Ancestral pub number 1

Horse and Groom Swaffham

Across all the various branches of family I research, in addition to the ubiquitous ag labs, I have found a number of individuals who ran pubs.

So here goes for Ancestral Pub Number 1 – The Horse and Groom, Swaffham, Norfolk.

Horse and Groom Swaffham
Horse and Groom, Swaffham

I first came across the Horse and Groom in the 1851 census on discovering that my ancestor John George’s sister Ann had married William Pitcher and had found herself assisting to run the pub.  Ann and William had married in June 1841, and it seems that Ann was already working in Swaffham at that time.

In the next census, Ann is still described as an ‘innkeeper’s wife’ and William is also working as a painter as well as running the pub.  It was not unusual to have another occupation alongside.   Ann and William were to be at least 50 years at this address, and must have become very established members of the Swaffham community.  They brought up five sons there, and had various lodgers and servants living with them.  The 1881 and 1891 give William the slightly more upmaket-sounding title of ‘licensed victualler’, the family being joined by their granddaughter Matilda, working as a bar maid.

By the time of the 1901 census, however, there has been some reversal of roles:  83 year old William is no longer head of the household but describes himself as a ‘retired painter’.  Their son Albert is now the licensee, together with his wife Emily.

On looking more closely into this establishment I discovered, via the Norfolk Pubs site that William was not the first Pitcher to hold the licence at the Horse and Groom:  before him there was Christmas Pitcher and then Elizabeth Pitcher from 1830 to 1841.  Elizabeth appears on the 1841 census aged 70 as an ‘inn keeper’ in Lynn Road, and living with her is 20 year old William, a painter. Christmas appears in an 1822 Norfolk directory at the Horse and Groom, Swaffham.  I’ve been unable to find a baptism for William, but a fellow Ancestry researcher has William as a grandson of Christmas and Elizabeth, thus giving three different generations of Pitchers running this pub.  I’ve not been able to find a baptism for Christmas either – do you think he was born towards the end of December?!

So many of our old pubs are no more – derelict, turned into private dwellings or morphed into the latest Tesco Express.  So I was thrilled, when preparing for our Norfolk Expedition this summer, to discover that the Horse and Groom is still there in Lynn Street, Swaffham, and still operating as a pub, under that same name.  It had to be included on the grand ancestral tour.

Horse and Groom Swaffham
Horse and Groom

The pub is a few hundred yards along the road from the main market square, where a number of other pubs are still operating.  On market days they must all have been buzzing with activity.  The name ‘Horse and Groom’ is probably indicative of the fact that this was obviously a coaching inn and Swaffham is likely to have been an intersection of routes between King’s Lynn, Thetford, East Dereham and Norwich.

We enjoyed a very pleasant meal at this establishment, which is obviously still well-patronised and which offers B&B accommodation, as it possibly always has.

Swaffham Church


4 large silver spoons and 2 silver cups

George; East Dereham

Although I have so far not made any progress on Asty George’s coat of arms, I have discovered that he was certainly well-connected!

Following a query posted on the Norfolk Family History Society facebook page, a kind fellow-researcher pointed me in the direction of ‘The History and Antiquities of the County of Norfolk’, published in 1781.  Available to search on Google Books, this publication gives a lot of detail on East Dereham, the town, church and notable residents.  From it I learn that in 1625 one Thomas Asty, gent, was lord of the manor of East Dereham of the Queen.  I have yet find where exactly this manor was situated.  In 1703 he was succeeded by Asty George, Gent.  He was in turn succeeded by Thomas George in 1724 and then in 1764 by Asty George of Norwich.  The book also mentions a notable house in East Dereham owned by Samuel Rash, and I remember that Thomas George married a Mary Rash.

It looks entirely possible, then, that Thomas Asty is related to Asty George and if he inherited the manor from him no wonder he chose to name his first son after him.  And I see that he became lord of the manor in 1703 – two years before his marriage to Elizabeth in Norwich.  I had assumed up till now that he had been living in Norwich, but now I think not.  I wouldn’t mind betting that Elizabeth was also from a well-off family – I will have to see what I can find on her.

Meanwhile I’ve been taking another look at the will of an Ann George which I transcribed some time ago.   In it she refers to her brother Thomas and sister Frances and Asty George, son of my brother.  Since Asty George senior, in his will leaves £150 to his daughter Ann, I now strongly believe that this is the same Ann, dying in 1737 and having been born around 1691.  She must therefore be a daughter from Asty’s first marriage.  (The ‘Mrs’ on her memorial stone threw me, but I now believe that this is short for ‘Mistress’ rather than denoting a married person.) Ann leaves Asty junior, aged 3 years old, 4 large silver spoons and 2 silver cups!

George; East Dereham
Memorial stone for Anne George in East Dereham church

I now realise that on a previous visit to Norfolk Record Office I found reference to the wills of two Elizabeth Georges dying in 1732:  one a spinster from Colney and the other a widow from East Dereham.  I definitely need to have a look at these wills, as I am now pretty certain that one of these is her stepmother Elizabeth, Asty’s widow.  These wills might throw more light on the property of this family, which seems to have been extensive.

But will I ever find a connection with my own George family in East Dereham?  I live in hope….

17th and 18th century silver spoons
17th and 18th century silver spoons



A season of poppies

In between me driving to work this morning and my return journey this evening, the lampposts in my town have sprouted poppies!

I suppose if we now have a ‘season of Halloween’ rather than just one night, then even more reason to have a season of remembrance, even if Remembrance Sunday is still a month away at the time of writing.

We visited Bateman’s the other weekend, the home of Rudyard Kipling and family.  Much of an upstairs exhibition room is devoted to his son John Kipling and tells of his father’s efforts to have him accepted as an officer in WW1 despite his poor eyesight, and of his subsequent death and disappearance.  The visitor learns of the profound effect this had on Rudyard and of his strenuous efforts to locate his son’s last resting-place, which was not found in his lifetime.  Indeed, there is controversy still over whether the grave that today bears his name is really his.

Bateman's; Kipling
Roses in October at Bateman’s

I reflected during the journey home on how fortunate my generation is not to have experienced the realities of a world war.  This is not to overlook the sufferings of Forces families affected by modern conflicts, but I mean the widespread impact on the home front that our forebears endured.  My parents and my grandparents lived through world wars. My Granny was in service during the First World War, and I wrote of her brother Bert in a previous blog.  My Grandad on the other side of the family spent a number of months as a prisoner of war behind the German lines in 1918, experiencing hunger and hardship.  His brother was killed at around the same time that he was captured, and letters survive which indicate the efforts his family went to to discover the details of his death.  They didn’t have the resources and influence of the Kiplings, but the need to know and to achieve closure affected all social groups.

In the Second World War my Dad was in a reserved occupation, but served in the Home Guard.  My Mum had to go and live with relatives in the country while her parents remained in Croydon until the bombing eventually got too much.  Granny’s diary describes nights spent in the Anderson Shelter in the garden.

We take it so much for granted that we can just get on with our lives, but right now we don’t have to look very far afield to see people whose lives are very much affected by the consequences of war.

In this season of remembrance, ‘We Will Remember Them’.


Artificial limbs, Netley and Bert Mitchell

Among the small, sometimes faded, photos in my Granny’s photo album are some taken at the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, near Southampton, towards the end of the First World War.  One of the photos shows her brother, Bert Mitchell “in theatre”.  Further research this year has unveiled more of what happened to Bert in WW1.

Albert Henry Mitchell (Bert) was born on 1 Aug 1892 to William and Mary Mitchell at Buck Barn, Shipley, West Sussex.  Family tradition has it that his parents were so pleased to have a son after 3 girls that they hired a carriage to take them to Shipley church for his baptism, on 4 September 1892!

When he was four the family moved to Steyning Lodge in West Grinstead, his father William working as a ‘Houseman’ at West Grinstead Park House (now, sadly, no longer standing).  The family banner photo at the top of this blog shows Bert aged 15 with his parents and sisters.

West Grinstead
Steyning Lodge, West Grinstead

Before WW1 he worked for a wheelwright and coachbuilder on the old Worthing Road.  It would seem that at the outbreak of war he was a volunteer with the Red Cross, and used to cycle off to meetings for medical instruction.  Among his medals, still held within the family, is a badge that states ‘On War Service 1915’, which was presumably issued for his Red Cross work during this period.  

On War Service
On War Service


Red Cross
Bert Mitchell – Red Cross Volunteer







However, later that same year Bert enlisted as a Private in the Machine Gun Corps, on 2 December 1915. No WW1 service record for Bert appears to survive, but, having found Bert’s regiment and service number on his medals, I was able to find the matching Medal Index Card which helped to piece together his movements to a certain extent. We unfortunately do not know where exactly Bert served with the British Expeditionary Force, and it is apparently notoriously difficult to trace the movements of someone in the Machine Gun Corps.  What we do know is that he was overseas when he sustained a head injury and was evacuated back to England to the Royal Victoria Hospital for treatment and recovery. Bert was discharged on 4 April 1918 due to wounds rendering him unfit for further war service.

I was most grateful to the photo experts at Forces War Records  who were finally able to identify from the uniform in the “Bert in theatre” photo, that he was then working for the Red Cross. 

Royal Victoria Hospital
Bert in theatre (at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley)

I found on the Red Cross website that it was possible to make enquiries about relatives’ war service.  I did this, and received a very prompt response. The Red Cross personnel records reveal that Bert started work as a Red Cross orderly at the Royal Victoria Hospital on 11 June 1918.  He made and fitted artificial limbsBert’s son recalls that his father was asked to make an artificial limb for the Imperial War Museum  – I sent an enquiry to the Museum some time ago to attempt to verify whether they still have this limb, but I have yet to receive a reply.  The photos of Netley that we have from this period suggest that his family visited him there.  It was while he was working there that he met his future wife, who was also working at the hospital.   Bert worked there until 5 June 1919 and subsequently went on to work for Pedestros Limbs Department in Southampton.

Bert was awarded the Victory and British War medals and the Silver War Badge and his British Red Cross Medal for War Service also survives.  As a member of the Machine Gun Corps he was lucky to have survived the war at all, and I’m sure that his skill in making artificial limbs helped to make life slightly better for those whose injuries were, as they say nowadays “life changing”.

Red Cross; Netley
Red Cross medal

So who was Asty George?

So who was Asty George?

Since my visit to East Dereham church in Norfolk I have been wondering about Asty George.  To have been buried in the Lady Chapel he must have been reasonably wealthy.  And what about the name Asty?  It’s certainly unusual.

Asty George
Memorial for Asty George Lady Chapel

On my return from my travels I decide to create a separate tree on Ancestry from ‘my’ George tree, piecing together what I know of Asty and his descendants.  Although he’s not currently ‘one of mine’ (and for all I know he may never be!), I am intrigued to know more about him.

I know from his grave that his wife was Elizabeth, dying nine years after him in 1732.  I also know from the East Dereham parish records of the baptisms of seven children, born between 1707 and 1716.  Two sons called Ast(e)y did not live beyond the age of three years old and another son Peter died as an infant.  The grave inscription says “near this place lye 4 of his sons”, and alhough I have found no baptism, there is the burial of John, son of Asty, in 1716, making four sons.  The oldest son Thomas lived to adulthood and married a Mary Rash, with five children baptised at East Dereham.  Asty and Elizabeth also have a daughter Elizabeth and another called Frances.

East Dereham
Inside East Dereham church

Adding the tree to Ancestry enables me to check for ‘shaky leaves’.  Bingo!  A marriage record for Asty and Elizabeth – in Norwich Cathedral!  Wow!  They married at the Cathedral on 10 July 1705 and the record furthermore indicates  that Asty was a widower and a weaver by trade.  That’s interesting!  The East Anglian cloth trade would be another whole avenue to explore.  A widower – so somewhere there may be another marriage record and the burial of his first wife.

What else does Ancestry suggest?  Another researcher has Asty on her tree with a sixth child born to Thomas – a son John in 1740, marrying a Sarah Knapp.  Now, that’s exciting as I have another so far unconnected tree with a John and Sarah who must have a connection with Asty somewhere along the line as there is a grandson with the name Astey.  But in my trawling through the parish records I have never found a baptism for this John.  I wonder what the source is?  I send a message to the fellow Ancestry researcher and await a response.

I search the records for Asty, and another suggestion appears:  A…. George, baptised 10 September 1672 in Ovington, Norfolk, father Petri and mother Annae.  How strange.  Did the transcriber struggle to read the writing?  Ovington records this far back are not on the Norfolk Family History Society site, so not much further progress to be made there, but that baptism date would certainly work.

Another day, and another opportunity presents itself in the form of the FindMyPast free weekend!  This is not a site I am familiar with, so a good chance to see what it can offer.  I search for the name George in Ovington, and result!!  This time the marriage of Peter George and Anne ASTY on 11 June 1663 in Ovington.  Of course!  Asty is his mother’s maiden name.  I should have guessed.  Ok, so it’s not absolutely proven – I still need to check out that baptism record somehow – but it very much looks as though I have found Asty’s parents and solved the mystery of his name.

But another thing about Asty the weaver:  why did this not occur to me before?  He has a coat of arms on his grave.  A coat of arms carved on his grave after he died in 1723.  He therefore had the right to bear arms.  Now there’s a thing.  Heraldry is an area I know little about.  How do I find out when he was granted these arms?  Was it granted to him or to a forebear?  This requires further investigation and potentially I might be able to find out a lot more about dear Asty and family.  Wouldn’t it be nice if he turned out to be ‘mine’!

George; East Dereham
Asty George coat of arms