I’ve mentioned Grandma’s photo album before, when it turned out that the unnamed WW1 soldier posing in a Brighton studio was in fact her Uncle Bill. The photo above, of Grandma on a family seaside outing, interested me as it showed two of her cousins, and aunts of hers who I knew nothing about. She had written on the back identifying the people in the photo as:
back row: left to right – Aunt Rose, Aunt Elsie, Mum
front row: left to right – Eileen, Amy (my grandma), Jack, Les, Ron
As you might have noticed, notes in parish registers fascinate me. One I came across the other day seemed to pack quite a story into just one sentence.
In the earliest register for Little Bromley in Essex, there’s a baptism on 8th April 1593 for a child called Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Myller “of Bryghtwell in Suffolk, mattmaker, borne in Staceys? grounds as his wyf travayld from Manytry towards Wevenho.”
What I’m about to write has nothing to do with genealogy, although it’s something that happened to me and a friend of mine in Wivenhoe, so it’s vaguely relevant. Of course, spending time in churchyards and cemeteries, amongst the relics of the past, does rather open you up to the sometimes-restless existence of the dead. Also, it’s Hallowe’en, which seems like as appropriate a time as any to write this, and news that Guy Lyon Playfair’s book This House is Haunted, about the Enfield poltergeist case, is being dramatised, has brought back memories which I cannot quite forget. But don’t blame me if it gives you nightmares.
From Wivenhoe’s baptism register, 1767. ERO ref: D/P 277/1/3
Growing up in Wivenhoe, I probably saw a greater mix of people from around the world than had I lived in a town of the same size that wasn’t anywhere near a university. When I was five years old, there were some boys in my class at Broomgrove Infants who were from Peru! Their fathers were visiting academics at the University of Essex, you see. And international students from Africa and Asia and everywhere else in between made Wivenhoe their home.
But in transcribing the parish register for Wivenhoe, it seems that the town had been the home of people from afar before. With uncanny coincidence, while transcribing the 1751-1812 baptisms and burials register during October – Black History Month – I found references to Wivenhoe residents of the past who were black.
It’s not unusual at all to find people being buried in a parish that they don’t usually live in – either because it’s where they’re originally from and they want to be buried beside their family members, or because they died too far from home.
I found one burial from 1718, and two from the 1730s for men from Sunderland, County Durham – James Dun on 22nd October 1718, John Whitfield on 16th June 1735, and Timothy Ruston on 23rd August 1739. Not long after Timothy’s burial, on 24th Feb 1739/40, John Richardson from Scarborough, Yorkshire was buried.1)More from the 1752-1812 register: John Richardson from Sunderland, aged 36, buried on 30 March 1776, William Hardcastle, aged 13, from the ship William of Sunderland, buried 23rd December 1808.
These seemed rather odd – Wivenhoe is nearly 300 miles away from Sunderland by road, and 250 miles from Scarborough. Of course, with Wivenhoe being a village which had a port and ship yards for centuries, it’s possible that these men were sailors, involved with transporting something down the North Sea coast. But what?