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About the study

This One Name Study arose out of my interest derived from a HEMPSALL mother.

Initially, I confined myself to HEMPSALL, but as the research progressed it became clear that the other spellings were merely variants, probably all derived from a common ancestor. The data on the variants – HEMPSALL, HEMPSHALL, HEMSHALL, HEMSOLL, HEMSALL and HEMPSHELL is fairly complete, but much work remains to be done on the other variants.

Conventional 'paper chase' research has enabled all, or nearly all, living HEMPSALLS, HEMPSHALLS, HEMSHALLS , HEMPSELLS, HEMSOLLS and HEMPSHELLS to be derived from just one couple who married in Nottinghamshire in 1632 and lived in the village of East Markham, where one descendant still lives.

In addition, some families now living mainly in Sheffield, who now spell their name EMSELL actually descend from a Joseph HEMPSELL, whose position on the main HEM(P)S(H)A/ELL tree is clear. This family had their farmhouse swept away by the Sheffield flood of 1864; perhaps this traumatic event , which destroyed their written records , plus the fact that the 'H' was dropped in the local dialect, led to confusion with the name EMSELL , which already existed in Yorkshire, but from a quite distinct derivation .

There remain a very few EMSELLs derived from a different source, the village of South Elmsall in Yorkshire, but their genealogy lies outside this One –Name Study.

As regards the other variants – HEMSELL and HEMSIL(L) , the relationship is unclear, and might well repay an investigation using Y-chromosome DNA , if sufficient participants and finance become available.

Variant names

The HEMPSALL One name Study includes the following variants:


All living persons with the first five of the above variants (and also some, but not all, of those using the spelling HEMSELL and EMSELL) appear to descend (as do all HEMPSALLs) from Thomas Hempsall, a yeoman of East Markham, Nottinghamshire, who died in 1680. Thomas had four sons: Edward (c. 1633-?, Thomas (1643-1724), John (1645-1724) and George (1647-1722). Research into this family has been relatively easy as many of them left wills.

For convenience, the branches descending from these four sons will be referred to as Branch 1 (Edward), Branch 2 (Thomas) , Branch 3 (John) and Branch 4 (George). Of these, Branches 1 and 2 died out in the male line before 1800, so the only male line descendants remaining are from Branches 3 and 4, descending from John (1645-1724) and George (1647-1722) respectively.

To subdivide these branches further, I use alternating number and letters.

Thus, for example, John (1645-1724) had 5 sons: Thomas 1676-, John 1684-, Jonathan 1688-, George 1690- and Joseph 1695- . The sub-branches resulting from these five may be labelled 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D and 3E respectively.

Similarly, George (1647-1722) had four sons: Thomas (1677-), Joseph(1684-, George (1689-)and John (1692-). The sub-branches resulting from these are denoted as 4A, 4B, 4C and 4D respectively.

Confusingly, these sub-branches do not necessarily correlate with the modern spelling variants:

Branch 3A: from Thomas Hempsall (1676-1734) yeoman on East Markham, and Sarah Allcock, includes some of the HEMPSALLs, but also two families of HEMSALLs. The survival of the latter variant is uncertain, though it includes three young men, who might well carry on the name.

Descendants of Thomas and Sarah in the UK live in South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, with clusters in Doncaster and Mansfield. Young couples from this branch recently moved to Western Australia and Saudi Arabia.

Branch 3B: from John Hempsall (1684-1756) of Marnham, Notts and Mary Hunt.

The details of the tree of this branch are not totally proven. The son of the above couple, John Hempsall (1717-97) a shepherd of East Markham, and Mary Smith, had four sons: Thomas, William, Joseph and George, who left the village. In the places where they settled, the name was not known, and the various vicars and clerks used a varied selection of spellings, eventually giving rise to sub-branches whose descendants now use the following variants:


Hemshalls live in West Yorkshire, Retford, Lincoln and Oxford, with one member settled in Hong Kong, where he is a leading light in the local cricket team.

Hempshalls of this branch live mainly in Derbyshire.

The Hempshells have decreased in numbers since a large family in Sheffield changed their spelling to Hempshall around 1908, probably because of contact with people in that area who used that spelling. The remaining Hempshells live in the Pontefract and Worksop areas, with one family settled in the Ruhr district of Germany

Branch 3C: descended from Jonathan Hempsall (1688-1742) , yeoman of Sutton-on-Trent, and Ann Blow. They all use the main spelling variant, HEMPSALL. Few in number, they include families in Canada and Australia.

Branch 3D: from George Hempsall (1690- c.1722) is extinct, as he only had a daughter.

Branch 3E, from Joseph Hempsall (1695-1769) of Whaplode, in the Lincolnshire fens, appears to have died out by 1800. They suffered from a high death rate among wives and children, one man having buried four wives, only the fifth surviving him. Ague, a form of malaria, endemic in the Fenland at that time, may have been the cause. It is just possible that one of them may have survived and left descendants down to the present with the spelling HEMSILL, but this is uncertain.

Branch 4A: from Thomas Hempsall (1678-1709) and Bridget Lakin, of Tydd St. Giles, like the previous branch, also colonised the fens, just over the border in Cambridgeshire. They seem to have suffered a similar fate: several wives dying prematurely, many infant deaths, and no male line survivors by 1800.

Branch 4B: from Joseph Hempsall (1684-1737) of East Markham and Sarah Moss. The present-day descendants of this couple are from:

4B (i) Their eldest son, Joseph Hempsall (1719-1802) who moved to Beckingham, Notts. Most of Joseph’s descendants adopted the variant spelling HEMPSELL. Two brothers moved to Rotherham in the 1830s, working in the metal industry. Their cousin was transported to Western Australia as a convict in 1859, giving rise to a cluster of HEMPSELLs there to this day. Another cousin, Joseph, as already mentioned, had his house washed away by the Sheffield flood of 1864 (the Bradfield dam burst). They lost all their possessions apart from a donkey, a cow, a calf and a pig, all of which managed to escape. They also lost the initial “H” of their name, perhaps having lost any documents and certificates, and their descendants are now called EMSELL. (Note, however, that other EMSELLs of West Yorkshire arise from a quite different source- the village of ELMSALL).

The younger brother of the above Joseph, a William HEMSELL (sic: the P disappeared) took his family from Sheffield to America in 1856. He later returned to Yorkshire after the death of his wife, but his son William HEMSELL (1843-1920) stayed and was reputedly the first saddle-maker in Dallas, Texas. His son David became a sheriff of a town near Dallas. Descendants live in Texas Louisiana, Colorado and Kentucky. (Note: this may not be the only source of HEMSELL in the USA, as at least one migrant with a similar name came from Germany.)

4(b)ii: from William Hempsall (1724-80) and Margaret Balderson of Darlton, Notts. This sub-branch is believed to have left no male line descendants.

4(b)iii: from the youngest son George Hempsall(1733-1814) . This branch settled in Retford where some still live; another group are in Nottingham city.

Branch 4C: from George HEMPSALL (1689-1756) and Jane Hempstock of Saxilby, Lincolnshire. George was a cooper. His descendants are divided into two groups: those who stayed in Saxilby during the 19th century are called HEMPSHALL and then moved mainly to the coal mines of western Notts, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, where most still live. The other branch moved to South Carlton and then Lincoln city, keeping the spelling HEMPSALL. Some still live in and around Lincoln, but others have started branches in Australia (Queensland), the USA (Michigan) and Canada (British Columbia).

The Hempshalls increased in number during the 20th century more than the Hempsalls. This could have been because they were working mainly in reserved occupations (e.g. coal mining) during World War 1, thereby suffering fewer war deaths than the Hempsalls, who lost 18 men in the two wars, compared with just 4 Hempshalls. However, one HEMPSHALL was killed keeping the peace among Arabs and Jews in Palestine in 1936, one of the earliest casualties of that depressingly unending conflict.

BRANCH 4D: from John HEMPSALL (1692-1728), yeoman of East Markham. This branch has retained the original spelling. Some still live in the Retford/Newark area, with another group in Manchester. One group colonised the Lincolnshire fens around Donington from 1824, with more success than the previous HEMPSALL families who had earlier been defeated by the ague. An offshoot of the Donington line has more recently settled in the Isle of Man, while just one family emigrated to Western Australia after World War 2, where they still live around Perth.

There are also some lines whose relationship to the East Markham lines described above is unclear:

• The HEMSELLs of England (not those in the USA) who derive from a group who flourished in the Louth/Mablethorpe area of Lincolnshire in the late 1500s.

• The HEMSIL(L)s, who appear on the Lincolnshire coast between Skegness and Boston around 1800; their origins are obscure. They are now divided according to whether they end the name with a single or double L.

• A group of HEMPSALLs who were blacksmiths and lived in the Heckington area of Lincolnshire. Their last male member , Willam John Hempsall, a bank manager in Peterborough, died in 1959, leaving no male descendants, so no DNA study is possible (short of a Richard III-style exhumation) which might have linked his family to the others.

Name origin

>George Redmond, in his otherwise excellent book on the surnames of the West Riding of Yorkshire, does mention HEMPSALL, but dismisses it as a variant of EMSALL and derives it from ELMSALL in the West Riding, by 'hypercorrection' i.e. self-conscious insertion of 'H' by speakers who habitually dropped their aitches in speech. The distribution of earliest records lends no support to this theory, as EMSALL and HEMPSALL do not co-occur in the same areas. However , there have been a few instances of confusion over the years, including the Sheffield family called EMSELL referred to above , who can be shown to derive from a family formerly HEMPSALL.

The most likely origin of HEMPSALL and its variants is a place name 'Hempshill', a small settlement now absorbed as a north-western suburb of Nottingham city. It is recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 as Hamessel and in the following centuries under a bewildering variety of spellings:

Hemdeshyll (1200), Hindishull (1239), Homeshull (1275), Hemsull (1376), Hemsell (1478), Hamsall (1524), Hempsell (1611), as well as Hempsall.


Ekwall, in his “Concise Oxford Dictionary of English place-names” derives this place name from “Hemede’s Hill”, from an Anglo-Saxon personal name. In the middle ages, it was the site of a large estate, or manor.


The earliest record that has so far come to light of anyone using a name apparently derived from the above location is a reference to an “Alexander, son of Huchtred de Hemdeshill” (fl. 1200) who bought some land just north of Nottingham. I had dismissed this reference as being too early for an instance of a name ancestral to later occurrences of HEMPSALL used as a hereditary surname, given that most surnames in the East Midlands did not become hereditary till the mid-1300s. Also, most of the other names in the same document are of similar formation i.e. "de" + location name and these location names are all places within a few miles of "Hemdeshill" e.g. Bilborough, Basford, Bullwell.

It now seems – contrary to what I surmised – that the name may indeed have become quasi-hereditary shortly after this date – much earlier than previously thought. There is a reference to a third generation: “Bartholomew, son of Alexander de Hempshill” as recipient of a land grant from Robert son of Hugh de Cossall (fl. c.1220).Then we have: a deed of gift:

“John (fl. 1250) son of Ellis de Hemdeshull enfeoffs Robert Caretario of Basford with 2 parts of 1 acre upon Le Redwong in Basford field and 2 parts of 1 acre in Mulneholm in the same field.
Terms: To be held by Robert and his heirs or assigns of John and his heirs and their heirs and assigns freely, quietly and honourably in perpetuity rendering annually 4 silver pence paid at two terms; 2d at Martinmas and 2d at Invention of Holy Cross for all secular service, exactions and demands, suits of court and wapentake; John warrants Robert against all men and for this warranty, gift and concession 30 silver shillings has been paid by Robert Carter to John de Hemdeshul”..
Witness: Roger, dominus and perpetual vicar of Basford, fl 1250 & Broxtowe (Brocollestowe), Stephen de, dominus, fl 1250 & Geoffrey, clerk, fl 1250 (of Strelley) & William, fl 1250 (son of parson of Nuthall) & Hempshill (Hendeshul), Bartholomew de, fl 1250

Given that the deed involving John son of Ellis is witnessed by Bartholomew, it seems that these all belonged to the same family. So we appear to have what looks like the beginnings of a family tree covering the late 12th century and first half of the 13th century:

Huchtred > Alexander> Bartholomew> Ellis> John.

Alternatively, Ellis could have been a brother of Bartholomew, given the shortness of the time elapsed. It does seem that these five were one family, given that the places referred to (Cossall, Basford, Strelley) are within a couple of miles of “Hemdeshull”(variously spelt), in what are now the north-west suburbs of Nottingham city. But before we get too excited, it is also likely that these five individuals were actually living at “Hemdeshull”, and that they may no longer have used this place name as their surname when they moved away. It may therefore have been just a "by-name" rather than a surname. One the other hand, it would be interesting to ponder whether the “Richard, son of Ralph, of Hempsull” mentioned in 1345, and “William de Hemsele” in1367, at Arnold, just three miles east of Hemdeshill) represent three further generations of the same family, bridging the gap between 1250 and 1345. The sequence below is feasible, though speculative:

Huchtred 1140-
Alexander 1170-
Ellis 1200- Bartholomew 1200-
John 1230-
Ralph 1270-
Richard 1300-
William 1330-

The earliest record of the name HEMPSALL or similar used possibly as a hereditary surname is to an 'Inquisition post mortem ' of 1345 at Nottingham, in which “Richard, son of Ralph, of Hempsull” was a witness , mentioned in the sequence just described. This instance shows hesitation between the use of a filial name (son of Ralph) and a locative name (Of Hempsull) .Significantly, in another Inquisition at Nottingham in 1367, 'William de Hemsele' was a signatory, using the locative name alone .
At about the same time, there was a John de Hemsell appointed as a parish priest of Christchurch in the Wood, in South Wales in 1350. At the time there was an acute shortage of priests, since so many had died the previous year in the Black Death. John resigned the post after 5 years; whether he was from Nottinghamshire too is unknown, nor whether he went back there.

Only one fifteenth century record has so far come to light : in 1490, a chantry priest attached to Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire bequeathed his 'second best hat' to 'Margaret, wife of William Hempsell'. This family may have included a John Hemsell, who was himself a Chantry Priest in Clifton Priory near Nottingham at the time of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. John Hemsell’s job was to sing prayers for the souls of people who had died and left money for that purpose. He was paid £6 a year from 1534 until 1547, when the priory was dissolved, and such Catholic practices were forbidden. As a cleric, he would not have been married prior to the Reformation, but conceivably he may later have married, having lost his job as a Chantry priest. If so, he could have left descendants, but none are known.

The earliest parish records are in North Lincolnshire in the 1540s, and the earliest extant will , dating from 1555, is that of Thomas Hempsall of Goltho, a village , now deserted, twelve miles east of Lincoln.

About the same time, references appear in Nottinghamshire , in the Radcliffe-on-Trent area, where a Robert Hempsall had a cottage in the 1550s – only a couple of miles from Clifton, where the Chantry priest John had recently lost his livelihood.

Later, the name was often rendered by scribes as HEM(P)SWELL in Lincolnshire, presumably by mistaken identification with the village of Hemswell, fourteen miles north of Lincoln; and also in Nottinghamshire as HEMPSEED.

Confusingly, the online searchable International Genealogical Index (I.G.I) lumps together the unrelated HEMPSALL and EMPSALL as if they were genuine variants, yet requires separate searches under HEMPSHALL, HEMSHALL, and HEMSWELL and HEMPSEED, even though there are instances of members of the same family being recorded under three or more of these variants in the same parish register.

p>George Redmond, in his otherwise excellent book on the surnames of the West Riding of Yorkshire, does mention HEMPSALL, but dismisses it as a variant of EMSALL and derives it from ELMSALL in the West Riding, by 'hypercorrection' i.e. self-conscioius insertion of 'H' by speakers who habitually dropped their aitches in speech. The distribution of earliest records lends no support to this theory, as EMSALL and HEMPSALL do not co-occur in the same areas. However , there have been a few instances of confusion over the years, including the Sheffield family called EMSELL referred to above , who can be shown to derive from a family formerly HEMPSALL.

History of the name

The first HEMPSALL recorded as leaving Britain appears to have been a William Hempsall (also spelt HEMPSALE or HEMSELL) who is referred to in some early records of the East India Company. As narrated in the diary of Sir Thomas Roe, a magnificent coach was presented to the Great Mogul Emperor of India in 1616 by the English company in the hope that he would favour the English merchants rather than the Portuguese and other Europeans. This gift was accompanied by a skilled coachman, William Hempsall, who received many gifts from his delighted employer, the Mogul Jahangir (father of Shah Jahan , builder of the Taj Mahal) whose capital was at Agra. Sadly, William died after only a couple of years’ service, by which time he was already quite rich. His will was sent back to England, but, sadly, that does not appear to have survived. If it had, it might have told us which of the HEMPSALLs on that time he was related to. One possibility is the family of Christopher Hempsall of Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, who in his will of 1592 mentions two Williams - a son and a nephew, both of whom would have been the right age.

Apart from the above William Hempsall, no noteworthy historical events have so far been discovered associated with HEMPSALLs, who seem in general to have been an unremarkable cross-section of East Midland society – yeomen, labourers and artisans.

Name frequency

The most recent UK electoral roll figures (2003) are:


Outside Britain, the equivalent figures for the main variant , HEMPSALL are : Australia about 70, Canada and USA about 15 each . This translates into a world total for HEMPSALL of about 700 persons including children, and perhaps 1100 with the inclusion of the other variants listed above.

Distribution of the name

Within the UK, HEMPSALLS are still concentrated in their original haunts of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire , with a more recent overspill into South Yorkshire and the Manchester area , with a sprinkling of families and individuals on the South Coast, Isle of Man and Furness district of Lancashire .

In Australia, the main cluster of HEMPSALLS is in Queensland , descended from two brothers who arrived there from Lincoln in 1886. There are also some in New South Wales, and Western Australia, descended from more recent migrants.

Canadian HEMPSALLS at present live in British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland, descended from two individuals who migrated in the early part of the twentieth century.

In the USA, HEMPSALLS are clustered mainly in Michigan, derived from a couple who settled there in 1912. There is also a cluster of HEMSELLS based in Texas, with an overspill into Louisiana and Colorado.


For HEMPSALL, HEMPSHALL, HEMPSELL, HEMPSHELL , HEMSOLL AND HEMSHALL, my ONS lists births marriages and deaths for the UK 1837-2011 (nearly complete) ; wills for Nottinghamshire , Lincolnshire , the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and Borthwick Institute to 1854; UK wills 1854-2005 (index only) ; all International Genealogical Index and National Burial Index references; and a large number of other parish records. Also , a number of records from Australia, Canada and the USA

Nearly all living HEMPSALLs, HEMPSHALLs, HEMPSELLs, HEMPSHELLs, HEMSHALLs and HEMSOLLs have been linked into a single descendant TREE , enabling any enquirer with one of these names to be placed within the main TREE, provided they know their grandparentage.