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Recorded as Townley, Towneley, and Townsley, this is an English surname. It is almost certainly locational from the village called Towneley, near Burnley, in the county of Lancashire. There is also a place called Townley near Drogheda in Ireland, but there is no evidence at all that this village has ever originated any surnames, and certainly not of this spelling. The Lancashire placename is first recorded in the year 1201 a.d. as "Tunleia," and according to the Dictionary of English Place Names translates as the wood or clearing belonging to the town from the pre 7th century Olde English 'tun leah'. This may mean that 'Tun-leah' was originally an outpost of Burnley itself, which would have been the main manor. The name could also in some cases be topographical, and if so it would have had the similar meaning of somebody who lived in a clearing near to a village. An early example of the surname recording is that of Bernard Townley of Lancashire, recorded as being a student in the register of the University of Oxford, in 1588. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard de Tunleie. This was dated 1214, in the Fines Court records of the county of Suffolk, during the reign of King John of England, 1199 - 1216. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as the Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

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