Wednesday, September 13, 2006
I took a taxi to Watford to pick up my rental car, a dark blue Ford Focus automatic. I was a little worried about adjusting to the British road again, but after the first two roundabouts, I was back in the swing, with no white knuckles.
It was about a 90-minute trip in late-morning traffic and miles of roadworks, to reach Bedfordshire, where I was searching for Carter ancestors’ places. The first sign I noticed was for the village of Cranfield, the surname of a woman who married a Carter in nearby Kempston. After significant twists and turns, backups, and wrong directions, I found the Cemetary Road that surely must lead to Kempston All Saints. And it did! I knew from my Internet mapping that it was close to the Ouse River, on the north side of town, and that it was still rural. I took some exterior shots, then on interior inspection, I found the brass plaque to my Carter ancestors, which had previously been in the nave floor over the burial, but in 1998 was moved to the wall by the pulpit, when the floor was repaved. William Carter and his wife Mary Anscell Carter's brass is shown in the photo here.
After a pub lunch (on the patio) of vegetable-puree soup (not very good) and roast beef sandwich (pretty good), I was off to Hertford (back south again), to find the birthplace of Reverend Samuel Stone. But on the way, I found the village of Northill, where Oak Farm is located. That’s in Kempston parish, maybe three miles as the crow flies. This is the farm where the Carters lived for hundreds of years. I drove up the gravel drive, parked, and avoided the honking goose-alarm. I called out and a man came out of the barnyard. I asked if he was the owner, and he said yes. Well, I said, I’d found Oak Farm on the Internet because his “elderly shire horse” had been rescued from an icy ditch by the Kempston fire department. And I was here in England on holiday, visiting places my ancestors had lived and died, including this farm. It’s so beautiful here. May I take some pictures of the farm?
“Do you really think it’s beautiful?” he asked hopefully, as if he couldn’t believe an American would come to look at his farm.
“Yes,” I said, “Everything is so green, rolling countryside, puffy clouds, and it’s so fresh, what’s not to love?”
The man said I could take pictures and wander around, so I did. The house and barns look like they’re at least Jacobean, if not Elizabethan. They’ve been roofed in shingles, whereas they would have been thatch at one time.
Then I was off to Hertford for Samuel Stone’s birthplace. The same building is there, but its latest reincarnation is a nightclub. Painted yellow! I walked up a small street and found what I think was the Anglican church for the parish, and took a photo from a block or two away. Found a plaque in a walkway “close” on Fore Street, where the Stones lived, that mentioned Samuel Stone as the founder of Hartford, Connecticut.
It was about 3:30, so off I dashed for Essex. I stopped at a roadside services place to try and book a B&B for the night in Colchester or Ardleigh, my destination. But every place I called was full—on a Wednesday, of all times. I was advised to find a Travelodge at a roadside services place, but as I drove, there were no more services. I drove into a flash-bang thunderstorm in the Colchester area, and the rain poured heavily from just before sunset, until about 9:00. I drove through Colchester, all shut down for hours, and found no motels or B&B signs or anything. By 9 pm, I drove back to the nearest motorway, and finally found a services place with Travelodge about then, when I was nearly to Ipswich. The clerk had just rented her last room. No inns, no B&Bs, no nothing. I was going to have to sleep in the car! But the clerk called around for me, and found a room in a pub in Manningtree, on an estuary between Ipswich and Great Bromley/Ardleigh villages, which was my morning destination. So I stayed in the pub’s hotel room. Hey, better far than a car on a rainy night. OK, a little better. English beds are blocks of concrete with a thin foam layer under the sheet. I wake up about every hour to change position because my back kills me. Then my hip kills me. Then my back kills me. And then the computer battery wore out and I didn't have my electricity converter!
Thursday, September 14, 2006
My first stop was at the Ardleigh church, where my Stone and atteStone ancestors worshiped for 400 years. There was a stained-glass window in the Stones’ honor, placed a little after 1900, with a brass plaque. Apparently, the descendants gather here every so many years to celebrate the common ancestor. I also visited Great Bromley, which is where many generations of the Stones lived and died. They’re only about 3-4 miles apart, and the manor farms on which they worked as yeoman farmers were far larger than that.
So then I started driving toward Great Yarmouth on the east coast, but once I ended up at the docks in Harwich on the south of the Stour estuary/harbor, and then when I turned around, I ended up on the north side of the same river harbor, also at docks, at Felixstowe. Finally, I got proper directions from a supermarket manager as to which danged road to take. Not one highway has north-south-east-west designations. They only say which village they’re heading toward, and you have no time to consult the atlas and search for the 6-point text of the village when there are cars behind you and no place to pull off.
It was a very long drive, but I made it to Great Yarmouth by about 3 pm. I looked in vain for parking, because there are some horse races going on nearby, and a bazillion mostly-retired Brits were there for races and walking up and down the pedestrian malls and beach/pier area. I thought the St Nicholas church would be in the city center because it’s so old, but it was about a mile away. I took a taxi to the church and reached there about 45 minutes before they closed for the day. There were almost no grave markers in the church, except for some 18th-century ones way in the back. My ancestor John Thrower was buried there in the chancel in 1611, according to genealogy records. Finally, some elderly ladies left a meeting in the church library, and I asked where the grave might be. I was told that the church had been bombed in World War II, and had been rebuilt, so the only graves saved were the old ones in the back. Looks like I’ll have to contact the historians about the loss so other distant cousins don’t waste their time and money on a fruitless quest. I walked the mile or so back to my car.
I found a B&B with a vacancy for the night. So I moved in, then went walking for a bite to eat and found the Internet café before trying to sleep in the double bed which sagged nearly to the floor, in the middle of the bed. Man, it takes muscles to try to keep one position without rolling into the center!
I awoke with a sore throat, feeling like a cold was coming on.
Date: Thu Sep 14 14:50:32 2006
From: Christy K. Robinson
Subject: Christy's workaholism recovery
Hello, friends and family,
Writing to you tonight from an Internet cafe in Great Yarmouth, UK, on the east-central coast of England. Lots has happened in the days since I wrote to you on the weekend. I've been to some Norman-era churches, built around 1100 AD, and visited the memorials of some ancestors. That may not seem much fun to any of you, but it does have a calming effect on the overworked, burned-out soul, particularly when accompanied by green and gold fields, hedgerows, birds waking you up instead of an alarm clock, and cool weather instead of 90s and 100s.
On Sunday, I visited the British National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. I was there for 6 hours, until they shooed me out. I had the art commentary MP3/headphones gear, which was wonderful, but I only really looked at a few (hundred) great paintings, instead of the thousands they have in there. Only so much time, you know. They had a nice Impressionist section, and of course I couldn't miss the English Romantic painters.
Taking the Tube train into London on the weekend is fairly difficult because they close down some of the routes for engineering or maintenance, and that means thousands of people all jam onto the remaining lines. Including this tourist!
I actually used my alarm clock for the first time on this trip, to wake up early Monday morning (Sept 11) to walk to the Tube station for an early ride to Waterloo Station, where I had a ticket on the Eurostar train to Paris. This is the train that drives into the 'Chunnel.' We spent about an hour crossing Kent to a place near Dover, and there is NO view of the English Channel from the train. It starts into a tunnel on the landward side of the White Cliffs of Dover, and there is absolutely nothing to see for 22 minutes, because the tunnel is not lit. Then we emerged to bright light on the French side somewhere near Calais, again with no view of the Channel. I took pix from the train on both sides of the tunnel.
Then there's a little more than an hour of French countryside before we drove into Paris rather suddenly and landed at the Gare du Nord station. When I booked the hotel, I thought it was 0.2 miles from the station, but NOOOOOOOOOOOO, it was two whole miles. So I started out walking, with my overnight case rolling behind me. Through construction zones, torn-up sidewalks, fairly-scary ethnic neighborhoods, etc., I walked, hoping to get correct directions to the address on my paper. I had a French phrase book with me, so I was asking people 'Sav-ey voo Rue de Clignancourt?' They were pretty much clueless. But I made it to a taxi stand after at least 1.75 miles of walking doggedly. They said the hotel was just around the corner, and I should just finish walking there. Yeah, but it was up a hill (Montmartre), and down the hill the other side! Anyway, I checked in to my tiny room (really deserves a no-star rating, although Hotels.com calls it 2-star).
Then I bought a Grayline bus tour ticket to check out the main touristy sites. I was able to get out and see Notre Dame, but it was a quick visit. Got back on the bus and saw the rest of the sites from the bus top deck. But we were stuck in traffic, and stayed too long at some bus stops (for no reason I could discern), so they dumped everyone out at 7:00 pm, and we were stranded. Hundreds of tourists at scores of stops!
I had to buy a Metro (subway) ticket to get the closest to my hotel, which was still about a mile. So yet another mile was added to my calluses. I was one tired puppy, and not a little ticked off at the tour company for abandoning its clients in a foreign place. I tried an Internet place, but the keyboard was VERY strangely laid out (and had dirty keys), so I only answered one message.
I got supper components in a grocery store, including croissant, fromage, lait, and whatever they call almonds, and took it to my room.
I had intended to visit the other tourist sites, and then go to my premiere destination, the Basilique de Saint Denis, but with the service of the day before, I figured that I'd better skip the tour bus experience. I bought a ticket for the Basilique (two subway trains), and walked out only a block from the church. I was there to see the effigies of mon granperes et grandames. My French royal ancestors, with only a few exceptions like Charlemagne, were buried there from 500 AD (Clovis) to the 14th century. At that point in my history, the French princess, Isabella of France (I'll tell you some other time), married Edward II, King of England, so I had no more Frenchies until a Huguenot family fled the Inquisition to Holland in the 1500s.
The Basilique was really nice. It's not on any tourist stops, and I could find it in only one tourist book at Barnes and Noble, so not many Americans know about it. It's just quiet and reverent, and they've displayed some of the archaeological finds they've made. The church and abbey were founded in the 400s AD, I think, so there's lots to be found!
I took the subway back to the hotel, collected my case, and then took a taxi back to the Isle de Paris, the island in the Seine where the oldest buildings are. My ancestor St. Louis IX, built Saint Chappelle, and I intended to give it a once-over before getting back to the train station for the Eurostar. But when I got there, there were at least 500 people in a queue to get in, and they weren't moving. Apparently, some of the big museums are closed on Tuesdays, so people figured, 'Hey, let's look at this place!' I had only 5 euros on me, so I had to trek across the 'pont' to find an ATM. This was not easy. There are ATMs everywhere in the US and Britain; hardly any in Paris! One bank didn't recognize my Visa card, and when I finally found another which would give me money, I had to find a taxi.
So trekked back toward the bridge and found a taxi call stand. Pushed the button, cab appears, some extremely handsome French guy jumps in and flashes me a movie-star smile and laugh, and off he goes in my cab! [Insert favorite French cussword here, if you know one. I'm thinking 'cochon' might mean swine, but I've put my phrasebook away forever.] It was no trouble to push the button again, but I had to wait another 5 minutes on extremely-sore feet before the next cab came.
The Eurostar ride home was comfortable. London Transport ought to install shock absorbers on their subway trains, like the nice ride on the Eurostar. I got back to the Keshishians' B&B about 9:15 pm. They wanted a debriefing on the trip, so I stayed up another hour talking with them before I repacked my suitcases. The cab to the rental car place came at 8 the next morning.
Driving in the UK is easy after about an hour, but the first few roundabouts are hairy, until you get back in the groove! So far, no close calls.
I've been to a place near Bedford where my father's mother's Carter ancestors lived for hundreds of years at Oak Farm. Knowing that places don't change names in this country, I'd Googled 'Oak Farm, Kempston,' and found a fire dept call to help an elderly shire horse from an icy ditch at Oak Farm. So I asked around, and found the location.
I drove up in the gravel drive of a farmhouse and extremely old barn/stable complex. The goose-alarm went off, as the watch-goose notified the farm of a stranger's arrival. I called out, and a man came out, and I told him who I was and why I was there, and could I shoot pictures, and he was really nice. He didn't know the history of the place. (Marilyn Senier, these Carters are your ancestors, too.) I picked up a couple giant chestnuts (not acorns as one would expect) from the trees out front before I left.
Then I went to Hertford, where my ancestor, Rev. Samuel Stone, was born and raised. The building he and his parents lived in is now a posh bar called Baroosh, and I went inside to see the walls and ceilings, but of course it's been redone oodles of times since 1600. Then I drove on toward Colchester in Essex, and started calling B&Bs for a place to sleep. No luck, no rooms. Unbelievable! The Ipswich Travelodge was full, too, but the clerk called around for me and found a pub with guest rooms in a small town nearly back in Colchester. The room was OK, and smoke-free, so I finally got checked in about 9:30. Otherwise, I'd have had to sleep in my car somewhere! Good grief.
As it turns out, I was three miles from Ardleigh, where my Stone ancestors (Harriet and Lloyd, are you still with me?) lived from at least 1265 to 1595. There's a 100-year-old stained-glass window in the 900-year-old church which was placed in Great Bromley nearby, in honor of the Stone family. After some unintended detours due to really bad signage at the roundabouts, I finally made it to Great Yarmouth, where I am now. I'm staying at a B&B near the seafront.
Tomorrow I head for Lincoln Cathedral and Castle, hopefully with few or no 'unintended detours!' Then it's on to York, back through Derbyshire, and then I'll stay with Audrey in Gloucester.
Well, this saga is very long, but if you've made it this far, your reward is nigh. I'm finished! Sorry I can't attach pix yet. I can download them to my laptop, but I can't connect my laptop PC in an Internet cafe. Maybe when I get to Audrey's, we can do that.
Grace and peace to you, and your prayers for safety for me would not be remiss!
Date: Fri Sep 15 06:49:37 2006
From: Stephen Lillioja
Subject: Re: Christy's workaholism recovery
Good trip! The old country relatives are interesting, but be careful, you might find a connection to George W Bush.