Chapel on the hill.

Ebony Chapel Hill St Marys

One of our hobbies as a family is to occasionally go Geocaching. A couple of years ago we visited a cache with the intriguing name ‘The church that moved’ in Reading Street near Tenterden in Kent, it is so named because the church was moved to its present location in 1858 from about a mile away. We decided this week to return to the area and find the cache placed on the outer edge of where the church had previously stood on Chapel Bank and, of course, visit the churchyard and its inhabitants that were left behind.

By the beginning of 1858 it had become apparent to the villagers that something must be done about their chapel. Sited at the top of a hill, a good walk away from the village and with no road or pathway upon which to reach it, the aging damp building was fast becoming ‘useless’ to them. Bad weather prevented children and the older generation attending at all during winter time and it had been damaged some years before by fire and was by now in a bad state of repair.

A well attended meeting was called by the Churchwarden, Overseer and Vicar and it was decided to remove the chapel from the hill and re-erect it closer to the centre of the small community, on land donated by a local gentleman. A list of subscribers was printed in newspapers all over Kent and beyond and a plan of action was drawn up. It certainly would have been a major undertaking especially in the days before lorries and heavy machinery.

The Kentish Advertiser reports in the 31st of August 1858 edition that the first stones of the new church in Ebony had been laid. A small time capsule with some coins of the time and a note of explanation had been buried at the same time and apparently the excited parishioners were given plenty of cake and wine to celebrate. Well it was a very special day, even the Archbishop of Canterbury was there!

And no doubt everyone was rightly pleased with their wonderfully restored church and its new Sunday School (excepting maybe some of the children..!) on its completion late that year. So much more conveniently situated for young and old to attend and join the congregation once more.

I wonder how they felt though about leaving their loved ones behind up on that hill. I can’t imagine they visited any less than before to tend their graves.

As we walked from the road towards the top of the hill I could see the 1858 villagers point of view. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the churchyard on foot. It was a cold windy day and we were quite chilly despite the exercise. We were lucky we had a concrete path to follow for some of the journey and a well worn path along the edge of the field after.

It was well worth the walk though. There were headstones everywhere! Peeping out from overgrown grass, hiding behind tree trunks, some clustered together and some standing alone. Sadly many of the inscriptions are beyond reading now*, exposure to the weather has worn them away. I was able to find some legible stones though.

I found Robert Walker who died in 1842 leaving his wife Sarah to eke out an existence as a laundress to support her children and sometimes receive some help from the church when work dried up ūüėȬ† Sarah joined Robert in 1881 closely followed by their son William. Their grave is pictured above.

Parish clerk and Postmaster William Catt has a grave, which he shares with his wife Philadelphia, enclosed by an old wrought iron fence. Close by is Stephen Weller, a shepherd, who along with his wife Susannah can gaze out over the Kentish countryside he once worked on. Just a few steps away is their daughter Rhoda who died in 1930 leaving a husband and a large family behind.

Innkeeper George Thomas Paine who died in 1877 aged 66 lies alongside his wife Ann who survived him by 2 years. George and Ann were married in 1840 and raised several children. After the death of Ann, the ‘White Hart and Lamb Inn’ was put up for auction. The listing for it tells us it had a bar, bar-palour, parlour, kitchen, washhouse, scullery, dairy, cellar, 2 attics, 7 bedrooms, a wool room, stables, cow lodge, sorry 2 cow lodges, a cart lodge, orchard, paddocks and a large garden. It must have been a coaching inn used as a stopover for long journeys.

The churchyard is far from forgotten, it is on a public footpath and so apart from occasional geocachers,  walkers, wildlife enthusiasts and tombstone tourists, an annual church pilgrimage is organised, a service is read and with a picnic to follow it sounds like an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours on a warm, lazy Sunday afternoon.

Chapel Bank is a peaceful, albeit lonely place with a spectacular 360¬į¬† view.¬† If you are ever in the area do have a wander up there. We enjoyed our visit, its just a shame we didn’t find that cache!

*The website http://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk is an invaluable source of information including memorial inscriptions for many Kent villages -including Ebony- recorded many years ago when they were far more legible.

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Shearley you can’t be serious?

Beatrice

Sometimes genealogy can be a disappointing hobby. Take this week for instance. My mum and I have been researching our family tree for many years, and one particular branch has us stumped.  No sooner do we think we have got somewhere when our ancestors laugh in our faces (possibly stick two fingers up at us too) and then do that annoying Ha-ha just like Nelson from the Simpsons.

First of all my mum received a Will she had ordered, it had mentioned the Executor as being one of our family. We could see no reason for this but of course on reading the Will all would be revealed and we would be able to work out everything that eluded us so far about this family. Oh we were excited, the Will would give us a clue that would lead us to the real baptism of great x many Grandad Francis Shearley.  And there his dad would be waving to us outside the church beckoning us in to join the family for the baptism and learn all kinds of names and dates to add to the family tree.

Not.

What a let-down that Will was. It told us nothing we didn’t already know. And to add insult to injury Francis and his wife Maria didn’t even get left anything in it. And it cost my mum a tenner! – looking closer¬† his dad obviously wasn’t ‘waving’ at us from outside the church. Ha-ha.

While waiting for this wonderful Will to arrive my mum found us a little diversion to keep us occupied.

My mums Grandma, Edith Shearley, had an older brother Frederick who, amongst his many children had a son named William.

William was born in Greenwich, London in 1889 and when he left school he started work at nearby Deptford Bridge Station as a parcel porter.

Every night after work he would return home to his parents house near Blackheath Common. Meanwhile a few minutes walk away lived Nellie Crowe a young woman from Tonbridge in Kent, who was working as a cook in a private house.

At some point in 1911 William and Nellie met and decided to get married. They were married in Lewisham in the spring of 1912 and errr, fairly soon after, their daughter Beatrice (named after Williams sister) was born. All good so far. However poor William died in 1915 leaving Nellie and Beatrice to fend for themselves. Nellie decided to move closer to home, and we next found her in Sevenoaks, Kent working at the station as a ticket collector.

Now all we really knew of Beatrice was that she died in 1917. We had to know why. We just had to.  My mum scoured the newspapers of the time and found an obituary  for the little girl.

Beatrice had lived in the Hip Hospital close to her home for a year and a half before her death. She was suffering from what was called ‘hip disease’. This was a very painful condition which caused inflamed joints, abscesses and could even dislocate bones. It is now believed to have possibly been a complication caused by tuberculosis. Many children died from hip disease and autopsies did show that some of them had TB deposits in their lungs.

After 16 months at the hospital Beatrice went home. It had become obvious that she didn’t have long to live and perhaps Nellie decided it would be for the best to take her daughter home and care for her there.

Beatrice was buried at the (then) fairly new cemetery near her home and as it is only about an hours drive away – via Marks & Sparks – we decided to go and find her. We were sure we would find her headstone and maybe it would help further our research.

Our outing was quite unusual, I managed to drive to the cemetery without getting too lost, we arrived to find not only was the cemetery office open but a kind soul was there to find the burial in the register and even walk us to the spot. My mum had forgotten her notebook and pen but not to worry I had my camera and …..

…..oh bugger, no headstone. Just a patch of grass, squished between two unrelated memorials. It must be the wrong place. Surely little Beatrice had a headstone? we walked around checking but no it was the right place. We stood there looking down at the grass, just where Nellie must have stood with her brother Percy and sister Alice beside her.¬† Some of the nurses from the hospital had attended the funeral too so there would have been quite a crowd there.

It has left us with more unanswered questions. Beatrice seems to have no family buried close to her.  None of her Shearley relatives attended her funeral.  She has no memorial to mark her last resting place and yet someone purchased the grave for her. Arghhh!

So yes, it is sometimes a disappointing hobby, but then it is one that gives us great satisfaction when things do eventually slot into place.

In the meantime if you ever find a Francis Shearley please do tell him we are looking for him, and give him a little ‘wave’ from us won’t you.

Return visit to beatrice

In memory of Beatrice Shearley aged 5.

It could all be rubbish.

I can only apologise to anyone who has been waiting for a new post. I have an excuse or 2 though. I have several new and exciting projects on the go… a couple don’t even have anything to do with dead people!

One of the projects is de-cluttering the house and doing a bit of decorating.

Soooo last Sunday I packed the car full of old junk and headed over to the local tip. I had a lot of old boxes to put in the cardboard recycling skip, so I climbed up the horrible metal steps in my sensible shoes (I have been known to get a boot heel stuck in the grills of those steps before…) and threw them in to the almost full bin. Then I spotted a pile of books sitting¬† near the edge of the container. Books! In the skip!!

One of the books looked quite old and I just couldn’t resist flicking the cover open to have a little nosy…

Edith Price

The inscription inside was almost illegible but the  year was still clearly visible, written in ink it said 1878.  I was pretty confident I could find something out about the Victorian owner of the book so I asked one of the staff if I could take the book home.

Printed in 1833, the book has the rather grand title ‘The Students Manual, An Etymological And Explanatory Vocabulary Of Words Derived From The Greek’ by R. Harrison Black, LL.D. According to its author it was originally compiled for the use of a young female relative and was then ‘published with the hope of it being generally useful more especially to young ladies – whose mode of education precludes them from an acquaintance with Greek.’ Thoughtful chap.

Now I won’t fib, this one has been a toughie. But I do not give up on dead people easily. Unless they specifically ask me to.

So I began by studying the inscription.¬† I have it as ‘from M.Blackstone to Edith M K Price. 1878’.¬† We can tell from the photo that the M.Blackstone has been written long before the rest of the dedication, it is in a steadier hand and the ink is of a slightly different colour. The book has been given to Edith by M long after M initially owned it.

I can only find one likely recipient, Edith Mary Karslake Price born in Scotland circa 1857, making her 21 when she was given the book.

Next job was to find Edith as close to 1878 as possible. In both 1871 and 1881 she was living in Rottingdean, on the outskirts of Brighton, with her mother and siblings including  younger brother Salisbury who later in life would become a Vicar.

Now I had to try and locate an M Blackstone.

A mile away in Ovingdean, living a quiet life next door to the local Vicar was an elderly spinster, Miss Margaret Blackstone. Born in 1799 in Wymering, Hampshire, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Bigg-Withers and the Rev. Charles Blackstone. The ‘Materials for a history of the Wither family’ located on archive.org has some great information on the Bigg-Wither family including some letters written by them.

The Bigg-Withers family owned Manydown Park, Hampshire and were neighbours of the famous Austens and one of them, Harris, proposed to Jane. She apparently accepted his proposal briefly, changing her mind the next day.

Charles Blackstone died in 1804 and his widow Margaret spent much of her time at her childhood home with her also widowed sister and their combined collection of  small children.

Margaret the younger lived with her mother until Margaret Snr died in 1842. Then she gradually moved her way towards Brighton during the next few decades.

Could Margaret have been the mysterious M? We have no real way of telling. I think M was probably a woman, and had a love of learning. Both owners of the book came from families of wealth and property, were fortunate to be in a position where they could have a good education, and both had Clergymen in their immediate family.

Perhaps the women met socially as they only lived a few minutes walk apart, Margaret discovering their shared love of learning giving her book to Edith for her birthday. Could it have been a gesture to show the shared frustration felt by women who were limited in their studies by the age they lived in?

Maybe Margaret isn’t the correct M.Blackstone after all.¬† We’ll never know.

Margaret and Edith lived on their private incomes during their lifetimes and remained  unmarried. They died in 1885 and 1943 respectively.

Now I am sure I must have one project that doesn’t involve the dearly departed somewhere.