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 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.







… with best love from Esther

Esther Childs

I spotted this small bible and the common prayer book laying side by side on the table, obviously trying to get my attention by flapping their pages about in the breeze. And (as much as I tried to resist) of course I ended up picking one up. Inside it read  ‘To Mother with best love from Esther. Christmas 1910.’

Not much to go on there so I put it back down.

Then I picked up the bible. ‘To Esther A E Childs from her sister Belinda. Christmas 1903. The Lord bless Thee and keep Thee.’

So now I had given myself a dilemma. Do I buy the book with the inscription? and if so do I leave the other book behind which Esther has given to her mother? Arghhh!

So I asked the stallholder how much he wanted for the bible. He took a quick look at it and told me he thought it once belonged to someone in his family. And then asked a couple of quid for it.  And then even though the other book had no other information to give me I bought that too because I just couldn’t bear to split them up.

It took me a while to find out about ‘Mother’ and her two daughters – their surname is sometimes spelt with an s on the end and Belinda isn’t really her first name – she was baptised Clara. But eventually I tracked them down and here is a little peek into their lives.

The Autumn of 1888 is remembered for its connection to the Whitechapel Murders, and at the same time Jack was finishing off the last of the Canonical Five, a little girl was being born in the small parish of Penshurst in rural Kent, about 30 miles south of London. The little girl was named Esther after her paternal aunt.

The village grew up around the medieval manor house Penshurst Place which today is partially open to the public. And apart from seeing many a royal visit and being owned by kings and earls  some of that film The Other Boleyn Girl was filmed there (but maybe we will forget about that last ‘claim to fame’…! )

Esther’s father Edgar worked on one of the many farms within the parish as a carter and her mother Harriet tried to keep the household running smoothly with three growing sons at school, a small daughter and now a newborn baby to contend with. Another daughter would follow a couple of years later to complete the family. The couple were luckier than many – all six of their children survived childhood.

Both Harriet and Edgar were born in the village. They were married in the parish church, just a few minutes walk from the family’s cottage, where their children would later be baptised. The children all attended the small village school and Edgar remained at the farm for his entire working life. All in all they were just an ordinary hardworking family.

Belinda was the first child to leave home, in the 1901 census she is living with a family in the village working as a maid. Also in the household is 16 year old Mary Mortlock who is the family’s cook! I’m not sure I have ever seen a cook as young as her. If I had been Mary the whole family would have dined on scrambled egg on burnt toast frequently.  That and burnt tinned soup.

Belinda was married in 1906 (maybe the food drove her away?) to Frederick, a signalman on the main line to London,  and moved away from the village to a workers cottage near the railway in the local town. Belinda and Frederick had several children.

The three sons of the household remained at home until they married, Henry was a builders labourer, Archibald a gardeners assistant and the youngest, Alfred helped with the horses his dad used on the farm.

Esther went to work as a domestic servant for a family in the village. She would have had a great many duties including perhaps making beds, cleaning carpets, laying and lighting the fires, emptying chamber pots, washing up, laundering, ironing and mending  clothing, cleaning floors and windows, helping to prepare and serve meals. The list of jobs is endless. Add to this that the family ran a grocer and draper shop and we might find that Esther sometimes had to work in the shop too.

But I suspect she must have had a little time to herself occasionally because on Saturday the 12th of April 1914 Esther Annie Elizabeth got married to Frederick, a local bricklayer.  She wore a cream taffeta dress with white lace and silk,   her sister Grace was the chief bridesmaid and wore blue and her two young nieces (complete with silk bonnets) carried white flowers tied with pretty blue ribbons behind the bride into church.

The three sons of the family joined up during the First World War and Archibald was badly injured twice whilst serving in France before going missing in April 1918.  A small article about him, along with his photograph, appeared in the local paper with his distressed wife Hannah asking for news of him from his comrades. She was later was informed he had been killed in action and she received the  £19 17s 4d back pay owed to him, followed by his service medals.

Archibald may not have known about the death of his father, Edgar died aged 65 in January 1918 following an operation in hospital. His funeral was attended by a great many people, he was obviously a very well thought of man.

Grace was now the last of the siblings remaining at home, and I can’t imagine she had an easy life – perhaps she helped keep house for her widowed mother, spent caring for relatives in the village or helping around the farm if she was able to get some work there. With her siblings all supporting families of their own, money would have been tight. Harriet and Grace remained in the family home until Harriet’s death in 1920 and shortly after this Grace was married.

Both Clara and Esther survived their husbands by many years and lived well into their nineties.

I don’t know how the books remained together for such a long time, someone obviously looked after them. And now they are sitting next to each other on my book shelf. But should they be on yours?


The Farmers Daughter.

 philadelphia photoPhiladelphia Hyland

This rather well dressed lady is Philadelphia, who I became acquainted with  several years ago after purchasing a rather solemn looking book entitled ‘A Brief Memoir of James Jones’.  She has signed her name across the flyleaf as you can see above.  I have been lucky enough to discover a photo of Philadelphia so thank you to Terry for allowing me to include it here.

Mr Jones was for 45 years the Pastor of a Strict Baptist Church on the outskirts of a quiet Sussex village. His book is full of hymns and poems he composed as well as some delightful letters he wrote in answer to people asking for prayers to be said for them while they were ill or perhaps dying.

In one of the letters he tells a lady that ‘her landlord will soon be requiring her earthly house because it is getting old and is considerably out of repair, although He will take care of the old materials as they will be needed to rebuild the house again.  When the time comes the removal will be a happy one for it will be conducted by Angels.’  Hopefully this letter gave some comfort to the poor woman.

Jones died in 1888 and his book was published the following year. I wonder if Philadelphia had a copy to remind her of the sermons the Pastor gave, perhaps she had attended the chapel regularly. By leaving her name inside the book I feel she was certainly proud to own it.

Philadelphia, a Farmers daughter,  was born in Sussex, England in 1830, the eldest of at least 5 children. Her mother had died before Philadelphia was 11, leaving their father to bring them up alone.

Philly is listed as a housekeeper to her father in the 1851 census, a role she had probably carried out in one form or another since the death of her mother. It was quite typical of the times for an elder daughter to take over the running of the household and care of younger siblings in this situation. She appears to have a small daughter with her as well, but I have not dug very deeply into this.

In 1855 she married her first husband who sadly died the following year – a few months before the birth of their first child. She married again, a few years later and had 2 more daughters with her new husband, as well as becoming a stepmother to his 3 children.

She became a widow again in 1886 and spent the remainder of her life living with different family members. She died in 1904 aged 74.

So where were we….

Like many people I like a quiet walk through a churchyard, I like to explore the old stones and sometimes take note of a name or two and see what I can find out about them. About 15 years ago I was walking around a Sussex churchyard with my mum and the thought occurred to us …why not record some of these stones? many of the memorials were from the early 1800s and were rapidly falling victim to weather – the soft sandstone losing the lettering once carved into it. So we began to spend our spare time there, on hands and knees with paper and pens (yes it was in the days before Tablets!) and in all weathers, desperately trying to read inscriptions that were terribly faint and almost illegible.

In the end we recorded well over a thousand headstones. It was a very difficult project, we didn’t get it right in some cases but we tried our best, visiting local archives to try and get as many names and dates right as possible.  We purchased death certificates, read obituaries in local papers dating back to Victorian times. But it was great, and we had fun doing it. When complete we felt we had achieved something, and many people who had long since gone were remembered and now have become like old friends to us, albeit some of them probably have the odd chuckle at my expense about that ant incident.

One nice part of our project was the people we met, both in person and online. We received photos of Edwardians now residing in our churchyard whose families had since emigrated, we were able to help people find long lost ancestors buried in a church miles away from where they should have been and we learnt a lot about the history of the area and its people.

So back to the name of the blog…. One of the oldest headstones we recorded had the rather sad inscription ‘Seized by death and prisoners made, three infant children’ and I was intrigued……..

Ant you glad you stopped by?…….

I have given this blog its rather curious name in honour of all the headstones I have recorded over the years. I have started this blog to remember some of the people I have researched over the years. Some of them are recorded on headstones and some of them I have discovered in dedications in books -Sunday School Bibles, hard won books given as school prizes, maybe in books given as gifts between parents and children.

People leave behind a story, and I’d like to record and share some of these stories with you here.  I would also like to hear your stories, a little bit about people you have found in your family history or perhaps people you have stumbled across. Maybe there is a plaque on a shop wall you walk passed every day remembering the staff who died in the great war? or perhaps you bought a pretty Edwardian Memorial Card or a Victorian Christmas card at a boot sale… but who is it for? who are these people? By remembering the people who went before we can feel closer to our surroundings and the past becomes more, well real. And more interesting. And sometimes a little painful too…..I remember one occasion recording an inscription in a churchyard while accidentally standing on an ants nest and then being bitten on my bottom by a whole army of red ants who climbed up there on the inside of my jeans. I had to them take off, right there in the middle of the churchyard and it was on a Sunday too.  I’m not selling this to you now am I?!