Thursday, 30 September 2010

Once in a lifetime event

Well that is finally over – something that has been discussed and planned for several years but we got there in the end and now it is all over bar the shouting.
We have been inundated with visitors for the last few days and we have been able to show them some of the lovely countryside that surrounds our otherwise quite mundane hometown.
Wiltshire has been settled for about six thousand years or more and so it has a number of notable sites of historic interest including the more famous Stonehenge. Surprisingly several less well known sites are much older than Stonehenge and some of them much more extensive, but they don’t get the publicity that Stonehenge receives.

The stones at Avebury

Avebury is a village that is actually built inside a Neolithic stone circle estimated to be about five hundred years older than Stonehenge and is about ten time as big. Windmill Hill is a fifteen hundred years older than that and flint tools have been found which pre-date any building work. There are ancient burial mounds, stone avenues and long-barrows that span about two thousand years of pre-history, all in a small area north of Salisbury plain.

This Google Earth view shows the village inside the circle. The earthworks form a ditch and bank which must have been a monumental task to create. The ground is mostly chalk and the tools used were antlers.

To the north of our town is the less ancient but picturesque area known as the Cotswolds, with towns and villages with such names as Bourton-on-the-water, Stow-onthe-Wold, Burford and Bibury. In this area buildings were traditionally built using the local Cotswold stone which is pale yellow sandstone and local planning rules only allow new buildings to be built from the same materials.
Around Stroud and Gloucester there are many steep valleys that produced a host of suitable sites for mills and other early Industries to be powered by the water that flows through each little valley at the start of the Industrial Revolution. In the less steep surrounding areas the earlier woollen industry produced small but wealthy towns which almost all have at least one Sheep Street. Between these the Cotswolds have formed its unique character and is often described as an area of outstanding beauty.

A Cotswold cottage

The river at Bibury

The famous medival Arlington row at Bibury

Walking in the Cotswolds

Flowers on a cottage wall

How much is that doggy in the window?

So why this guided tour of these places of local interest? Well read on, dear reader.
When my mother was quite small, her mother and father separated and my grandmother disappeared from our personal family horizon. I never knew her and for many years believed that she had died when Mum was young. In fact she did not die until 1953.
When she left, unbeknown to her family, she was carrying another child and gave birth to a daughter in 1915. The daughter grew up separated from her siblings and in due course married, was widowed and remarried. Still unknown to most of my family, she and her second husband emigrated to Australia, taking the children from her first and second marriages with them.
Recently one of these children, now an adult, was able to make contact with one of our cousins in England and suddenly we discovered that there was an aunt and several cousins we had never heard of all living in Australia.
For the past few years we have all been able to contact each other over the Internet and update each other with our separate family histories. This year this Australian cousin was able to visit the UK and has been on a lightning tour of all his and his wife’s relations.
We all decided that it would be nice to make a special get together for Our Long Lost Cousin (OLLC) so that he could meet every surviving member of his family and I was somehow volunteered to organise and host this gathering.
This was driven by practical issues, since our house is the most central of all our family but it required a certain amount of preparation and planning because we could only put up four guests at our house. All the others would have to travel, so we planned for the most distant cousins to stay with us, which meant my Canadian cousin and his wife, my sister and another female cousin, who both live alone now, but having known each other since childhood, were prepared to share a room.
Along with his immediate cousins, OLLC had also contacted a similarly unknown second cousin who was the granddaughter of our great aunt. Unknown even though she lives in England, so she was invited along too.
Everyone not able to stay at our house would have to drive to us for the party and then return to their own homes, so we arranged it to be a lunch time do. This worked out well because at least two guests were able to arrange to travel on to another destination that day and so kill two birds with one stone.
Altogether this made up seventeen people arriving at our house for lunch. The Better Half (TBH) worked like a trooper getting food together and did a 22 carat job of it. I did my best to help, acting as the chef’s assistant and we were able to provide a remarkable spread on the day.
The Sister (TS) and my two cousins from Canada who were staying with us had arrived the day before the party and lent a hand for the final preparations.
The family get together went off well and everyone was able to get to know OLLC and our second cousin and talk to them and their spouses until it was time to wend their various ways home.
TBH had a bit of a break for a couple of days and during this time, although there was a certain amount of cleaning to be done between us, there was little or no cooking or food preparation needed due to the fridge being rather like a giant doggy-bag with all the leftovers.
The next event was phase two. OLLC and Mrs OLLC had been invited back for a couple of days so that we could have some further time to get to know them without a crowd being present and look at photos and explain who was who and so on.
I have managed to gather over the years a number of papers and documents that belonged to my and OLLC’s grandfather and other members of our family and the family business and we were able to go through some of these with OLLC.
Our grandfather was a clever man and had several patents and inventions to his name and I have some of his drawings and many letters. For some reason he had several of his eight children educated in France including my mother, so many of the letters are not only scrawled in his careless handwriting, but in French, which makes them hard to follow. He led a complicated life and so did our grandmother and so it is quite difficult to figure out exactly what happened during their time together. Our grandmother was born in Washington USA but lived in London for some years whilst our grandfather was a tenant of her mother, my great grandmother. Tracking them down has proven interesting and there is plenty we do not know, so OLLC and I had a lot to discuss.
Because OLLC and his wife had both lived in Australia for most of their lives, we gave them the afore mentioned grand tour.
When my grandfather was quite young his father died and when his mother later re-married she went to live with her new husband in a small village in Wiltshire not far from our present hometown. Another cousin had already given OLLC the grand tour of the parts of London where our family had lived and worked and now he was able to see where our grandfather had been living before he moved to London. Unfortunately we arrived in the narrow streets just as school turned out and were unable to park and we saw it from the stationary line of a traffic jam.
Rather too soon, their visit came to an end and they headed off north to visit some of OLLC’s wife’s family.

The view from Birdlip, looking across Gloucester to the distant hills in Wales

A street in Burford

All in all an unrepeatable event because we have met a cousin we never knew existed until a few years ago, but we hope they will be able to visit again soon.


  1. What an absolutely remarkable story, snafu. I am going to have to read it again a couple of times to try and figure it all out. But what a wonderful, historic occasion for you and your family - how exciting!

    And I love seeing the photos, especially of Bibury, and to be able to say I have been there - one of my most favourite places.

    Avebury is so interesting also - the Google Earth picture is amazing.

    I imagine you and TBH must have collapsed from exhaustion after all that traveling and excitement -- hope you are soon recovered!

  2. Amazing! I'm going to have to think all this through. I remember your grandfather I think of the Love side of the family. And I think i knew your mother had some education in France. I remember everyone being in awe and fear of your grandfather. The one time I saw him was at a birthday party for Gillian. Gillian who? I have no idea but it was only about her second birthday and we cousins were all there. So if they are your cousins, does that make them our cousins too? I'm lost with all these genealogy things. But good for you to go to all that trouble to get everybody together.

  3. Oops!
    TBH has pointed out, Cotswold Stone is Limestone, not Sandstone as I said in this post.

  4. Who lived in Wiltshire? I know John Higgs the cheesemonger from Swindon did, until he moved ot London.

  5. Hi T. That is interesting, my great grandmother's maiden name was Higgs and when my great grandfather died she remarried a Mr Innes who lived in the Malborough area. I do not know if her family were the Higgs you are referring to. It is likely if both the Innes and Higgs family came from the same area she would have known the Innes family and so met her second husband through that connection.

  6. Well - I just found out where you live then. So tracking down some of your photos might be easier.