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Clan Bell

Heraldry associated with Clan Bell

Clan Bell are a Scottish family or kin-group who do not have a chief and are therefore considered to be an armigerous clan


The Bell family are from the Borders and may be descended from a Norman follower of David I (1085-1153). By the end of the thirteenth century, they were established in Dumfriesshire, Berwickshire and Perthshire. <ref>George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire, Scottish Clan and Famaily Encyclopedia, 359</ref>

The name may derive from the French 'bel'- meaning 'fair' or 'handsome'. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref> Alternatively, Bell could be taken from the occupation of a bell-ringer or from living near a bell tower. <ref>David Dorward, Dictionary of Scottish Surnames, 17</ref> Plean and Squire consider this suggestion 'far fetched'. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref>They state that as the derivation is descriptive, common ancestry cannot be assumed for all those bearing the surname.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref>

Border Reivers

The Bells participated in the Borders disturbances as one of the riding clans of bor-der reivers. In the thirteenth century Gilbert Le Fitzbel held lands in Dumfries.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref>

Sir David Bell was Clerk of the Wardrobe to Robert II.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref>In 1426 William Bell's lands of Kirkconnel were confirmed by James I under a charter recorded in the register of the great seal.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref>

The Bells, along with other Borders families, became increasingly turbulent throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Crown's determination to pacify the Borders led in 1517 to the Clan Bell receiving royal letters of warning to keep the peace.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref>The tower of Blacket House was destroyed in a raid by the English in 1547. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref>

Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603 many members of the family emigrated to the Ulster Plantation, and today the name is among the most common in Northern Ireland.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref>

Blacket House

Blacket House, or Tower

Blacket House, or Tower, is the ancestral home of of Clan Bell. It is located in Dumfries and Galloway. It is not open to the public but can be viewed by arrangement with the current owner. <ref></ref>

Later History

Benjamin Bell, by Sir Henry Raeburn
Alexander Graham Bell

The main family, who had been Lairds of Blacket, remained in Scotland but migrated to the cities. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref> They contributed substantially to learning and medicine in particular. Andrew Bell, founder of the Madras system of education, was born at St Andrews in 1753. The college founded in his native town and named after his system is still a respected seat of education today.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref>

Benjamin Bell of Blacket House (b.1749) was a noted surgeon. His father, George Bell (1722–1813) farmed at Woodhouselees, a mile south of the village of Canonbie in Dumfriesshire.<ref></ref> Bell is considered by many to have been the first Scottish scientific surgeon. This reputation was based largely on his influential textbook A System of Surgery. <ref>Bell B. A system of surgery. 1st ed. Edinburgh: Bell & Bradfute; 1796</ref> He can be regarded as a 'scientific' surgeon because of his rational thought processes which are apparent in his treatises, particularly his Treatise on Gonorrhoea virulenta and Lues venerea (1793). <ref></ref> Another treatise, The Theory and Management of Ulcers, was first published in 1778 and is still considered one of the classics of 18th century physiology.<ref></ref>

Dr Joseph Bell JP DL FRCS (1837-1911) is said to have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create his great detective, Sherlock Holmes.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref> He was the great-grandson of Benjamin Bell. In his instruction, Joseph Bell emphasized the importance of close observation in making a diagnosis. To illustrate this, he would often pick a stranger and, by observing him, deduce his occupation and recent activities. These skills caused him to be considered a pioneer in forensic science (forensic pathology in particular) at a time when science was not yet widely used in criminal investigations. His book, Manual of the Operations of Surgery which was published in 1883.

General Sir John Bell was a distinguished soldier during the Napoleonic Wars and a friend of the Duke of Wellington. Scottish lawyers encounter the name of Bell in their study of Principals of the Law of Scotland by George Joseph Bell, Professor of Scots Law at the University of Edinburgh in 1829.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref>

Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) was a pioneer in the development of the telephone. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 359</ref> He was born in Edinburgh and emigrated to Canada in 1870.