Gleneldon

We arrived in London in early December 1968; we had been travelling for more than three months since we left Toronto.  It was the era of ‘Europe on $5 a day’.  I had even bought the book.  It weighed almost as much as my meagre luggage.  After carrying the wretched book for a couple of weeks, I put it in a bin.  At the time, five dollars a day seemed rather extravagant to me.  Of course, with inflation, today a coffee in Paris can cost more than that.

After having spent a few days in New York, completely failing to understand why anyone could possibly rave about the city, we sailed in the bowels of the Queen Elizabeth to Southampton, via Cobh and Cherbourg.  It was a cold and stormy crossing, one of the last voyages of the liner, and there were few passengers.  Not very long after, it ended up on the bottom of Hong Kong harbour.

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The Queen Elizabeth approaching New York harbour (picture from internet)

But once back on dry land, we had almost three months of glorious weather.  We wandered around south-west England and Wales, a visit to Dublin and my parents in Ulster, then through France, Spain, Gibraltar, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and back through France to England.

For the first few weeks, we hitch-hiked, eventually as far as Biarritz.  We survived on my schoolboy French, but with no basics of Spanish, Italian or German, we took to the trains, mostly in third class wherever we could.

Once back in London, we had to decide: to go back to Toronto, where work was easy to come by and we had lots of contacts, or to stay in London in the unknown, at least for a time.  It was not a hard decision to make.  We bought the evening newspaper and looked for a room for rent.

We were staying in a cheap ‘bed-and-breakfast’ near to Victoria Station, so we concentrated on finding accommodation on the main-line into Victoria.  On the first day we noted three rooms that we could afford.  When we arrived at the first room, it was already taken.  At the second, there was an obvious sign stating that no Irish need apply.  And at the third, we were met by a rotund Jewish gentleman, with whom we quickly felt totally at ease.  We signed a lease there and then, paid the deposit and the first month’s rent, and left with the keys.

The ‘apartment’ was a large room on the ground floor, with a high ceiling and a partitioned kitchen, that also contained a bath.  The toilet?  That was on the first floor and each ‘apartment’ had its own toilet.  And electricity and heating were paid for by inserting coins in a box on the wall.  In Toronto, I only used to have a tiny room and a shared bathroom.  I felt as if I had arrived!

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The room was on the ground floor of 2, Gleneldon Road, Streatham

But now we needed to find employment and soon, for our reserves were getting alarming low.  Sandra was soon employed.  She was a beautician by training and found a job with a salon at the corner of Oxford and Dean streets, removing unwanted facial hair, using electrolysis.  Most of the clients were West-end showgirls, but it was Sandra’s boss who took care of hair removal from the client’s private parts!

In the meantime, I went to the Institute of Quantity Surveyors, just up the street from the Houses of Parliament.  I left the meeting with the feeling that I had little chance of finding employment; construction in England was suffering a severe recession and the unemployment queues were long and there were no quantity surveyor jobs advertised in the evening papers.  What a contrast to Toronto, where construction was booming at that time.  So, it was ‘back to the drawing board’.

I quickly found a temporary job, selling potatoes, door to door.  It lasted one day.  I have never aspired to be a salesman and there are limits as to how many doors being slammed in my face that I could take, often coupled with expletives.  I soon realised that being Irish in London was no advantage.

Then I found a temporary job distributing leaflets, door-to-door, for a carpet company.  I had to note every address and a salesman called soon after.  It was a success, at least for the company.  But I soon ran out of addresses within a feasible radius to leaflet, although I loved the walking.

Just before New Year, I spotted an advertisement for an ‘Institute’ training Cobol programmers, with a guarantee that the training would continue until one found a position.  Their office was just around the corner from Hector Powe’s main store on Regent Street.  My father’s best friend worked for Hector Powe and I took that as a good omen.  I signed up for the training and paid the fee.  It was a gamble on my part, for by then I had little money left.  Sandra earned enough for the basics, but not enough to cover the rent.

The first two weeks of the course were an eye-opener for me.  I found that I had a natural talent for programming and at the end of the second week the tutor took me aside and told me that a friend of his had just called, looking to hire a junior programmer.  When he asked if I would be interested, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.

The interview was on the following Monday and the company was Singer Sewing Machines, in Uxbridge, west of London, about two hours travel from our little apartment.  I met Robin Nicolson, was offered me the position, and needless to say, I gratefully accepted. I started the next day.

I have never once since looked back.

 

Hotspur

I have been researching my family history and those of others, for more than thirty years.  If individuals were still alive in 1837, when UK registration of births, marriages and deaths became mandatory, I was almost always able to find them. For those who died before 1837 and had moved away from their parish of birth, prior to the expansion of the internet and database access, it would have been a matter of luck to locate them.

I had four cousins from Hethel, in Norfolk (see here), that seemed to have disappeared.  They were present in the 1851 census, but not in that of 1861.  Over the years, I repeatedly searched, but in vain, until I stumbled on some Australian sites.  It turned out that all four Blackwoods had emigrated to Australia in the late 1850s.

Three of my missing cousins were siblings – Susanna, James and Isaac.  Their grandfather, John Blackwood (1764-1848) and Mary Harvey, were my third great grandparents.

Susanna was the first of my cousins to migrate.  She married Robert Lane in 1845 and in 1855 they set sail for Australia, with their three children.  By that time three of her four sisters and her father were dead, and her mother had remarried.

On 6 October 1855 they set sail for Australia from Liverpool on the maiden voyage of the ill-fated ship, the ‘Schomberg’, with 430 passengers on board. It made landfall off Cape Bridgewater on Christmas Eve but next day it ran aground on a sand bank a mile east of Curdi’s Inlet, near present-day Peterborough. No lives were lost and the next day the passengers were transferred to a passing steamer, the Queen, on her way from Warrnambool to Melbourne.  Due to dangerous seas, the wreck was eventually abandoned and subsequently broke up. The captain was later committed for trial for neglect of duty, but was acquitted, due to lack of evidence. (see here)

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The coast of Victoria, where the Schomberg ran aground near Peterborough

The family survived the wreck, but lost all their furniture. From Melbourne they were eventually taken on to Tasmania, and settled at Longford, where they had five more children.

In 1852 James Blackwood married Hannah Mickleborough and they had two children
in Norfolk. On 14 May 1857 they sailed to Australia from Plymouth on the ‘British Empire’, arriving at Portland, Victoria, on 2 September. They were accompanied by William Blackwood, a cousin of James, together with William’s wife and daughter. James and Hannah settled in Hotspur, in Victoria, where they had a further 10 children.

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Map of southern Victoria, showing the location of Hotspur

Hotspur developed as a small settlement on the banks of the Crawford (aka Smokey)
River in south-western Victoria in the 1840s. As with many of these early townships,
it developed near a creek or river crossing, which provided a major obstacle for early
travellers, with their heavy bullock-drawn drays and wagons, and consequently they
camped on the banks. Soon one or more inns were constructed to cater for the
constant stream of travellers from Portland Bay to the early pastoral runs of the
interior, and a settlement was established close to this difficult river crossing point. (Ballarat & District Genealogical Society)

James Blackwood and his family became established in Hotspur, as evidenced by Blackwood’s Road, running some 4 km from the town to a junction with the Condah-Hotspur lower road.

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Map of Hotspur, with Blackwood Road

 

 

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James Blackwood with his wife, Hannah Mickleborough, daughter Martha and her son Clem

John James and William Thomas were two of the grandsons of James and Hannah
Blackwood (their parents were Robert & Agnes Blackwood), and they both served with the Australian Infantry (1st AIF 6th Battalion) in the First World War. William, a private, was killed on 4 October 1917. He is buried at the Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery at plot IV C 11. The cemetery is located on the N336, just over halfway from Leper to Warneton.

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Photo taken c1920
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Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery, where William’s grave is on the right, to the rear (photo from internet)
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Agnes Blackwood, formerly Wilson, wearing ‘widow’s weeds’, after the death of her son

(Note: The three family photographs are from the website of a distant relative, Gary Ayton at his web site)

Like many rural settlements in Australia, the local Hotspur community commemorated the involvement of 40 of their young men, who participated in World War 1, by planting an Avenue of Honour. The Hotspur Avenue of Honour is a little unusual in that the trees were native Australian Kurrajong trees, whereas many similar avenues were planted with imported trees such as elms or plane trees. In addition, was erected a Roll of Honour for the 35 who were ex-students of Hotspur State School. The Roll of Honour is now housed in the Community Hall.

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Hotspur State School roll of Honour

The Avenue of Honour began in front of the ‘Rising Sun Hotel’, and each tree
displayed the name of the soldier, the unit in which he served, and the name of the person who planted the tree. Fifteen of the soldiers were killed in service. John Blackwood’s tree was number 7, planted by Miss P. Blackwood and number 27 was that of William Blackwood, planted by Mrs R. Blackwood. The planting ceremony took place on June 2, 1918. In June 2001, The World War 1 Avenue of Honour was restored, with a ceremony to commemorate the 40 soldiers from the district and the unveiling of a new brass plaque with their names, mounted on a large rock.

(Note: The information about Hotspur comes from here)

William and Sarah Blackwood, together with their young daughter, Caroline, accompanied James and his family from Hethel. They eventually settled in Creswick, Victoria, about 18km north of Ballarat. Creswick was a gold mining town, founded only six years earlier at the start of the Victorian gold rush.

Caroline married John William Russell from Boorowa and had the first of their eight
children in 1876, at 12 Gardiner Street, Creswick, opposite St. Andrew’s church. Caroline’s last two children, Leila and Richard, both died in their early teens in 1899 and 1903 and this was cited by Bill Russell, one of Caroline’s great grandsons, as the cause of her sudden death ‘of a broken heart’ in 1904.  Caroline was outlived by her mother, Sarah Anne, who died in 1916, aged about 86. The house on Gardiner Street has since been demolished.

Much of the information about Caroline and her family came from Bill Russell. He
twice visited Hethel and on one of the occasions found an old Blackwood tombstone
propped up against the wall of the church. He took a photograph of it, but was not able to
remember what he did with it. He also mentioned a portrait of Caroline that used to hang on the wall of her house in Creswick and an obituary of Caroline that appeared in the Crestwick Adviser on 28 June 1904, both of which have also been misplaced.

I do not know when the third sibling, Isaac Blackwood, migrated to Australia and nothing is known of his life until c1873, when he married Susan Simkin, a local girl, in Digby, Victoria. They had four children, three in Digby, and the forth in Ballarat.  Isaac died in Portland in 1919.

I lived in Australia for five years, from 1971 to 1976.  I left to see something of South and Central America on an extended trip, intending to eventually return.  When I do finally get back, one of these days, I want to visit the graveyard in Hotspur and walk along Blackwood’s Road.

I am certain that I will not feel like a stranger there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy Ann

I was 42 when I first became a father. To say that the news ‘rocked my boat’ would have been an understatement; it was more like a tsunami hitting me. I had never had any roots, and if any had ever started to sprout, I moved to new pastures.  If I ever thought about having children, I would have dismissed it as something that might happen one day, but not just yet.  I was a nomad at heart. Some would say I still am.

But I eventually got used to the inevitability of fatherhood, although I could only ever envisage having a daughter.  I was never ‘one of the lads’; I loved women and their company. The idea of having a smelly little snot-nosed son did not much appeal.

Eventually ‘launch day’ arrived and the only name for the baby that we had considered was Lucy Ann.  If the baby turned out to be a boy, we would cross that bridge when we came to it. At least that was how I remembered it.

So, the baby had no name for the first couple of days, until someone in the hospital suggested the name Andrew, as he was born on Saint Andrew’s Day.  I happily agreed and added Douglas, which was my own second name and my mother’s maiden name.

It was not until after a couple of days at home that I was left alone with Andrew, while his mother went grocery shopping.  Predictably the door had barely closed, when he evacuated his little bowels, and left me in previously uncharted territory.  By the time I had completed the clean-up, he and I were the best of friends and all that winter, during the weekends, he used to lie in my arms, while I watched rugby and other sports on the television.

Then there was Robert Charles, again not a girl, followed by John William, most definitely not a girl.  When Philip James was born, the idea of a daughter called Lucy Ann was abandoned; four children under seven is quite a handful in any society, especially when there are no relatives to help out.

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Clockwise from the left – Andrew (Barcelona), Robert (Barcelona), John (London) and Philip (Basingstoke)

So who was Lucy Ann, after whom I had wanted to name a daughter?

Lucy Ann English (1846-1934) was one of my great grandmothers.  She was married to William Blackwood of Hethel, about whom I mentioned in a previous article.  I have no idea what her name appealed to me, but I loved the sound of it.

She was born and raised in Mulbarton, a few kilometres south-west of Norwich.  She had a younger brother, James, born in 1849, but two years later her mother, Lucy, died in Thorpe Lunatic Asylum of an internal hernia.  Perhaps it was the result of a difficult birth.  Lucy Ann’s father remarried in 1856, but his new wife died less than three years later.

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The death certificate of Lucy English, formerly Lucy Baldry

Lucy Ann’s grandfather, James English (1788-1861), lived in the same village with his third wife, the previous two having died.  When I was researching this branch of my family many years ago, I was unable to locate James in the 1841 census, but found him in both the 1851 census and that of 1861.  It puzzled me, for he was nowhere to be found in the UK.  I wondered if he had gone abroad for a few years.

It was not until quite recently that I discovered where he was in 1841.  He was not with his wife in Mulbarton for a very good reason.  He was in the County Gaol & House of Correction of Norwich Castle.  At the Count Session of 30 June, 1841, he was convicted of larceny and sentenced to imprisonment.  He was perhaps lucky to have been imprisoned in England, for up until a few years earlier, he might have been transported to a penal colony, such as Australia.

Lucy Ann would have known her grandfather, James.  She was 15 when he died.  I have no idea if she knew of his imprisonment, but I suspect that, in a small village, it would have been common knowledge.

There are many James in my ancestry, both in England and in Ireland.  In his second name, my youngest son carries their memory.  Many Australians are proud of having been descended from a convict.  In its way, it is a form of inverted snobbery.

I can identify myself with that.

Hethel

It was in mid-1985 that I first became interested in genealogy.  My mother had recently died and I realised then how little I knew of my ancestry.

My father was of no help in getting me started on my research; he said that he knew no more than I did.  He left home when he was 16 and it is quite probable that his parents never told him some of the less-than-flattering facts about some of their numerous siblings, facts than I subsequently encountered.  His parents were a very Victorian couple.  For many people of that era, illegitimacy, unmarried cohabitation, and divorce were scandalous and best not spoken of.

Both my parents were only-children, so I had no uncles or aunts to turn to for their possible input.  I had to start from scratch.

In 1985, family research was both time-consuming and relatively expensive, compared to recent years.  There were no computers, no databases, no software and no internet.  Research was carried out on the original documents and charts of ancestry were drawn by hand.  One wall of my study was eventually covered with a huge chart holding 2+4+8+16+32=62 ancestors for each of my parents.

As the records for Ulster were held in Belfast and I was living south-west of London, I started my research with my father’s ancestry.

He was born in Norfolk, as were both of his parents.  The records for English births, marriages, deaths and census returns, dating back to 1837, were held in London, and over many months and numerous visits, the chart on my study wall began to fill up.  And as far back as 1837 I found that all my father’s parent’s ancestors were also born in Norfolk.

To go back before 1837, one had to visit the relevant county record archives, which in my case meant a long drive to Norwich and an overnight stay.  Once having obtained a reader’s permit, one could submit a request to have access to the original documents of a given parish and 20-30 minutes later, they would arrive from the archives and  research could begin.

Initially I concentrated on the Blackwood line and after a couple of visits I found that four generations of my father’s ancestors had lived in the two adjoining parishes of Hethel and Wreningham.  The oldest event that I found was the marriage of my great (x4) grandfather, Robert Blackwood, in Hethel in 1756.

To this day, I have not been able to locate his birth.  Every line on an ancestral chart eventually ends in a brick wall, and breaking one down inevitably leads to two more.

Hethel was a small parish with no village as such, just an ancient 11th century church, and a handful of farms.  In 1841 there were 211 inhabitants, but by 1901 the population had dropped to 153.  In 1841 there were 15 Blackwoods living there, but by 1881 there was only one, my great great grandmother. She died in 1889.

An airfield was built there during WW2, after which it was closed. Today it houses Lotus Cars.  Hethel is also known for having an ancient thorn tree, reputed to be more than 800 years old, the oldest on record.

Hethel is about 10 km south-west of Norwich and it was on a beautiful summer day in 1986 that I first went there.  It is not on a main road, and is only accessible down narrow country lanes.  When the trees and hedgerows are in full leaf, it is easy to miss the turning.

I parked beside the church gate and went in.  The graveyard was largely uncared for, the grass was long, and there were several large clumps of nettles.  I had a very strange feeling that I had been in that graveyard before, but of course that was impossible. It was probably just the nervous anticipation of finding evidence of my ancestors.

I did not start looking at the nearby gravestones, but went straight into a clump of nettles away to the left of the entrance, and with my foot trod them aside, to fully reveal two adjacent gravestones.  They were the graves of my great great grandparents, Robert Blackwood (1809-1867) and Susanna Ringwood (1811-1889).

Of course, most people would say that it was just a coincidence that I went straight to those graves, but I am not so sure.  I clearly remember feeling as if I was being led directly to them.

I have been back to Hethel twice since then, the last time in an overnight snowfall, just before Christmas.  There was a strong easterly wind blowing and it was bitterly cold.

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All Saints Church, Hethel

There were no leaves on the trees and of course no nettles.  The graves of my great great grandparents were clearly visible, leaning to one another, as if she had moved closer to him for warmth, sleeping on his shoulder.

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The graves of Robert Blackwood and Susanna Ringwood

The inscriptions on the gravestones are now very eroded and difficult to read.  One day in the not distant future they will be completely illegible.

Neither of my great great grandparents could write; they signed their name in the parish registers with a mark, an ‘X´.  They were undoubtedly poor – he was an agricultural labourer, and he died at the age of 59, whereas she lived for another 22 years.

It was possibly their son, my great grandfather, William Blackwood (1847-1927), who had the gravestones erected.  He was the first of the Blackwoods to be able to write and he worked as a miller, with his own mill in Harleston, 18 km south on the Essex border.

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Harleston Mill

 

I once came across a beautiful expression in a book I was reading:

Existimos mientras alguien nos recuerde (We exist as long as someone remembers us)

If I ever succeed in publishing, in some form, my series of articles,  perhaps one of my descendants will one day read this, and be motivated to visit the churchyard in Hethel, as I first did, now more than 30 years ago.

And in so doing, our family links with the past will be refreshed, and some of those who came before us will be remembered.