Broyhill Family History

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Original Surname

    Surnames link generations by identifying people as being of the same family - they provide a continuity between father and son. During ancient times - when there were no records, they provided the only means of establishing that people were somehow related. In the British Isles, surnames came into common use during the 10th century and had several origins. Some were derived from occupations: John the Baker became John Baker; Farmer, (black) Smith, Weaver, Cartwright, and Miller are all occupational surnames. Other surnames were based on family relationships: Robert's son became Robertson, David's son became Davidson and William's son became Williamson. The Celts of Ireland and Scotland used "Mc" and "O" to designate a son, resulting in names such as McDonald and O'Brien. Prevalent in the British Isles were toponymics, surnames derived from Place Names. For example, the name "Robert of Shrewsbury" underwent the subtle but important change into "Robert Shrewsbury."   Broyhill is an Americanized variant of Broughill, which is a variant spelling of Broughall. It is a toponymic.

The Broughs of England

    North Carolina genealogist William Perry Johnson discovered the earlier Broughill spelling. In a letter to Mrs. Mast Dickson (Betty Broyhill), he wrote:

     The name Broughill is undoubtedly of English origin, but branches may have moved from England to Scotland, Ireland or elsewhere, before settling in Virginia (perhaps early 1700's)  Brough is an English word, same as borough and bury. Stanborough, Stanbrough, Stanbury, etc. A borough is from the Anglo Saxon word Burgh or Burg, meaning fortified place or town.  Thus your Broyhill (originally Broughill) ancestors lived in, or at, or near a fortified place or town on a hill; Broughill, of course, being a place name. (April 22, 1961)

     A careful examination of a detailed map of England revealed a small village named Brough in East Riding of Yorkshire. Mr. N. Higson, the County Archivist wrote:

     The name Broghill is quite unknown to me, and though have looked in half a dozen works on English surnames, I cannot find anything in any one of them approximating to it. The surname Brough is relatively well known, and is taken from the place name Brough. Unfortunately, for your sake, there are six Broughs - in Westmoreland, East Riding of Yorkshire (which has two), North Riding of Yorkshire, Derbyshrie and Nottinghamshire; all were ancient camps (old English "burg"), usually Roman, and pronounced "Bruff" or "Broof". Our East Riding pair are both on rather flat ground, with no notable hills in the vicinity. (July 4, 1967)
     The island of Britain is sharply divided by nature into two parts, marked geologically by a Jurassic ridge, which roughly runs from the North Sea at the mouth of the river Tee (which is the northern border of county York), southwest to Liverpool, then south to Bristol. This divides the island into three geographic areas.  The highlands to the north and west more or less correspond to modern day Scotland and Wales. Both are mountainous and often drenched by Atlantic rains. The soil is thin and stony and the climate is cold and windy. Although both areas have great natural beauty, they are largely unsuitable for agriculture and uninviting for permanent settlement.
     The country to the south and east is a gently undulating plain with large expanses of almost level ground, most of it less than 500 feet above sea level. Although there are some hills, they rarely reach a height of more than 1,000 feet. The soil is normally fertile, productive and well suited for pasture and the cultivation of crops. There is a good deal of rain, but the climate is drier than the highlands with more sunshine and less wind. The temperature is moderate and life is more comfortable than in the mountains. So long as Britain remained predominately an agricultural country, the lowland plain was the more prosperous, progressive and thickly populated part of the island. It roughly corresponds with the boundaries of modern day England.
     Letters to the Archivists for the other counties revealed that there was no hill near any of the other Broughs. There was and is no Brough near a hill.

The Village of Broughall, England

The village of Broughall as shown on the 1882 Ordnance Survey Atlas of Great Britain.

   Further research revealed an article in More Irish Families (see "The Irish Broughalls") that stated Broughill was a variant spelling of Broughall. In ancient times, the word "hall," did not refer to a large single room as it does today, but rather to earthworks. Thus a Broughall was a fortified earthworks. The place name seems to have originated with the ancient village of Broughall in Shropshire, England, a few miles east of Whitchurch, near the Welch border, about fifty miles southeast of Liverpool.
"...there is no difficulty in suggesting an origin for the name Broughall. We have here court rolls for that manor from the early 14th century when the name appears in the form Burghall, and I have no doubt that the first element is 'burg', i.e. fort....Ekwall [Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names] and Bowcock [Shropshire Place Names] do not deal with hamlets... [but] Ekwall remarks that ['burg'] usually refers to Roman sites, and it has been suggested that Whitchurch is on a Roman road and on the site of a Roman posting station, if not a small settlement. It may be significant that in Doomsday Book, Whitchurch (which then had no church) was called Weston. Eyton [Antiquities of Shropshire] is puzzled to point out any place lying to the east of Whitchurch from which it could have taken the name 'West Town', but if there were already at Broughall, a 'hall by the burg', it would be perfectly natural to call the other hamlet the 'west ton (May 17, 1960).
The Broughall name may be Anglo-Saxon, but the name was given to a pre-existing physical site. What was it? What was its origin?