also the remains of what was once a fine baronial mansion or castle, now called Caswell house. A large, moat runs round it and the solid piers of the great gateway, defended by loop holes on each side for discharging missiles at an assailant, are still to be seen, as depicted in the accompanying etching-

The whole is now used as a farmhouse, shewing us that the arts of husbandry and of peaceful life will outlive the munitions of war, and the pomp of baronial castles. I have not been able to discover who were the founders and original occupiers of this once stately mansion, but the last family of distinction who resided here were the Wenmans, of whom Antony Wood says, in his MSS., that they were originally clothiers of Witney and being the first that used vains or carts with four wheels to carry their cloth to London, were called wainmen, or else the first of them was a driver of a wain. Their old house in Witney was until lately an inn (The Crown) to the east of the Town Hall. Within half a mile of Caswell House, is a well in the fields, cast in stone.

To the above brief notices, may be appended a letter from Edward Dalton Esq. of Dunkirk House near Nailsworth, dated march 23 1843, to the Rev. Thomas Symons, and inserted in that gentleman's Manuscript Collections [viii, 328] of which much use has been made in this work.
"My family were resident freeholders at Curbridge, in the parish of Witney, from before 1570 to 1644, when they followed the declining fortunes of King Charles, and suffered greviously at Newbury."
Some time later I was send a copy of a map drawn up in the 1600's. Further research exposed several more, drawn about that time, by John Speed. Just to the south of Witney, near Ducklington, Caswell Castle is clearly visible.

 On a trip to the UK in October 1999, my wife and I took a drive to Oxfordshire, to see if we could find the property known as Caswell Farm, located in Curbridge. Our Oxford researcher had previously sent me some photos of the entrance, so I easily recognized it.
After parking the car in the courtyard in front of the old house, we knocked on the door and no one answered. I hadn't come all across the planet to give up now, so I walked along the lane past some of the farm outhouses, on looking back towards the house I thought I could recognize some of the features of the house from the old sketch, but I wasn't sure I had the right place.

   A young man plowing with a tractor saw me looking out towards him, and drove over to meet me. He worked on the farm and when I explained why I was there, and then showed him the sketch, he said. "I know exactly where that wall is, the drawing is perfect!'
"What about a moat?" I asked, fearing that would simply be too much to ask.
"Yes, we have a moat, would you like to see it?"
We walked back towards my car and my wife joined us, as we walked into the main farm yard.
"Look, over there. You can see the defense slots in that wall, the buttresses and that old doorway!" the young man pointed across the yard, while I compared each detail. The drawing was incredibly accurate, and nothing had changed for over 150 years.
"But, where is the moat?" A few walls and a couple of arrow slots didn't really prove there was a castle here, but a moat would convince me that there was indeed a castle here once.

We took a few steps towards the edge of the yard and peered over a wall. And there, looking so tranquil and peaceful was, my moat!
The water was several feet deep and looked fairly fresh.
It was difficult to walk around the entire spread of the moat, because the inner circle was overgrown, and the outside was fenced off. But for all that, it was quite obvious that this waterscape was man made and designed in a horseshoe to protect the grounds where the castle once stood.
A little later Mr & Mrs Matthews, the farm owners returned, and they were delighted to find I had such an interest in their property. We were given a tour of the house, and then another tour of the grounds, this time approaching the moat from a different direction.
  The entire length of the moat must have been two or three hundred yards and was quite impressive. If a castle had been standing there today, the moat would have done it justice.

I stood there, in silence, just soaking in all the significance of my discovery.
Our quest was almost over, the job was done! I felt elated that, after 20 years of research I had eventually found out where I had come from. It was a magnificent climax to discover that we Caswells had once owned a castle.
We thanked our hosts and promised to keep in touch with email, and then, just as we were leaving, Mrs Matthews showed us the pond. Next to the farm yard. She explained it was very old and the running water from the spring fed the moat. The sound of running water could be heard as it cascaded over the small waterfall into the moat. We looked at the pond, which had a sandy bottom, and the water was crystal clear, quite unusual for a farm pond. Then it struck me, I gazed out into the pond and saw it! WATERCRESS! Lots of it!
 Here was a medieval pond, next to Caswell Castle, growing watercress! It was simply too much! I had hunted everywhere to find a watercress bed, and here it was!

My wife and I drove away from the farm, feeling elated and very satisfied with our days work. I decided to turn towards home, but Carol said, "What about Witney? Didn't you want to see the church?" I wasn't too keen, wishing to end the day on this high, but she persuaded me to take the few miles into town.

On arrival at the old church, we found a churchwarden in the grounds planting bulbs. We explained that we were looking for a chapel within the church named Caswell Chapel, as this had been mentioned in an old document from the Oxford Records Office.
He had never heard of such a thing, but stated that the Wenman family were the main show in town many years ago, and there was a chapel named after them. The Wenmans once owned Caswell Farm where we had been only moments ago.
On entering the old church we noticed a large tomb at one end of the church. It was very splendid, with lots of inlaid brass work. No doubt many people had taken rubbings of it.

 There was no mention of Caswells here, - but wait- Carol read out aloud from a typed list on the wall above the tomb. "Previous Rectors Of Witney"
"William de Caswell 1317"
I mentioned that I had found notes on a William de Caswell in Yatesbury for this time frame, and as there was nothing else forthcoming, we left the church. The churchwarden was curious if we found anything useful, so we explained our small discovery, but could not make a connection in any way.

The churchwarden then gave us a briefing on the lives of rectors during that period. They were almost noblemen, (worthy of living in baronial mansions or castles), but they rarely lived in their parish, preferring to look after their financial interests elsewhere, and placing a junior to run the day to day affairs of the church.
So, why did I have a William De Caswell living in Yatesbury, Wiltshire about this time?
The warden didn't seem to know, until I told him that they were sheep farmers on some of the best grazing on the Marlborough Downs.
His eyes lit up and he said, "There is the answer! Witney was a woolen blanket town in medieval times. Your William was
probably supplying the town with wool and getting rich off the proceeds.

So, here was the very valid reason for the Caswells of Caswell Castle to be in Yatesbury, Wiltshire. The search is over! I found out where I came from!

Mike Caswell Oct 19 1999

« Last Edit: November 25, 2019, 02:50:42 am by Michael Caswell »

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Michael Caswell

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Re: My quest for my roots Photos of the Castle
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2019, 03:02:07 am »
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Arrow slot close up

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Front of manor house

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Farm yard

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The moat
« Last Edit: November 25, 2019, 03:19:31 am by Michael Caswell »

Michael Caswell

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Re: My quest for my roots
« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2019, 03:06:34 am »
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The moat

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The watercress bed.

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Wall with arrow slot

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Sketch of wall in old history book.

« Last Edit: November 25, 2019, 03:29:21 am by Michael Caswell »