ORIGIN OF THE SURNAME AND FAMILY OF PRESNAIL
Presnail is a variant of the English surname, borne by those who in medieval times were resident at PRIESTNALL. Prior to the period during which surnames were adopted, people were known by their Christian name. To avoid confusion the name of their calling or occupation, or their place of residence was added, such as Adam the Tyler, John the Baker, Wat the Smith, Richard of Bourne, Henry of Stone, etc. The stranger became known as Thomas the New Man.
In course of time these became contracted into Adam Tyler, John Baker, Wat Smith, Richard Bourne, Henry Stone and Thomas Newman, etc. Thus James of Priestnall became James Priestnall.
In an age when but a very few were educated in writing and reading, many variations crept into the few documents recording such names, and the same surname suffered many renderings under the vagaries of pronunciation and the standard of orthography of the recorder. Parish registers were not introduced until many centuries after, by which time several renderings of the same surname had become established, which, from that time onward, became more or less fixed. Thus, at the present time we find our own name variously rendered as PRIESTNALL, PRESTENALL, PRESNAIL, PRESSNALL, PRESNEIL, etc.
Harrison, in Vol II of Surnames of the United Kingdom, gives Cheshire as the probable county of origin. The name itself is not found in earlier forms than PRESTENHALL of the 16th century.
PRESTEN is a Middle English (12th to 15th century) adjectival form of PREST (priest). This syllable of the surname originates from PRESBYTER (the priest), now PREST, PRESTER, PRIEST, comparing with the ancient form PROEST or PROSSER, as in **** PROEST, as recorded about 962.
PREST, PROSSER, PRESS, like Fryer and Frere, represented the lower clergy in the surname roll.
O. E. PROEST, (priest, parson) is found in several place names, as PRESCOT, PRESTON, PURSTON, ETC. It is not possible to decide whether the meaning of such names is;
i) Village with a priest
iii) Place belonging to a priest
iv) A college of priests
It cannot be stated with certainty what 'ALL' represents
Old Mercian Hall - a hall
Old English H (e) al (h) - a nook, corner
Old English H (e) al (d) - a slope
From these various meanings place upon the two syllables of our surname, I deduce that PRIESTNALL, PRIESTENHALL, refer to a place or hall, belonging to a priest of college of priests: that the bearers of the surname PRIESTNALL - and of its variations, are descendants from (a) members of the lower clergy, (b) servants of the priests hall, and (c) the villeins and yeoman stock who farmed the demesne of the priests hall.
In arriving at these conclusions I have discarded the possibility of the surname having been derived from Celtic or Welsh origins. From these origins it could be deduced that (i) PRESS (Welsh) is derived from ap Press, the son of Rees, and (ii) NEIL (Celtic) meaning champion, as surviving in the Irish and Gaelic NIALL, NEIL, NOILE, NEILL, NEILD.
My reason for discarding the possibility of Celtic origin is based upon the fact that none of the individuals bearing our surname show any trace of Welsh or Celtic physiognomatic characteristics: whereas in features, physique, temperament, and character, they exhibit English origin. I have little hesitancy in stating my opinion that the family is of English stock deriving from the Teutonic invasions of Angles, Saxons, and Jute's, the members of which expeditions commencing in 449 AD, settled in the country as far north as Cheshire and Lancashire.
My assumption is that our original stock settled in Cheshire, on lands, which at some subsequent date was granted to the Church. Residing on church lands they became members of the lower clergy: servants of the priests: and yeomen in the lands of the Church. During the period of the adoption of surnames, they earned a name indicative of their occupational origin in the first syllable, and of their place of origin in the double syllables surname.
Since commencing my search for the origin of our family, I have received confirmation of Harrison's allocation of Cheshire as the place of origin in a letter I received from Mr. George PRIESTNALL, of Langley, Macclesfield, extracts which read as follows:
"My grandfather was a farmer born at Marlesfields Farm, Adlington, Cheshire. He had a brother, a butcher, in Stockport, Cheshire, and the street where he lived was named after him 'PRIESTNALL STREET': I don't know if there were any more brothers. My father was born in 1846 at Norman's Hall, Pots Shirley, near Macclesfield, he had four brothers. They were all farmers round about this part of the country. You ask if PRIESTNALL is a common name. I am sure it isn't, as we have never heard it anywhere, only my family, through Cheshire or Lancashire..."
The above represents the sum total knowledge of the Family of PRESNAIL which I possess. Should any other member of the family possess further items of interest concerning themselves, their own particular branch of the family, its present area of influence, its previous place of origin; with names and birthdates of elder members, I should be pleased to be placed in possession of such data, to enable me to prepare a brochure, at some later date, which should prove of interest to all.