Unusual names

I came across the unusual name of Windrum in a churchyard in Somerset, and wrote about it a couple of years ago:

I came across the name Windrum and wondered where a family with that name might have originated; it was so unusual, I’ve never heard of it or seen it anywhere before.

I looked back in the nineteenth century censuses and the first time it appears in 1851; in Scotland there was a family of Windrums, the father William was a fisherman and he and his wife Mary had two little girls, Helen and Jennet, pretty names. Jennet is obviously a Windrum family name, because in the same place is another family, a Chelsea pensioner named George, and his wife Jane, and their children, Jane, Peter, and another Jennet. There is another family of Windrums in Pailey and they work in the textile industry; however in the workhouse in Anwick it is a different story, poor Harriet Windrum and her five children are in the workhouse, described  as paupers – it doesn’t mention whether she is a widow, but nor does it mention a husband. There are Windrums in subsequent censuses, but never very many of them; it is indeed an unusual name!

I’ve returned to this lovely sounding name a few times, but have not really found an answer to its origin, although it may be Scottish. In the early censuses, all the families lived in Scotland or North-east England; in later censuses there were a few families in southern England, mostly London. I did find there were quite a number of Windrums in Canada; when I looked at some nineteenth century shipping lists there were indeed a number of Windrum passengers to Canada, but also a great many to Boston, and also New York. I guess from these North American Atlantic ports people would travel into the west and would probably settle all over the place. It wasn’t unexpected to see a lot of people had also gone to Australia and New Zealand, and a few to South America which may have been on business rather than to settle. My own grandfather travelled to Brazil, for example, but not to settle or live there. There were a lot of Windrums, particularly men from Ireland who served in the forces, but I also found another statistic which showed that many people with that name worked in agriculture.

Having an unusual name myself, first name, last name, married name, I guess I am interested in other people with distinctive names. I think the Windrum’s are even more distinctive than mine!

My family story in ten objects… number 7

I am looking at how the story of a family could be told through a certain number of objects – I suppose like an actual museum, but this is a virtual museum. Some of the objects I might wish to share are long gone – not necessarily valuable or significant items, but little domestic objects, such as the red handled serrated tomato knife, or the glass chess set, or the child’s globe…

My object number seven is a book; it is ‘on display’ for several reasons. Books have been an intrinsic part of my family’s life, and reading has been an intrinsic part of my ancestors’ lives. This particular book, which I still have, was probably published in 1960 and it is a collection of stories, articles, quizzes, and miscellanea. Its purpose, now I look at it, was to interest and educate as much as to entertain; many of the stories were based on true events though some were written to be more exciting and accessible to young readers. There were practical articles too, of the ‘how to’ sort, and biographies of famous people.  The book covered stories from across the world, and I can’t imagine how many times I read and reread them.

So why is this book on the museum shelf? Books and reading have been an embedded part of my life, my parents and relations, my sister and I, and now my children.  My daughter is a very practical reader, she reads for a purpose not just for entertainment, my son is more varied and reads books of all descriptions. My husband is, like me an addicted reader, and my parents were readers too, both of them, fiction and factual, books, newspapers, magazines.

Thinking back to my grandparents who I didn’t know well as they died when I was very young (one grandfather the month before I was born) I have no idea whether they read or not, but I can guess they did as we inherited books from them (long since disappeared) and my parents must have inherited the reading habit from somewhere. Certainly my grandmother who left school when she was thirteen, and worked in very lowly positions was not only literate, but as an old lady, after a hard day’s work, would sit by the fire reading the Daily Telegraph from cover to cover – I’m not drawing any conclusion about her political persuasions, but in those days a broadsheet was a large newspaper with tiny print and certainly the Telegraph covered every aspect of life from world politics to seasonal recipes.

A different grandfather who I did know as an old man, lived alone and read and re-read Westerns and adventure stories. He’d had a very adventurous life and travelled to distant places – were his travels inspired by the books he read when he was young, were the books he read as an old man a way of recapturing the excitement of his travelling life? His wife, my grandmother was very well-educated; she certainly would have been a reader. I remember visiting their house when I was tiny and there were children’s books, very strange children’s books, which I realise now must have been from her childhood.

As for my more distant ancestors, who knows? Certainly my Jewish family would have been very well-educated, probably with tutors at home.  Another family who worked on the land as agricultural labourers probably had a more rudimentary education, but their children had aspirations to come off the land and ‘better themselves”. The family of what you might call ‘artisans’, shoe-makers, butchers, ship-builders, and small businessmen – publicans and shop owners, would have had their children educated – maybe their reading  material was the latest exciting instalment of a Dickens’ story!!

So, this nearly sixty year-old book sits on my actual bookshelf, as well as my imaginary one, as an example of an important aspect of my family story – reading.

As a footnote… my love of reading has brought me here…  It has been overtaken by my love of writing!

Stepping into the past

I have shared this before, but as I’ve been thinking about writing family stories with my new family history group, it seems a good time to share this again:

Stepping into the past

My family has always been great for telling stories, stories about our parents and their parents and people going back a hundred years. It seemed natural that when I was able I should want to trace my family history, and find out more about the people whose names I knew, Aunty Olive, for example… who was she? And did the Elsdens really come from Sweden, and were the Sparshotts really Norman soldiers? Why did the Moses family change their name, and why did they choose Walford?

My family came to the West Country nearly fifty years ago, from Cambridge, to settle in Weston-super-Mare and then Uphill; so although our story might start in the east of the country, for my parents it ended in a village by the sea. However if I wanted to look further back, I have to trace the records of my East Anglian ancestors, and these days it is so easy to do that; thanks to the internet and all the genealogical sites (some of them free) it is not difficult to go back through records of births, marriages and deaths, and to check every census record from when they first began in 1841, to the last one available, that of 1911.

It used to be that if you wanted to research your family tree you had to visit public record offices, go to different parishes to look at church records, or trail round cemeteries and churchyards looking for evidence of your ancestors. It is still interesting to do that, of course, but my great-grandfather was born in Tasmania, so that would be a long and expensive journey to research him! Thanks to the internet I have found records of his father’s business in Hobart, of the ship he had, the Lady Denison which sank off the shore of Australia… or did it? I have found reports in the Tasmanian newspapers of the 1860’s that in fact convicts on board overthrew the captain and sailed the ship across the Pacific to San Francisco!

My husband’s family came from Hampshire and it is quite fitting that we should now live near the sea in Uphill because his family have always been connected with it. His ancestors were involved in ship-building, sailing, and dockyard work from as early as 1815… and probably before that, so it is his great delight to walk down to the boatyard and look at what is happening there. Of course Uphill used to be a port, going back to very early times, and he finds exploring the history of the village fascinating!

It is generally thought that in the past people did not travel around very much and stayed in their own little villages and communities apart from occasional visits to markets or on a special occasion such as a wedding. From my delving into my family history I have found this is just not so; our family on all sides moved around all over the place!

The Elsdens originally came from Norfolk, moved to Suffolk, then Essex, then Cambridge, moving from working on the rivers, to working on the land, to working on the railways. My mother’s family came from Colmar in Alsace to London where they were slop dealers – slops were rags, not what we think of as slops! They became businessmen and this is why they went to Tasmania, as traders importing wines and fine silks and porcelain from China and tea from India, and exporting whale products, minerals and wool.

My parents and my mother-in-law ended up in Uphill, and in one day some future generation is searching for their records, they will find that this is where they now rest, far from where they were born and married.

It is so interesting to think of all these different stories and histories, coming from so far away, and coming together to settle in this little village by the sea in Somerset.

Her’s a link to my books:


Telling tales… family history brought to life!!

New term and new start for my family history writing group; I started this group in about April/May time, and after lots of people being interested it dwindled down to just two people and me… very nice people, but not enough for a writing group! There was an open day for the organisation which runs these interest groups in early September, and following that I have had more interest, and today six lovely people met here and we had a very pleasant and interesting afternoon!

I had a few suggestions:

  1.  some ideas of how to tell your family history:
  • a family newsletter
  • stories told through recipes in a cookbook
  • memoir/narrative: story and personal experiences, specific episodes or times
  • scrapbook or album, including family photos and memorabilia
  • family trees
  1. stories told via the family tree
  • single line of a particular surname.
  • all descendants of
  • the story of a single person and his/her line
  1. my story
  2. plots and themes
  • immigration/migration
  • rags to riches
  • village/town/city life
  • war story
  1. the starting point
  • begin at the beginning? Or not?
  • tell it like a story
  • using what you know
  1. bring them to life – use your imagination! Be creative! You can make things up!
  2. make it personal
  3. index and sources

My new friends had plenty of ideas already; one lady, a wonderful writer,  is writing about her family life, starting with her parents stories. Another lady has a collection of her uncle’s letters from when he was serving in the war… she read us a couple and I can’t wait to find out how she is going to tackle working on them! One chap has a fascinating family, a hawker who ended up owning a travelling menagerie who proclaimed himself Emperor of a town in Cornwall! Another chap and his wife were tracking down a fascinating great-aunt with seemingly a rags to riches life story, from a wheel wright’s daughter, to a woman of substance who married three times. The sixth lady is fascinated by a Victorian lady artist, has written about her, gives talks about her, and has visited many of the local places the artist visited too.

I think we are going to have some interesting stories being written in the months to come! i certainly had lots of inspiration from what I heard and learned about today!


My family story in ten objects… number 6

It might not surprise you to know that the object I have chosen as part of my family story is a glass of beer.  Where does beer begin in my family story…

My dad’s grandfather, my great-grandfather Reuben, held the license of a pub, the Fitzroy Arms in Cambridge. Like so many pubs in Cambridge and elsewhere it was pulled down, knocked down, demolished, to make way for a soulless shopping centre. This is what my cousin wrote about it:

My great-grandfather, Reuben Elsden  was the licensee until sometime after 1926. In 1926 his daughter, Nellie and son-in-law Walter lost their business in Newport, Mon as a result of the General Strike and returned to live at the Fitzroy Arms (with their daughter, Kathleen). Nellie and Walter had a son, Peter in 1929 and The licence was transferred to Walter (date unknown).  Reuben died in 1949. Walter and Nellie retired in 1954 after which the pub had one or two temporary licensees before being closed…
… The Fitzroy Arms was in the middle of a development scheme designated the Kite project (describing it’s footprint shape)which effectively blighted the area from 1950 until completion as the Grafton Shopping Centre in the mid 1990’s.  The building was demolished in the 1980’s.

My own grandfather, also Reuben held the license of the Portland Arms in Cambridge, now, I am pleased to say, a thriving and successful pub and music venue. My dad and his brother and sister were brought up in the Portland, and grandpa held the license until 1950 when very sadly he died from ‘the publican’s disease’, TB.

My mum’s side of the family… her father had a less happy relationship with pubs; my maternal grandfather was a complicated man, and probably a frustrated man; he had many good qualities, and was very intelligent… but somehow things didn’t work out for him. When a family is in financial difficulties, maybe the public house isn’t a friendly place after all.

However my only relationship with pubs and beer is very different. I do like beer, and i do like pubs, and they have been an important part of my life. In order to demonstrate why a pint of beer is so important in my life, and how it changed my life forever in a most wonderful and unexpected way, I will share a short story.

It was Easter, 1990; I was at home, on my own,  sitting at the kitchen table immersed in the thesis I was writing. The phone rang, and hardly paying attention I picked it up. It was a colleague from school asking if I fancied going out for a pint… and I said ‘yes’ in a really absent-minded way… as I put the phone down I realised what had happened… The colleague was someone I didn’t really know, had no interest in – no interest in any way whatsoever, and I had just agreed to go out and spend the evening with him…
Oh well, I thought, at least he’ll take me to a decent pub, he’s a beer bloke, so at least I’ll enjoy a decent pint…
He arrived that evening and he drove me over the hills from Oldham in Lancashire, to the small town of Linthwaite (pronounced Linfit) to a pub I had never even heard of before called The Old Sair Inn. It was indeed very old, flagged floors, beamed ceilings… I began to think I might have a pleasant evening. Along the bar was a range of most interesting beers… Leadboiler,  English Guineas, Old Eli and Enoch’s Hammer…. hmmm, interesting indeed!
I asked for a half – and then realised, I wasn’t driving, so I could have a pint… I could have more than one pint! Meanwhile my ‘date’, who for some reason thought I was a Campari and soda sort of person, was surprised and impressed by me asking for a pint of Enoch’s Hammer.
That was only the start… within a few days, having known each other as colleagues for over twelve years, we realised that we were more than an item, we would become partners for life… and many more pints of beer! We married the following year, and before long we had two beautiful children…
My life changed, my life changed completely, thanks to a pint of beer!

By the way, a ‘sair’ is a sow…


Hello old friend!

Way back when I was at school, we sometimes had people join us who were only with us for a year or a couple of years because their parents were in Cambridge for some reason. It was always nice to welcome new people from different places but one girl who joined us immediately became a friend. I think we were quite naughty (in an innocent way) and probably very silly; the sort of things we did was to swap one shoe, so we each had a brown shoe and a red shoe… and I’m sure there were lots of other things too, which I don’t now remember.

In those days the only way to keep in touch was by letter… and I don’t think we actually ever wrote to each other when she left our school. I’ve often thought about her over the years…

If you can spot me on the back row, you can spot her, standing next tom me – she must have been standing on a step because she looks taller than me, but in fact we were the same height!

Luckily these days, there are lots of ways of keeping in touch – and also finding people you’ve lost contact with… and so it was with us! We found each other!! We have been writing, and although it is decades since we saw each other (we never met again after she left school) we are just as ‘in tune’ with each other as we ever were.

She is an artist, and I am so excited because she and her brother and sister are having an exhibition in London, and I am going up there on Friday to see it!  More exciting still, she has been on some travels, and was able to drop by for lunch on her way back to London! Well, it was so lovely to see her and meet her family! I think we just about talked nonstop!

It really is amazing that whatever it was that sparked our friendship all those years ago is still there!

The man with the backward lean

Here’s something I wrote a couple of years ago about my dad and his colourful language – no, it wasn’t rude, it was interesting, vivid and always brought a story to life. As well as slang of various sorts, he had his own phrases ‘the man with the backward lean’, ‘a touch of the Esmés’ and more… Here is what I wrote:

My dad was always using strange, funny and interesting words; some were old words from his childhood, some he must have picked up the seven years he was in the army, others he just acquired, and some he made up.

Rhyming-slang is well-known as coming from London, but my family came from Cambridge and none had ever lived in ‘the Smoke’ as they called it; I don’t know if this means that rhyming slang reached further than the sound of Bow Bells, or whether it was something he picked up from the radio or whether people in 1920’s and 30’s Cambridge just used it… who knows? However he would often in casual conversation, talk about mincers, meaning eyes (mince-pies) plates – feet (plates of meat) and he always said whistle – suit (whistle and flute) and lugholes – ears (how that arrived from the rhyming Toby jugs – lugs, I don’t know!) here are some more – rocks or almonds, socks (almond rocks whatever almond rocks are) rub-a-dub – pub, hallf-inch -pinch (to steal)

Gravy was always gyppo, sausages were bangers, children were ankle-biters, and there were all the usual terms for money, tanner, bob, tenner (meaning ten shillings not ten pounds, ditto fiver) oncer (£1 note) He was in Italy during the war and I remember him habitually using Italian words such as latte and luce.

However, he also had words which I am sure he made up, not deliberately, but they just sort of arrived. he was a fabulous cook and used to make a wonderful lamb stew using lentils, pear barley, split peas as well as lots of vegetables. For some reason he always called this soup mix of pulses ‘lentils and gentils’ and i am sure this was one of his own inventions. I did wonder if gentil might be an old-fashioned term for dried pulses, but no, it means kind or thoughtful.

So… I made a lamb stew today and of course as well as lamb, onions, carrots and swede, in went a couple of cups of lentils and gentils!