Bentley Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Bentley Surname Meaning

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 Surname Resources on The Internet

Bentley Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to America and Canada

EnglandThe 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.  
  • and 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:  “One hundred acres of land was granted to John Bentley on August 14, 1704 in Pennsylvania. The material Indicated the information had been taken from a family Bible and that the family had indeed originated in Bentley Hall in Staffordshire.”

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.

Bentley Surname Miscellany

Bentley Hall.  Bentley Hall near Wolverhampton dates from the early 14th century.  The early manor was moated with a double ditch on the northwest side.  The house came into the possession of the Lane family in 1438.

Bentley Hall is best known as one of the country houses where Charles II hid during his flight after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.  The house was demolished in the late 18th century. 

Bentleys from Stratford Upon Avon.  The first recorded of this line was Dr. Simon Bentley who died in Stratford Upon Avon in 1349.  A later Bentley, Geoffrey, was a property owner in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.  His sons were Thomas, the vicar of Upper Ottery and Nicholas, priest at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  Nicholas died in London in 1571.

Another Thomas, related in some way, was also in London.  He studied medicine and, with the assistance of his mentor Thomas Wolsey, was appointed Censor of the Royal College of Physicians in 1523.  He became the royal physician and attended the births of both Prince Edward and Princess Elizabeth who both later ascended the throne.  Thomas retired in 1545 and returned to his old family home in Stratford upon Avon where he died three years later.

Bentleys from Heptonstall.  William Bentley and his sons Arthur and Anthony date from the 1540’s in Heptonstall.  In the registrar of church baptisms, there were no fewer than 42 people recorded by the name of Bentley between 1600 and 1660.  The parish was in fact sometimes known as Bentley’s land.

These Bentleys were yeoman farmers.  Their family line in Heptonstall continued at least into the early 18th century, as the following early gravestone in the churchyard would indicate:

“Henry Bentley oweth this stone and to the Lord he made his mone.  And he did pray to God when he did die, that his soul might rest eternally.  H.B. 1726.”

One line of these Bentleys floundered and flourished.

James Bentley was a captain for the King in the Civil War.  He was captured during the fighting, imprisoned in Pomfret castle where he died, and had his estate confiscated.

His son Thomas was a tradesman in Wakefield who married well and they managed to send their son Richard – after a grammar school education in Wakefield – to Cambridge University.  Richard Bentley became a famous scholar who did much to revive classical learning in this country.  He was a long-time Master at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Later descendants of this family were the Bentley brewers, starting with Henry Bentley who opened his brewery in 1828 at Woodlesford near Leeds, close by Richard Bentley’s home town of Oulton.  Bentley’s Yorkshire Bitter continued to be produced from there until 1968.

Bentleys in England in the 1881 Census.  Yorkshire and Lancashire dominate in the distribution of the Bentley surname in the 1881 census.

County Numbers (000) Percent
Yorkshire    3.5    27
Lancashire    2.9    22
Staffordshire    1.4    11
Elsewhere    5.1    40
Total   12.9   100

The main concentrations of Bentleys were at Stoke in Staffordshire and Cleckheaton in Yorkshire.

Edmund Clerihew Bentley.  Edmund Clerihew Bentley was a humorist writer of the early 20th century and the inventor of the clerihew, an irregular form of humorous verse on biographical topics.

One of the best known is this verse written in 1905.

  • “Sir Christopher Wren
  • Said: ‘I am going to dine with some men
  • If anyone calls
  • Say I am designing St. Paul’s.'”

William Bentley in Ohio and Kansas.  William Bentley was a blacksmith in Leesing, Ohio in 1861 when at the age of 24 he enlisted in the 27th Regiment of the Ohio Infantry at the onset of the Civil War.  He was struggling by the end of that campaign.  A fellow soldier remarked:

“He was a strong man until the tedious march with General Sherman from Atlanta, Georgia to Savannah and on to Raleigh, South Carolina.  The veins in his legs burst and his legs swelled until they were twice or three times their size.  Sometimes some of us had to carry him.”

He returned in 1865 to his wife and family at Leesing.  Later they moved to Kansas to farm.  But due to crop failures they migrated to the town of Wichita where he resumed his trade as a blacksmith.  One morning in early 1908 he fell from his buggy on South Water Street and died the same day of his injuries.

Bentley Names

  • 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.

Bentley Numbers Today

  • 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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Written by Colin Shelley

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