Monday, 24 September 2012

Family History Through The Alphabet Challenge : T is for...

I could have chosen a name for this week's Alphabet Challenge post as there are several names in my ancestry that start with the letter T. For example, Thomas (son of) Thomas, (son of) Thomas etcetera. Rather than bore you all with that, I have chosen to write about Travel as my ancestors have proven, they moved around a lot.
 
 

In the times we live in today, we think nothing of walking out of our front doors expecting to access all modes of transport such as cars, mopeds, buses, trains, taxis and ferries. It is easy to take it for granted and forget that our humble ancestors had to rely (most often) on one method of travel: Walking. My London ancestors for example, would not have been able to afford the luxury of owning their own horse and cart or liveried carriage and when bicycles became popular in the Edwardian era, not everybody felt safe riding London's busy streets.
 
Let's cast our minds back to the days well before cars and buses. Before well-paved roads were in demand, our ancestors highways were mere ditches and tracks, potholed and uneven, flooded and thick with mud. If you were rich enough to be able to travel by coach or horse and cart you were at the mercy of the highwaymen. I would bet our ancestors were thankful for the likes of Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford, who singlehandedly changed the way people travelled forever. The Industrial Revolution also put travel on the map, so to speak. Roads, canals, railway, bridges, even the penny post system, which was introduced in 1840, made travel an exciting thing for our ancestors to contemplate. My ancestors used these methods of travel to move from county to county; village to market town. Where before, in the 1600s and 1700s they remained in one village, they were now branching out and exploring a world outside of their own backyards.
 
Thomas Telford
(1757 - 1834)



Before my 4 x great-grandfather moved to Beccles around the year 1809, he came from an unknown area of Norfolk. How did he come to settle for the village of nearby Barnby? I have this rather romantic notion that he travelled by canal boat or wherry. He saw the village from the Waveney River and thought to himself, "This is pretty, this is peaceful, this will do me" and he settled there, married and he later moved to Beccles with his wife where they raised their eight children.
 
My London ancestors moved around a lot. They are found each ten years (by the census return) living in a different street. For example, one family who lived in Putney had moved two or three streets apart, every ten years. When I travelled to Putney in late 2006, I visited all the streets they had lived in and discovered that although the addresses were in close proximity, they were still quite a distance apart in terms of moving house. How did they move their personal effects from one house to another? I had visions of them having to carry everything they owned or perhaps they borrowed a neighbour's cart to put their mattresses and humble effects into. In times past, our ancestors' homes were not heavily furnished. In particular, the working classes of England who possessed little in the way of dining tables, chairs, beds, cabinets, dressers, sideboards and wardrobes. I wonder what they would make of an IKEA store if they could see one today!
 
Image courtesy of www.rushdenheritage.co.uk
 
In the past one hundred years transport and travel methods have vastly improved and we have seen many changes and upgrades with railways, cars, ships and airplanes. My first cousin 3 x removed was the first to embark on a journey from London to New York by airplane in 1947. She well and truly caught the travel bug, as passenger list records prove she travelled back and forth from England and America regularly, both by ship and by plane up until her death in 1975.
 
My great-grandfather refused to drive a motor vehicle, choosing instead to ride a bicycle. He used this method of travel wherever he went and would happily ride for miles and miles at any given journey. He was seen daily in Beccles, from the early 1900s up until around 1970, riding to and from work and to and from church, as well as neighbouring villages and market towns. When he grew much older and age robbed him of his eyesight, his family were very concerned for his safety but he was stubborn and could not bear to part with his trusty cycle. No amount of coercion convinced him to give it up until one day his sons were forced to hide his bicycle away. This story still breaks my heart when I tell it, because I know full well how my great-grandfather must have grieved this enforced loss. I do not drive either. I refuse to just as my great-grandfather did. Instead, I rely on buses, trains, lifts from family and friends, and my two size-seven feet.
 

Edwardian Gent with his Bicycle
 
 


7 comments:

  1. Thanks Deb, I really enjoyed this post. We do tend to omit the details of how our ancestors coped with moving or relocating whether around the corner or across the world.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, I am glad you enjoyed it. I love learning all the social aspects of how our ancestors lived. xx

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  2. Thanks, Deb. I liked the way you use the T theme and developed the story of Travel. I think it so important that we put the life of our ancestors in the context of what was happening around them at a local, national and international level, including the social conditions. I have always liked too the stylish monograms you use to introduce your postings on the A-Z Challenge.

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comments Sue, I really appreciate your feedback. I'm pleased you like the letter motifs I choose each week! xx

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  3. An interesting and thought-provoking article, plus great photos. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you Judy, I really appreicate your feedback. xx

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  4. As Judy said, it is a very thought-provoking post. We do take our life as it is for granted, and don't stop to think just what was it like back then. Thanks for a wonderful letter T!!

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