Finding a Family’s history and bringing it to life for them is always a pleasure. Telling the story in person to the Family is an even bigger pleasure, and one that I recently had with the Mills/Brocklehurst Family at a get together in the Lake District at Askham Hall near Penrith.
I was contacted by Darren Marsland Mills who asked me to look into is Family Tree after seeing me on an episode of ITV’s DNA Journey, and having put together my usual offering of Family Story Book, Family Tree, and Birth,Marriage, and Death Certificates etc, Darren wanted to get the Family together to find out what I had discovered, especially as his Mum had done some great work on tracing parts of the Tree, and wanted a way to bring it all together into a Biography and Story of the Family rather than just a list of names and dates.
Some come the day, come the Family Historian, and I got up at 6 a.m. to make my way from the sleepy River Hamble on the Hampshire Coast, to head for Penrith in the Lake District.
This should be a straight forward journey; drive to Southampton Airport Parkway Station, quick trip up to Waterloo, Tube to Euston, then 3 hours to Penrith, then taxi to Askham Hall. However South West Trains had other ideas, engineering works meant, a Drive to Southampton Airport Parkway, a Coach to Winchester then Basingstoke, then a slow Train to London.
Once in London it was a brace of Tube Trains and onto Euston; Penrith here we come, settling in I decided that brunch was called for and ordered up a Cheese and Ham Sandwich and a Hot Chocolate.
So imagine my surprise when I opened the sandwich to dab it liberally with Mayonaise, only to discover the terrible secret of the non-existant Ham filling…
then a Taxi and I was at the lovely Askham Hall.
…seriously, some of these train companies REALLY need to up their game on the sandwich front!
The journey was uneventful, which meant that I could go over the Family Story again to make sure I was fully up to speed and would do the Family justice with my presentation to them, that got through the boring part of the journey, and then we left the more urban and industrial areas of the North West, and started to enter the upland areas of Cumbria, the old British Kingdom of Rheged that extended from Northern Lancashire to Southern Scotland. The landscape changed substantially in the space of about 20 minutes, and it was a pleasure to just sit and stare out of the window of the speeding train to take it all in.
Once at Penrith it was a matter of a Taxi to Askham Hall, taking in the loveliness of the place, and last minute polishing of the Story for presentation.
After freshening up, and setting up the the technical side and discussion the logistics with Darren, it was time to meet the Family in the Dining Hall for a superb Dinner courtesy of Askham Hall’s superb Michelin Starred Restaurant. This gave a chance for me to get to know the Family, and for the Mills/Brocklehursts to ask any questions before the big reveal. That proved to be entertaining, lively, and interesting.
Dinner over, it was time to sing for my supper, and we went to a lovely private Drawing Room to let the Stories begin. The first story took us back hundreds of years Traveling from Rochdale, to Oldham, and eventually to sedate Morecombe, weaving Wool then Cotton, taking in the Peterloo Massacre, Weavers’ Riots, the Cotton Famine of the 1860s, and showing the houses and villages where the family had lived in past generations. And a wonderful moment when written history and oral history crossed, a Master Clogger coming out in the records to add flesh to the bones of a family legend of Jammy the Clogger, turns out he was very real.
As with all Family Stories, you never know what you will find until you start researching it, and in this case one Story was deeper and more fully textured than the other, mainly because of the places they lived in and what the historical events they had to deal with, rather than any real difference in the people.
The second story contained more drama, with tales of murderous Iron Smelters, throwing robbed itinerant Pedlars into their furnaces to hide the bodies, other Pedlars making good and opening Silk Mills and producing an MP, yet more taking up with the Flashmen lurking on the borders of three counties ready to flee from county to county one step ahead of the magistrates, and those that squatted on waste land making it their own. Bonny Prince Charlie marching across their lands, the locals fighting back, taking prisoners, peace again, a canny Blacksmith exploiting the Coal that lay beneath his feet. Some moved into trade, and we had tailors and Saddlers, one suffering a number of personal tragedies before disappearing without a trace perhaps off to try to find riches in a far flung Gold Field, never to be seen again, his family left in poverty, his 15 year old daughter saving her siblings from poverty, and acting as father and mother for the next 30 years, one brother still a baby going to a wet nurse, before the Workhouse got him, but even from this he made a success of life. The Great War came and took some of the Family, but not before their heroic exploits at the front were reported in the local papers, and their names commemorated on a War Memorial.
We talked into the early hours, but eventually the time came to go to bed; which is when my last adventure at the Hotel began, involving me not knowing where my room key was, considering sleeping on a sofa in the large drawing room by a roaring fire, but eventually I gained access by “unconventional means” the legacy of having been raised in a working class family in Peckham. You just never know when those types of skills will come in handy.
The journey home the next day was epic, one taxi, three trains, one coach, and back to my car, 7 hours of pure joy. One highlight was meeting an ex-paratrooper and his long suffering wife returning home from a regimental reunion, who entertained me for a couple of hours on one leg of the journey with stories about his time in the army, and acting as an extra on the film “A Bridge Too Far”.
My thanks to Darren and the Family for hiring me to provide the service. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did in meeting them!
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