Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Wolverhampton – don’t go there if you can avoid it

Well, I thought since we had a couple of days to kill, that some family research in the Wolverhampton area might be an option. The hotel I found was in the same area as where my forebears had lived so seemed like a good option.

On arriving there though, it was actually AT the racecourse and there was a twilight meeting scheduled for Friday with an after race concert by UB40. Yes they are still alive and well. We thought we could cope with that, but as Holiday Inns go (and we’ve stayed in a few) this one was definitely not one of their best. Our room was changed twice before we even got any luggage out of the car, and then the wifi was pitiful. So pitiful that only one laptop would work and the other couldn’t even connect to their network. Don’t even ask about the 30 minutes of my life I’ll never get back, which I spent  “talking” to their helpdesk guy…who was looking up his answers and the process from a cue sheet or google while he “helped”.

We had a drive into the town centre, which was short-lived and very depressing. Didn’t even find the information centre or the archives. Never mind. The next day we went to Dudley. I promised to spend only 1 hour max at their archive centre, which is brand new and right next door to the Black Country Living Museum. Perfect.

I found the burial record for my 4xgreat grandfather – to confirm our hypothesis that he was buried at St John’s Church, Kate’s Hill in Dudley. Yay. So we walked around the 26 acres of museum looking at life how it used to be and chatting with some of the “residents”. It’s well worth a look if you are able to get there. Then before heading back to the hotel (hopefully ahead of the race crowd) we went to find St John’s and have a wander around the church yard. It doesn’t appear that there is a headstone for great-great-great-greatgranddad, so no luck confirming the death date for his wife with whom he was apparently buried. I might have to go back and read more burial records sometime I think.






Back at the hotel we had a great view of the parade circle from our room to check out the horses, and also the big screen to watch the races if we wanted. Bonus was – we got to see the UB40 concert as well. (was that really a bonus ?)


Up and away early the next morning, to take some photos of the streets our folk had lived in, and then off to the seaside we went – for our next journey of exploration.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Cotswolds, Gardens, Houses and a bit of detective work

After our whirlwind trip to London, we have been spending a quiet few days in Shipston-on-Stour getting to know 2nd and 3rd cousins better.

I had been waiting to hear about a job I had applied for…but as yet, nada. Very frustrating. However, life goes on and so did our week. We didn’t actually do very much at all which was a welcome change. As the Bank Holiday long weekend approached though there were a few trips.

We had a lovely stroll around the gardens at Hidcote and then up to the top of Dover’s Hill to admire the view one afternoon.







On the Sunday of the long weekend we all piled in the car and went off to Blenheim Palace and spent the day with more 2nd and 3rd cousins. There is a lot to see there, inside and outside to fill the day. There was also a Classic Car show on in the grounds which was like a magnet for small boys…and not so small boys.







We picnicked on the lawn where generations of the Duke of Marlborough’s family will have wandered, and where Winston Churchill may have played with his brother as a child.





Afterward we headed to Woodstock the small town next to the palace in search of somewhere for dinner. There was a music festival on, so many eateries were not serving food, since so much was on offer in the Square. But we found a charming Italian restaurant which could accommodate all nine of us and had menu options for children and vegetarians too.

Back in the 19th century there was a workhouse in the Woodstock area which may be the one where some of our family lived after the death of their husband & father in the 1840’s. But that story, is for another day.

Some family tree-ing has been done through the week, too much for some people though. It has to be said that some of us are detectives, and others are sponges who soak up all the information that has been found.

We’re off on another journey now. Two nights in Wolverhampton first (not sure why, I was going to do some researching but it doesn’t seem conducive to that on first impressions) and then off to Suffolk for a couple of weeks – hopefully to hunt down some jobs.

Before we left tho, we went and took photos of the house on the property where Nana was born. We had always assumed it was nearer the church at Old Milverton. But some of the detective work this week proved that theory wrong. It was actually at Blackdown. The coachman’s cottage where they lived (because great granddad was the coachman) doesn’t seem to be there now, but the house is pretty impressive.


 I just need to track down which house, in the same road, was the one where great grandma was in service before her marriage. I think it could have been very close by.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

I love London. 

On my first visit to this great metropolis seven years ago I didn't enjoy it so much. That time, I didn't stay right in the city and found everything very disorientating and muddly when I came in each day. I found my way around okay, but just couldn't get it all sorted in my head.

This time is different though. My internal GPS is working. When we were first here in June we saw and did a few things we wanted to. This time we're having a weekend to try to do more. Only thing is the list is quite long...and new things keep getting added, some even jumping the queue and we end up going somewhere we hadn't actually planned to go.

On Friday when we arrived, we left our bags in our tiny room in a small family run hotel and went for a walk. We collected our tickets to see Ben Hurley & Jarred Christmas later that night and had some lunch at Fiore in Leicester Square. Yum. Our walk took us to Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, The Strand and Fleet Street (a bit of a Monopoly board tour !) We found Yoda (actually several Yodas) hovering in Trafalgar Square - how do they do that ? and the Twinings Tea Shop on Fleet Street where it has been since 1706, now dwarfed by neighbouring buildings. Then walked back to rest our feet before going back for dinner and a good laugh.


 Regent Street
 Piccadilly Circus
 Yes he is floating - but how ?
 Twinings Tea Shop
the lights in the M&M shop window

Saturday we thought we'd try to find the New Covent Garden Flower market, since they have moved from Covent Garden. The "tour" people I asked about buses didn't seem to be aware of this, even though they have been at the new site near Vauxhall since 1974. We found it though, but it had ended just before we arrived. Oh well. Then we walked back along the Thames Path towards Westminster Bridge. On the way we stopped and bought a ticket for a river cruise to Greenwich so we wouldn't have to queue at the pier. What they actually meant but didn't say was, we wouldn't need to queue twice. The queue to actually get on the boat was almost as horrendous as the queue for the London Eye (which we haven't done, but might next time). 


 Sir Walter Raleigh

We eventually got to Greenwich but only stayed for a coffee. Although there seems like there is a lot to do and see, it felt like we should have planned to spend the whole day there, and there didn't seem to be a lot of information about where to go exactly. So we cruised back to Tower Bridge and went to see the art installation of poppies which is still growing in the moat of the Tower. It is part of the commemoration of the beginning of WW1 and honouring those who gave their lives. Pretty impressive. It will be there until November at least so if you can, you should go see. From there we caught a bus back to Trafalgar Square and walked back via Neal's Yard (a not so secret alleyway near Covent Garden) to give our feet a rest before going back out for dinner.






Sunday we caught a train to Waterloo, then walked along the Thames Path again to the Tate Modern. We were meeting a cousin for lunch so decided we'd give ourselves an hour - turns out looking at art takes much longer than you think. We saw the exhibition "Poetry and Dream" and only just made it back to Waterloo in time for our train to Woking. We were met at Woking by my 4th cousin, who I have been emailing for the last four or five years sharing family tree research. We had a lovely home cooked lunch and spent some time comparing notes about the family. Then back on the train to Waterloo. A short walk to Trafalgar Square and we thought we'd have a quick look at the National Portrait Gallery if it was open and there was enough time. It was, and there was. Although to be fair I think we only managed to see part of one floor, there are so many rooms with other rooms going off on all sides !



It has been great to tick off some things on our list and get in a few extras as well - and a lot of them have had no cost attached. Bonus.


Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
William Wordsworth


Saturday, 16 August 2014

Cotswolds, Oxford and a bit of decluttering

We have had a lovely week staying with cousins in Northamptonshire. They live in a 350 year old house complete with sloping walls and floors in a lovely village which also has a sizeable marina on the canal. 

We had some busy days and some lazy ones. One day we went to Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds and also to an arboretum nearby (Batsford) that would be lovely to revisit in different seasons if we are able to.

Is autumn on the way ?

Another day we went to Oxford and went to the Ashmolean Museum and did a FREE walking tour of the city. Ostensibly it is free, but you are encouraged to make payment to the host at the end - no pressure. It lasted two hours and took us around some of the colleges which make up Oxford University. Our host was a wealth of information, lots of extra tidbits gained in his three years in the role. A lot of it felt like walking around the Harry Potter set, there was a Harry Potter tour as well but we didn't know until we had set out on this one. We started on the spot where Thomas Cranmer and other martyrs were burned at the stake when Queen Mary Tudor decided to make examples of them for not being catholic. A pretty gruesome way to go. 

 This used to a brothel - now its a Pret !



 Wonder if Oxford grads get in trouble for not returning their mortarboards when they have flung them over zealously


On our lazier days we went for a walk along the canal and also tried to eliminate some of the stuff we have bought with us. We feel like extremely overweight snails carrying our belongings everywhere. Two bags of clothes and shoes have been donated to a charity shop and we have left one large and one small case in Northamptonshire for now. Still, catching the train today was fraught with frustration as we heaved our remaining bags up stairs and minded the gap as we heaved them on and off the train. I think there will be more being discarded or packed up and sent home very soon. Unless we find somewhere to stay more permanently.

I'm hoping to hear about a job on Monday, or at least an interview, and we have another few possibilities to follow up. 

Can we last til Christmas ? I hope so - I'd love to stay longer but an income is pretty imperative to make that a reality. 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Croeso, Cymru

Since leaving Scotland and driving south we have been mostly in Wales. Three countries and no passports required. Love it. 

On our way south we stopped off at the teeny tiny o-l-d village of Kemberton in Shropshire where a branch of the family had lived in the 1800's. No evidence of them in the churchyard though, even though some still lived there as little as 100 years ago.



We spent 4 nights at a little cottage "Stargazer's Loft" near Hay-on-Wye, Actually pretty much on the border, so we slept in England and shopped and ate in Wales. Also, there were only two windows at either end of the loft so not really much stargazing either.

I'm a bit over driving, but we had a good look around. Hay is famous for books and their annual book festival. There are bookshops everywhere and lots of choice for food as well plus two castles. Trouble with books is that they are heavy...but it cant be helped. A couple just begged to come with us. 



One day we drove to Dolgellau in north west Wales, in the Snowdonia National Park, but near the coast to visit a friend of Lauren's. She was staying in her grandmother's cottage high up on a hill, accessible by a very steep, single track road. Luckily the only car we met on the way up, was her Mum at the farm gate, and on the way down another at the intersection of the main road. Whew. 

Another day we went to Ludlow and then on to Llanymynech. Ludlow is very quaint full of all that Old English charm, black and white timbered houses and buildings, a market (with more books begging to join those others we'd taken in at Hay) and a castle ruin dating back to 1086. Llanymynech is associated with family as the James and Thomas families (try tracing those names in this part of the world) came from border towns which were sometimes Wales, sometimes Hereford or Shropshire depending on where the border was at the time. Today the border goes right through Llanymynech.






And then it was time to leave and relocate to Cardiff. However, we came to Cardiff via Taunton ! Seems stupid I know, to spend so much time in the car on motorways when I'm so over driving. But, Lauren's boots were there and we thought we should go and get them while we still had the use of a rental car.

It was good to be able to visit and catch up with some of the Somerset folk who we had stayed with earlier in our trip. We caught a glimpse of some of the balloons at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta as we headed back toward Wales in the evening. Trying to take photos at speed though proved a bit tricky (not me mind, Lauren was the photographer).

So now we are in Cardiff, which seems like a great place, lovely architecture, a good balance of old and new, and a busy town centre with great shopping and food. 

The real reason for visiting Cardiff was so that I could attend my "Try Out" for the Pack (volunteers) for the Rugby World Cup 2015. So I have done that this morning. 20,000 applied, 10,000 were invited to attend a "Try Out" and 6,000 will be lucky enough to be involved at the actual event. It was a great experience: id photos, some informal mixing, icebreaker activities (rugby passes etc), a short video about what the roles could entail, a 20 minute interview and then uniform fittings. Now the waiting begins as they don't expect to be informing the successful 6,000 until Jan/Feb 2015.