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My Bennett Family History by Brian excel

Excell Coat of Arms

The coat of arms shown above was personally presented to my father, Leslie Bennett Excell, in June of 1995 by the Chief Herald of Canada, Robert Watt. It primarily consists of the red (gules) double-headed eagle on a field of gold and silver, representing the family of Bennett, quartered with the chevron in argent (silver) charged with ermines between three St. Catherine wheels on a field of black (sable), representing the Ashlock family. In June of 1999, with the death of my father, as I am his only son, I was therefore entitled to use these arms as my own. You might well question why someone with the surname Excell is legally entitled to bear a coat of arms representing both the Bennett and Ashlock families. The study of heraldry is a fascinating subject on its own, but also can offer the genealogist an extra source of primary and invaluable information. It can help in the proof of family pedigrees and definitely add color to the spare data of family research. The history of the Bennett-Ashlock coat of arms and my right to use these arms is an excellent example of this fact as I will hope to show.

Pythouse In Wiltshire, England, just 15 miles south west of the great prehistoric monument known as Stonehenge, lies an old family estate called Pythouse, featured on the right. The name Pyt, it is believed, is derived from the old French word for well, puits, as there was undoubtedly at one time a large water source on the site. In the year 1225 the Benedictine Abbess of Shaftsbury, the head of one of the largest and wealthiest Abbessarys in southern England, gave the original land upon which Pythouse stands to William atte Pytte. The early descendants of William would use the surnames Pyt or Putte regularly interchanged with Bennett. The later was used with respect to their historical link to the Benedictine order. By the 16th century and beyond, the surname Bennett was used exclusively to identify this family with Pitt retained sometimes as a middle name. We are able to accurately record the descent of this family to the present day from around the year 1400 which represents a total of 17 or more generations.

Colonel William Bennett

In 1565 the Herald's Visitation of Wiltshire officially recorded the Pythouse Bennett coat arms solely as the red double-headed eagle with the Cornish Chough upon a whelk shell as the crest. The Visitation was authorized by the College of Arms, under license of the Crown in London, to record the names of the gentry, nobility and their ancestors and descendents with reference to their right to bear arms. These arms were then duly blazoned, recorded and stored with the College as solid proof that they were legitimate. Around the year 1560 William Bennett of Pythouse married Mary Ashlock, daughter of Christopher Ashlock. As Mary had no brothers to carry on the Ashlock name and coat of arms, the arms were allowed to be adopted by William and Mary's son Thomas after William's death in 1591. For the first time they were quartered as Bennett with Ashlock, essentially the coat of arms that has come down to us today. In the 1623 Herald's Visitation of Wiltshire and Dorset, the new coat of arms are officially recorded for the first time. William Bennett's TombHowever, not all Bennetts felt obligated to use the new Bennett-Ashlock coat of arms. Thomas Bennett's grandson, Col. William Bennett (1627-1699), my 7th great grandfather shown above, chose to retain the original Bennett arms. Colonel William Bennett's own grandson, also named William (1700-1756), nevertheless, chose the Bennett-Ashlock arms as is evident from his weathered tombstone propped up at the side of the parish church of Margaret Marsh in northern Dorset shown on the left. The Bennett family of Pythouse, Wiltshire enjoyed a considerable period of prosperity including land acquisition up to the time of the English Civil War which ended with the beheading of King Charles I in 1649. The Bennetts were a Royalist family and consequently on the losing end of the conflict. Colonel Bennett carried the Pytte Papers from the English Civil War, was Secretary to Prince Rupert of the royalists forces, and held the war papers, the Pytte Papers, in his possession.

After the Restoration in 1660 it took a long time for the family's fortune to rise again. In 1669, Anthony Bennett, eldest brother of Col. William, sold Pythouse to the Dove family to pay off accrued debts. This forced the Bennetts, young and old, to find other domiciles, in some cases to take over estates already owned by the family in southern Wiltshire and in Dorset.Despite the fact that the property was repurchased by Col. William's niece, Patencia Bennett, and her husband William Bennet (no relation) in 1725, the majority of the original Pythouse Bennett family was flung far a field to various parts of southern England.

William Bennett's (1700-1756) great grandson, John Wiltshire Bennett (1814-1884), had settled on a 200 acre farm in southern Hampshire. His eldest son John Joseph Riggs Bennett (1841-1881),while studying to become a surveyor, married Anna Moore in 1863. John's only son by Anna, named John Spendlove, was born in 1864. However, four years later Anna died which prompted John Joseph to leave his son in the care of his grandparents and then move to the United States to start a new life. Settling first in Missouri he soon remarried, having more children and then moving to Arkansas where he died and was buried in Logan county in 1881. It is assumed he never saw his first born son after leaving England. John Spendlove Bennett tried his hand at many jobs, eventually ending up leaving England for South Africa where he fought in the Matabele Conflict (1893) and the Boer War. By 1912 he and his new wife, Louise Maud Hatten, had moved to Vancouver Island in western Canada with two small children. His third child, Leslie Bennett (my father), was born in Victoria, B.C. in 1914. Unfortunately, the economic situation in western Canada at the outset of WWI was poor which necessitated the placing of Leslie into the local orphanage to make sure he would be suitably cared for, perhaps until the family could get back on their feet. A year later, however, an agreement, i.e., indenture, was signed between the Bennett and the Excell (Horace and Blanche) families that Leslie would be cared for by them indefinitely. My father had always assumed that this was a legal adoption and when he joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1950 had to prove his identity was surprised to discover that Bennett was still his legal surname. This was due to the fact that he was under a guardianship and not a formal adoption as he had thought. As I was born before 1950, and assuming at that time that his surname was legally Excel, put that name on my birth certificate. Therefore, though we were legally father and son we ended up with different surnames.

Ashlock/Bennett Coat of Arms

In the process of researching my family tree I discovered that I too was descended from the Pythouse Bennett family and that the family held rights to the Bennett/Ashlock coat of arms for over 400 years. I was very fortunate in making the acquaintance on Vancouver Island of two gentlemen who were recognized as national experts in the fields of heraldry and heraldic art respectively. They advised me that I should be entitled to the coat of arms and suggested I compile my documents of proof and submit this material to the Canadian Heraldic Authority in Ottawa, Ontario. Overall, the process is a slow one though it did help that I was able to establish a firm link with an existing coat of arms as already recorded in the College of Arms in London England by the various Herald's Visitations. It was wisely suggested that my father take the original Bennett, quartered with Ashlock arms, but difference them to make them uniquely his. This took the form of adding a red bordure upon which rested several white dogwood flowers. This was a good choice as the dogwood is the Provincial tree of British Columbia and several of them grow on our property. The Cornish Chough that sits atop the crest would also hold a sprig of the dogwood blossom. The complete arms were approved in Ottawa and officially registered in the Public Register of Arms and Badges of Canada and subsequently presented to my father in his home in Victoria, B.C.

It was evident to me that researching my coat of arms rewarded me with many useful pieces of information (some unusual and surprising) which made my family story much more colorful and meaningful, not to mention making the acquaintance of many interesting people in the process. Please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions, or if you would like to share family information.



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