The Knowlton Coat of Arms

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The Knowlton’s of England

The Knowlton Coat of Arms

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Among the stories of the Middle Ages, there is a tradition of two brothers enlisting in the service of William the Conqueror, and fighting so bravely during his invasion of Wales that they readily won their spurs. Having observed that they resided, the one, on a hill and the other on a knoll, or lesser hill, the king, on investing then with the honours and insignia of knighthood, dubbed them Hill-ton and Knoll-ton. Whatever of truth may attach to the tradition, it is certain that the name is an ancient one, born out of its own native soil.  A large proportion of English proper names has been suggested by local situations and associations, and of these the name Knowlton is one of the most striking, as it is one of the most ancient. The suffix ton is the old Saxon tun, town, so that in its primary use it meant the people, or town, on the knoll, but in process of time it lost this collective force, and was applied to the chief family, or personae, resident thereon. For the purpose both of government and revenue, the people were grouped in Hundreds, so called because one hundred families were made to comprise one district, or borough.

 

In Doomsday Book, that curious and quaint record of estates and surveys which the Conqueror ordered in 1083, that he might know the extent of his realm and provide for the royal revenues, there was a Knowlton Hundred, originally but a mere hamlet in Dorset, which became by royal appointment a Fair Town, and a rural centre of considerable importance. 

Knowlton Church, all that is left of the Knowlton Hamlet

Knowlton Church, Dorset

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 The original hamlet and manor have long since passed away, but-the name survives as does the Knowlton church, and its present boundaries include Knowlhill, Moor Crichel, Crichel-Govis,  Gussage All Saints, Gussage St Michael, Wimborne St Giles, and the Parish of Woodlands. This estate was anciently held by Anagar, and in Doomsday Book, the name is Chenoltone, while in subsequent books it is indifferently spelled Knowlton, Knolton, Knollton,  Knowton and Knowlden.  A careful inspection of the Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Courts of Canterbury and York reveals these varied spelling of the one and the same name, for it is differently spelled in the same document, and by the same person. It is well documented that proper names were, until a very recent date spelled phonetically, or according to their sound, this is a ready explanation of these singular orthographies. The name spelt as Knowlton, the strongest spelling over the years, reaches back traditionally to the time of William the Conqueror, 1066-87.

Knowlton Parish and Knowlton Hall still designate a Manor and Baronial Residence in Kent County, six miles from the city of Canterbury. It originally belonged to Odo, Bishop of Baieux, who was subsequently disgraced, and his property confiscated to the Crown. In the fifteenth year of the Conqueror, the estate was surveyed, and given to one of his followers, from whom it passed by Knight’s service to Perot, and thence to the owners in later years. In the thirty-third year of Edward the First, Perot assumed the title of Lord Knollton, an early example of the transfer of a proper name from the soil to its owner. Lord Knowlton left the estate to his daughter Christian, who married William de Langley, High Sheriff under Edward III. (1327-77). His son called himself William Knollton, Esq., during the reign of Henry VI (1429-71). In the twentieth year of Henry VII (1505) William’s son John (whose son and successor, Edward, married Elizabeth Peyton, daughter of Sir John Peyton, who was the next owner) came into possession, and he married Dorothy Tyndal, daughter of Sir John Tyndal, Governor of the Tower of London. His grandson and heir, Thomas, had children, Dorothy, Catherine, William, and Thomas. From the time when Sir Perot adopted the title Lord Knollton, down to the day of Sir D’Aetb, it is matter of history that the lords of this manor were known indifferently both by their surnames and by their adopted titles, and the Parish and Hall now perpetuate that historic fact. Knowlton Hall is a fine residence situated on a knoll in a beautiful park of two hundred acres, which are kept in a high state of cultivation, and adorned with the choicest creations of the gardener’s artistic genius. The land is gently rolling, affording an agreeable diversity of hill and dale, and the beautiful walks and paths entice one into the shade of grand old trees that have delighted for ages the eyes that faded out of human life centuries ago.

An examination of the fragmentary histories and ecclesiastical records of the sixteenth century discloses the fact that the names of these Kentish Knowlton’s are precisely those that appear and reappear, again and again, among the families of the Knowlton’s of at least five succeeding generations. Every Knowlton of this period was found mainly within, or near, the county of Dorset and smaller quantities in Kent, and the conclusion would appear to be irresistible that the surname itself would have come from from the Hamlet of Knowlton in Dorset. Indeed, the name could never have been used in Kent in its original and wider significance, for there is not at present, nor has there ever been, even a village settlement there. Besides the Hall, there are only the Rectory and two farm houses on the estate and the whole parish reports but twenty-six souls.  In regard to the Knowlton Hamlet in Dorset, it appears that after the demise of the village through the Black Death, most Knowlton's migrated to Southampton (25miles) and Bournemouth area (20 miles), in fact you will find in both these areas the most concentrated amount of the Knowlton name in England with some of them even holding the position of Mayor of Southampton. Therefore, Dorset & Hampshire being the more populated counties over the past 1000 years of the Knowlton name.

Thomas Knowlton, an antiquarian who emigrated to the new world (USA), was fond of telling of the distinction enjoyed by one of his ancestors, a retainer of the Earl of Warwick, who always appeared in Court dress, with a silver and jewelled sword at his belt, and other insignia of rank, and who stood high with the King. He had charge of one of the Earl’s castles in Kent, and was a descendant of the Knowlton’s referred to above. This has been passed on by the grandchildren  over the years and many other interesting facts told by the Knowlton’s concerning the position of their ancestors.

There were Knowlton's in Canterbury, and in the City of London as early as 1550, and the published "Visitations and Allegations of the Provinces of York and Canterbury" clearly show that they were never a numerous or scattered family, but that until the year 1728 they were confined entirely to the counties of  Dorset, Hampshire, Middlesex and Kent. They invariably married by license instead of by banns, which as invariably indicates a recognized social position and condition of comfort, for such license could be obtained only from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and at considerable expense of about 50 pounds. In these old records the titles of Mr. and Esq. frequently used, indicating a social status above that of the common people.

 

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