The eminent 19th century Sussex historian Mark Anthony Lower in his Patronymica Britannica, one of the earliest surname dictionaries, published in 1860, says of Verrall: 'the name is abundant in East Sussex and seldom found out of it; it may be a corruption of Firle, a parish near Lewes; sometimes in old documents written Ferle and usually pronounced as a disyllable' [Ref 1]. This reference is used in 1901 as the origin of Verrall [Ref 2].
However writing seven years after the publication of Patronymica Britannica, in 1867, [Ref 3] Lower corrects his earlier statement during a discussion of Lindfield Parish records.' Fairehalle became through the intermediate Ferroll, our present well known Verrall. In proof of this 'John Fayrehall of Beadles', 1622 is written ten years later as 'John Verall of Beadles'. In the compilation of Patronymica Britannica, after much guesswork, I deduced this almost exclusively Sussex name from another source and I am glad of this opportunity of self correction'. Unfortunately the first reference is still used by many present day 'genealogical services' who have not realised that Lower within a few years had withdrawn his original theory of the origin of the surname.
In writing about Lindfield in 1870 [Ref 4] Lower says 'the well known and respected Sussex family of Verrall seems to have originated here and the name was formerly written Fairhall'.
Certainly by the time Henry VIII instituted parish registers in 1538 there were numerous Verralls (and variants) in Lindfield and surrounding parishes. Records before this date are rather more scarce. The first is in the Subsidy Roll of 1332 [Ref 5]. This roll records the names of contributors to the 'tax of a fifteenth' on moveables. Thom atte Fayrehale of Lindfield paid a tax of one shilling. Similar rolls exist for 1327 and 1296 but the name does not appear in them. It seems that Fayrehale (i.e. fair dwelling) was a location in or near Lindfield but today there is no trace of it.
The name appears again in the same locality in 1379. The poll tax records William Fairehale of Balcombe (4d), John att Fairhale of Lindfield Bardolf (12d), Thomas Feyrhale, wheelwright of Lindfield Archbishop (12d) and William Feyrhale of the same place (4d). The minimum sum paid for this tax was one groat (4d). Those paying 12d were farmers or artificers and higher up the social scale [Ref 6]. A few 15th century records provide some continuity. There is a deed of 1411 [Ref 7] mentioning a grant by John Coffe to Thomas Fayrehale of Cokefeld (Cuckfield) of 50 acres of land in Lyndfeld (Lindfield). An early example of the interchangability of F and V and also the lack of standardised spelling occurs in two title deeds of 1477 and 1482 [Refs 8 & 9]. They refer to the same people who are first called Richard Veyreale and Dionisia his wife and five years later as Richard Feyerall and Dionisia of the parish of Lynffeld. Sussex coroners' records [Ref 10] mention a Richard Fayrehall of Lindfield as a member of a jury in 1499 and several Fayrehalls of Lindfield served on juries here during the next 100 years.
The Sussex Subsidy Roll of 1524 lists a Richard Ferall in the Hundred of Strete assessed on 15 Pounds; in the Roll of 1525 he is recorded as Richard Verrall. Another Richard Ferall, assessed on 20 Pounds, in the same Hundred is recorded with the same spelling in both years. [Ref 11] and Note.
Standardised spelling of English did not prevail until the late 18th century and up to this time there were over 30 variations in spelling e.g. Fayrehall, Fairhall, Fairall, Ferrall, Virrol, Verrel, Verrall, Virrall etc. Over the years Verrall became the commonest spelling although some branches of the family have retained 'Fairhall'. 'Farhall' is a West Sussex variant.
It appears that the Fayrehalls of Lindfield were quite wealthy yeomen in the 16th and early 17th centuries as judged by various records such as wills. The latter part of the 17th century saw their fortunes at a low ebb and this, combined with the disruption of records during the civil war makes it very difficult to trace definitive genealogies through the century. From the early 18th century well documented family trees are again evident. The most eminent branch of the family is that which had Richard Verrall, first landlord of the White Hart, Lewes (from 1707) as its founder [Ref 12]. Another successful branch in Lewes founded a brewery business in Southover and later a member of this family became Lord of the Manor of Southover, occupying the old manor house (now known as Anne of Cleeve's house) in Southover High Street. The buildings of 'Verrall's Brewery' depicted in an old photograph [Ref 13] still exist. Anne of Cleeve's House was given to the Sussex Archaeological Society in 1925 by Frank Verrall.
Many surnames also arise from convergent evolution. The Sussex Subsidy Rolls of 1524-25 [Ref 14] mention Gylbert Verall, 'Frenshmen' in the Hundred of Loxfeld. There were two Loxfield Hundreds, Loxfield Dorset (Framfield, Buxted, Uckfield and Isfield) and Loxfield Camden (Lamberhurst, Wadhurst and Mayfield). Gylbert was taxed on the basis of his annual earnings and was probably an immigrant iron worker. Thus a French surname (possibly Feral [Ref 15]) was assimilated into an already existing local name. Three other 'Frenshmen' are listed adjacent to Gylbert: William Lovet, Peter Russell and Colen Lambert. All have recognisable English surnames.
There is a Norman name, Verol, mentioned as existing in 1188 [Ref 16] but no documentary evidence to connect it with Sussex.
The Verrall surname has also existed for many centuries in east Kent. In 1538 Francis Verall married Elyzabe Gylbart at Sandwich. In 1592 a Frauncis Vyrroll was 'maior' of Sandwich and there are other references to Verrall's holding the office of jurat. It would appear therefore that the family was well established and respected in the town at this time although their origin or any connection with the Verrall's of mid-Sussex is unclear. It seems unlikely that they were recent immigrants from France.
Some other speculative origins of the surname are worth mentioning for completeness. Harrison [Ref 17] suggests a French origin for Verrall. He also gives a rather involved derivation of 'Fairhall' from Old English roots. Gates [Ref 18] states that Fairhall is a Northumberland name derived form Fairhaugh. Knapp [Ref 19] indicates that Furrell is found in Sussex, Surrey and Kent but does not connect it with Verrall. It is interesting to note that John Furril, married at West Dean on 20th September 1754 was recorded as John Verrall in the Banns.
Finally we must not confuse the Ferrall variant of Verrall with the Irish Ferrell or Ferrall [Ref 20].
The above monograph was originally written for Sussex Family Historian [Ref 21] in 1988 but was expanded and republished in the Journal of One Name Studies Vol 6, No 8 (October 1998). Further refinement has since occurred.
Note:. A major factor in the variations of the spelling of surnames up until at least the end of the 19th Century has been illiteracy. Where a name had to be written for an official record, the pronunciation of the speaker was generally interpretated by the recorder to phonetically produce the written version. One has to only listen to the way older speakers pronunced sounds and words to see how many of these variations could have been preserved in officialdom. And of course, the choice of spelling could be repeated or "reinvented" by the official/Rector etc. as subsequent members of that family or their relatives had events recorded. There is a wider discussion and an example of the Sussex Dialect on this page, to illustrate this important point. (BWF)