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About the study

This One-name Study of the ARGALL family has revealed a worldwide family, some 1000 strong today, which is wholly Cornish in its origins. There are a number of non-related ARGALL names, largely in the United States, which come from the adoption of english forms of latin and middle-european names. Like the rest of the people in Cornwall, the ARGALLs have had their trials and tribulations; their successes and disappointments. One thing is for certain though: the relative rarity of the surname, coupled with a great deal of documentary evidence, has been sufficient to allow the gathering of a great many references. The outcome has shown that that, with a very few exceptions, all ARGALLs who were born with the name are related to each other; their origins are proved to lie in Madron, Cornwall and almost certainly with their forebears coming from the Budock area and the banks of the Helford River in the late Iron Age Celtic settlements.

Variant names

Various alternative spellings of the name have occurred over the Centuries, including ARGOLL, ARGILL, ORGALL, all also with one 'L' as well as two, but the most common spelling has always been: ARGALL.

Name origin

T.F.G. Dexter, in his book Cornish Names recognised ARGALL as a 'Cornish name of antiquity', but stated it is formed from 'AR' (meaning 'above') and 'WAR' (meaning 'the ridge'); however there is another meaning of ARGALL in the Cornish language. It has also been more authoritatively defined by G. Pawley-White, in his Handbook of Cornish Surnames (first published in 1972; ISBN 0 950643 19 X), as Cornish/Celtic, and meaning 'a secluded place, shelter or retreat'. (In the Welsh Celtic language, the word for this meaning is ARGEL, and in Breton, a Celtic language spoken by people in the North-west of France known as Brittany, the word is ARGIL). The Normans, following their conquest in the 11th century, introduced surnames into the British Isles; one such source was the place name from where the individual came. However, in this case, the origin of the name ARGALL most likely been used to describes the characteristics of the original settlement, which became the early medieval Cornish farm village of ARGOLL, which had probably existed from Saxon times. So, in common with many other Cornish surnames, the name is a locative-based one (i.e. taken from the area). This is now the preferred origin.

Historical occurrences of the name

If the ARGALL name came from Cornwall, where in the county did this name originate? The history of the family has to be set against what was happening in Cornwall in the late medieval period. Cornwall was a very sparsely-populated region; it is situated at the south-western extremity of England, and suffered from the situation that it led nowhere, except the sea, so its development was extremely slow. It is estimated that the total population in the whole of Cornwall at the time surnames were being introduced around the 12th/13th centuries was 35,000 in the year 1200; this population had grown very slowly to around 69,000 by the year 1500. The original Argall families would be numbered amongst this population size. Some work remains to be done in the pre-1500 period to substantiate ARGALL Family movement, but it would seem that they probably originated in the place-name of the same. There was a village in Cornwall called ARGEL (ARGOL or ARGOLL - it is spelled in various ways but is undoubtedly the same place), and this was located within the parish of St. Budock, (just inland from modern Falmouth) and it is here that the earliest name references (in the year 1234) can be found. The village has long since disappeared, but the name is perpetuated in that area by its usage in farmsteads: there is still an Argal Home Farm, and another farmstead called Higher Argal. However, it seems that a neighbouring area of Lower Argal also once existed; it was recorded in 1748 but it was probably in existence long before this; sometimes it was called Argal Wyn in the Cornish language, or White Argal. Richard Thomas completed a survey of Lower Argal in 1827. It showed all 61 fields with their individual names and states: arable, pasture (wet and rough) and furze (i.e. gorse); furze was used for burning as a fuel. There was a Mill Tenement of 7 acres, 15 perches, mentioned and also a place called Little Argal of 3 acres. The grand total of the area was 99 acres, 0 roods and 26 perches. The farm was bounded by land owned by the Bishop of Exeter on one side and the river on the other side.

Name frequency

By 1992, I had discovered that there were about 1000 ARGALLs alive in the whole world, all of whom appear to come from a single family who were living in Cornwall in the mid-16th Century. Most of these now live in the United States and Australia; only just over 50 ARGALLs are left in the United Kingdom. There are still a few persons outside the UK, who have not yet been linked into the ARGALL families. Sometimes the reasons are because of adoption, but others appear due to the Anglicisation of non-related continental European names - especially Hispanic.

Distribution of the name

Apart from England, ARGALL families can be found in Australia, Canada, Chile, South Africa and the United States (which is the country with the largest number of ARGALLs). The name has also occurred in New Zealand and other South American countries.


Over many years, I have corresponded with numerous other persons mainly in the United States and Australia, but also in England, New Zealand and South Africa, which has enabled me to recreate many of the ARGALL families from the past. However, this approach threw up almost as many problems for events in England as it solved. I obtained extracts of ARGALL birth, marriages and deaths, some of which served to confuse simply because of the multiplicity of the same forenames living in the same area at the same time. It then fell to a patient analysis of the original records (Parish records, Wills and Census information) to establish who was born where. By 1994 I finally concluded the investigation of all ARGALL entries in the indexes of the General Register Office in London. This total study of all occurrences of the ARGALL name, which started in 1992, led me to capture all historical occurrences of the surname. The objective of the study is to establish the origins of the ARGALL family and to determine and record its growth and development throughout the world. When I retired in 1996, I resolved to undertake research on behalf of the global Argall family on a virtual full-time basis. By the year 2012, the Study had grown to a database size of well over 10,000 individuals and over 3700 marriages who are, and which are, connected with the ARGALL name. These figures represent about 97% of all the ARGALLs who ever lived. All data includes much of the available censuses, birth, marriage and death records, and probate information.