The above picture hung in the home of my grandparents (my grandfather was the the grandson of Nannie M. Burnell) for as long as I remember. They said it was Burnell Castle, and the home of our ancestors in England. It was always on my list of places to travel to, and learn more about.
The advent of the internet has helped us to learn more about the castle, and trace our family lines back further than could have been previously imagined (at least, by me). I still have not been able to travel to the castle ruins, but maybe one of these days.
The ‘castle’ at Acton Burnell, a small town in Shropshire, England, began in 1284 as a manor house built by Robert Burnell, friend and Lord Chancellor to King Edward I. Burnell was also Bishop of Bath and Wells, and the house would have been large enough to house Edward I and his retinue, advisers, and soldiers. The red sandstone home was crenellated (the top rectangles with open areas for shooting arrows added) and fortified, both of which required a royal license, showing that the king favored and trusted Robert Burnell.
The house had square towers at the corners, but with many windows, it was not really built for war, despite the crenellations. The house passed down to younger generations of the Burnell family, deteriorating with the centuries, and then passed out of the family through a marriage. In Victorian times, two arched openings were added to the ruins to create a ‘folly’- a ‘fanciful’ building popular in the 18th and 19th centuries that was built for purely ornamental purposes. (A Victorian home was built further along the drive.)
Acton Burnell is famous for another reason: In 1283, King Edward I held a Parliament at Acton Burnell, probably in the adjacent barn. This was the first time that the Commons had ever participated in the legislative process; another Parliament was held there in 1285. One of the gable ends of this barn still stands 732 years later, and the shell of the house still stands nearby with just some of the walls missing.
The manor house never was, technically, a castle.
Records in Acton Burnell Parish go back to about 1538, so it will be challenging to trace family lines further than that. We have not yet ‘crossed the Big Pond’ however, so do not know our first Burnell immigrant to the Americas.
Using Ancestry.com and other trees posted, some researchers have traced our family line back to Robert Burnell, born 1669 in Lynn, Essex County, Massachusetts. He married Sarah Chilson (1673-1737) and their child John (1696-1744) is the next generation according to these trees. Robert died in 1737, and the New England towns kept good records, so it will be interesting to go back through this information to see if it checks out.
The research I have checked thus far traces our Burnell line back to John Burnell (1750-1837) and his wife Mary Bannister (1752-1838). The Burnells are a very interesting line and have family members who worked to change the world. There will be more to come on these fascinating ancestors!
Notes, Sources, and References:
1) Wikipedia Article on Acton Burnell Castle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acton_Burnell_Castle
2) English Heritage: Acton Burnell: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/acton-burnell-castle/
4) Acton Burnell available parish records: https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Acton_Burnell,_Shropshire.
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