Escaping from London and the Aftermath

The Saturday and Sunday at Who Do You Think You Are? Live passed in a whirl. More chat with folk from the English Civil War Society and The Methodist Heritage stand. The latter could be very exciting. There are many activities planned for the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Bible Chrisitains in 2015. A very interesting and well delivered lecture on Richard III’s DNA test from Dr Turi King.

Then I felt morally obliged to spend money on books – rather a lot of books. These included Kirsty Gray’s new book from Pen and Sword on Tracing West Country Ancestors. From the same stable I purchased a book I should have written about how our ancestors died and I have on order another about illness on board ship.

Just to prove that Chris really does get everywhere, friends from the Guild of One Name Studies appear with a magazine for RBS pensioners. They open it up and lo and behold, there he is, in fishing guise this time. His portrait has been commended in a photographic competition! On the subject of portraits, a young friend of mine has produced wonderful portraits of Master Christopher and myself for her school work.


Tired after a busy weekend Master Christopher and I morph back in to our 21st century selves and prepare to leave the hall ten minutes before the end of day three. With a mind to the mile walk from station to camp site, our belongings are strapped to the trolley – that’s the trolley whose wheel is still secured by a nappy pin. We are stopped by a security man. We cannot leave because we have a trolley and it is not yet ‘break down’ time. We explain that our stall is still fully functioning, that we need to get a train and that the bag contains our clothes. Now an advantage to being ‘memorable’, the security guard remembers seeing Chris in costume. He wants to feel our bag to ensure it contains clothes. This he duly does and we are able to escape. Strangely he has no interest in the box of books under the bag……..

Home again and time to catch up. First absorbing the contents of the Chancery document acquired at the National Archives that so nearly extends one branch of the Braund family tree and links other branches to it. After a day’s work on this I reluctantly decide that there still isn’t quite enough proof.

More Buckland burial indexing and two lovely friends are busy checking  this. A meeting preparing the Devon Family History Society‘s Summer Special, which sadly the job I must not mention will prevent me attending.

Three talks to prepare – busy busy – so much history so little time.

Who Do We Think We Are?

We leave for the mile long walk to the station, complete with a trolley load of Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs and our C17th gear. This is not quite an old lady’s shopping trolley but pretty close. Chris is wearing his C17th hat. I try to work out whether this is more or less conspicuous than full C17th rig. Within ten seconds I decide he is not the most incongruous person on Crystal Palace High Street. We have our usual yokels in the big city moment when the aforementioned trolley gets stuck in the automated station entrance thingy – you know, the one where you shove your ticket in (if you are me usually upside down) and it gets swallowed and the spongy bits open – in this case not far enough. We are released by a long suffering staff member. Typically, platform 1 is up and down lots of steps. Chris copes manfully with the trolley. Then, as we get on the train, the wheel falls off said trolley. I attempt, unsuccessfully, not to dissolve in hysterical laughter and Chris gets stuck in the closing train door as he fails to retrieve the wheel’s retaining split pin. Once a girl guide however (that would be me not Chris – he was a lifebouy, or should that be life boy?). I have a handy nappy pin. No one in my household has worn a nappy for 25 years but I have a nappy pin – as one does. A temporary repair is effected. At the first stop, Chris risks life and finger to extract the wheel’s washer from the train’s door runner. We do miss the Olympic ‘transport for London’ spirit and the helpful types pointing the way with their sponge fingers but the rest of the journey is uneventful. The inability to move on the morning rush hour train is another reminder why we live where we do.

 Gregg Wallace 2 (1)

We are early for Who Do You Think You Are? Live but are soon busy greeting old friends. I have a ticket for the Gregg Wallace chat. Brilliant as anticipated. I brave it to re-introduce myself at the end. Shame they didn’t show a clip of ‘my’ bit. Staggered to see a huge Coffers, Clysters poster behind the Family History Bookshop stall. I sign a few copies and one purchaser thinks he can get it publicised with the Civil War Society – hurrah! More ‘networking’, gleaning information and trying not to spend money! A quick change and then the tedious journey home through freezing temperatures and flakes of snow.

Family History Bookshop (1)

Mistress Agnes Loose in London

No time for a lie in and I am greeted by an exciting email from friends in Canada with the news that they had found one of my missing emigrants. Interesting too that she married a fellow North Devon emigrant and that he was one of the Bible Christian Thornes.

Left home in good time, driving through freezing fog as we went through the Somerset Levels. Arrived at Crystal Palace and set up the van. Ventured out on a cold sunny day to relive my childhood. Within five miles of the site, we were able to visit the house where my mother was born and where my grandparents lived for almost all their married life. This was really special for me as I don’t believe I had been past the house since I was seven. Strangely, although I have vivid memories of the inside of the house, I had no recollection of the outside at all. One of the attractions of the garden for both me and my train buff grandfather, was the train line that ran along the bottom. Coincidentally, just as we drew up a train went past just for me!

The trouble with this ancestral house visiting is that it involves a certain amount of skulking about trying to take photographs without being either arrested for stalking or mugged by irate householders. We managed to avoid these eventualities and even the law that says it will be bin day when participating in this type of activity was not in force. All we had to encounter were inconveniently parked cars. We then travelled through my childhood to visit, in chronological order, my three former homes. It struck me that, whilst these are now considered to be in London, forty years ago there is no way I would have considered myself a Londoner. It is important to be aware that cities spread and while we might think of our ancestors being city dwellers, they probably thought they lived in a leafy suburb. The route invoked many memories, sadly now though there is no one who shares these. I really must put ‘write my autobiography’ higher up the to-do list. On the way back we searched for more homes that figure earlier in my ancestry. One road escaped the notice of the sat-nav but I spotted it, rather too late, as we drove past. Following a manoeuvre that showed Chris’ driving is not out of place in the metropolis, we were outside my great grandmother’s house.

The next day and another early start because I was convinced that The National Archives would be full within five minutes of opening time. First stop the book shop to try and persuade them to sell Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs. They are ahead of me and I was pathetically excited to see it in a prominent position on the shelf, next to Debbie Kennett’s surnames book. Even managed to sneak a quick out of focus photo!


Our visits to TNA are spaced to ensure that a) our reader’s tickets have just expired and b) everything has been moved and systems have changed since we were here last. We managed to pass the ‘are you fit for a reader’s ticket?’ online test. I don’t know what happens if you get a question wrong – does the computer explode? Having managed to order some documents, we decide that we need to ask questions and approach ‘triage’. Our query is obviously one for the ‘too hard’ basket and we are referred to the ‘red desk’. Is this akin to the naughty step? We are directed  to the microfiche drawers where our documents are stored. Bit of an initiative test to find drawer 2 but we manage it. Then to see if we can remember how to use this style of film reader and more complicated still, the reader copier.

Next a back breaking couple of hours photographing all the IR58s for Clovelly. I just love these under-used records. One entry created for each property with owner, occupier and description, as part of Lloyd George’s Valuation of 1910. Great excitement next with some Admiralty Records relating to applications for boys to attend Greenwich Naval School. The details of these have newly arrived in TNA catalogue. In the course of this, I find yet another one of my extended family who fell off something – in this case a fall from ‘aloft’ on HMS Trafalgar. I’ll add this to the fall from the scaffolding, the fall in the dry dock and the falling off the ship when forgetting to let go of the anchor – there are more!

Lunch time and an indifferent luke-warm ‘curry’ from what is described as a ‘Genuine menu’. Genuine what? – horse probably. I think ‘Genuine’ is the name of the franchise. We climb back to the second floor for a Chancery document, which document production in the map room, can’t quite seem to locate. Back and forth past the security scanners – the staff are starting to become our new best friends. We use the time before ‘coming back in 15 minutes whilst they search for it’ trying to locate our final document. The computer says they are unable to retrieve this document and to seek help. Seeking help seems to involve me telling the assistant how to use the document ordering system. We try elsewhere and a really helpful staff member says she thinks a member of staff has it can we ‘come back in fifteen minutes’ – you will have noticed a theme developing here.. Back past two sets of security staff AGAIN on the trail of missing document one. They have found this and it is a real gem. A Chancery petition from 1714 and it contains evidence that may bring some separate branches of the Braund family closer together. Something to work on when I get home. Finally, missing document number two. This has also been located and to view it we have to enter an inner sanctum; in order to escape we have to summon help. We also have to wear white gloves. Chris has no chance of finding any to fit his Braund hands so I have to do this alone. A great day and hopefully this will give me some material for a few more Braund journals. An hour to drive the 12 miles home and it isn’t even rush hour. Not that I need any reminding of reasons why I live in the middle of nowhere.

Mistress Agnes meets Roger Knight, Marches in Torrington and Heads for Who Do You Think You Are Live

Mistress Agnes was very excited to be included on Gerald the Herald’s blog. In truth she was a little confused as to what a blog was and even more puzzled when she heard that Gerald featured on something called a Kindle. Fortunately Mistress A was prevented from setting fire to said Kindle (she mistakenly thought it was kindling) and was able to read the exciting adventures of Gerald and Roger Knight. Roger lives, as all good Medieval knights do, in suburban Croydon, where Mistress Agnes’ alter ego Janet grew up. A wonderful story for young and old, written by one of my school friends. Read it history friends, friends with children, friends who can read – and revel in the tale of the joust on the local rec, with the defeated knights travelling home on the 119 bus.

On the neolithic front, we have received our briefing and have had to return our ‘in case of death’ forms. Although the project is to be accomplished using period tools ‘elf and safety’ requires us to be equipped with not very authentic ‘safety wellingtons’. Usual shoe dilemma when asked to nominate the required size. Have gone with foot width (5) rather than foot length (3) this time and may live to regret it.

Last night Mistress Agnes marched and drummed not very efficiently, to commemorate the 367th anniversary of the Battle of Torrington and to pay tribute to those who fought for political freedom then and since. This is real hairs standing up on the back of the neck stuff, as we trace the route of the army in to town and lay a wreath on the mass grave of the Royalist prisoners. Lovely to meet with many old friends on a similar journey. ‘We are with you’. Have to say though that The English March gets a little tedious the nth time round. The following day one knows one’s been drumming continuously for an hour. During the course of this, yet another North Devon Journal photographer risked life and camera to capture Master Christopher’s image – so be warned NDJ readers.

Great bit of detective work by one of my fellow Buckland Brewer gravestone transcribers and we have identified a fragment that is now in a private garden and can add it to our Buried in Buckland records.

Just to report that Mistress Agnes and Master Christopher will be in attendance on Devon Family History Society stand at Who Do You Think You Are? Live over the weekend. Plenty of great Devon related goodies. Copies of Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs will be available – stop me and buy one. Janet has managed to persuade Mistress A and Master C not to ‘appear’ until after the fair opens – Master Christopher was particularly keen to travel on the train from Crystal Palace but Mistress Agnes on a Friday commuter train is probably more than bears thinking about!

Mistress Agnes to go Neolithic

Exciting news today that I have been accepted as a volunteer on English Heritage’s Project to build some neolithic houses. Don’t you just love experimental archeology! Nearest I’ve come to this is building cob cottages with my former history students – have to confess though that these were only three inches high.

Train and entrance tickets for Who Do You Think You Are? Live have arrived. Still wondering why I had to give my debit card a nickname before would process my order.

Another 20 years of Buckland Brewer burials indexed this morning, about 150 years to go. And finally, after nearly a year, our Heritage Lottery application for the Clovelly Community Archive is in. Now to busy ourselves indexing whilst we wait.

I really can’t sign off without commenting on the tragic news of the death of Fisherman’s Friend Trevor Grills and the band’s tour manager Paul McMullan. Truly awful what can I say? I do hope that the remaining Friends will find the strength to continue to entertain us in their unique style.

Grave Matters and other History

Getting back in the old routine post Finland now and realising just how busy the upcoming months are likely to be.

Most of my time has been spent putting the final touches to the Buried in Buckland project, so that the transcriptions of the stones in Buckland Brewer’s three graveyards can be made available online. No soon than I did what I understand is known as a ‘soft launch’, than my website went mad, creating my second busiest day ever, with 90 visitors looking at 324 pages. There are still quite a number of stones to double check and add for the main churchyard. The precipitation and temperatures (albeit warmer than Finland) are not conducive to running round churchyards in force quite a lot gales.

In the meantime, we have about half the burials left to index. These have already been transcribed but not in a way that is searchable and we are combining this information with that from the gravestones.

Last week saw the official opening of Buckland Brewer Community Shop; the sun shone, the crowds flocked in and I somehow ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Spotlight TV cameras were panning round.

A day in the seventeenth century at a local High School this week, as enjoyable as ever. Good to get back in the school groove before March when we have school bookings almost every day.

At last the interminable ‘A’s are done for the Family Historian Enquire Within edit. Pages of the wretched things and many of them not near the top of my own knowledge bank – Army, Australia etc. etc.. It will be good to get to the comparative calm of the ‘W’s this week.

Not yet had time to get excited about the forthcoming Who Do You Think You Are? Live but looking forward to catching up with old friends. Last year I met the Janet Hovorka, another warrior in the campaign to encourage the next generation of family historians. She has just launched the website Zap the Grandma Gap and I hope to get a copy of her book of the same name at the show. I need to be circumspect with my purchases, unless that is someone can tell me how to install elastic sides in my cottage.