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.


3 comments on “Mistress Agnes Loose in London

  1. Hazel says:

    Didn’t know about the IR58’s! I did the ancestral route of family homes in Dec 2012, in Homerton, London and took photos too.

  2. Martha says:

    Rob says you shouldn’t be randomly leaving your book in shops without their permission…

  3. Jeanne Perrett says:

    As always v v interesting and funny. Wonderful news that your book was already on the stand! And yes, once upon a time we would not have thought we were in London.

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