The Beast from the East

It was while I was driving home from work that the idea came to me.  The local news was full of weather-related stories and the presenter referred to the ‘beast from the east’, since this very cold spell and snowy weather is due to the winds from the continent.  A climate expert was asked if our weather is changing and whether snow in March is unusual.  Whilst the last few years have been warm, he said, broadly speaking, it is not unheard of to have snow in March in the south of England.

It was then that the idea occurred to me to spend the evening going through all of Granny’s 39 diaries to check the weather on the 1st March, since every diary entry without fail starts with a note of the weather.

So that’s what I have done, trying hard not to get too distracted by other entries en route.  And the result of my analysis is that between 1937 and 1983 (with 3 missing years in the 40s and 4 in the 70s) there is only mention of snow on the 1st March in three years:  1954, 1962 and 1965. I do remember that it snowed the April that my brother and I had chicken pox – that might have been 1975 I think.

We are probably altogether less hardy these days.  There was no central heating in the house where I grew up, just a coal fire in the dining room, a gas fire in the front room and electric heaters in the bedrooms and bathroom which were used sparingly.  When my mum was a small child there was no electricity where she lived, so heat came purely from the coal fires. Now we expect to be able to set a timer and have a heated house when we get in, and don’t we notice it when the thermostat goes wrong, as happened to us a couple of weeks ago, leaving us without heat for a couple of days!

I was most amused by Granny’s entry for the 1st March 1982:  “March came in like a lion with gale winds, frequent showers and thunder 11am”.  The proverb “If March comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb” seems to stem from the idea that there should be a balance in the weather as in life.  Well the last day of this month is Easter Saturday, and as lambs seem to fit pretty well for Easter, let’s hope the proverb is accurate for this year at least!




Isaac’s Tea Trail

During my weekly trips to the gym I like to listen to Radio 4 podcasts on my mp3.  Probably my favourite programme to listen to is Ramblings, with Clare Balding.  I love how she meets and chats to so many ordinary people, with amazingly different reasons for walking and I enjoy hearing about different parts of the country.  Last week I was particularly captivated as I listened to an episode broadcast back in March, entitled ‘Isaac’s Tea Trail’.

This is a long distance circular path of 36 miles in Northumberland, and it starts and finishes in Allendale.  During the walk Clare found out more about who the Isaac was who inspired the creation of the walk.

Isaac Holden was born around 1805 in Allendale.  In addition to his grocery business he used to sell tea door to door, visiting the households spread out across the moors.  On his travels, moreover, he also invited donations for worthy community causes, and sold his poems, becoming quite a local philanthropist.  He raised money for a fresh water well to help combat cholera; he set up a clothes store to help the local poor; he founded a savings bank and he also raised money for a horse drawn hearse so that the poor could be taken to their funerals in dignity.  His charitable work was inspired by his strong Methodist roots, and the programme describes how the oldest Methodist chapel in continuous use – Keeley – is near to Allendale.

I was inspired by the programme to see what else I could find out about Isaac.  The first record to come up on The Genealogist was the 1851 census, where Isaac is in Allendale aged 47 with wife Ann and daughter Maria – his occupation given as ‘Grocer and tea dealer’.  A little more delving revealed a marriage to Ann Teailford in December 1834, and then an 1841 census entry for the family with a second daughter, Mary.  By the time of the 1861 census wife Ann was a widow, still living in Allendale with daughter Maria.

I was also able to discover that Isaac had a younger brother Jonathan, who was a witness at his wedding, and who was a lead ore miner.  His brother unfortunately died in 1852.

Switching to Ancestry, I found a death date for Isaac through the link to the Find a Grave site .  He died on 12 November 1857, aged only 51.  There is a photo of the headstone in St Cuthbert’s graveyard, which also records the deaths of his wife Ann in 1872, his daughter Mary Ann in 1846 (aged just 7) and his daughter Maria Forster in 1871 and her two infant sons, named after their grandfather.

If I had a subscription to the British Newspaper Archive I could find yet more about Isaac.  There is a tantalizing snippet in the Newcastle Courant for 22 April 1853, where Isaac had put an advertisement:  “I intend publisling my begging speech and this little poem, and giving the profits to some good cause. If any is wishful to have a copy, at twopence each, I shall feel happy to supply them”.

On the Methodist Heritage site I found a very informative leaflet about the Tea Trail . This indicates that there is a memorial to Isaac in Allendale and that the well and savings bank are still in existence.

Finally The North Penines Virtual Museum at  was particularly useful with further detail on Isaac.  Apparently over 600 people contributed to his memorial after his death.   This site reveals that a Mr Pruddah took his photo in 1853, which Isaac then sold for 6d a copy to raise funds for the hearse project – quite a new way at this time of marketing his cause.  This was obviously a man with a strong community spirit and sense of purpose who was determined to make a difference in his local area.

This episode of Ramblings also mentioned that Isaac had written a tract on the principles of fundraising, but of that I could find no trace during my evening of searching the internet.  Pity – it might have come in useful!

Isaac Holden
Isaac Holden


Do you have a Jane Austen connection?

This was the title of an article in the July edition of Family Tree magazine and I was pretty certain that the answer for me was a resounding “no!”.

I’ve been enjoying the Jane Austen 200 events:  We went to a very interesting exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre and made pilgrimage to the house in Winchester where she died in July 1817.  The exhibition included the five known portraits of the author as well as her silk pelisse coat and purse.  It made us realise how tiny she was!

Then a week ago we attended ‘An Afternoon of Music, Dance and Song for Jane Austen’,  given by The Madding Crowd at the Basingstoke Discovery Centre.  This was most enjoyable and included music from Jane Austen’s own music collection, so it was lovely to hear music she would have been familiar with.  (This concert is to be repeated in Southampton at the end of September ).

Madding Crowd
Madding Crowd

A walk around Steventon, Jane Austen’s birthplace, has also been devised and can be found at .  We enjoyed this six mile circular walk last Sunday.  Starting from Steventon Church itself, it passes the field where the Rectory once stood (the site of the well is about all that remains) and you could imagine Jane walking up the lane to church and seeing the yew tree which (currently estimated to be 600 years old) would have been old then.  Apparently her father kept the church key hidden in its hollow trunk!

Steventon Church
Steventon Church

The walk also takes in Deane, where Jane’s parents lived before Steventon, and Ashe where Jane’s friends the Lefroys lived.

But a family connection to Jane Austen?  I don’t think so!  Charlotte Soares, writing in Family Tree, found her connection was the hill near Godmersham Park in Kent, home of Jane Austen’s brother Edward, whom she frequently visited.  She mentions in her article some of the surnames connected with the Austen family and imagines the ordinary people Jane might have met and known, from the servants in her brother’s house, to the villagers of Steventon and Chawton.

However, it was the mention of the surname Knatchbull-Hugessen which brought me up sharp.  I’ve seen that surname before!  Charlotte says that Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen was the son of Jane Austen’s niece Fanny Knight.

Well I have in my possession a Bible presented to my grandmother Emily Mitchell in 1904 by V Knatchbull-Hugessen.  So what’s the connection? gave me the answer:  Edward, First Baron Brabourne and Liberal politician, was the eldest son of Sir Edward Knatchbull and his second wife Fanny Knight.  The second son was Reginald Bridges who became Rector of the Parish of West Grinstead, where my grandmother lived.  Revd R B Knatchbull-Hugessen’s second daughter was Violet, born in 1869.   It was almost certainly she, the 35 year old unmarried Rector’s daughter, who presented the Bible to my Granny.

So there is my (somewhat tenuous) connection!  I have a Bible given to my Granny by the granddaughter of Fanny Knight – Jane Austen’s niece.  Voila!

Bookbench at Steventon
Granny’s Bible

National Memorial Arboretum

We have no known family connections with the National Memorial Arboretum, but it is somewhere that you catch glimpses of on the TV and so we thought that, being in Staffordshire for a few days, we would seek it out.

It is really well worth a visit!  The visitors’ leaflet describes it as “the UK’s year-round centre for Remembrance” and the 150+ acres contain more than 300 memorials for both military and civilian organisations.  Entry is free and the facilities are excellent, with good parking and a lovely visitors’ centre with shop and café.  For the less mobile there is a land train to take you round the key memorials.

I had read in advance that there is a daily act of remembrance at 11am, so on arrival we headed for the beautiful wood and glass chapel for this and for the Welcome Talk, which was a great introduction to how the Arboretum came about and its development.  Most of the staff are volunteers and were very helpful.

The Armed Forces Memorial, on the central mound,  honours those killed whilst serving since the end of WWII, with striking sculptures.  We were struck by how different all the memorials were – some large sculptures, some set in lovely gardens, some featuring buildings (such as that for the Far East Prisoners of War).  New memorials are being added all the time.  There are wildflower meadows and maturing woodland and a lovely riverside walk.

Armed Forces Memorial
Armed Forces Memorial
Armed Forces Memorial
Armed Forces Memorial






I thought I’d write of this in a family history blog for two reasons:  firstly because you may well know of a recent family member commemorated there by name and secondly because, even if you don’t know of anyone, there are computer touch-screens inside the visitor centre where you can search for names.  This is definitely a name-rich site and you may well learn of someone connected to you.

Women’s Land Army memorial
Christmas Truce memorial








You may, in addition, have a personal connection with a particular regiment.  We found the memorial for the Staffordshire Regiment (of which Edmund Oldrieve Greenhill, who I wrote about last time, was part).  You can find a list of all the memorials here

Staffordshire Regiment memorial

It really was a good day out – we walked miles, enjoyed the peace and beauty of the location, and were moved by the commemoration of so many on one site.


Remember remember

Bonfire Night is a big date in the UK cultural calendar.  The Fifth of November this year falling on a Saturday, almost all the firework displays round here are happening tonight.

Whilst a big part of me is appalled that so much money quite literally goes up in smoke on Bonfire Night, still it’s an altogether much happier event than the worrying growth of Halloween and its associated commercialism.  Except, of course, that the event it commemorates – the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 – was hardly a happy event for those involved.  So why on earth do we continue to commemorate it? Maybe we’re really no longer remembering anything, but just taking the opportunity to enjoy bonfires, fireworks and funfairs at a time of year that is otherwise dark and chilly.

As a child, my recollection is that fireworks were only ever let off on 5th November.  Nowadays there are fireworks after music concerts and at birthday parties, not to mention New Year’s Eve.  Bonfire Night brings back memories of, unsurprisingly, a bonfire of garden prunings in the back garden, needing to keep the cat indoors, and retreating inside for bangers and mash.  Local lads (mostly lads, I think) would position themselves with their homemade ‘guy’ outside the local shops, to ask for “a penny for the guy”, or would sometimes wheel it from house to house in a wheelbarrow.  Presumably this was to fund fireworks.

I don’t remember ever going to a an organised firework display as a child, but you could buy fireworks singly at the newsagents for a small backgarden display.  There was the ‘Witch’s Cauldron’, a conical shaped firework, and the ‘Roman Candle’.  Occasionally we had a rocket, which was placed in a milkbottle prior to lighting.  My favourite firework was the ‘Catherine Wheel’, which Dad would nail onto the wooden rose arch.  The trick was to nail it securely enough that it didn’t fly off, but loosely enough that it actually span round and round once lit.  Often it didn’t, but it was lovely to watch when it worked.  And then there were the sparklers – always packets of sparklers – and we would have fun trying to write our names in the darkness, as my own children subsequently enjoyed doing.

In 1605 Roman Catholics wanted freedom to practise their religion after years of persecution.  Thankfully today we enjoy religious freedom in this country – a blessing not everyone in this world shares – so maybe if we should be remembering anything this Bonfire Night, it should be the fact that some in this world are still persecuted because of their faith.

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November” – enjoy your Bonfire Night!

Bonfire night


Where there’s a will…

We’ve heard a lot about Will recently – William Shakespeare, that is.  The 400th anniversary of his death has been a wonderful opportunity to celebrate his creativity and I very much enjoyed watching the ‘Live from the RSC’ performance (though unfortunately I wasn’t actually able to watch it live!).

Today, however, I was privileged to be able to view his will, as part of the exhibition ‘By me William Shakespeare, a life in writing’ at Somerset House,  This exhibition, which runs until the end of May, looks at the documentary evidence for Shakespeare’s life in London, from his share in the theatre company The King’s Men, his court testimony regarding some people he lodged with, through to his will which was proved in London in June 1616.  His will, with various crossings-out and additions, shows how Shakespeare sought to provide for his two surviving children Susanna and Judith and their families.  His sister and nephews and nieces were also included, as were friends and fellow actors and the poor of Stratford.  Reading the transcript of the will I was slightly surprised to see wording which I have seen on much later wills from my own family.  I suppose it shows that the legal terminology (“lawful English money”, “messuage or tenement with the appurtenances”, “All the rest of my goods, chattel, leases, plate, jewels, and household stuff”) stood the test of time.

The second will that I viewed today was that of Dr Samuel Johnson (who also, of course, has a connection with Shakespeare in that he edited ‘The Plays of William Shakespeare’, published in 1765).  This was at his house in London Without any direct heirs, Dr Johnson ensured that his loyal servant Francis Barber was a beneficiary, among other friends.

Having mostly ‘ag lab’ ancestors, I unfortunately have found few wills of my direct ancestors.  However, when you do manage to track one down they can be such a blessing to a family historian in terms of working out family relationships, can’t they?  I have looked at a number which have been helpful for being able to rule out the family connection in this way.  And once you begin to get your eye in with the writing and begin to recognise the familiar legal language, wills can be surprisingly satisfying to read.

I would recommend searching The National Archives  , where wills up to 1858 can be downloaded for a small fee.  You can also find wills on The Genealogist site

Where there’s a will, there’s a lot more information to add to the family history….

Genealogy MOOC

Are you a fan of MOOCs?  (Massive Open Online Course).  These free courses are run by a number of providers, including a number of UK Universities, and are gaining in number and popularity.

As I write this I am half way through a six week course on Genealogy.  So far the course has looked at the nature of documentary evidence and has been a useful reminder of what primary and secondary sources are and the possible pitfalls of transcriptions and indexes.  Week two looked at research strategies and the use of wildcards in online searches.  It also tackled the issue of name changes.  This last week has given an overview of both civil and church records and the use of genealogy databases.

This course (as with most MOOCs I think, and this is my fifth) uses a mixture of short videos, articles to read and quizzes.  Discussion is invited and information and links shared by other participants can be very useful. The lead educator of this course is Tahitia McCabe, from the University of Strathclyde’s Postgraduate Programme in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies.

You can access the material whenever you wish during the week, so it’s very flexible and with most of them you can spend as much or as little time as you wish, depending on your time commitments.

It’s not too late to start this course now, or you can register your interest for the next one at

Genealogy MOOC