Monday, 12 March 2018

Walking in family footsteps

Think of the English landscape and images such as those created by the famous English painter John Constable, will probably will come initially to mind. Constable was born in 1776 and died in 1837. Despite this some of the landscapes he captured haven't changed very much in nearly 200 years!
Flatford Mill in 2017

 The Hay Wain painted in 1821 in the same location
The Hay Wain painting used to hang in one of our classrooms at school. I remembering gazing at it often, maybe I wasn't fully concentrating on the lesson! It was a real treat for me to visit this location when we were visiting Suffolk in September.

Boat building near Flatford Mill

The landscape today around Flatford Mill

We passed this magnificent farmhouse, and apart from its appearance, it attracted my interest. My ancestors had also lived in a farmhouse along the Stour Valley which had unfortunately burnt down, and I wondered whether it could have been similar to this one. James Barker was a gentlemen farmer with 500 acres and was one of the founder members of  Essex Agriculture Society. Through old newspaper articles I have been lucky enough to discover his views of free trade, turnips and whether there was any life on the Moon!  As I have researched my family history I have become quite attached to some members of the family. One of these was Sarah Barker who was James's wife and had the same name as me!

 Sarah's Grandfather Charles Cox and her father Anthony Cox were Packet Agents in Harwich. Their duties were to receive all mails and dispatches from His Majesty's Minsters that arrived from Holland and other parts of Northern Europe and forward them to the General Post Office in London.  Part of this time was during the Napoleonic Wars when Harwich was the main port connecting to the Continent. The Cox's were also responsible for recording and receiving payment for anyone leaving the country. Charles Cox also set up a Bank in Harwich, and both men were also Mayors of the town.

The bank is still there, but is now used for different purposes.
Although I have been to Harwich many times it has always been on route to and from Holland and I have never had time to stop and have a look.  In the past it was an important military town and naval port and it has seen better days, but thanks to the Harwich Society the historical buildings have been maintained and stewarded by enthusiastic volunteers.

We came across a strange building which we discovered was a Treadwheel Crane , dating back to 1667.  The crane was operated by men walking inside the wheel. It is believed that the Romans had a crane similar in design to this in 25 B.C. and by the Middle Ages these cranes were common in this country. This is the only example left in this country.

To my delight I  also discovered that there was a tour of the Guildhall. It was amazing to stand in the  Council Chamber in the same room where my ancestors would have carried out their duties for the town over 200 years ago.

The stained glass window showing the town crest

 One of the showcases even displayed the mace used in the 17th century.

Although there were portraits of previous mayors, unfortunately I couldn't find any pictures of my ancestors, but I did manage to find them on a list of all the mayors.

Another surprise was waiting downstairs, we walked into a room and discovered a wooden paneled wall with some amazing carvings.

This room had at one time been used to hold prisoners who were waiting to be tried or sentenced. These prisoners would have been illiterate and drew this pictures to ward off evil spirits. The wall had been plastered over and rediscovered during restorations.

Have you visited where your ancestors came from and discovered anything interesting too?

Thank you for all the comments you left last week, the milk bottles on the doorstep brought back childhood memories for many of you. Luckily this week the weather has returned more to normal and the flowers in the garden have recovered. I even managed to spend a few hours in the garden, the first time for months!

Wishing you a happy week ahead.

Sarah x


  1. A happy week to you as well Sarah! xox

  2. Lovely post, Sarah. I love the history and your connection to it. I was able to go into the house my ancestor lived in during the 1750s in Pennsylvania. It had been added on to later, but the original part where he lived is now a country post office. It was low ceilinged and had plastered walls. You do get a strange feeling knowing that someone you descended from used to live there!

  3. How wonderful that you have that family background to explore! All I know about my family is that they were scribes in southern Scotland in the 900s.
    I love your pictures and stories ~

  4. Such a fascinating post Sarah and wonderful to find evidence of your ancestors. We too have been to places where they lived. I love Flatford mill and the countryside surrounding it. I dare say the water meadows are rather sodden at the moment. Love the way you have presented your hellebores, must have a go. Have a good week. B x

  5. Absolutely charming countryside, architecture and artifacts from a place we now long to see. Sarah, your world is fabulous. Those paintings, such BEAUTY!

  6. Gorgeous English landscapes, long may they remain. How fascinating to discover so much about your ancestors and to visit places they have been, it must have been an amazing experience. And really interesting to be able to find out so much about them. Glad you had such a good trip. CJ xx

  7. I can just imagine how fascinating this trip into your ancestral background must have been. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could turn back the clock and be the observer?
    The graffitti is very interesting, although illiterate, their illustrative sailing ships are beautifully observed.
    Interesting and informative post Sarah showing the bucolic area in and around Suffolk.

  8. There is a museum in the home of one of my English ancestors. I would love to visit it. I recently discovered where , in Ireland, my great grandfather was from. I never thought to have that information. A visit to Cork may be in order too.

    Isn’t it wonderful when you discover information about ancestors? You were fortunate to discover so much about some of them!

  9. Beautiful post. So much history and thank you for taking us along.

  10. I believe my Great Uncle Bert was once Mayor of Carlisle - but know little more. If ever I am looking for a new project...How interesting to learn so much about your ancestors Sarah.

  11. Wonderful walk through history and so interesting, Sarah. And then the Hellebores in the glass bowl: so lovely! I just returned from a week in London and miss it so much. Will be back in June!!!

  12. I was fortunate enough to visit Cranham in the Cotswolds, where my 1820 settler Wiggill ancestors lived. And to spend time in St James Church where they were married. A very special time, as I live in South Africa ! Twan Wiggill Renwick, Hilton, Kzn South Africa

  13. Very interesting post, it’s fascinating learning about our ancestors lives. On the whole I embrace change when it’s in our best interests. But I do like to see landscapes that haven’t changed.

  14. I really enjoyed your informative post Sarah, and you have told the story in such an interesting way starting with the Constable painting. I understand what you mean about being drawn to one ancestor in particular...(especially since you share the same name!).... I found the same happening with my grandfather ... Whom I didn't know but felt I did after researching his rather sad life.
    Always a treat to read your posts & this post could be in a family history magazine. 😊👏

  15. I really love your history posts--especially the "then and now" landscapes. Wow. Having immersed myself in old fiber tools these past months, and some family ancestry to boot, I'm longing for a day or two of time travel. How I would love to go back in time, for just a bit, to see the same places in things in their previous incarnations. Since that's not possible, our imaginations will have to fill out the details of the daily lives of our ancestors. What a thrill for you to get so close to yours. My daughter and I are flirting with the idea of a trip to the places in Europe where our ancestors came from.

  16. What a pleasure to read this post! It's indeed fascinating reading about the past. Thank you for sharing!

  17. What a interesting and lovely post! So beautiful...
    Have a great week, take care.

  18. An lovely interesting read. My wife and brother have both done some family history research. I think as you age it becomes more important to you.

  19. I really enjoyed your post! I know a few things about my ancestors but I wish I knew more .

  20. I so enjoyed this post and seeing the wonderful before and after pictures. Your history posts are always so interesting. I traveled to northern Wales a couple years ago to step in the footsteps of my Welsh ancestors who came to the USA in the mid-1840's. We were able to see seven homes, some of which were mere ruins, but others were still being lived in. I felt like we were walking on hallowed ground. Thanks for posting.


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