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Origin of the surname "Wassell"

I wonder if, like me, you have purchased the "WORLD BOOK OF WASSELLS" published by Halbert's Family Heritage?

My research into the name indicates a different origin from that given in Halbert's, page 24:

Our research indicates that it can be associated with the English, meaning, "One who made cakes and breads of the finest flour".

All they have done is to repeat the definition given in some dictionaries of names which define WASSELL as a derivation of the old French WASTELIER, a baker of fine pastries. While not impossible, I think that this is an unlikely explanation. (The very rare name WASTELL can be found in British telephone directories. If you have access to all of a country's directories you can get a general indication of the rarity and spread of a name).

I found a more credible origin for the name some years ago after my mother drew my attention to a newspaper sales advert for a farm called WASSELL MILL. This farm is in the parish of Ebernoe in the southern English county of Sussex - about 6 miles south-east of Haslemere. The building was formerly a corn-mill and prior to the mid-17th century was a forge for iron working. A stream was dammed to give water power and this arrangement was visible when I visited the area in 1983, although the water-wheel itself was missing. A short distance from WASSELL MILL is a house called LITTLE WASSELL, which is believed to have been the miller's house until 1843, when corn milling ceased.

The name of the house derives from the old English words we now spell as "weir" and "cell" (or "cellar") - meaning a house by a dammed stream. The people who lived or worked in such a place may well have made a surname from the place name. Say "weir-cell" or "weir-cellar" a few times. Sounds closer than "wastelier" doesn't it? Apparently there is at least one other building in Sussex with this name, but I have not found it.

This connection with iron-working may explain why there is a concentration of the name in the West Midlands of England. Perhaps "Wassells" skilled in iron-work moved away from the old Sussex iron-workings at the time of the industrial revolution- which began with the rise of the iron industry in the West Midlands after 1700. Interestingly, the name is well represented in the USA, especially in the industrial States of Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

My family pronounce the name "Wossl" - with no stress on any syllable, whereas most people outside the South of England tend to pronounce it "WAss-ll" with a hard "A" and virtually silent "e". The "Wassall" spelling is as common (in England) as Wassell and probably has the same origin.

I would be interested in your comments - especially any family traditions concerning the origin and pronunciation of the name.

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If you found this more interesting than watching paint dry (or even if you didn't!) or have any comments, email me at j.wassell@which.net