11.11.2016 - 17.11.2016
I left Liverpool to return to my home away from home in Knowle. When you're travelling for a long time, it makes such a difference to have a base from which you can come and go. We'd planned a weekend away in the Forest of Dean, which was another new destination for me. Autumn has been beautiful here, albeit a bit chilly at times, and I was looking forward to seeing the forest in all its many-hued splendour. We'd booked 2 small family rooms at the George Hotel and Millingbrook Inn at Lydney. We were all agreed that receiving 1 small and 1 large constitutes an upgrade!
Liz and I had noticed there was a craft village nearby, so we left the boys at the Inn and headed off for a spot of shopping. I've been making the most of the soft British pound and stocking up on Christmas presents, and a few items were added to the haul here. As well as the stores, there were studios where you could see artists at work, and we had a chat with a very talented stonemason. She made the most beautiful carved stone bookends, but I decided it was a bridge too far to fit them into my luggage!
In researching our destination, I'd found a 20 mile driving round-trip through the forest that culminated in the Golden Mile which was reputed to be spectacular in autumn. That sounded good to us, so we set off into the somewhat dreary afternoon. Despite the sat nav and my accompanying directions (or perhaps because of them, although in my defence I was reading a fairly general map!) we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in someone's driveway. I don't think the pedestrians who we managed to splash should have been there anyway, do you Liz? Back on the right track, it's fair to say that despite the gloom, the different shades of orange, russet, and gold shone, and we oohed and aahed our way around the circuit.
We had dinner at the local Indian, experiencing a few awkward moments as we had to pool our cash upon finding out they didn't take cards, and retired to our respective rooms replete and happy.
Sunday was forecast to be a better day, and we'd pencilled in a visit to the International Centre for Birds of Prey on our way home. First though, we made a return trip to the Golden Mile to experience it in the morning sunshine. Our oohs and aahs from the day before became OOHS and AAHS! What a glorious spectacle. Amazing, truly beautiful.
We arrived at the ICBP to find all manner of birds, from tiny owls to huge vultures. We were treated to flying demonstrations and an impromptu feeding display, and walked around acquainting ourselves with levels of cuteness I'm not sure I've ever witnessed on such a grand scale. "This one's my favourite. No, this one. Changed again, it's definitely this one!" Add to that the powerful majesty of the larger birds, and we had the ingredients for another special day. We returned to Knowle and I prepared for my week of ancestry hunting.
On Monday morning I headed to Coventry where I had an appointment with Vincent. He'd offered to take me for a drive to Nuneaton and surrounds to visit some of the sites important to his branch of the family. We visited many places that afternoon, and it was fascinating to hear the stories of where he grew up, and his memories of his parents and brother, who I met many years ago. The next day Cynthia took me to visit Ann, their sister-in-law, who I hadn't seen since that first trip 29 years ago. We had lunch, looked at photos, and discussed strong Welton family resemblances!
Mid-afternoon I headed off to Thetford, my base for a couple of nights. I was on the trail of Weltons and Flacks in Suffolk, and Weltons in Essex. I drove to Badingham, home of my Welton ancestors as far back as at least 1765, and visited the church where so many family milestones had taken place. Baptisms, marriages, and burials - so many of life's liminal moments, celebrated within the walls where I found myself. The baptismal font was intricately carved, and the vaulted ceiling showed signs of centuries of wear. I hesitated as I crossed the threshold, imagining John, or Howard, or Elizabeth walking that path before me. The census records I've read didn't specify any addresses, but gave clues as to the part of the village they may have called home. I spent some time travelling around the lanes and looking over the fields as they might have. I didn't want to leave, but I had some miles to go in my journey to seek information about the second convict on my mum's side of the family.
John Flack was transported to Australia on the Juliana, arriving in Tasmania in 1821. He stole a watch and a silk handkerchief, and had been originally sentenced to death. I visited Bury St Edmunds, where he was originally jailed. The jail has been converted to flats, but the imposing facade remains, and I was informed that was where the executions took place. Fortunately for me, John's sentence was commuted to 14 years transportation, and after that time he moved to Melbourne and married my great-great-great-grandmother. His son Phillip married Sarah Carmichael, daughter of good old George the former thief of habit and repute.
When I visited the records office in Bury seeking the parish registers for John's birthplace of Hundon, I was told they'd been all but destroyed in a fire in 1920, so I didn't expect to find anything. Fortunately the Bishop's Transcripts have survived, and I was able to copy the entry for John's baptism. I drove to Hundon and was disappointed to find the church undergoing repairs which meant I couldn't go inside. I also failed to find any Flacks in the churchyard, but suspect that was more to do with the weathering of the gravestones than that they weren't actually there. Everything else in my own episode of Who Do You Think You Are had gone so smoothly, and I could feel the disappointment rising. Get a grip, Alison - the records say they are buried there, and the lack of a legible headstone doesn't take away the fact that this is the country of your forebears! Grip got, I headed back to Thetford in the late afternoon darkness. I am still struggling with the whole twilight at 4:00 pm concept!
I rose early on Thursday morning, having arranged for some Welton records to be ready upon my arrival at the Suffolk Records Office in Ipswich. At least, I'd ordered them online on Tuesday afternoon, but the office was closed on Wednesdays and they hadn't yet fulfilled my order. "Never mind, we'll find them for you and write your name on the whiteboard when they arrive". Now I have seen convoluted and somewhat inefficient systems before, but this was right up there with the best of them. The attendant took the details of the documents I wanted, and I could order four at a time. They arrived one by one, and as promised, my name was written on the board and I dutifully went to whichever end of the desk she was at in order to alert her to that fact. I assume it wasn't her doing the writing, or the whole thing would be ridiculous! Unfortunately on more than one occasion she forgot to rub my name off when I'd picked up a document, which meant a few farcical moments when she'd go searching unsuccessfully for the supposedly delivered document. All inefficiencies were forgotten as I was presented with my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's will from the 1700s. Yep, the original! We had some chuckles the other night reading through the copy I made, as the inequities between his children were laid out before us. As eldest son, Howard (my direct ancestor) received the lion's share of what appeared to be a pretty sizeable legacy. I haven't confirmed it yet, but it appears one of my earlier ancestors (in the 1500s!) may have set up Welton's Dole, a charity for the poor of the parish. That should make for some interesting research! John's other children received what appeared to be trifling sums in comparison to Howard's haul, unsurprisingly given primogeniture being the order of the day.
Documents copied, I headed to Ingatestone where my great-grandfather Charles Wallace Welton was born. It was a lovely village, and i took some time to wander the main street located on the site of the Roman road. Escaping from the cold and rain I took myself into the pub and struck up a conversation with some locals, asking if they knew of the Iron Bridge on the New London Road. One William Welton had been accused of infanticide, and the bridge was his rendezvous point with the baby's mother and the supposed site of his crime. No bridges in Ingatestone, they directed me to nearby Chelmsford. I guess if you're going to murder a child, best not to do it in your own village.
The Essex Record Office in Chelmsford was on my list of locations to visit to see if I could track down the parish registers for Ingatestone. I found Charles's baptismal entry, which confirmed he was born two years prior to the date inscribed as his birthdate on the sign marking his grave at Aston Le Walls. I also spoke to a man who had chained his bike to the railings of the Iron Bridge the day before!
My Who Do You Think You Are experience was over for now, and I felt so much richer for the privilege of tracing some of the strands of life that make up my ancestry. There is yet more to discover, and I know I'll return to continue that process. For now though, it was back to the present and the Christmas lights of London!