The root of the surname Bentley is the Old English beonet, meaning “bent grass,” and leah, a “woodland clearing,” hence a clearing overgrown with bent-grass. There were a number of Bentley place-names in England – in Staffordshire, Yorkshire and Derbyshire for example – which could have given rise to the Bentley surname.
Bentley showed as Benedledge, Benetlea and Benedlage in the Domesday Book of 1086. The first recorded spelling of the family name was William de Benetlega in the pipe rolls of Derbyshire in 1176.
- Bentley Ancestry. Early Bentley genealogy.
- Bentleys at Woodlesford. The story of Bentley brewers and Bentley’s Yorkshire bitter.
- W.O. Bentley. The story of Bentley Motors.
- The Bentley Family of the Annapolis Valley. Bentleys in Nova Scotia.
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England. The Bentley place-name near Cannock Chase in Staffordshire gave rise to the Bentley family of that name and Bentley Hall. A Bentley family held the manor there until 1413 when the last of the line died without issue.
From these Staffordshire roots came the Bentleys of Cound near Shrewsbury in Shropshire. Richard Bentley, the first of this line, died there in 1647. Edward Bentley set off for London in the late 18th century and began working for the Bank of England. He was also the publisher of the General Evening Post which he helped found.
One line of these Bentleys was in service with the Bank of England for more than two hundred years (they were to be found at The Mere in Upton, Slough from the late 1880’s). A younger son Richard began Bentley’s Miscellany with Charles Dickens as its editor. The Bentley firm became one of the finest printers in London and the first to feature prominently wood-engraved illustrations.
There were other early Bentley lines:
- the Bentleys of Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire. Dr. Simon Bentley died there in 1349. A subsequent Bentley, Thomas, was royal physician in the reign of Henry VIII.
- the Bentleys in Derbyshire, where Robert Bentley was rector of Rademore in 1303. His line continued despite deaths from murder and the Black Death in the 14th century. Later Bentleys in Derbyshire included Thomas Bentley, a partner of the pottery maker Josiah Wedgewood, and Walter Bentley, a
well-known naturalist of the early 19th century. E.C. Bentley, the inventor of clerihews, came from a Derbyshire family.
There were more Bentleys in Yorkshire and in particular in the West Ridings of Yorkshire. The following were two early lines:
- Bentleys were at Heptonstall near Halifax from the early 1500’s and possibly earlier. They were yeoman farmers. A descendant was the 18th century classical scholar Richard Bentley. Later Bentleys were brewers.
- Records of another Bentley family began with the birth of Martin Bentley in Oakenshaw near Cleckheaton in 1579. Richard Bentley was a tailor there in the 1770’s and Isaac Bentley a printer in the 1830’s.
A Bentley family farmed at Knottingley near Wakefield in the 18th century. Michael Bentley started a new business as an auctioneer and livestock valuer in the town in the 1820’s which his descendants carried on. Abraham Bentley was the beadle (town crier) for Bradford in the 1830’s. And W.O. Bentley, the founder of Bentley Motors who grew up in London, came from a Yorkshire family.
There were also Bentleys in Lancashire. One Bentley family of long standing resided at Bentley Hall in Bury. John Bentley of this family built Birch House near Bolton as his home in the mid 18th century.
America. The first Bentley in America was probably William Bentley who arrived in Elizabeth city, Virginia on the Jacob in 1624. His descendants migrated from Virginia across the South into Texas.
Another William Bentley, from Bedfordshire, sailed on the Arabella in 1677 and settled in Kingstown, Rhode Island. He made his living there as a currier in leather. Later Bentleys of this family were to be found in Stonington, Connecticut and Chautauqua, New York and subsequently west in Flint, Michigan.
Then there was a Bentley family was in Chester county, Pennsylvania, as the following note from a descendant shows:
His son Jeffrey and grandson John were deacons of the Baptist church in Brandywine, Chester county. Later Bentleys of this family headed west to Ohio. William Bentley moved onto Kansas.
Canada. Early Bentleys in Canada crossed the border from America:
- David Bentley arrived in Nova Scotia from Connecticut in 1760, taking up land vacated by the Acadians. His descendants established themselves in the Annapolis valley.
- Another who made the journey north was John Bentley, a young harpsichordist in Philadelphia. He took a musical troupe to Montreal in 1787, married and stayed there.
- Samuel Bentley came to Ontario from Rhode Island with his Loyalist family around 1799. His son Elijah, a Baptist minister, was pro-American during the War of 1812 and tried for sedition.
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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:
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Richard Bentley was the Cambridge scholar who revived the study of the classics in England in the early 18th century.
W.O. Bentley founded the luxury car manufacturer Bentley Motors in London in 1919.
E.C. Bentley was a popular English writer and humorist of the early 20th century and inventor of the clerihew, an irregular form of humorous verse.
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- 24,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
- 14,000 in America (most numerous in Georgia)
- 8,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
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