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.

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.

Going off on a tangent……

samuel joseph¬† I found this funeral card in a box of odds and ends at a boot sale.¬† I thought it looked interesting so I bought it and took it home.¬† Later that evening I sat down to see what I could find out about Samuel.¬† This is where my troubles started.¬† I began by looking on the census for Samuel, and I was really lucky to find him aged just 7 days old on the 1861 census. This doesn’t happen too often to be honest, usually I find people that are born in a census year are born just after it was taken, so I have to miss out a whole 10 years of their lives until I can find them on the next one. Even more annoying is when people¬† pass away in a census year just before a census is taken- especially if this is the 1911 census which is oh sooo interesting, although now I am thinking about it perhaps the most thoughtless¬† unhelpful people are those who are widowed but marry again just before a census so have a different name as well as changing the surname of all their children to their new spouses name ( I can hear Kristoff now … you got engaged to someone you JUST met?!*) anyway I digress…

Back to Samuel,¬† born in Hackney, East London he was the son of Fanny and Charles Billson and he was one of 11 children. His dad Charles was a Pianoforte Maker, and when I saw this I thought oh that sounds interesting.¬† So¬† I began reading up on Victorian piano makers thinking Mr Billson probably had his own factory, maybe had his name engraved on metal plaques inside each of his pianos etc etc when I discovered that just because someone has the job title pianoforte maker doesn’t necessarily mean he actually made the piano. He could have just made part of it. He could have put the strings inside or put the legs on or polished the lid. But what I did discover a census or two later was his eldest son was a Pianoforte Maker Journeyman, i.e he had made it to the top of his trade and probably did a lot more than fit the keys. And it may be that his dad did too but I had spent so long reading up on the piano business that I hadn’t found out.

Back to Samuel. Again. In April 1871 Samuel’s father died and by December 1872 his mother had married again.¬† I found the family living together in 1881 and noticed a small addition to the household. A 5 year old girl named Minnie, and¬† although she had the same surname as the head of household she was listed as an orphan. So I wondered where she had come from, I searched for her birth, I looked for her parents, her christening, I tried to find her in a workhouse. I found nothing to help me trace her start in life.¬† I found her in 2 more censuses the 1891 with the once again widowed Fanny and a last glimpse of her in 1911, aged 34 and alone in the workhouse. I could have cried for her.

I think this has been a good example of how fascinating researching the past can be, and how easy it is to go off on a tangent and totally forget what you were trying to do in the first place.

I feel bad for Samuel. I had all good intentions of researching him, and I suppose to some extent I have done. He grew up, got married and had 9 or 10 children. He lived and died in East London. He became a Bootmaker and later on in life a window cleaner. But in a way by having a peek into his life we have learnt a little about some of the people around him so I thank you for that Samuel.

I would still like to know more about the little orphan though……

*For those fortunate enough not to have seen the movie Frozen this is a quote from it. To those of you have seen Frozen apologies for starting THAT song off in your head. Again.

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?!