Of Oven Cleaner, Ancestor Chasing, Genealogy Courses and Procrastinating

Well I guess this is where I say Happy New Year. New starts, new resolutions new things to look forward to. For those of you for whom life can be a struggle, I wish an easier time for you in 2019. I hope it can be a year when the world is more compassionate and more tolerant of others’ differences. We can be polite and forbearing, even if we do not always agree.

I was lucky enough to do some wonderful things in 2018 and there are some excitements on my 2019 horizon, although I am hoping to find time to relax more and actually see my house occasionally. So what’s been happening chez moi? Firstly, the inevitable seasonal lurgy has left me lacking in energy and sounding very deep and interesting, or as we say, croaky. Notwithstanding, I have begun the spring cleaning. Ok, so this is probably spring cleaning 2010 but spring cleaning nonetheless. With the assistance of the fisherman of my acquaintance, to whom grateful thanks are extended, I have embarked on the kitchen. The lack of energy thing (and I’ll be honest, the fact that cleaning isn’t exactly my number one favourite activity) means that it has taken several days but the end is in sight. Cupboards have been emptied and de-cobwebbed – I live in a house made of mud, of course there are cobwebs. I have unpacked two boxes that hadn’t seen the light of day since I moved in in 2006. These have now been rationalised into one box. Said box is probably still full of stuff I neither need nor am likely to use but hey, it is one less box for my descendants to dispose of when I go to meet the ancestors. I have discovered that I have a lifetime’s supply of oven cleaner. Who am I kidding? At the frequency that my oven gets cleaned it will probably last until 2130.

martha regional breakdwon from documentary evidenceAfter a lovely time with two fifths of my descendants, I used the lacunae between Christmas and New Year to cough a great deal and revisit some family history. This was partly inspired by a recent meeting with the full range of my second cousins at the funeral of the last of my mother’s cousins. This officially makes me the oldest generation now, that is a sobering thought. I was also motivated to look at my daughters’ ancestors, in preparation for LivingDNA results for one of them. I found my own regional profile that I received from LivingDNA closely matched the documentary evidence and I have already written about this. This is the prediction for my daughter and we will see how that compares with the actual results in a few months’ time.

numbers of ancestorsIn the course of working out what I was expecting, I also calculated how many of my direct ancestors I have discovered in forty two years of research. Not a bad haul for someone whose grandparents were born in the 1880s and 1890s, especially as I am 95% sure who the missing 3 3x great-grandparents are, which has a knock on effect on the totals in earlier generations. Whether I shall ever be confident enough to ‘ink these in’ is another matter.

I’ve had fun revising a couple of courses. Firstly, the next presentation of my five week online course for Pharos Teaching and TutoringDiscovering your British Family and the Local Community in the early C20th’, which begins in a couple of weeks. There are still a few places left. What a great start to your family history new year, to revisit your more recent ancestry and look at their lives in context. I am also going to be leading an ‘Introduction to Family History’ day course at Crediton Library on January. It has been a few years since I last did this and plenty has changed, underlining how fast-moving our hobby is. Contact the library directly if you are interested in this one.

And what of the writing? I hear you ask. Well, if you aren’t asking, why not? Firstly, I have made a significant dent in my pile of Barefoot in the Cobbles boxes and sales online are going well. Please can I reiterate my plea for you to buy paper copies directly from me, from my lovely publisher or from an independent bookshop near you, rather than pressing that tempting little ‘buy it now’ button. Obviously, if you are outside the UK, or want a copy for your e-reader, please do press away. Some lovely reviews are coming in – more are always welcome  and I have been re-energised to get back to work on book two. This was abandoned during the frenetic Barefoot marketing phase but I have picked up the threads of this work-in-progress. The researching is proving fascinating. I don’t want to give too much away at present but I’ve been delving into the records of Westminster School and looking at seventeenth century licenses to pass beyond the seas amongst other things. Actual writing though has stalled. I have sharpened my pencils in preparation (I don’t write text in pencil – although I do use pencil for my notes). I have put a pile of reference books in a box but procrastination abounds. I am even tempted to spring-clean another room to put off the moment when I have to produce something that resembles narrative – maybe next week.


#100daysofbfotc Day 95: Abraham Tuke

PoppiesOn the centenary of the armistice it is fitting that today’s post should belong to one of the fallen. Chapter 8 of Barefoot on the Cobbles is set on the western front. In order to reflect the early years of the twentieth century, the novel needed to include an episode that was devoted to the experiences of a combatant. The choice of Abraham, from amongst the men that Clovelly lost, was largely a random one and his life story was not typical. Incidentally, Abraham was not his first given name but in common with several other characters, his name needed to be changed to avoid confusion.

I anticipated that this would be the most difficult chapter for me to write, as I am not a young male, nor have I ever been in a combat zone. The western front was the only location in the novel that I was not able to explore in person. I immersed myself in the war diaries of Abraham’s battalion and read personal memoirs and dairies about the little-known battle in which he lost his life. I discovered that, although the Battle of Fromelles is not a household name in the UK, it is in Australia; the ANZAC troops experiences appalling losses in this campaign. I was also helped by the archivist at Abraham’s school, who responded swiftly and in detail to my enquiries, allowing me to build up a much fuller impression of Abraham’s character.

Although the chapter would not stand up to scrutiny by a military historian, I reasoned that one soldier would not have an impression of the overall tactics, so, if the account seems a little confused, that is probably an accurate reflection of a single soldier’s experiences. In the end, this is the chapter that pleases me the most.

W A B Tuke

From the Archive of King’s College, Taunton

Abraham Tuke was born in Clovelly in 1894 and was baptised in the church that stood adjacent to his home. His father, Harry, was the Court’s head gardener and the family lived at Gardener’s Cottage, on the edge of the walled garden. Abraham was an only child and his childhood was very different to that of most of his peers. Although he attended Clovelly School as a young boy, he won a scholarship to the prestigious King’s College in Taunton. It must have been difficult to cope with this dislocation and I suspect that Abraham may not have fitted well into either of his worlds. Whilst at King’s, Abraham became Senior Prefect and a Corporal in the Officers’ Training Corps. He was in the debating society and appeared in school productions. He did well academically, winning prizes for History, Religious Instruction and Latin. His ambition was to become a teacher and he qualified at St. Luke’s College, where he played rugby and became editor of the college magazine. The latter made me think that he would have written poetry, so I read volumes of World War 1 poetry, including the efforts of less-known and probably less accomplished poets. In this way, Abraham was able to write a poem, which appears in the book. I consoled myself, as I write it on his behalf, with the fact that he didn’t have to be a very good poet!

Following a role in the Territorials, Abraham joined the 2nd/4th (City of Bristol) Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment rising to the rank of Sergeant. He perished on 19 July 1916.

‘Barbed wire coiled across the long grass, self-seeded crops from happier years dared to grow and poppies painted the fields. Abandoned and broken, ploughs rusted where they lay. Then there were the agonising reminders of war. The wooden crosses, roughly hewn, inscribed only with a date; the names of the soldiers who fell on that spot forever forgotten.’

Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author. Kindle editions can be pre-ordered for the UK and also on Amazon.com.


#100daysofbfotc Day 88: Winnie Hamm

Torquay Town Hall Hospital

Torquay Town Hospital

Winnie is a character where a little more imagination came into play. Barefoot on the Cobbles needed a VAD nurse, so I searched the Red Cross database to find someone of a suitable age who actually worked at Torquay Hospital. I also needed to include someone who was a little more street-wise, to introduce Daisy to life in the town and Winnie fulfilled that role. Although there is no evidence that Winnie and Daisy met in real life, they may have and Daisy would have needed a friend in her new home.

Winnie’s employment at Aylwood is another invention. On the other hand, Winnie’s description of her time at the hospital, far-fetched though it may sound, is taken from genuine memories of a VAD who worked at the Town Hospital at the time. In reality, Winnie Hamm worked in the pantry at the hospital from 3 November 1917, earning 9d a day.

Although I have implied, in the novel, that Winnie grew up in Torquay, the real Winifred Muriel Hamm was born on 24 Feb 1899 in Tooting, London to Sydney and Alice Hamm. When she was working at Torquay Town Hospital, Winnie’s address was Ruthven, Meadowfoot Lane, Torquay. At some point after the war, Winnie moved to Bathavon and in 1930, she was fined at Corsham Petty Sessions Court for failing to display a motor registration license. In 1939, Winnie was living with the mother at Laurel Cottages, High Street, Bathavon. Winnie was obviously keen on public service. She was a manager of Bathford Primary School and stood for the Parish Council in Bathavon in 1949. She died at the age of 96, on 20 June 1995 and is buried at St Swithun’s Bathford.

‘Daisy judged that Winnie was the younger by several years, probably not much older than Violet. Although not a hair was out of place, there was a light dusting of freckles across Winnie’s pert nose, which somehow made her seem more approachable.’

Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author.

Of Kindles, Witches and Poppies: or how to buy books

Amidst all the #100daysofbfotc blogs, it has been a while since I wrote of other things. Life has been busy; what‘s new? There have been visits to and with descendants, articles to write, courses to run and presentations to give. With All Hallows Eve in mind, my talk about Seventeenth Century Witchcraft has been requested a couple of times, always one that leads to fascinating audience discussion. Also with a seasonal flavour, my colleagues have been out and about recreating life at the time of the Great Fire of London; although I am never quite sure why schools think it is appropriate to book these sessions to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day!

On the subject of anniversaries, preparations for our parish commemoration of the centenary of Armistice day have reached fever pitch. Our village green is bedecked with knitted poppies, we have recruited volunteers to represent almost all of the 90 service personnel from the parish (and have hopes of getting the full complement before next week). Songs of the era are being sung, communal food is being prepared. Every service person has a mini-biography hidden on our history group website, ready to go live at 11am on 11 November (I hope!). I have been in to the local school to chat about Remembrance and the children have produced some wonderful art and written work. It has been four years in the making and next week, all that hard work, by many people, will come to fruition. Someone was heard to mention that next year is the 75th anniversary of D-day and should we be celebrating that? I did turn a deaf ear; someone else can organise that one!

Now to my own personal excitement. Although I finished writing Barefoot in the Cobbles in March, in the few weeks I have been at home since then, the time has been spent editing and marketing. This week, I conquered the learning curve that was necessary to convert Barefoot into Kindle format. I do hope I have got it right. It looks ok to me. So, you can now pre-order copies for your electronic device here. Having said that, I am really hoping that potential readers will opt for paper copies too. There are 54 boxes of books in my very small house. I do need to sell some – please. If you are thinking of buying this book I have been harping on about for forever, please do read a bit more about it first. It won’t be to everyone’s taste and I don’t want people to be disappointed.

3dIf you still think you might enjoy my creation, can I make a plea that you purchase a copy directly from me, either at one of my many events or other talks, or by emailing me. Alternatively, I would encourage you to order online from my lovely publisher, Blue Poppy Publishing and for the next 13 days, you get £1 off and free postage to the UK. These options deplete my stock, as would ordering from your local independent bookshop. When buying my book, or indeed any other, please make the convenient ‘buy it now’ Amazon button your last resort. It is the easiest option and if you qualify for free postage, it has great appeal. In the past, I have been as guilty as anyone of taking advantage of this immediacy. In my case and that of many other authors who are not working with major publishing houses, it means that you will get a print-on-demand, slightly inferior quality, version and that the stock pile in my house remains the same. You don’t need me to tell you where almost all of the, already very meagre, profits go in this case. The position is obviously different for overseas readers, who will need to use the links on their own versions of Amazon to avoid the horrendous postage costs. Actually, at the moment, I am still struggling to upload a version for Amazon orders of the printed copy but hopefully I will get there by launch day, another learning curve. Two weeks to go!

#100daysofbfotc Day 54: Mr Lefroy

Scales_Of_Justice.svgGeorge Frederick Lefroy appears in the court scenes at the beginning and end of Barefoot in the Cobbles. He is the solicitor for the defence, so plays a significant role in determining the outcome of the trial.

He was born in Bristol on 15 February 1882, the son of Reverend Frederick Anthony and Henrietta Lefroy née Gurney. By 1904, George was serving with the 1st Gloucesters, Royal Garrison Artillery Volunteers as a Second Lieutenant. George married Isobel Elaine May Beaman in Eastbourne, Sussex in 1908 and had one son. In the First World War he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery. He was invalided out and was awarded the Silver War Badge. The Lefroys lived at Orchard House, Pilton in Barnstaple and he set up in partnership with Mr Seldon. He died in 1938.

‘Mr Lefroy rearranged his papers. He wanted this strange little lady to go free and not just because it would enhance his professional reputation. He prided himself on his ability to represent and take seriously, the cases of the downtrodden and Polly was certainly that.’

Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author.

#100daysofbfotc Day 46: Mary – ‘Mrs William’

Mary, a fisherman’s wife, appears in the first chapter of Barefoot on the Cobbles. She is the first mother that we get to know in the novel and through Mary, we can experience a manifestation of motherhood that is rather different from those that are revealed in later chapters. Unlike most Victorian families, Mary has only two children, Albert and Fred. There is no evidence for any other live births but she may have suffered miscarriages. Of course, there could have been another reason for her untypical lack of fecundity. The story of how she opens her heart and home to young Eadie is a true one. Like a number of Bucks Mills’ wives, Mary was often known by the forename of her husband, to avoid confusion with others of the same surname, hence ‘Mrs William’.

St. Anne's Church (old postcard)

St. Anne’s, Bucks Mills

Mary’s post should really have been yesterday. She was born as Mary Jane on 22 September 1842 at Horn’s Cross, Alwington, Devon to Richard and Hannah Hamlyn née Lewis and she was the only child of their marriage. They were a farming family and Mary worked as a launderess; nonetheless, in 1862, Mary met and married William, a fisherman from the neighbouring parish. Theirs was the first marriage in the newly opened Anglican church at Bucks Mills. Their son, Albert arrived nine months later and his brother followed two years after that.

Mary lived at Rose Cottage in Bucks Mills for the last forty years of her life. She died in 1928.

More information about Bucks Mills can be found here.

Albert was explaining to his mother how he had rescued a distressed Eadie from the square.

‘Mebbe you stay here for a day or two maid, ’til your da calms down,’ said Mary.

There was reassurance in the words but who was the more comforted, Mary or this dark-visaged child with sadness in her soul? Mary turned to her son, who had unwittingly presented her with a few days of companionship.’

Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author.

#100daysofbfotc Day 44: Captain Thomas Powell

Captain Thomas Folliott Powell was a gift to an author looking for interesting minor characters. He appears only briefly, in chapters 2 and 3 of Barefoot on the Cobbles, yet his behaviour has ramifications that echo through the remainder of the novel. When I first discovered that Polly had been a domestic servant at Chudleigh Villas and that the Powells had advertised for a servant in the local press at the appropriate time, I decided that they made a perfect match. On further investigation, the Powells’ story opened up several opportunities.

The position of troops during the mutiny – wikimedia

Thomas Folliott Powell was born on 3rd August 1834 in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, the son of William Powell, a solicitor and his wife, Eliza née Miller. The family descended from minor gentry. Thomas bought a commission in the army in 1853 and served in South Africa, the East Indies and India. As a Captain of the 6th regiment of foot, he was involved in the Indian Mutiny of 1857-9. Thomas retired from the army in 1865 and was able to sell his commission for £2500.

There is some confusion about the name of Thomas’ wife, who appears in the novel as Emily but who was in reality Mary Jane Winter (known as Amy), who had been born in the East Indies. They married in London in 1868. Four daughters and a son were born between 1876 and 1882. We can only speculate why there were no children during the first eight years of the marriage.

The family moved to Chudleigh Villas, Bideford in the late 1880s. Thomas seemed unable to match his lifestyle to his income and he was supported by his widowed mother, who provided the furnishings in their home and made them an allowance of £300 a year. Thomas had first been declared bankrupt in 1883, when he was living in the Plymouth area. He squandered the money he had made from his commission and it seems that a gambling addiction was a major contributor. His father had, perhaps wisely, left Thomas nothing in his will and when we meet him in the novel, Thomas is once again in financial difficulties. The family downsized to Ford Cottages, in New Road, Bideford. His second bankruptcy was annulled in 1898 and Thomas died in Portsea, Hampshire the following year.

‘ Mrs Powell regained her composure and resumed her tirade, ‘Why couldn’t you just have found enough to pay off Mr Tardrew? If you’d only done that, all this might have been avoided. Then there’s that money you owe to Tanton’s Hotel, how could you have run up such a bill? Your mother has been more than generous, we should be able to live comfortably on the three hundred pounds a year that she gives us. What on earth will she think? We cannot expect her to keep making us an allowance if you are such a spendthrift. It is no wonder that your brother has washed his hands of you.’

‘What’s done is done, eh Emily,’ Captain Powell replied. ‘Like as not I shall be declared bankrupt again.’ ’

Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author.