Harwell: The Family Name
No discourse on the well-known family names of Harwell would be complete without mention of those who bear the name of the village as their surname. In medieval times, the trade or following of an individual came to be used as a surname and many of these are still in common use, e.g. Smith, Baker, Taylor, etc. In other cases such as a member of a profession or a freehold landowner the place of origin was added after the name, particularly if the individual travelled or was known away from his locality. Thus in the thirteenth century some few villagers would have been known as, for example, ... de Harwell or more correctly de Harewell as the present spelling did not come into general use until the seventeenth century.
In 1981, the descendants of John de Harewell (1320 -1386) donated a stained glass window to the Harwell Parish Church to commemorate their ancestry. John was born in the village, the son of a freeholder, and having studied at Oxford University he became a priest. In the service of the Black Prince he rose to become Governor of Aquitaine in southwest France during the Hundred Years War and finally Bishop of Bath and Wells. A stone effigy lies on his table tomb in Wells Cathedral. The fascinating story in America is traced by local historian John Fletcher and a descendant from Texas, Jan Whittaker, in their booklet "The Harwell Trail".
John de Harewell following the priesthood, of course had no issue. It is to his brother Roger who married an heiress from Wootton Wawen in Warwickshire, that the direct lineage has been uncovered. Several branches of the family were known in the early seventeenth century in Coventry, Wolverhampton, Worcester, Evesham and Suffolk. A Thomas Foulk Harewell abandoned the impoverished family home at Besford, near Worcester, and sailed with his brother in 1636 as colonists to Virginia, from where the family eventually spread across the southern states of America.
No doubt other descendants bearing the name Harwell spread across England. Now however, the surname is extremely rare in England. There are no known descendants in the village now although a scientist at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment can trace a link through marriage to the Harwells who lived in Suffolk in the late seventeenth century. When the surname Harewell became extinct locally is not known. Another John Harewell was known to have been a copyhold tenant in the neighbouring parish of Didcot in the middle of the fourteenth century but a century later the name had disappeared from the list of tenants. The only trace of the family name is on the recent stained glass commemorative window in the church bearing the coat of arms of Bishop John, a shield containing the heads of three golden hares.
Fittingly, if somewhat irreverently, the logo for the 1985 Millennium celebration depicts a pair of hares' heads back to back with the slogan "Harwell Rules 1K".