Thursday, 29 December 2016

Calendar Notes: looking forward and back

Coin minted by Brutus to mark the assassination of Julius Caesar (on the ides of March)

As part of my review of the year I have been spending some time looking at dates on my fast-filling diary for 2017. I am using my Outlook calendar for lightweight-travel sake, but with my visual wiring, I do prefer a real live wall calendar, preferably with boxes I can write in.

Thinking about calendars, looking at 50% off calendars in the shops and practicing my high school Latin (!) by deciphering the mottos on the Harrow School crest on my walk yesterday all converged. This morning I had a eureka moment. OMG, only just realised! (after all these years, lol) Calendar comes from kalends: the first day of a Roman month. We all know about the ides of March, from Shakespeare, don't we? (translated as 15 March)

In the Roman year the days of the month were denoted by reference to the kalends, ides or nones which were the first day of the month, the middle of the month and eight days before the ides respectively. The dates were set by counting back from the next named reference day. So today would be 4 days before the kalends of January.

As I tell my kids: I may not pick up on it at first, but I always work it out in the end.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Avoiding New Year's Resolutions

HMS Resolution*

I have been a follower of Chris Guillebeau's blog, the Art of Non-Conformity for many years. Each year at this time he conducts an annual review, and this year I am going  follow along with his procedure in this outline post. The aim is to not make resolutions, but rather a personalised plan of action for 2017.

He recommends first making a pen and paper list of what worked well and what didn't work so well in the past year. So that is what I am working on today. And as he notes, from my initial thoughts that "not much happened in 2016" it is amazing what I have achieved when I spend some time to think about it.

* New Zealand connection: Resolution was Captain James Cook's ship on his second and third voyages of discovery. On both trips he visited New Zealand

Monday, 26 December 2016

Christmas Dinner for one or two

As Christmas day approached I was reminded of some fun facts my German cousin Annegret taught me. I visited her in Frankfurt two years ago in the run up to Christmas. She introduced me to a couple of traditional German TV programmes for the festive season. One is watching "Sissi" a highly romanticised story of the courtship of  Emperor Franz Josef I*and Princess Elizabeth. Empress Elizabeth, as she became, was a fascinating but quite mentally unstable woman (in my opinion) and this film was a large part of her mythmaking. Elizabeth was born the year that Victoria came to the throne. There are some interesting parallels between her story and that of the late, lamented Diana, Princess of Wales

The other TV tradition is watching "Dinner for One" a short black and white film, in English. More properly watched on Silvester (New Years Eve), it has become a German tradition to watch in the festive season. People have put theories forward on why it has become a cult classic in Germany, while remaining unknown in English-speaking countries, but essentially it is a mystery.

This article gives you a bit more background (and a  better quality video: skip the first 2 1/2 minutes if you want to miss the German intro)

The scenario seems poignantly relevant for me this year as I spent Christmas Day (and every other day of the holidays) with my elderly client, in my current role as live-in carer. Christmas Day was just her, me, and the turkey. Unlike the film, no alcohol was involved.
a. because I was working, and
b. because this is a teetotal home.

I have been working as a relief live-in carer for the past 4 months, and it certainly raises some talking points about a slew of topics. I'll be discussing some of them with my family when we celebrate a very belated Christmas when I am back home in February 2017.

*New Zealand connection: yes that's the emperor our famous Franz Josef glacier is named for.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Butts of Well-Aged Wine

Butt. Yes you can say it without sniggering.

A butt is an obsolete unit of liquid measurement in Britain.  A butt is 126 wine gallons. Wine gallons? yes it is a thing, and explains another of those bizarre American differences. The American gallon is based on the old wine gallon measurement.

It sometimes seems that what ever measurement standard the rest of the world choses, America has to be different. So an American gallon is different from an imperial gallon: another reason why American recipes can be difficult to follow successfully. (that and "stick of butter". What kind of a measurement unit is a stick? Tablespoons of butter for something that normally comes in solid form is bad enough! rant over) Anyway an American gallon is based on cubic inches (231 cubic inches) while an imperial gallon is rounded to 4.54 litres. This means that an American gallon at a nominal 3.785l is considerably less than an imperial gallon. One of the reasons for that the Americans stuck with the old gallon measure is that the British imperial system was not adopted until 1825, by which time America had ceased to be a colony.

Butt may be archaic as a measurement, but it lives on in the names of British pubs, as does tun. A tun is equivalent to two butts. So we have pubs such as The Three Tuns in Henley,

or the Half Butt in Essex

Oh, and for another blindingly obvious fact (that I only recently realised) a quart is a quarter of a gallon.

Tomorrow I am going to continue the theme with old wines and Shakespeare. Then on Saturday I am looking forward  celebrating Christmas Eve with more recent vintage wine and Shakespeare,. But more of that anon.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Wine Gums, Hock and Rhenish.

Important fact at the outset: wine gums don't actually contain wine. But this British brand does have the names of wine (and spirit) varieties impressed into them, as well as having an assortment of shapes. Kiwi wine gums are just one shape, a squat cylinder, in a variety of colours/flavours. Now I have some inkling of how wine gums came by their misleading name.

Seeing the name on one of the wines got the wheels of my brain turning clunkily. I knew Hock was a generic name for white wine, probably from some past literary exposure. That or exposure to poor generic white wine in New Zealand of the 1970's. But why? Turns out Hock comes from Hochheim, from Hochheim am Main. Hochheim was the centre of the wine export to Britain for German wines from the 17 century. So Hock became a common term for German white wine. If it is used nowadays, it usually implies low quality white wine.

A similar and even more antiquated name for white wine from Germany is Rhenish. We see it cropping up in Shakespeare in Hamlet:
"as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
The Kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge"

and in The Merchant of Venice:

"There is more difference between thy flesh and hers than
between jet and ivory; more between your bloods than there is
between red wine and Rhenish."

I had never made the connection that Rhenish wine refers to wine from the Rhine area: specifically Rheinhessen, the area between Worms and Bingen. Must go back and sample more wine: I wonder if it used to drunk from Westerwald stoneware?

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Wealds and Wolds

As I was writing yesterday's post I noticed the wald of Westerwald is German for forest. Of course I knew that : Schwartzwald Kirschentorte means Black Forest Cherry Cake. As I said to my sister Jane before I travelled to Germany: " I know a few German words: from cookery and Opera" to which she wryly replied "that will be very useful in everyday conversation!"

Any way, I am currently living close to Harrow Weald and I have been wondering about the meaning of weald, but hadn't yet got around to looking it up. There is also the Weald of Kent which one of my clients referred as his vantage point when watching V-1 flying bombs falling on London as a boy.

Time to look it up: turns out that weald comes from West Saxon, and means the same as "wold" which is the Anglian form. So yes, from the same root as the German "wald"  Harrow Weald was once part of the ancient Forest of Middlesex.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Westerwald connections in the most unlikely place

My photo storage program kindly reminded me that its two years since I first met up with my German cousins in Pottum. How is this connected with a restored chamberpot from the lost palace of Greenwich?

Greenwich Visitors Centre 2016

The caption suggests it (#3) is from mid 18th century

Pottum is my great great grandmother's Susannah Schamp's hometown. She left Germany in a time of great political and social turmoil, 1847, for the uncertain life of a folk musician in England. In a tale stranger than fiction she ended up the pillar of respectability in an Australian goldrush town. But that is a story for another day.

Through the magic of the internet I linked up with Annegret Held, an author living in Frankfurt, but originally from Pottum. Annegret has since written a novel inspired by this era, "Armut ist ein brennend Hemd" which translates as "Hunger is a Burning Shirt". She and my distant Schamp relatives were my hosts on my visit in December 2014. I was there for the village Christmas party, and I felt like an honoured guest. I even received the crest of the village from the deputy mayor in an informal ceremony by the lake the next morning.

At Pottum, with Annegret, the deputy mayor, and the Schamp family

One of the gifts the Schamps gave me was a teacup and saucer in Westerwald pottery. They told me the Westerwald area is known for a particular style of pottery, blue patterned on a grey ground. It is stoneware fired at a very high temperature, and the cobalt blue glaze is the only colour that will endure that temperature. Later they took me a place selling regional produce and I was able to buy a mould, also in westerwald ware, for making another regional speciality, Westerwälder Eierkäse. (these are safely packed away in New Zealand, so pictures will have to wait: be patient!)

So how surprised was I to recognise a westerwald chamberpot on display when I visited the Greenwich Visitor Centre. The Greenwich complex of buildings are marvellous and historic, but they are built over an older palace site. The original medieval palace was rebuilt by Henry VII and named the Palace of Placentia. It became a favourite royal residence, and three Tudor rulers were born here: Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I.  Placentia was in a state of disrepair by the time of the Restoration, and none of the original palace now remains. The chamberpot on display was discovered with other treasures when drains were being laid in 2005.

Apparently stoneware from Westerwald was imported to England in great quantities in the past, particularly as tankards and chamberpots, and frequently shards are found in the mud of the Thames. I found more information on this Mudlarking blog. I also plan to visit the Museum of London, another free London museum, which has a special feature on this pottery.

Friday, 16 December 2016

More WWI memorials on my list

One of my sons has requested a DNA analysis for his Christmas present: he is interested in optimising his health and diet based on his genetic profile. It’s a bonus for me too, family history-wise. In advance of getting his results I thought it was time to revisit his father’s side of the family tree. This has lain untouched for many a year, as I was daunted by the challenges of genealogical research in Ireland. All those similar names and so many holes in the records (I believe it’s true the archival stacks were used as barriers during the Easter rising)

But time can still be the genealogist’s friend, as more and more records, both public and private become digitised and available through the magic of the internet.

And sure enough, there is a wealth of records available since the last time I looked.
I found one of his father’s great uncles served in the British Army during the so-called Great War. (also erroneously called “the War to End all Wars”) His name was James Greenlee, born in Belfast in 1887. His immediately elder sister, Annie went on to marry Arthur Power, and become my sons’ Great grandparents.
In the 1901 census the Greenlee family were living in Upper Newtonards Rd and James, aged 14 was working as a rope maker, while his father William was a hemp dresser. Ten years later James was newly-wed, living with his wife Mary in Manderson St and working as an iron driller. Belfast was a major centre for ship building, and ropemaking and iron working were part of the industrial package. The Power family later settled in Dee St, which is also in the heart of this shipbuilding area, now named the Titanic quarter, after its most famous ship. Robert Power (Bob) my son’s grandfather worked at Harland and Wolff and was part of the team to build HMS Belfast, now permanently berthed in London.
But back to James. Like so many young men from throughout the Empire, he enlisted to fight in WWI. James was an Irish Guardsman. Irish Guards wear the iconic dress uniform of red tunic and bearskin (never call it a busby, I was once cautioned by a Coldstream Guard.) The uniform is differenced from other Foot Guards by the chest buttons arranged in groups of four, and a blue plume in the bearskin.

You will be familiar with the officer’s dress uniform: Prince William was married in that uniform, as he is Colonel of the Regiment.

One of the coolest things I learned about the Irish Guards was their mascot: a real live Irish Wolfhound!
Now that is a real dog!

And as I am not one to miss the opportunity to show a video of men in uniform playing brass instruments, or men in kilts playing bagpipes, here is a video of the Irish Guards with their pipes and drums. Yes, Irish kilts are a thing!

The Irish Guards served on the Western Front for the duration of the First World War, suffering heavy losses. One of those men was James. He left behind a young wife, Mary: I am not sure if they had children. He is buried at Bleuet Farm west of Ieper (Ypres) and his name is engraved there and on a memorial tablet in St Patricks Church, Belfast. I don’t know yet the details of his death, but his digitised army will can be viewed online, and shows damage that looks suspiciously like blood stains. The date of his death was 26 July 1917. It gives you pause to think.
In 2017 I will be visiting the battlefields of Northern France and Flanders, and James’ name will be on the list of those I remember.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Patron Saint of Dogs

Garth, 2016 watercolour by Barbara Lewis

Motivated by a youtube video, Christine Tarrant suggested we should have birthday party for Garth when I am back in NZ (February-March 2017). Chris and my son Richard are looking after my dog Garth while I am on my extended gap year. We call Garth the wonder dog, (and Garthalicious, Garthicus and a few other names too saccharine to be owned to!) and he is definitely worthy of a story or two, and definitely a write-up in a veterinarian journal. But that's a story for another day.

I decided to research to find a suitable day. As Garth is a rescue dog, we don't even know his age for sure, let alone his real birthday. Although thinking about it, next March will be the tenth anniversary of welcoming Garth into our lives as a fully grown but still knawing dog.

The first thing I looked for was a patron saint of dogs. I guess St Francis would work as a general animal lover too. His feast day is 4 October. But yes, there is a specific patron saint for dogs: St Rochus, Roch, Rocco or Rock, depending on your language preference. I bet you have never heard of him. I didn't think I had either, until I remembered that Rochusgasse was one of the stops I used on the Vienna underground. Of course the church the street is named for the church dedicated to St Rochus, patron saint of dogs and ... invoked against the plague. Traditionally he is portrayed displaying the plague buboe on his thigh, along with the dog who brought him bread (must be a retriever) when he was cast out for his infection. His feast day is August 16, appropriately enough in the dog days of a European summer. But not a useful date for me either with my tickets booked to return to UK by end of March.

St Roque by Francisco Ribalta
The Viennese church I am familiar with from the street was built in 1643 by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III in gratitude for the preservation of Vienna from the plague. Unfortunately the intercession of St Rochus was not so effective in 1679 and 1713 when Vienna suffered devastating epidemics.

So far I have not come up with a suitable date that falls in the appropriate time, but whatever day we choose it will be a great party... now to think about themed cocktails for the guests. Suggestions welcomed.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Next direction to be inspired by Monmouth

Following up to yesterday’s post, it’s hard to know which avenue to explore first. I could tell you about the ancient forester rights for the Forest of Dean, and how these were eroded in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars by the navy’s need for oak. I could talk about the Dean Forest Riots and punishment by transportation to van Dieman’s Land. I could discuss the social changes that drove whole families to move away from their places of origin. We could take a little diversion to the whims of Regency aristocracy and the work of the Kymin Club. More on Horatio Nelson and naval battles. Life in service at a “big house” and the estates of the Dukes of Beaufort. Jumping back in time a whole lot more I could digress to Henry V and other famous people of Monmouth, Agincourt and Welsh archers, Shakespeare and forging national identity, knitting in the 14th century.

And of course, more personal family history: the Barnetts in Le Bons Bay including the hellfire Welsh preacher (I wish we had audio recordings! Imagine that accent!), the Evans in Wairarapa, and initial responses to DNA testing. Oh and of course I want to find out more about Edward Barnett and his family.

Believe it or not, all these disparate subjects are linked to yesterday’s post! Wow, and I managed to mention Shakespeare and Nelson in the course of conversation again. Why not comment and help me decide which area to pick first!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Barnetts of Monmouth

(Photos will be added in March 2017 when I am back in New Zealand.)

When I first visited the UK, in 1987, one of the places that I was very keen to visit was Monmouth. Why? Not only was it the birthplace of Henry V, immortalised by Shakespeare and kept alive by my Bardophile English-teacher mother, but also of my mother’s slightly less illustrious Evans antecedants.

Monmouth is right on the border with England, but I was emphatically assured that it is in Wales. This was at the time that I was really launching into family history research. Need I remind you: pre-internet. I would scan the migraine-inducing microfiche at booked sessions at the local Mormon temple (Royal Oak) and send my findings to my sister Jane, who was on her OE in UK. She would then use that information to check out the archives at the regional Public Record Office. Very time consuming and expensive to order certificates. And everything done by snail mail. Even I have trouble imagining it, and it happened to me!

Research in the 60’s by my Auntie Thyra had confirmed my great grandparents Oliver and Sarah Evans nee Barnett were originally from Monmouth. They travelled to New Zealand in 1876 on the Inverness. They arrived 29 October 1876, docking in Napier after a voyage from London which had taken just over three months. The Inverness was one of the smaller ships to arrive that year, only 725 tons. With them were Bill and Charlie, their infant sons. The family then travelled by land to settle initially at Le Bons Bay on the Banks Peninsular, where Sarah’s brother James and paternal uncles Edwin and Henry were already established as early settlers. My grandfather John Evans was born in Christchurch (1890) sometime before the family moved to Rongomai, Wairarapa where the youngest member of the family, Maud, was born in 1893.

Based on this groundwork we discovered that both the Evans and Barnetts lived on The Kymin in the first half of the 19th century. Kymin Hill is a beautiful area just over the river Wye, to the east of Monmouth.  It is said that on a clear day eight counties can be seen from the summit. The settlement at the base of the hill is Dixton. Dixton appears in the censuses as Dixton Newton and Dixton Hadnock. They are the two original manors, on the west and east sides of the river respectively.  Just a little further east is the border with England and the ancient Forest of Dean.

When my mother Audrey was on her OE circa 1957, she had visited the area and unsuccessfully tried to find records of her grandparents’ marriage at the parish church. Of course, we realise now that as Non-conformists, in this case Baptists, their records were kept separately. There are further challenges locating records, as in this area the three counties of Monmouth, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire converge. Add to that, travel a mile or so and you are changing from England to Wales. Makes it hard to know which records to check. And most confusingly, our families’ local parish church of St Peters, although physically in Monmouth is part of the diocese of Hereford.

The church is ancient and attractive, on the banks of the Wye, and in Dixton Newton: the western side.  Our families would have had to cross the river to attend church on, and we know the river is prone to flooding: a fact attested by the brass markers in the church showing historic high water marks. In fact, a description of the church from 1851 comments on the inconvenient siting of the church (on an unrelated note, all services were in English) I believe there was a ferry crossing in this era. When I visited the church in 1989 it was being prepared for a wedding and looked lovely with the whitewashed walls, stained glass and bridal flowers.

My Great Grandmother Sarah Evans nee Barnett c 1920

My great grandmother Sarah, born 1849, was the eldest child of Betsy (nee Tomkins) and James Barnett. She was baptised in this church. Her father James was a woodsman and the 1851 census shows him living with his wife and child (Sarah) at Dixton Hadnock, in close to proximity to his brothers’ families. After Sarah, sons James and Edward followed, but by 1853, James Snr was dead, dying before the birth of Edward in December of that year.

Young Edward appears in the 1861 census for Dixton Newton living with his widowed mother and siblings, but by 1871 census the family has dispersed. I believe Sarah was living in as a servant, but haven’t confirmed the location. James had emigrated the previous year to New Zealand. No trace of Betsy (who may have died) or young Edward. Over the years, I have collected information on an Edward Barnett, but have never been able to verify the connection… until now. It was difficult to track him, because his entire Barnett family had died or emigrated, and Edward had no remaining links to Monmouth. While the Edward working as an assistant warder at Swansea Prison in 1891 gave his birthplace as Dixton, I wasn’t 100% certain this was my long lost great great uncle… until now!

What I had found was a man who was absent from the censuses of 1871 and 1881 and then shows up marrying in Plymouth (1882) and has children born in Ireland, Gibraltar, Swansea and Plymouth, before ending up in Greenwich as a customs watcher. These locations and occupations immediately suggested that he was probably formerly in the Navy. Both prison warder and customs watcher* jobs were commonly held by retired servicemen.

Obviously more research can be done, and I plan to spend time at the National Archive, Kew when I am dogsitting In South Ealing Easter 2017. But already I have proved the link through the modern wonders of DNA analysis. I recently submitted my saliva sample to Ancestry DNA and the results came back suggesting that a woman in Canada was my third cousin via Edward Barnett! We have made contact, and part of my reason for writing about the Barnetts today is to give her some background to what I know about the family. I am looking forward to learning her story of how her family ended up in Canada and what she knows of her great grandfather.

* Watcher [later re titled as Revenue Assistants and Revenue Constables] would tally cargo being unloaded from a ship or goods being transferred into /out of a bonded warehouse or the King's Warehouse and were on a weekly wage. []

Mind the Gap!

Apologies, my daily writing practice got derailed by technical problems with my tablet and a busy holiday schedule on my tour of the Midlands. Transmission will resume shortly.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Horatia, a hero's daughter

I love what I can discover when I keep my eyes and mind open on my walks. England is so rich in history I am constantly amazed. For instance, only yesterday I decided to walk to Pinner village. I wanted to return to the church to take photos for another post (flat battery when I went there the first time) On the way there I passed Paines Lane Cemetery (appropriately enough on the intersection of Paine and Love Lane). I wasn’t too hopeful of anything too interesting as the commentary at the church had been very clear that Pinner church, while a solid architectural example, had no remarkable embellishments. That was because Pinner had never been home to anyone rich and powerful enough to want to impress with gilded angel ceilings or carved screens at their local place of worship. But it was a sunny autumn afternoon, and the graveyard was pleasantly sited.

Armed with my trusty smart phone and my “all you can eat” data from 3, I was able to google Paines Lane Cemetery and find… wow… Horatia Nelson Ward and some other family members are buried here. Then switching to the 'find a grave site’ I was able to quickly identify the grave from photos.

Why was I excited? For those of you whose only contact with the name Horatio is from Miami CSI of the (Shelton girls, for shame! What do they teach kids at school these days?) let me elucidate. My interest in naval history means that the first Horatio* to spring to my mind is Horatio Nelson, victor of Trafalgar. His exploits as a rising naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars made him the darling of the nation despite his scandalous public love life. Although married, the love of Nelson’s life, Lady Emma Hamilton was married to someone else! The British Library has on display the letter Nelson was writing to her on the eve of the battle of Trafalgar.

Emma bore him a child out of wedlock: the said Horatia. She was only a child when her father died at Trafalgar. She was brought up by her mother in straitened circumstances, because the nation preferred to show its admiration to the dead father by erecting grand monuments like Nelson’s Column rather than paying a pension to support his only child. Sadly Horatia was proud of her famous father, but never accepted that Emma, who brought her up, was actually her birth mother.

My writing time is up for today: more on Horatia/Horatio another day…

*Not forgetting Horatio, Hamlet’s bestie; Horatio Hornblower; Horatio the schoolboy killed by  a  polar bear; or the original Horatio who kept the bridge.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Jessie Archer Coulson: My Indomidable Grandmother

Jessie Archer Coulson’s arrival In New Zealand.

As many of you may know, I am currently on an extended gap year (now in its third year) in Europe. This is wonderful from a history inspiration point of view, but not quite so hot when wanting to refer to all those genealogy notes back in the understair cupboard at home in Leamington, New Zealand.

Despite this lack I wanted to get a few notes down on paper (or rather, uploaded to the cloud) about my maternal grandmother, Jessie. (I welcome any comments and corrections, and additions)

Jessie was the fourth child in a run of daughters born to John Archer Coulson and his wife Jane Jacklin. It took me many years of genealogical research to realise (doh!) she was named after her mother. Jessie is a pet form of Jane, and seems to be interchangeable with Janet and Jean in many of the Scottish and north of England censuses. (or should that be censi?) And of course her middle name honours her father. This seems so appropriate because although she spent most of her long life separated from them, her family were a central foundation for her life.

As I understand it, Jessie stayed on in Strathcona, Alberta for several years after her parents and younger siblings left Canada. One of her tasks was to wind up the family’s business affairs in the town. She was also studying and working as a student teacher, and in 1916 was living with her married eldest sister, Bertha.

In this time, World War I had broken out, and as in New Zealand, the loyal Canadian colonists were eager to enlist. Jessie had several regimental keepsakes from young men who went off to war, and she always kept a locket with the photo of one who never returned. My auntie Ruth has a poignant letter we believe to be from this man, written on leaving Jessie as his regiment departed for the fighting in Europe.

I believe Jessie made the trip to rejoin her family at the end of the war. By this time they had moved from Western Australia to New Zealand. My mother told the story of Jessie making the Pacific crossing, arriving in New Zealand and catching the train to the Wairarapa area, where her family were based, all on her own. Brave woman. And on arrival at the railway station, there was no one to meet her, so she just got on with it and carried her bag up and over the hill to the farm house. Not just brave, but indominable!

She soon secured a teaching job at the Rongomai School, near Eketahuna. This school no longer exists, and even the local hall, a rural social hub in its time, has disappeared. (was it moved or demolished?). The new teacher with the funny accent needed somewhere to live of course, so she boarded with Charlie and Kate Evans, whose house was on the other side of the road. She ended up marrying Charlie’s youngest brother Frederick John (but always called John), my grandfather. It’s hard to believe when you stand at this country crossroads that this location was so important to our family history. There is no remnants of human habitation visible there: my great uncle Charlie’s house is long gone too.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Remembering the random


When writing yesterday’s post I had the niggling feeling that I recognised the name of the sculptor, Cibber. Did a little research and found Caius Cibber, originally from Denmark, settled in England where he had a (mostly) successful career. But that wasn’t why I recognised the name. Cibber had a larger-than-life actor son Colley who was also a writer, and was Poet Laureate to George II. But still it rang no bells for me. Next I find the sculptor’s grandson Theophilus Cibber, also an actor/manager at Drury Lane. Still nothing… then jackpot! I find that Theophilus married Susannah Arne in 1739.

I am familiar with the name Cibber because Susannah, already an acclaimed singer, continued to perform under her married name. I had no idea Arne was her maiden name: of course she is sister to the English composer Thomas Arne. We all know Arne for his composition, “Rule, Britannia!” His sister starred in the premier of "Alfred" in which "Britannia" features as the grand finale. (1740)

So finally I have puzzled it out, using some good old genealogy and Wikipedia (!) The name Cibber was familiar because of Susannah Maria Cibber, an acclaimed actress and singer, protégée of Handel. She was conveniently (for a performer) born near Covent Garden in 1714. The contralto solos in Handel’s Messiah were specifically written for her and include one of my favourites, the heartwretching “He was Despised”.  I have always thought that the contralto gets the best female solos in Messiah, and now I know why. Susannah also acted alongside the famous David Garrick, so now I am off to research whether there are any paintings of Cibber by Zoffany. I love these connections.

On a side note, as Messiah premiered in Dublin (1742), Susannah must have crossed the Irish Sea on at least one occasion. Her estranged husband Theophilus met his end on a similar crossing in 1758 on his way to start the season on Dublin.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Of all the Statues in London!

King Charles II by Cibber in Soho Square Gardens

In one of the twists of serendipity that make history research come alive for me, I happened on this statue of Charles II in Soho Square Gardens yesterday. It was only two days after visiting Grimsdyke Hotel in Harrow Weald where the statue once stood. You can see from the inscription that the restored statue was presented by Lady Gilbert, the widow of librettist W.S. Gilbert.

Apparently when the statue was first commissioned during the king’s lifetime, it was part of an ornate fountain which stood in the square, then called King Square. 150 years it was very much the worse for wear and removed to Grimsdyke, which was then the residence of the artist, Frederick Goodall.

A plaque in the square notes that Joseph Banks once lived at 32 Soho Square. I have a certain fascination for Banks, as he is often portrayed as the aristocratic antagonist to my hero, working class James Cook. Lets just say that his reputation was not enhanced in my eyes when I realised that he bought his home in Soho Square in 1779, at which time the notorious White House brothel was already established at 21 Soho Square.

I was also interested to read that underground the gardens are honeycombed with tunnels and air raid shelters from the Second World War.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Blindingly Obvious

Place Names

One of my great pleasures in my pursuit of trivia is discovering a link which is blindingly obvious when you think about it. So often familiarity or a different cultural experience means that years of exposure can go by without realising the implications of a name.

In New Zealand, as a former British colony, we have many, many places and roads named after British locations. I am glad to say we have also kept many Maori names too, which confounds tourists when they have to pronounce them. (Lots of New Zealand placenames underscore our British heritage and show our age by being named for 19th century heros and politicians, but that’s another post)

So when I tell people in Britain that my home is in Cambridge, I have to quickly add, Cambridge, New Zealand. My suburb is Leamington, but here in England Leamington is over 100km from Cambridge! Many of the links are well known, with New Zealand counterparts for Oxford, Hamilton, and Christchurch. But you can still be caught out on the internet if you are not careful: I nearly booked accommodation in Cheviot in the Scottish Borders rather than the township in northern Canterbury, New Zealand.

Some are a newer surprise, for instance I only recently found out the famous House of Pain rugby stadium, Carisbrook in Dunedin is named for a castle on the Isle of Wight.

But the best realisation only occurred when I started living in the UK in 2014. In New Zealand we have many roads named after UK places… I have even lived on a York Avenue. But here in the UK if you are standing in the town square and see a road named say: London Rd, it will be the road to London. Doh! So obvious! The main thoroughfare through Hatch End is called Uxbridge Rd: so of course it terminates at Uxbridge. Brilliant for a directionally challenged traveller like me!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Cream Tea

Just booked a cream tea at Grimsdyke Hotel for this afternoon, and it got me thinking about cream.

In America they always ask if you want cream in your coffee: but I am never sure what they mean by cream. If by cream they mean milk at around 2 % milk fat, then yes, that is what I want in my white coffee. But it seems that sometimes they are actually using cream, judging by the fatty texture of the resultant coffee.  And I have been in many places when the request for a white coffee is meant by a blank stare. I have taken to asking for coffee with milk, with a shift to a short black/espresso when I am on the Continent, where a good non-frothy milk coffee so beloved in New Zealand is impossible to find.

A cream tea in UK is what we would call a Devonshire tea in New Zealand, although in NZ the cream has lost all connection with Devon, and isn’t even clotted. More details and pics after my cream tea today.

I remember my grandmother making her own clotted cream at home, using commercial milk and cream. It wasn’t til much later that I realise that she probably learnt to do this from her maternal grandmother, Emily Rowe (b. 1849) who was originally from Cornwall, next door county to Devon, and also famous for its dairy produce. The brand available here in UK is Rodda, which seems to be a Cornish surname judging from my family tree.

Commercial cream on this side of the world is confusing… in the UK shops you can buy single, double, whipping, extra thick double and of course clotted. That’s without going into the cultured types such as crème fraiche. In France I had difficulty in getting cream to whip and was told it is necessary to add a product to get it to thicken. More research needed here.

Thursday, 27 October 2016


From Harry Potter, we have become familiar with Grim, the name of a spectral black dog that portends death.

According to Wikipedia, Grim is also one of the many old names for Woden, Northern European King of the gods. It is believed that the name Grim attached to several ancient earthworks in England is to honour Woden. Similar earthworks are sometimes named for the devil, make of that what you will.

The earthwork I am particularly interested in today is Grim’s Dyke or Grim’s Ditch, which runs very close to where I am currently living, in Hatch End. It runs for a length of about 5km from Pinner Green towards Harrow Weald and was built in Roman Britain times, probably by the local Catuvellauni tribe, as a defense against the Latin invaders.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Old Strathcona 1906 to 1913

Why did the Coulsons leave Canada in 1913?

The Canadian census of 1906 show the family living in Strathcona. It seems they moved there sometime after their youngest child, Esther was born in Midway, British Columbia the year before. The family is still there 5 years later in the 1911 census, although the eldest girls Bertha and Ethel are not living with them. Bertha had married the Englishman Charlie Smith in 1909. I am still trying to find Ethel’s marriage to Ray Scuffham, another new immigrant from England, but their first child was also born in 1909. John is listed as a farmer.

I understand that John Archer Coulson’s business included horse buying trips across the border to Montana, and they ran a livery stables in Strathcona. This is referenced in a published history of pioneer times in the area which is in the possession of my Aunty Ruth. More details to follow.

Strathcona has now been swallowed up by the city of Edmonton, Alberta, but at that time the Coulsons moved there, it was a separate town on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River. It was booming as an important hub of the new Canadian railway system. There was also a lot of construction taking place, and the city required buildings to be constructed in brick and stone, rather than wood. This move was made in response to the 1906 Fire of San Francisco which destroyed 80% of the city.

Unfortunately the boom led to a speculative real estate market. In 1913 the bubble burst and many residents moved away. I imagine my family were affected financially too, and this, as well as John Archer’s poor health was a factor in their decision to move to Western Australia.

My grandmother Jessie stayed on in Strathcona to complete her education as a teacher. She was living with her sister Bertha Lindsay in 1916.  The Lindsays later moved back to BC and established themselves in the Okanagan Valley.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Louis Creek from 1924

Further online research confirms that when my great grandparents returned to Canada in 1924 they settled in Louis Creek, British Columbia, and spent the rest of their lives there. 

They never got to meet any of their daughter Jessie’s children (my grandmother), as she had married a Rongomai (via Eketahuna, the address specifies) farmer, John Evans and remained behind in New Zealand. How she must have missed them: her first child was born only a couple of weeks after her family departed by the ship, leaving her with no relatives in the southern hemisphere.

I have to remind my children that in those days, communication was so much slower and more expensive. Trans-pacific travel generally entailed travel by ocean liner, rural phone lines were party lines: one line shared by several families. You identified the calls meant for your household by your own morse code call sign. When you wanted to make a call, you first needed to make sure one of your neighbours wasn’t already using the line, then speak to the operator at the local exchange to put your call through. No such thing as Privacy laws then! Even up to the early 1980’s, toll calls had to be made via a real live operator, and the capacity of the international lines was so limited that calls at peak time, like Christmas, had to be booked in advance. Calls abroad were also limited by their expense: at around $3 per minute in 80’s prices, makes then more like $30 a minute in today’s money (2016)

My grandmother did make the return trip to Canada once in her parents’ lifetime. In 1935 when my mother Audrey, the youngest child was only 4, Jessie travelled to Louis Creek to see her dying father. All the children stayed in New Zealand. My aunty Ruth says she thinks her father forebade her to take the children as he wasn’t confident of her returning to New Zealand otherwise. It was also during the lean depression years, so money would have also been an issue.

I do not yet know why the Coulsons decided to base themselves in Louis Creek. As well as my great grandparents John Archer Coulson and Jane (nee Jacklin) their younger children Esther and Tom lived at Louis Creek too. The older sisters who had remained in Canada in 1912 were the three eldest: Bertha, Ethel and Maggie. They had all married before the family departed and were settled. Sadly Ethel died in 1922. 

My grandma Jessie had a different narrative arc. She only travelled to New Zealand around 1919: I believe it was after the war. She never lived in Australia. She had stayed on as a student teacher in Strathcona, and was living with her married sister Bertha in the 1916 census. I believe she was also tasked with winding up her parents financial affairs in Strathcona. Travelling as an unaccompanied young woman from Canada to New Zealand must have been quite an adventure. More of her story another day.