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About the study

This study was registered with the Guild in 1990 to research into the name BURVILLE and its many variants (see below). Following over three decades of research the findings were published in 2011 in the form on a 500 A4 page book titled 'An East Kent Family : The Burvilles'. Associated with the book of 43 chapters and assorted indexes was a CD which provided reference details on a chapter-by-chapter basis, Family Boxes with BMD information, plus an eclectic set of images relating to the family that have been collected over the years. As all the books have been sold all the information is now offered on CD.

The sequence of chapters takes the reader on a journey round the Kent coast, with excursions inland, before visiting other parts of the British Isles and abroad. After trips to North America and Australia there is a return to East Kent where the author identifies what he believes to be the likely origin of the family name.

The research objectives were to find out about the lives of people with the surname, where they lived, how the events of history may have affected them, and finally to offer a suggestion for the origin of the surname. The period covered is from the 12th century, i.e. as early as they have been found, up to the beginnings of the 20th century. Being a one-name study, when the distaff-side of the family marry and take their husband'€™s surname their line is no longer followed.

Variant names

A search through telephone directories established that the surname distribution in England was concentrated in East Kent with the to-be-expected groups in London. Going back in time it became clear that many of the Bailiwick, the term used for those with the surname, were illiterate so that the surname spelling was at the whim of the recording authorities who were frequently themselves only semiliterate. This led to various spellings being offered. Even in a will the spelling of surnames was not constant -€“ several examples of different spellings appearing on the same line were encountered. Some examples of the various spellings: BARVELL, BERVELL, BIRVIL, BORVILL, BURBILL, BURFEYLD, BURFELD, BURFIELD, BURFIL, BURRIL, BURVILL and BURWILL. The aspect of the 'field' ending and the "€correct"€ spelling and its evolution is referred to below.

Having found various family lines that were interconnected and could be grouped together they were given a label that was based on the initial earliest location found for them. To avoid confusion, when an earlier member was found at a different location, the Set name was not changed. Over time it was possible to combine the Bridge, Deal and Langdon Sets with the Sutton Set centred on the village of Sutton near Dover. Having made various assumptions the English Burville Bailiwick consists of three groups: the Folkestone Set, St Margaret 's (at Cliffe) Set and Sutton Set. The first two sets start in the early 18th century whilst the Sutton Set goes back to at least the 15th century. Given the locative proximity of their origins the Sets are doubtless interconnected.

Name origin

Having considered various sources for the surname, in France and Great Britain, a locative name is the high probability choice with the surname being a corruption of the Tilmanstone manor name of Barefeld -€“ now existing as Barville Farm. The feld (field) element migrated over the years to ville -€“ there are many examples of such a change cited in the research findings. Over the period from 1450 to 1750 there were marked changes in the pronunciation of vowels which is assumed to account for Bare changing to Bur. There are other BURVILLE groups, in France for example, but the Bailiwick people, with their roots in East Kent seem to have the manorial origin.

This leads to the thought that the 'purist' version of the surname is BURFIELD.

At least three possible meanings can be offered for bare, the first element of the name of the founding manor. A bare or uncovered field, a barley or even corn field, or a remote field as in Berewick (a remote farm).

Other cells of BURFIELDs have been found, in Sussex for example, but they appear to be quite separate groups. Surnames with locative sources are the largest group in names of English origin. Of such locative names one suspects there will be very many featuring a 'field' element, so finding other BURFIELDs is hardly surprising.

A popular theory amongst the Bailiwick is that they have Huguenot origins but no evidence has been found to support the suggestion. There was a genuine Huguenot, David BERVILLE, who arrived in Dover in 1622 but no connection has been found with the Bailiwick that was well established by that date. For a short period in the early 19th century a Folkestone Set family had their children baptised in the Canterbury Walloon & Huguenot Church (in the Cathedral crypt). Subsequently they returned to the Church of England.

Distribution of the name

The mobility of people is a striking feature of the findings. Often they moved from one small village to another in search of work whilst in the main avoiding both the large towns and, apart from the odd venturer, even the capital until the age of steam had arrived. For example, Sutton Set "€aquavitaman"€ Hewe BURVELL, a seller of strong spirits from Studdal, went to live in the nearby city of Canterbury at the end of the 16th century but it was over 200 years before the next member of the Bailiwick settled there. This period takes us from the Spanish Armada (1593) to the industrial age when Robert Stephenson was creating his famous steam-powered Rocket (1829). Although many left Folkestone to seek their fortune elsewhere the town is quite unique in having Bailiwick continuity of occupation for approaching three centuries. However, desertions apply only to the spear-side and the distaff-side may well offer more settled continuity elsewhere.

In addition to moving from Kent to other parts of England several groups moved to Wales whilst representatives of all the Sets found their way to North America and Australia where they continue to thrive. Many roads and the odd natural feature have been named after the family -€“ particularly in Australia.

Migrants who went to Australia and Tasmania also claimed Huguenot origins.


A BURVILLE DNA project has been set up on the Family Tree DNA WEBsite. One can visit it by clicking here