Friday, October 11, 2013

England, Day 3, In Search of Family: First Meetings, Eltisley and St. Neots

When I reflect on our recent trip to England, I am amazed at all that we saw and did during our all-too-short stay. One of the top items on my list was to see the places where my mother's family lived as well as the place where she grew up. Cousin Julie fulfilled both of those wishes during a full afternoon, as we traveled from one village to another.

But first it was a pleasure I cannot describe to finally meet Julie and her mother and father, my Aunt Grace and Uncle Roy. Aunt Grace is 92 and as spry as a spring chicken and a mind that still retains amazing recall of the past. Sadly, Uncle Roy passed away just days after our visit; his condition was touch-and-go at the time we were there, and deteriorated rapidly in the following days. He had let his family know that it was time, but I know that even so they are grieving deeply.

Grace and Roy met during World War II; he was in the RAF, stationed at the nearby Bourn airfield. My granny must have had a time keeping her eye on four daughters during the war, with so many young soldiers nearby! My mother and two of her sisters ended up marrying these young men, and all three marriages survived so apparently the choices they made were good ones.

Julie is the family historian. She has done much research and has traced many lines of the family back as far as the 1600's. There is a mention of the name Hager (one spelling of my mother's maiden name) in the Domesday Book as living in Cambridgeshire, and it is possible, although not yet proven, that my family is connected to that line. Wouldn't that be something if it were true?There was also a Haggar who once owned Bourn Hall, once the largest estate in Cambridgeshire, but Julie has found no connection there yet either, so it is likely our family were simply farmer workers and labourers who lived by coincidence in the same region. Bourn Hall is now a medical facility, and the home of the first "test-tube" baby.

Our first stop of the day was Eltisley to visit the church there, built by the Normans around 1100. The name, according to wikipedia, is Anglo-Saxon in origin and hints at woodland origins, which made me think of the Ents in the Tolkien books. As we pulled up, we saw a gentleman getting out of his car.

He turned out to be Mr. David Hill, who obligingly shared some church records with Julie.

As it turned out, she had already found the same information in her research.

The inside of the church was hushed, quiet except for the noise we were making. One could imagine earlier times when handmade shoes shuffled across the floor and farming families took their places in the pews.

The parish chest stood in its place, keeper of records and other items important to the history of this community.

Tombs lined the walls and were under our feet in the floor. One showed the signs of Oliver Cromwell's campaign to rid England's churches of their graven images; often statuary was removed and destroyed, or in the case of this tomb, the head removed. What destruction of what would have been priceless treasures today.

Some of the family was buried in the churchyard; I was surprised that while the stones look old, many of them dated only to the late 1800's-early 1900's. The engravings were already wearing away because of the soft stone used to make these headstones.

It was market day in St. Neots when we passed through on our way to our next desitnation and the town was full of people and bustle. I really like the market system in England. There are market towns that have markets open on specific days; the villages around the town come in to buy and sell anything and everything apparently. I saw flowers and plants, fruits and vegetables, clothing, shoes and other items for sale in the stalls at St. Neots. While we have active farmer's markets and flea markets in the US, I'd like to see them combined and held weekly on different days in different towns, as they are in England. People often travel to the different markets, making it a nice outing as they get their shopping done.

St. Neots and quite a few other towns and villages we passed through still had their greens, where cricket (and probably other sports) is played, and some also still had the village pond. Some places also still had standing and perhaps still in use the village well from the days when the well was the only source of water, and a gathering place for local to meet and chat. (There were similar wells in some American communities; I remember visiting one on the Ohio side of the river, I believe in New Matamoras.)

We'd only just begun our day's travels, and I have only begun to tell you about them. More, I hope, tomorrow.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Michelle said...

How wonderful that you were able to spend time with your Aunt Grace and Uncle Roy, especially before his passing. The shot of the car in front of the church is really nice.

Rowan said...

A really interesting post - I'm so glad that you managed to meet your aunt and uncle but how sad that he died so soon afterwards.

Nance said...

Great photos. I visited Ireland once for a few days for my job -- why is it the sky seems so much lower there and in your pics. Closer to earth.

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