The Spreulls were an ancient Celtic family and members of the McFarlane Clan. The McFarlane Clan had a turbulent history much of it stemming from association with the Earls of Lennox. The name "Spruell" is said to be one of the Scottish surnames taken from Norman places, and is a surname of old standing in the west of Scotland. These of this name carry purses or palmer scripts in their arms. The Spruell arms is a golden chevron between three purses of cushions, denotes that the bearer was a man of great trust. The Spruell family was a very small one; only one family is given in the English and Scottish records.
The Spruell family from Scotland migrated to different parts of the world, often changing the spelling of the name as they went. Although today you can find any spelling just about anywhere, the Spruill, Spruiell, Sprewell, and Spruell spellings are common in the Southern United States; Sproul, Sproules are found in the North Eastern U.S., Canada and most likely originated in Ireland; Spurrells are found in parts of England, Wales and Newfoundland; There are Spruells currently living in Sydney, Australia.
It has been suggested that the Norfolk family name is derived from the village of Sporle, near Swaffham, in Norfolk (see, for instance, Rye:1913); there is probably, therefore, no connection whatsoever with the name Spreull. In 1349 a William de Sporle was admitted freeman of the city of Norwich and was later one of the men responsible for electing the first Mayor of Norwich. Spurrells were resident in Norwich in later years too, one of them, John Spurrell, being elected Mayor of Norwich in 1737.
A William Sporrell who lived at Thurgarton, near Cromer in Norfolk, in the early 16th century could well be a descendant of William de Sporle and possibly originally belonged to a Norwich Spurrell family. He is recorded on the Subsidy Roll in 1522, and Thurgarton parish records show several generations of the family from 1539 onwards. The Spurrell family (the change in spelling from Sporrell to Spurrell seems to have occurred in the mid-16th century) has had close links with the Norfolk villages of Thurgarton, Bessingham and Erpingham for 500 years, and also with other Norfolk families, especially the Flaxmans of Syderstrand and Roughton.
A dress probably worn by Mary Flaxman, whose daughter, Elizabeth (1749-1826), married John Spurrell (1732-1803) of Bessingham, now belongs to the dress collection at Kensington Palace. Auctioned at Christie's in 1994, it is a Court mantua dating from 1750-1760, comprising two parts - an open robe with attached train and a petticoat. The silk was made at Spitalfields and has a flush pattern to the ground, brocaded with sprigs of coloured flowers.
The Spurrells of Thurgarton were also related by marriage in the early 19th century to various brewing families - the Watney family, the Gray family (of the Gray and Dacre Brewery, West Ham, Essex), and also via both of these to the family of James Shears and Sons, coppersmiths of Southwark - and two brothers, James Spurrell (1776-1840) and Charles Spurrell (1783-1866), were senior employees at the Anchor Brewery, Southwark as well, the latter residing for some time at Anchor Terrace. In addition to being brewers and, more importantly, Norfolk farmers, the Spurrells embraced several other professions during and after the Victorian period: Flaxman Charles John Spurrell (1842-1915), archaeologist and photographer; Herbert George Flaxman Spurrell (1877-1918), biologist, author and physician; Rev. Frederick Spurrell (1824-1902), the first Chaplain to the British Residents at Stockholm (1849) and Rector of Faulkbourne, Essex (1853-1898); Lt.-Col. Robert John Spurrell (1855-1929), army officer who rowed for Cambridge in the 1878 Boat Race; Rev. James Spurrell (1815-1896), clergyman who published a pamphlet criticising Miss Priscilla Lydia Sellon's "Sisters of Mercy" and the mid-19th century Catholic Revival, and not forgetting his wife, Helen Spurrell (1819-1891), who translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into English in 1885.
Several memorials and gravestones dedicated to the Spurrells can be seen at Thurgarton and Bessingham churches, and papers, wills and letters relating to the family are held by the Norfolk Records Office, Norwich, where they were deposited by Richard Spurrell, the current owner of Thurgarton House.
Thurgarton House (formerly Thurgarton Old Hall) dates from the 1730s and has a Georgian wing, built in the 1820s. An earlier house probably stood on the site from the 16th century. The line of succession to Thurgarton House is as follows:
In the late 18th century, John (1732-1803), son of William Spurrell (1700-1761) of Thurgarton House, purchased land at Bessingham previously belonging to the Anson family. His son, another John, built Bessingham Manor House, whose owners were:
On the death of Ronald Hitchcock, Bessingham Manor House was sold and is no longer inhabited by a member of the Spurrell family.
It is not clear whether there is any relation between the Spurrells of Norfolk and those who originate from Wales and the West Country. There have been Spurrells in Devon for as long as there have been Spurrells in Norfolk, so any migration from the Sporle area to Devon would happened over 500 years ago, which, although not impossible, is difficult to prove.
In the 1790s, at the latest, a member of a Spurrell family then resident in Bath moved to Wales and settled in Carmarthen (St. Peter's). He was an auctioneer called John Spurrell, and was the grandson of Robert Spurrell, a Bath schoolmaster, who printed the first book, The Elements of Chronology, in the city in 1730. On 11 April 1840, the first printing press was set up in Carmarthen by William Spurrell (1813-1889), who wrote a history of Carmarthen called Carmarthen and its Neighbourhood and pioneered the first English-Welsh dictionary with his son, Walter Spurrell (1858-1934). Today's Collins Welsh dictionary is known as the "Collins Spurrell". The Spurrell family remains prominent in Bath today.
The Spurrell family is also prominent in South Manchester and North Cheshire
There is a Heol Spurrell, local authority housing, in Carmarthen named in honour of the family.
The Spurrell Charitable Trust makes donations each year to a number of good causes.
W. Rye, Norfolk Families, pp 836-839 (1913), Norwich: Goose & Son Ltd.
Patrick Palgrave-Moore FSG and Michael J. Sayer MA, A Selection of Revised and Unpublished Norfolk Pedigrees, Vol. 6, Norfolk & Norwich Genealogical Society (1974): Spurrell of Thurgarton pp. 175-177.
R. E. Huws, A History of the House of Spurrell (1981), an unpublished thesis.