#52ancestors: So Far Away

The Royal Navy has a tradition that any ship crossing the equator has to pay its respects  to King Neptune, to gain his acceptance. The ritual requires that all those who had never previously crossed the line are charged for their crimes and get the justice they deserve.

My father in law, Basil, and his father, Carl, both served in the Royal Navy and both took part in a ‘crossing the line’ ceremony.

This is Carl’s certificate. He joined up in 1910, but didn’t cross the equator until 1931.

Basil’s certificate is dated 1943. He was on Board HMS Ramillies, sailing from Casablanca to Freetown. I wonder how they got all the props and costumes while sailing around Africa in the middle of the war! We have the booklet of the ceremony too.

The booklet gives some idea of the ceremony but, even better, I found a Pathe clip on Youtube from 1922 filmed on HMS Hood. There’s no sound.

#52ancestors: Close to home

This photo has been hanging in my hall since we bought our house in the early 1990s.

I had to write a house history for one of my University of Strathclyde assessments. I chose Welton Place, a very grand house in my village. It was demolished in 1972. My house, and several others, were built on the site. When we moved into our house in the 1990s, we were given the photo at the top of this post. I always wondered about its history, so here is an abridged version of my research.

The Clarke family lived in Welton since about 1590. Welton Place has been in the family for over 200 years. It was built by Joseph Clarke (1697-1773) in the 1750s. Joseph never married. On his death, in 1773, the estate passed to his brother, Richard CLARKE (1699-1774). Richard had two children by his first wife, Frances GARDNER; a son John who died in childhood and a daughter, Frances. When Richard died in 1774, Welton Place passed to Frances’ son, John PLOMER, on the condition that he changed his last name to CLARKE.  This he did, by private Act of Parliament, in 1775. The family tree below shows how John Plomer was related to Joseph and Richard Clarke.


Apart from two brief periods, 1833-1851 and 1906-1946, the CLARKE family lived in Welton Place. The family tree below shows John Plomer CLARKE’s descendants up to the last member of the family to live in the house, Richard Alexander Owen CLARKE.

Engraving from J. P. Neale’s ‘Views of the seats of noblemen & gentlemen’, c. 1825

Welton Place was a very grand house. There is very little information about the internal features but several pieces of art, including a Gainsborough and a Canaletto, were hanging in the drawing room. The gardens near the house were landscaped as parkland. The hill at the back, which forms part of our garden today, was planted as forest and shrubbery. Many of the trees still exist and have preservation orders. In front of the house was a man-made lake. Today the houses on the south side of the road back onto it.

Welton Place was leased to Sebastian Henry Garrard in 1906. Sebastian was the senior partner in the Crown jewellers, Garrard and Co Ltd. The company created pieces for the coronations of Kings George V and VI. There was a village story that George VI used to stay at Welton Place before he became king.

Image taken from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Saturday November 3 1928. That’s my garden wall!

The Garrard family took an active part in village and county life while they lived in Welton. Events live the Welton Flower Show and fetes in support of charities were often held in the grounds of the house. The Pytchley Hunt often met at Welton Place.

The last member of the Clarke family to live in Welton Place was Richard Alexander Owen (1893-1967). Richard was a career soldier. He joined the Royal Artillery as a Lieutenant in 1916, rising to the rank of Captain by the end of WW1. At the outbreak of WW2, he re-joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery as a Major. He was attached to the 5th Searchlight Regiment, stationed in Malaya and was captured on 15 September 1942 at the fall of Singapore. He was made a temporary Lieutenant-Colonel and spent the duration of the war as a Japanese prisoner in Singapore and Thailand. He was liberated on 2 September 1945.


Prisoner of war record for Richard Clarke.

In 1947, the house was converted into flats. The plans, held at Northampton Record Office, give an indication of the internal dimensions of the house.

The estate was sold to builders in 1960. The house itself was finally demolished in 1972.

What’s the biggest family history myth that you’ve destroyed?

@Dave_Lines challenge on #ancestryhour got me thinking. My mother was always telling us family stories. As children do, we ignored them. What surprises me is just how true these stories were. Details may have been wrong, but there was a grain of truth in each one. So, here are some of my family myths in no particular order:

Myth 1: My paternal grandfather, George, had a younger brother called James who emigrated to California and disappeared.

George had an older brother called James who appeared in the 1871 & 1881 census. I haven’t been able to find a birth or death record for him. He also had a younger brother called Frank, who emigrated to Manitoba, Canada in 1911. He fought with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during W.W.1. After the death of his wife in 1920, he emigrated to America, eventually settling in Los Angeles. He died there in 1962. One of my DNA shared matches is Frank’s 2x great grandson.

Myth 2: My maternal 2xG grandfather, Antonio Florenço, was a grocer. His 1st wife was from Antigua. She died after having a daughter, called Antonia.

My mother’s family were originally from Madeira. They emigrated to Guyana in South America in the 1800s. I had given up hope of ever finding them. There are no Guyanese records to speak of. I wasn’t sure where to start with Portuguese records. Then I discover the Madeiran Archive. A lot of civil records are indexed and I was able to find Antonio’s baptism and marriage. I also found his passport to Guyana!

Google Translate is my friend!

I thought Scottish records were good, but Portuguese ones are even better. Antonio Florença married Mathilde Augusta Teixeira on 24 August 1871 in the parish church of Nossa Senhora do Monte. Antonio is described as a ‘vendeiro’, a grocer. He was a ‘viuvo’ widower. His first wife was Maria Garciz of Antigua.

I haven’t found any more information about Maria or whether they had a daughter.

This document is genealogical gold dust. Dated 12 April 1875 and signed by the Portuguese embassy in Georgetown, Guyana. Not only does it tell me that Antonio was travelling back to Madeira with his wife Mathilde but, a son, Antonio, born in Antigua, was with them. This could possibly be the daughter, Antonia.

Myth 3: His 2nd wife, Matilda, (my 2xG grandmother) was from a village in Madeira called Monte.

Matilda was married in Nossa Senhorra do Monte and there in a parish in Madeira with the same name. I found Mathilde’s baptism certificate. She had been baptised in the same church on 18 March 1849.

We visited the church in 2013. It was beautiful.

#52ancestors: Favourite photo

Me 1964?

In today’s world it seems unthinkable not to have lots of photos of your children. In the 60s, it was very different, at least in my family.

When I was growing up, my family moved around a lot and my parents didn’t think it was important to keep photos. The only pictures I had of me as a child were school pictures. There were no baby pictures.

A few years ago, my uncle moved house and sent me lots of family photos including the one above. This is one of my favourites, taken in New York in about 1964.

#52ancestors: Fresh start

Fred & Rita Saunders

One thing I’m going to do with this blog is to have a go at Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge. Week 1 is ‘Fresh Start’.

My mum and dad were experts of the fresh start.

Fred was born in Bermondsey, London & evacuated to Newhaven in 1939. He went to British Guiana (South America) for his National Service where he met my mother, Rita Florenço. He was there for 2 years before being transferred back to England.

The family story is that Mum proposed to Dad by letter. Whether this is true or not, she travelled to England in August 1958, marrying my Dad in September of that year.

Life in Bermondsey in the 1950s must have been difficult. When they first got married, they shared a small flat with Dad’s brother and sisters. They didn’t stay in England long, emigrating to New York in 1960. My brothers, sisters & I were all born there.

I don’t think Mum was very happy in America. They moved at least 5 times in 10 years, if not more. In 1973, they moved back to London.

I often wonder why they moved as much as they did, particularly what made my mum travel half way across the world 3 times. British Guiana, before the political upheaval in the 1960s, was stable. Mum’s family were relatively well off. They were shop-keepers and owned property. Dad’s family were poor working class. They had been bombed out in WW2 and were living in a council flat.

I know I wouldn’t be brave enough to do what they did.

Hello World!

When I retired in 2018, I ‘Marie Kondo’d’ my life. I promised myself that I’d do things I enjoyed instead of what I was compelled to do by my job.

I enrolled with the University of Strathclyde‘s MSc in Genealogical, Palaeographical & Heraldic Studies. I became a volunteer for the Railway Work Life & Death project. I gave a talk at the Family Tree Show 2019.

I’ve never been busier and I’ve never been happier.

My goals for 2020 are:

  • To complete my post graduate diploma & possibly do my Masters next year
  • To write a blog. Doing this on a regular basis is going to be a BIG challenge so I’ve joined #52ancestors to help me along
  • To start my own genealogy business
  • To write more in general

2019 has been fun. Let’s see where 2020 takes me!