The Three Founders

It’s blogging time again, but to be quite honest, at the moment with the Corona Virus picture getting daily worse and living with the uncertainty of what tomorrow will hold, it’s pretty difficult to think of anything else.  Certainly, it’s like nothing I’ve know in my lifetime.  I look back to the resilience displayed by my grandparents during WW2 and think that I have nothing like their apparent stoicism.

However, we are told that doing a little of what brings you joy is good for your mental health and that this in turn boosts your immunity, so I’m going to turn my attention just for a while to a book that I have just finished reading.

You may, like me, have by now realised that the National Trust is this year celebrating 125 years since its foundation.  I spotted a book called ‘The Three Founders of the National Trust’ and it has been a most enlightening read.

It gives outlines of the lives of Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley and their respective contributions to this national institution.

I had forgotten, until I read this book, that there is a stone seat – a memorial to Octavia Hill – not so far from here at Hydon’s Ball near Godalming, Surrey.  As the National Trust website states, “Hydon’s Ball is one of our earliest acquisitions and is a memorial to one of our co-founders, Octavia Hill, who died in 1912. It’s one of the highest points in Surrey and the steep, wooded, south-facing slope commands magnificent views across the surrounding countryside towards the Sussex border.”  There you can walk the Octavia Hill Trail and take in the views from the stone seat.

Access to outdoor spaces for all was something that Octavia campaigned for passionately, particularly wishing those in cities to have access to “places to sit in, places to play in, places to stroll in, and places to spend the day in”.  As well as working to preserve open spaces she worked tirelessly to improve housing standards for the urban poor and through these activities she came to work with both Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley, eventually with them forming the National Trust in 1895.  The 1901 census entry for her, citing her occupation as “living on own means” gives nothing away about just how hard she worked to improve people’s living conditions.  In the 21st century we are increasingly coming to realise the importance for our mental as well as physical wellbeing of having access to outdoor spaces, and in this Octavia was well ahead of her time.  Octavia died in 1912, before the trials of either of the World Wars, but she certainly experienced her own personal dark times, with a difficult early childhood and a major mental breakdown along the way.  She certainly demonstrated great resilience.

Robert Hunter is associated with places even closer to where I live.  In 1883 he moved with his young family to Haslemere and was to live there until his death in 1913, being buried at St Bartholomew’s Church.  It was his work as a lawyer for the Commons Preservation Society which first brought him into contact with Octavia Hill and only 11 years after the founding of the National Trust (of which he was the first Chairman), Hunter was instrumental in the purchase of Hindhead Commons and the Devil’s Punchbowl, an area which has of course been transformed in recent times by the opening of the Hindhead tunnel.  Two years later Ludshott Common was acquired – another area where we sometimes walk.  Another local landmark, Waggoners Wells, was bought through public subscription in 1919 as a memorial to Robert Hunter.  I noticed that between the 1891 and 1901 census entries, Robert Hunter had acquired the title of ‘sir’:  he was knighted in 1894.

The third founder, Hardwicke Rawnsley, has no local connections to Surrey so far as I am aware, but he alone of the three lived through the WW1 and organised peace celebrations once it had ended.  Early on he developed a great love of the Lake District and was vicar of the parish of Crosthwaite near Keswick for over 30 years.  He started the Lake District Defence Society and also campaigned to protect local footpaths.  Having worked with Octavia Hill as a young man, it is no surprise that his interests lent themselves to his involvement in the National Trust, where he became the first secretary. The Rawnsley Centre in Keswick, owned by the Keswick Convention, today provides a venue for a number of local activities.

Well this blog has nothing at all to do with my own family history, but I have enjoyed learning about the lives of these three founders of the National Trust and taking a look at the census returns in which they appear.  If you’d like to read more, the book is called ‘The Three Founders of the National Trust’ and is by Peter Clayton, Ben Cowell and Vivian Griffiths, published by Pitkin, and available from National Trust shops and online.

Stay well and enjoy the open spaces if you can.

The Devil’s Punchbowl, Surrey


The results are in!

So finally the long wait is over – I got the anticipated email from Ancestry to say that my DNA results were now available to view.

I saw the email first thing before driving to work that day, but without time to look.  It was lunchtime before I was able to log into Ancestry and take a peek.

It was no surprise to see that it reckons 88% of my ancestry is from England, Wales and north-western Europe and that probably the greatest proportion is from southeast England.  The Greater London area (which appears to include the Oxfordshire borders) also fits well.  However, it also suggests a link with Devon and Cornwall, where I have absolutely no known ancestors, which is interesting.  As with the LivingDNA profile there is no highlighted association with Norfolk, which is rather disappointing, but probably the biggest surprise is the suggestion of 10% ancestry from Sweden (probably including Denmark)!

Ancestry DNA map
Living DNA map







Comparing the results with those from the LivingDNA test, I see that Cornwall featured there too, so that’s certainly something to have in the back of my mind during my research.  With LivingDNA’s slightly more sophisticated mapping tool, it gives more detail of specific areas within England, including South Yorkshire (maybe my Wakefield ancestors really did come from Yorkshire?).  The European connection featured in this test is 15% Germanic (the map shows Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium).  Viewed in tandem with the Ancestry results, then, my hunch would be that it is the Norfolk connection who had come from across the water, from somewhere in Europe or Scandinavia, which would fit with what I know of immigration to East Anglia.

Ancestry ethnicity estimate

So much for the ethnicity results then.  What about the matches?  This was the aspect of Living DNA which had been so disappointing.  Well there are LOADS of them!  But how could I tell whether any of them were a close match?  At this point I was jolly glad that I had previously come across the International Society of Genetic Genealogy .  Here I found this invaluable table:

Autosomal DNA match thresholds

I thought I’d start by focussing on those where the amount of shared centiMorgans is either very high or extremely high.  Ancestry helpfully indicates whether or not the matched person has an Ancestry tree which you can view and will take you to your common ancestor if there appears to be one.  Annoyingly, my top 2 matches (72 and 62 shared centiMorgans) have no tree to view, so I have left them for the time being.  I moved on to those in the ‘very high’ category and that same evening messaged four of them (better not go overboard to start with or I might not cope with the correspondence!).  Two were connected to the Neighbour tree, one to the Mitchells and one to the Georges.  The following day I had a reply from one person, which was very exciting!  This has led to us exchanging ancestral photos, research notes and hunches.  So far there has been no reply from any of the others, but then I have experienced this in the past, with people taking a long time to respond to messages via Ancestry.

I am very pleased with the matching results which the Ancestry test has provided, and I can work my way through my closest matches and those with common ancestors to see how they fit in.  I like the way you can then group your matches and colour-code them according to the family they belong to. Perhaps I can also read up on why I have high matches with people who apparently have no shared surnames or birth locations.  It can all get a bit technical, but there is lots of help out there and hopefully all those detailed Family Tree magazine articles will now make rather more sense!

My family and other plants

It was something that Roy Lancaster had written in the January issue of The Garden which resonated with me:  “over the years I have come to regard [my plants] as an extended family…Like all gardens, there are losses and new arrivals that help provide a continuing sense of anticipation and pleasure”.

What good fortune he has had to have lived in the same house for well over 30 years!  Hence he can look out into his garden at plants collected over that period, some given to him by friends, some bought by him and some grown from cuttings or seeds.  As he says, “each comes with a story”.

And so it is, as we prepare for a house move this summer, that our garden plants are much in my mind.  As frequent movers (due to my husband’s job), many of our plants are deliberately grown in pots for ease of transportation, but to others, as with friends made in our current location, we will have to bid a fond farewell in due course.

The other week we did the annual repotting of the amaryllis bulbs after their overwintering in the dark and cool of the garage.  One of them is named Vera (I can show you the label if you don’t believe me), named after the dear elderly lady to whom it previously belonged.  Somehow we inherited it after her death more than 15 years ago (and two houses ago).  It blooms faithfully.

The hydrangea in the front garden was from a cutting of a plant in my Mum’s garden, and which I don’t think will tolerate moving.  However, anticipating this I have two cuttings from it in the kitchen which I am hopeful will thrive and can in time be planted in a new garden.

Currently in the greenhouse there’s a fuchsia given us by someone two moves ago who also, sadly, has now passed on.  I was saddened that all of my fuchsias last year developed some kind of infection which distorts the leaves and flowers.  It’s a great shame because I love fuchsias.

We also have a peony which dates from three moves ago.  Now rather crowded out by Japanese anemones, it may not be worth the effort to attempt a fourth move.

As with family and friends there are inevitably losses over the years.  I do like fruiting trees and bushes.  We had a small cherry two moves ago which, with herculean effort, we did manage to move and replant and hopefully it is still thriving at our previous house.  The cherry bought to replace it here, though, very sadly died.  We came to the conclusion that the conditions were not right.

Attending a family funeral two weeks’ ago it was sobering to realise how many of that generation have passed on in the time we have been in our current house.   But at the same time it was heartening to see the ‘younger generation’, all grown up now with gainful employment and meaningful relationships, and to learn of one new twiglet due to make an appearance on the family tree later this year.

Pouring over the photo albums in the pub after the funeral proved to be an unexpectedly bonding experience.  Spotting ourselves as young children, we shared memories of the games we played at the legendary Christmas family parties.

Losses and new growth, plants to say goodbye to and cuttings to take with us.  2020 is likely to bring new discoveries both of ancestors on the tree and plants in a new garden.  One plant, though, which we are determined to take with us, is the wisteria which for over 20 years has been entwined around a framed garden seat.  Last weekend we took a pruning saw to it and separated the two.  We managed to keep a surprising amount of growth, so now we just hope that the shock of separation will not prove fatal and that it will join the family of plants to be moved by one means or another to pastures new.  Both plants and family history provide that “continuing sense of anticipation and pleasure”.

Newly separated wisteria


First steps with DNA

Did you see Ant and Dec’s DNA Journey back in November?  Personally I only watched the first episode and got rather fed up with the lack of family history content, but it demonstrates how mainstream the use of DNA for genealogy has become.

I had resisted doing a test up till now, partly put off by the seemingly bewildering array of terminology associated with it and partly, it has to be said, put off by the cost.  Would it really be worth it?

The Family Tree Live event last April, though, was an opportunity to investigate further and we decided to take the plunge and buy testing kits from Living DNA who offer Autosomal and Mitochondrial/YChromosome testing in one go.  The process was very straightforward and we got our results back very quickly.   It was fun to check out our results, and we were impressed with the clear graphics and UK geographical break-down.  I was not surprised to see it place the majority of my ancestry within southern England, though more perplexing was the apparent lack any ancestry in East Anglia which is actually the focus of much of my research.  But then what?

In all the articles you read or tweets you see, people are talking about their matches.  But nowhere on the Living DNA site could we see any reference to matches.  Well the months passed and the time came for the West Surrey Family History Fair at Woking.  I saw that there was a DNA help desk, so I waited my turn.  I was not disappointed.  It turned out that the expert was Brian Swann from the International Society of Genetic Genealogy and he knew his stuff.  By this time I was thinking I had made a big mistake in testing with Living DNA, but I was actually reassured to learn that the company is alone in using data from the People of the British Isles DNA project, enabling it to offer the detailed UK geographical breakdown, and so the quality of the results I have is good.  He recommended that I download my raw data and upload to other testing companies where possible, whilst agreeing that it would probably also be worthwhile to test with Ancestry due to the scale of its dataset and the fact that you can’t upload test results from anywhere else to their site.  He also pointed me in the direction of a couple of useful blogs –  and , the particularly helpful website of Debbie Kennett.

With renewed confidence and enthusiasm I succeeded in downloading my raw data and then looked for places to upload it.  I discovered that I couldn’t upload it to Family Tree DNA, and although it appeared to be possible to upload to MyHeritage, I then got a message to say that the data was in a format not currently supported.  So that was a bit disappointing.  It was possible to upload to Gedmatch, but I have been a bit wary since of security issues with this organisation.

I had not appreciated at the time of testing that LivingDNA did not currently provide a matching service.  However, it would seem that this is a work in progress as there is now the option on the site to opt into ‘Family Networks’.  I did this a couple of months ago, but although it says to check back every couple of weeks there are apparently still no matches for me.

Just before Christmas Ancestry was doing a special offer on its DNA tests so I decided to go for it.  I’m now eagerly awaiting my results and hoping that this time I will be able to see some matches.

Why do it at all?  Well I guess people’s reasons vary hugely, but for me it’s firstly the interest factor of seeing where geographically my ancestors might have come from several generations back, which may or may not confirm the ‘paper’ research I have undertaken myself.  Secondly it’s the possibility of finding ‘matches’ with whom to make contact, who may share a common ancestor and with whom I may be able to collaborate in my research.  The former aspect is ably covered by the LivingDNA results and I’m hoping that Ancestry will come up with matches to satisfy the latter aspect.  Since the greater the DNA samples the more accurate the results will be, the whole thing will always be a work in progress.  Which just about sums up Family History!

By the way, the February issue of Family Tree magazine has just come in the post and it’s a DNA ‘special’!

Steam for 6 hours

Does anyone actually make their own Christmas pudding these days apart from Jill Archer on the Archers?  I can’t imagine why even she still does it, considering she is supposed to be 89… and I’m sure ‘the supermarket’ in Borchester must sell them or, if she wanted a superior version, she could pop into Underwood’s food hall.  Basically it’s just a device to get Josh and Ben into the kitchen on Stir Up Sunday, isn’t it, with an ensuing conversation that will move the plot line along ever so slightly?

I do remember my Mum making her own puddings when I was a child.  What a fiddle it all seemed, but I admit it was fun when we all got to have a stir of the mixture.  I don’t have her recipe to hand, but I do have her mother’s recipe book.  Granny’s recipe for Christmas Pudding involves 10oz each of brown sugar, self raising flour, bread crumbs, suet, raisins, sultanas and currants, plus 5oz mixed peel, 2oz almonds, the grated rind of 1 lemon, nutmeg, salt, 6 eggs and 4 tablespoons of rum.  Her notes underneath indicate that in 1976 (when she was 88) she made half quantity.

On a card in my own recipe book I have my mother-in-law’s Christmas Pudding instructions.   The standard quantities there are 8oz, but there are other variations such as 2 grated carrots and the addition of brandy as well as rum.  The recipe instructs you to leave the mixed ingredients to stand overnight before putting into pudding basins and steaming for 6 hours.  6 hours!!  Goodness, that would need to be a day when you weren’t going anywhere, to be able to constantly check it wasn’t boiling dry.  And what a lot of fuel!  And then you’ve got to steam it for another 2 hours or so on Christmas Day.

Amongst my recipe book collection I also have Jennifer Aldridge’s Archers’ Cookbook, published in 1994.  I expect I found it in a charity shop somewhere.  Anyway, there it is in black and white – Jill Archer’s Christmas Pudding recipe!  She too goes for 8oz for most ingredients, but adds 4 chopped apples, glace cherries and the juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon, but only 2 eggs.  And in addition to the rum, she apparently uses 1 ½pt of ‘old ale’.  The instructions suggest steaming for up to 10 hours, with the advice that “the longer the steaming the darker the pudding will be”.

Apparently Jill’s recipe was handed down from the Forrest family but has been improved by Jill over the years.  That’s how it used to work, isn’t it, recipes handed down from one generation to the next?  I almost feel guilty for never having made a Christmas Pudding in my life….  Almost.  But really?  When I can pop down to the Cook shop and buy a really nice one that I can just heat in the microwave?  Well, never say never – maybe one day (still some time hence I fear), when I’m retired and can spend a whole day at home towards the end of November, when perhaps there will be small people around who can stir and make a wish…

Greetings of the Festive Season to all my readers!

Behind the scenes at the record office

When I saw that West Sussex Record Office was holding an Open Day with the possibility of behind the scenes tours I knew I needed to plan a Chichester trip!

I’ve been to WSRO a number of times in the past to undertake various pieces of research and on a quick reckoning I believe I have been to 8 other county record offices across the country, plus places like The National Archives and the Society of Genealogists.  I was therefore particularly intrigued to see what goes on behind the scenes.

I was really lucky that when I arrived they still had a few spaces left for the 11.30 tour – just time to pop my coat and bag in a locker.  At that point I bumped into Mick Henry of the Sussex Family History Group.  He was clutching his proof copy of the latest journal and I was so intrigued to hear about the background of one of the articles that I actually managed to miss the departure of the group tour!  However, I was swiftly taken through to join the group in the strongroom, where Jennifer, the Collections Manager, was talking about the conditions in which the documents are kept.  From there we moved on to a room at the back of the building where new acquisitions are kept in ‘quarantine’ and cleaned up if necessary.  Some new articles may arrive with mould or bugs so it’s obviously important not to introduce anything like that into the rest of the collections.

Moving through the building we were then introduced to the work of Screen Archive South East .  Their work includes collecting, repairing and digitising old cine film which they are then able to make accessible to the public and they are interested in material from not just Sussex but from Surrey and Kent too.  We watched a little promotional film from 1970 on the joys of visiting Margate!

Upstairs we had the delight of watching one of the conservators in action as she showed us how she uses very light Japanese tissue paper (made of cotton, not wood pulp) to preserve fragile documents.  What patience and attention to detail you need for that work!  She was working on pages from a parish register and it is a lovely light and spacious working area.  After passing various offices and another room housing books we made our way back down to the reception desk and the hour-long tour was finished.  It was totally worth doing and it has given me so much more insight into the work that goes on at the record office.

After the tour I took time to look at the displays in the searchroom.  Various maps were available to view and also the oldest document held by the archives – a Grant of Land made by Oslac, leader of the South Saxons, in 780AD.  Members of the West Sussex Archives Society as well as the Sussex Family History Group were also on hand to answer questions and to help with research queries.

It’s so important that we use and support our archive services. Sometimes visiting a record office can seem daunting and the staff a little intimidating, but I’m sure that meeting so many friendly staff will have helped to break down that barrier for any visitors who had not stepped inside the building previously. The staff will have put a lot of hard work into organising the day but, judging by their tweets afterwards, the staff at WSRO were pleased with the number of visitors they welcomed at the open day.

In the Strongroom at West Sussex Record Office. I’m right at the back of the group on the right. (Photo is the property of WSRO, from their Twitter feed on 23 November 2019)

We will remember them

I often feel as though I don’t achieve anything particularly meaningful, but today I feel I have.

I write this on 11 November and today was the culmination of months of research and planning.  We held an event at Godalming College to mark the reinstatement of the memorial to those former pupils who gave their lives during the Second World War.  I first began to think about the memorial probably over a year ago.  As a pupil at the former Grammar School I used to pass the wall-mounted memorial every time I went up or down the main staircase, and at Remembrance time the cabinet was opened up to reveal the 16 photos of the men who were killed.

At some point, maybe 12 or 15 years ago, the memorial was taken down.  It was deemed at that time not to be relevant in a modern Sixth Form College.  I started to make enquiries of various people and fairly soon ascertained that it was being stored in the old sports pavilion at the other side of the field.  I talked with the only other Old Godhelmian on the staff, a History teacher, and together we went to speak to the Principal to ask how she would feel about reinstating it somewhere, especially in view of the imminent 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War.  She was very positive about the idea and particularly keen to engage the enthusiasm of current students.  We felt it would be great if current students could conduct some research into the lives of those on the memorial.

And so, earlier this year, the memorial was retrieved from the sports pavilion and one of the Estates guys did a fantastic job of sanding down and re-waxing the wood.  A position was decided on and the memorial put back up.  As the History students were being enthused about the research, we invited to college a 100 year old lady who had been in the very first intake to the school back in 1930.  She talked with the students about her experience of school and her memories of those on the memorial, including Thomas Tinsey who she reported had been dared to set fire to the boiler room!  (He didn’t succeed).

Today we welcomed the mayors of Godalming and Waverley, the Chair of Trustees and some Old Godhelmians as the students presented their research and we marked Armistice Day.  A student played the Last Post very ably to a large crowd of students and staff gathered outside and it was very moving to observe the two minutes’ silence in that way.  Back inside a wreath was laid at the memorial and the exhortation read.  This year, among this cohort of students, there has been real engagement with the lives of those who went before, finding local connections and making their history studies more real.  The mayor asked that in due course a copy of their research could be passed to the local museum.  I am very pleased with what we have achieved together, honouring those who achieved so much during that war.  We will remember them.

A list of those commemorated on the Godalming Grammar School WW2 Memorial
Some of research undertaken
Memorial showing the photos of the 16 men