Some notes on the Scagell family

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This is an introduction to what I know about the background of the Scagell family, based on what I have been able to discover with a little research. There is much more to be done, and maybe in time it will be possible to tie various branches of the family together into one massive great tree.

I have been helped in my research by LaRie Jensen of Bountiful, Utah, who sent me the historical parish records for Scagells in Britain listed in the IGI. You can now access the information directly at

How is the name pronounced?

This is an important clue to the origin of the name. Every Scagell in Britain that I have spoken to pronounces it as if there were a D in the middle, as in Scad-jell. There are some Scadgells who do spell the name that way. But as every Scagell knows, other people don't see it this way. We get ‘Scay-jell’, ‘Scar-gell’ and of course ‘Scar-gle’. Quite often this becomes‘Scargill’, with its connotation to the left-wing miners' leader Arthur Scargill.

I have seen a dictionary of surnames which says that our name is derived from Scargill. This is almost certainly wrong and is based on the assumption that the name is pronounced 'Scar-gell'. There is even a commercial website claiming to provide a Scagell coat of arms and family crest based on this erroneous derivation!

Margaret Townsend, nee Skedgell, tells me that her maiden name is also pronounced ‘with a soft g, as in jelly’.

Juli Kearns writes to say:

I descend from a George Schagel/Scagel who was in Waterbury VT in the 1800s.
It's interesting to note the spelling of the name in the different censuses.
The 1800 Waterbury census shows him as George SCHEDULE
The 1810 Waterbury census shows him as George SCHAGEL
The 1820 Waterbury census shows him as George SEAGUEL
The 1830 census shows George SCHEGALL

Where do the Scagells come from?

The pronounciation of the name is important when working out the origin. If we really did say ‘Scargle’ then it would be a different matter. What's more, historically the Scagells come from Devon and Cornwall, the opposite end of the country from the Scargills, which is a common Yorkshire place name. Even today, all the UK Scagells I know live in southern England, though an electoral roll search reveals some in Scotland, Kettering and Liverpool – but none in Yorkshire.

The lists provided by LaRie Jensen show that Scagells first appear in parish registers in the St Tudy and Blisland area of Cornwall. The earliest record is to the birth of Joan Scadgell on 8 November 1566 to William Scadgell and his unnamed wife in Blisland. Over the next 10 years there are four other children registered to William, presumably but not definitely the same one. The spelling of the name is Schagell in these later cases. Other variants on the spelling in these early registers include Scagell, Scaggell, Scaggle and Schagel.

The Devon records begin later, in the mid 17th century. I don't know if this is because there were none earlier or because records began then. It is some time since I did the research, but I have a note that there is no Scadgell or Schagell in the Devon Protestation Returns of 1641. This makes me suspect that the name originated earlier in Cornwall.

My own research has turned up a reference to a John Skagyll in the parish of St Endellion, near Wadebridge, referred to in the Cornwall Military Survey of 1522 and in the list of Cornwall subsidies in the reign of Henry VIII in 1525.

What does the name mean?

On a 1980s visit to Truro Library in Cornwall I mentioned the name to the museum curator, who immediately suggested that the name could be derived from Scadghill, a few miles to the north of Bude in north Cornwall.

Accordingly, I visited the place. There is no village there, just a few farms. I went to Scadghill Farm and met Tim Dingle, who is a noted local naturalist and writer (though he moved from there some years ago). He told me that the name of the place is pronounced‘Scadg-ell’ rather than‘Scadg-hill’ – in fact, there is no difference between the pronounciation of the place name and my own name.

Given this, and the closeness (about 20 miles) of the place to the earliest Scagells, I am sure that this is the derivation of the name. Surnames derived from such things as a person's profession (such as Smith), the name of his father (such as Robertson), his place of origin, personal characteristics and so on. So someone called John moving from Scadghill to St Tudy would probably be called John Scadgell to distinguish him from John the Smith and so on.

As for the meaning of the name, it is said to derive from the Old English sceaga, a small wood, copse or thicket, or shaw, a shady wood in a valley; a broad belt of underwood around a field. I find it curious that if so, this root is not more widespread in English place names, and also that if the word is pronounced with a soft C, as in shaw, it has become Scadge. All the Shaw place names seem to be in northern England or lowland Scotland. As the farm is on top of a low hill, it is quite likely that there was indeed a small wood on the hill. I have not found any remotely similar sounding place name by searching detailed gazetteers, and maybe the origin of the Scadge root is a personal name anyway. I welcome any comments from experts in Old English or place names.

These days there is little woodland on the hills in the area,though there are several steep-sided wooded valleys. The landscape is quite undulating and the fields are mostly now given over to dairy farming. Scadghill is just a mile or so from the sea, with an excellent, if crowded, beach at Sandy Mouth and a National Trust car park. The Ordnance Survey map reference is SS222103. The nearest village is Stibb, and the nearest small town is Kilkhampton.

A short way down the hill from Scadghill Farm is Lower Scadgehill – yes, spelt differently. Scadghill Farm provides bed and breakfast accommodation , as well as a campsite, so any family members thinking of visiting Cornwall could not find a better place to stay!

I have a note that in a manuscript dated 1606 (listed as Hend in Truro Library) the place is listed as Skagell. An online version of the Domesday Book does not list the place, nor nearby Stibb, but maybe a detailed search would reveal what was here in 1086. In the 1841 Census for Kilkhampton, the occupier of Higher Scadgehall is given as one James Galsworthy and his family. But I don’t think there is a direct link with John Galsworthy, author of the Forsyte Saga, who was born in 1867 in Kingston, Surrey, to wealthy parents. The Galsworthy family apparently originated in North Devon.

Scadgehill. The farm itself is on top of the hill at left, while Lower Scadgehill is at far right
The sign at the farm entrance
The farm buildings in the background

Variant spelling of the name
Click on any image for a larger resolution version

Later Scagells

The Cornwall IGI records that I was sent end with the burial of Jane Scadgel on 26 March 1766 in St Martin, which is near Looe on the south coast of Cornwall.

By this time, however, the Devon Scagells are in full swing. The early records are mostly from the parishes of Silverton and Ashburton. Peter Schaggel was Mayor of Plymouth in 1672, but he had no male children. There are an increasing number of Scagells in Teignmouth and other places to the south of Exeter by the 19th century.

It is in that area that a number of Scagells still live. Until fairly recently there was a butcher called Scagell in Exminster, just outside Exeter. I have recently been contacted by David Scagell who was born in Devon, and any other Scagells are encouraged to contact me so that we can explore possible links. Maybe in time we can build up a complete listing of contemporary Scagells, but for the time being I will list only those in my own immediate branch of the family.

In Worthing, Sussex, there was a substantial furniture store called H.G.Scadgell Ltd, though now taken over by another company and renamed.

My own family tree, listing only the fathers in each case with their place and date of birth, is as follows

I was born in 1946 in Blackburn, Lancashire

Alfred Gordon Scagell, Lewisham, 1907-2000. He had brothers Cecil Stanley, Arthur Ernest (Archie), Leslie Winston and John Everard (Jack), and a sister, Dorothy Violet.

Ernest, Plymouth, 1872-1921

Jabez, unknown place, about 1833 (birth not listed in the IGI). Died 1926, Axminster

Edward, 1784, Dartmouth

Edward, 1739, Ashburton

Possibly Phillip, Ashburton, 1719. At this point it becomes unclear which Phillip Scagell is which – there are births registered to a Phillip Scagell between 1716 and 1739. Mary Martyn married Phillip Scagell in 1716 and died in 1725, but there is no record of a subsequent marriage to Phillip.

None of the links before Jabez are certain, and are based on a coincidence of listed ages and birth records.

American Scagells

According to LaRie Jensen, writing to me in 1985, nearly every American Scagel or Scagell is descended from Christopher Scaggel who came to New Hampshire before about 1720. He cannot be tied in to the records of English Scagells, however.

There is a fairly complete family tree for the American Scagels. I know that the pronounciation of the name has changed over the years, as well as the spelling, having spoken briefly on the phone to the wife of Robert Scagel of Vancouver when I was on a stopover there. Their pronounciation is ‘Scay-jell’. Several of the American Scagels who have contacted me believe that their name derives from Dutch or German, but I do not believe this to be the case because of the above evidence and also because there seems to be no variant on the name Scagell in any other European language. Just do a web search and see if you come up with any other than English-speaking Scagel(l)s.

LaRie Jensen's address in 1986 was 270 East Center Street, Bountiful, UT 84010.

The late James Scagell of London, Ontario, was, however, descended from the Teignmouth Scagells of the 19th century. He pronounced the name the same way that I do.

Web site
Married to Sally, born 1956.
Robin and Sally
Sally and Robin, July 2008

I am a writer and broadcaster, and run Galaxy Picture Library. My published books include: