Armour and Authors in the Kitchen, a Plague Rat in the Hall and a Rock Star in the Corner (warning also contains political comment)

History first but I hope you will read to the end. Yet again I am aware of just how weird my life can be. How many people have a kitchen full of armour and plague rats in the living room? So far during this weird historical week I have watched a fisherman of my acquaintance walk round one of my ‘one-places’ on Channel 4 TV’s Great Canal Journeys. He did a great job and as a direct result there was a noticeable spike in the hits on the Bucks Mills page of my website.

Then there was our Swords and Spindles seventeenth century fun day. Part of the activities involved making cardboard plague rats, so I had to do a trial run first. As I commented on the Swords and Spindles blog, ‘safety glue’ is a description that is only 50% accurate. Safe it may be, glue it is not. Hence eyeless, noseless rats abounded – no chance with the tails and whiskers, I used a reputable brand of adhesive tape to affix those. Our team was out in force to entertain the hordes, well to be honest hordes might be a tad of an exaggeration but those who came stayed for hours and were very enthusiastic. Now the armour lies in the kitchen ready for its annual oiling by my non-resident armourer.

As for the author in the kitchen – my friend and local historical novelist, Liz Shakespeare, has written a novel about the life of Edward Capern, postman poet, who used to walk from Bideford to Buckland Brewer and back on a daily basis delivering the mail. He would wait in the village, writing poetry, before his return journey. Liz’s meticulous research has discovered that it was my cottage where he rested. Liz decided to follow his route and undertake the walk herself. I was proud and pleased to be able to offer her hospitality, reflecting the actions of my predecessor in this house, Mrs Ley. I have to report that no poetry was penned whilst she was here. Her report of the walk is on her website and makes me sound like some sort of domestic goddess. I wish to put on record that I cook twice a year, chutney and Christmas pudding/cake, she just happened to call in on one of these two days. Now to look forward to her book launch in March. What of my own novel writing efforts? Well, some progress is being made. November is allegedly novel writing month and some people are attempting to write 50,000 word novels in thirty days. I won’t be joining them but I do plan to increase my output if I can.

In September, John Reid of Anglo-Celtic Connections announced the results of the annual international competition to find genealogical ‘rocks stars’. I recorded my thoughts on the competition at the time and I was honoured to be listed fourth amongst British and Commonwealth nominees and fifth in Europe. Given that I have never spoken to a US audience and more than 50% of the votes come from the US I was very pleased with this. This year the voting system changed; to feature in the British list you needed to live in Britain and the nationality of the voter was not relevant. This week John issued ‘Rockstar Extra’ lists, showing who would have won under the old system. This was based on the nationality of the voter. Thus those on the British list might live anywhere in the world but were voted for by British voters. Amazingly, this placed me in gold medal position for Britain. I am stunned and hugely grateful to all who voted, thank you.

46333_10150271881405182_2126896_nI normally subscribe to the view that politics has no place on this blog, or on my social media feeds. That has never been their purpose. They are though also a reflection of my life and for the second time this year, I find myself moved to express my profound sadness at the hatred, invective and xenophobia, along with downright ignorance, that I have seen or heard expressed over the last few days. Tolerance and empathy are words that appear to have dropped from the lexicon. I fear for my descendants growing up in a world of hate. If you are reading this, I would ask you to stop and think, show compassion, treat people as individuals not as an amorphous representative of a particular race or religion. Do not believe the un-attributed, unsubstantiated media-fuelled drivel that is being circulated. Peace begins with ourselves and we need it to ripple outwards to those with whom we come in to contact. Fortunately I know that most of my friends feel as I do. If, on the other hand, you are unable to love your neighbour, when ‘neighbour’ extends to all in despair or need, wherever they happen to be, please don’t leave a comment, just quietly take yourself to a different sphere, virtual or literal, from mine because there is no room for you here.. The picture that accompanies this blog is illustrative of peace, love and beauty. Please share the emotions and the picture with those whose lives touch yours. If that makes me sound like a hippie, then guilty as charged and proud to be so.

A Week of Historical and other Weirdness

Some of the more bizarre happenings in my recent life include a surreal game of Guess Who (you have to guess the identity of the person depicted on a card) via Skype with my 2½ year old grandson. After the more standard questions ‘Have they got curly hair?’ and ‘Have they got a hat?’ we had ‘Are they an acrobat?’ and ‘Do they like peanut butter?’ Note to self – MUST hurry up and create a family history version of this game using old family photos.

Then I had to renew my driving licence as the picture is ten years old. Good excuse for the DVLA to relieve me of £17. Allegedly I could do this online and they would magically harvest my photograph and signature from that on my passport even if the passport photo is the same as that on the ten year old driving licence????

Next, an email inviting me to look at documents that had been left for me in Dropbox. I didn’t recognise the sender but a quick Google (other search engines are available) of the unusual name revealed the identity of the person who wanted me to see their files. Can anyone think why the American woman’s basket ball coach would possibly want to send me anything via Dropbox?

And in a restaurant chain near me, I view their newly revamped menu. I quite like this chain as they provide nominally ‘free’ salad. My dressing of choice is ‘red devil’. In the absence of this on their new ‘sauce bar’ I opted for ‘Triple H’.  If you are ever tempted to ladle copious amounts (or even a mere dribble) of Triple H sauce on your salad, don’t, just don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I like hot and spicy but this defied description. Hating waste I ploughed my way through half a bowl of Triple H bedecked salad and two litres of water (yes, I know that isn’t the ideal solution) before admitting defeat.

So what else have recent days brought? Firstly, the mystery of the missing gravestones. On rechecking the memorial inscriptions of the local churchyard that we completed three years ago, looking for additions, we found that two large slate stones had disappeared. It seemed that their removal was recent, as the holes in the ground showed no signs of grass mowings or water. No one seemed to know why the stones had disappeared. They were huge and heavy. I provided photographs as ‘evidence’. We began looking for someone with a hernia, broken suspension and a new slate worktop. Bit of an anti-climax, it turned out that they had been legitimately removed by a local stonemason for refurbishing. Strange than they didn’t tell anyone though!

captureThere have been a couple of strange Twitter conversations. Who would have thought that one could follow the course of the Battle of Hastings on Twitter? Then another seventeenth century addict posted a woodcut of the time (censored here) depicting what appeared to be a medical procedure. There followed a discussion as to exactly what was going on: vasectomy? (surely not) circumcision? (probably not at this date) who knows? Note that the patients appeared to be smiling! Answers on a postcard.

Then I have been compiling a full risk assessment of our living history activities ready for our Family Fun Day next week. You have NO IDEA how dangerous it is. Will you trip over a long skirt, inhale glue when creating a plague rat, drop a bucket on your foot or a pike on your head? Will you have a heart attack from the weight of our armour or strangle yourself with our bodice laces? Are you up for all this danger? Join us if you dare.

Serendipity or ……….?

You know those weird ‘meant to be’ moments when a facet of your family history falls in to place and it seems to be more than just co-incidence? There are even suggestions from the scientific community that memories can be passed on through our DNA. Genetic memory or not, there are certainly some inexplicable twists of fate that lurk within the stories of some people’s family history research trails. Often we find that our skills, abilities and interests reflect those of our ancestors. To be honest, we’ve an awful lot of ancestors out there; it probably isn’t too difficult to find someone who shares your musical ability or your love of dressmaking. I feel drawn to certain landscapes and parts of the country. Many of these have ancestral connections but my ancestry spreads over most of the counties of southern England, with a few rogues from the north, so again not much of a co-incidence.

Serendipity then. Here is my hairs standing up on the back of the neck tale. I spent most of my adult life living on the Isle of Wight. I chose to live there and have an affinity to the island but as yet, no ancestral connections, although my parents went there on honeymoon (no I wasn’t conceived there!). Although both my children were born on the island, neither was christened there. The elder was baptised in a Buckinghamshire village during a brief, work related, three years that we spent living in that county. The younger was christened, far from home, at the annual church service arranged by our one-name society.


Great great grandmother Anne Howe née Stratford

Several years after we returned to the island from Buckinghamshire I took another look at my paternal grandmother’s side of the family. This was decades before online research made life easier. My uncle, by then deceased, as was everyone on this side of the family, had been adamant that his grandmother came from Cumberland. It made some sort of sense, her husband was from Northumberland. After diligent searching I found her, not in Cumberland but in Buckinghamshire. At the time I was living there I had no knowledge of any ancestral links to the county. She was born fairly close to where I had been living. In those days, the only way to see the census returns was to travel to London, so it was some months before I could take this any further back and reach the next generation, my great-great grandmother, who, the census revealed, had lived in not just the same county, not just in the same village but in the same road that I had inhabited for three years.


We so nearly didn’t live there. At the time neither I nor my husband drove. The houses we had been looking at were all in the town where he was to be working. Typically, in the days before online house-hunting, the estate agent had also sent details of properties that did not meet our spec, one of them was this village property about five miles out of town. A colleague offered to drive us out for a viewing and we were hooked. Thus my elder daughter was baptised in the same church as her 3 times great grandmother, although we did not know it at the time.

Even my current home has a family history connection. I had decided to downsize and relocate to North Devon but had not yet started to search seriously for a new home. We were visiting Devon and taking someone round parishes that had connections to their ancestry. We drew up near the churchyard. This was churchyard number seven. It was, inevitably, pouring with rain. By this time I was losing the will and in need of drying my socks on the car radiator so I remained in  the car whilst my companions plunged knee deep in wet graveyard. I looked up and saw a For Sale sign. After six months and various trials and tribulations, that are an almost essential concomitant of UK house buying, I moved in. Do I have any ancestral connections to my current home? Well – and there will be questions on this later – my 4 times great grandfather’s, sister’s, husband’s father was baptised here – I’m not sure that counts!

More Writing, Nature’s Wonders and Family History Events

dscf3381So what has this week brought? A hedgehog joining the two frogs who are crazy enough to inhabit the scummy indentation that passes for a pond in my garden. Luckily this hedgehog was not actually in the pond, though others of its species passed that way, with unfortunate results, before I inserted an escape route. The garden revamp is progressing slowly. I have (that would be the royal I) reclaimed three foot of garden by decimating the privet hedge. I have also had fun creating a nature book for my descendants. I seem to have photographs of quite a number of unidentifiable plants and birds. The latter are mostly waterfowl that do not feature in my not-so-comprehensive ‘Birds of Britain and Europe’ book. Do the authors not know how inconvenient this is?

Writing, of various kinds, has been featuring highly on the agenda. I have been introduced as a forthcoming columnist for the In-Depth Genealogist. Do take a look at what they have to offer. I’ve drafted the first article for my column, which will focus on the work (paid and unpaid) of women. The plan is to alternate between household tasks, home-working and work outside the home; I’m looking forward to it. My Telling Your Family’s Story course for Pharos is into its second week and I’ve already had one online ‘chat’ with an enthusiastic band of participants. Just wish I had time to write up more of my own family history! The course is being re-run in February and Pharos are already taking bookings. They have also begun to advertise another of my courses Discovering Your British Family and Local Community in the Early Twentieth Century. You can sign up for this from anywhere in the world, although the focus will be on British research. If you are local there are still places on Devon History Society’s Nineteenth and Twentieth Century One-place Studies course that I am leading on 18th October. What else can I get you to sign up for? Oh yes, a trip back in time to the 1600s on October 24th. This is ideal for family historians wanting to know more about seventeenth century social history and for families. It will be a great chance to encourage your descendants to engage with history and heritage – there will be armour to try on, pikes to wield, Master Christopher’s treatments to avoid…… A number of you out there (unbelievably, more than one person and a dog read this blog) have said you’d like to come but you do need to register or the organisers will think no one is interested.

Thanks to Exeter Authors’ Association pointing out that my books are available on, as well as, I decided that I needed to create an author profile. Annoyingly you can’t just transfer the one from More technological challenges, especially trying to make my RSS feed (had to look that one up) appear on .com, which you can’t do on By the time I’d done this there was little time left for actually writing anything. #Daisy is expanding but I will give details of that another time.

I must also mention the excellent Devon Family History Society conference last weekend. There was music, there was cake – always a good combination – there were chances to meet friends and browse the many displays. The speakers, Nick Barrett and Dick Eastman, were excellent and really made us think about the future of family history. The future is bringing your family to our event on 24th October!