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Dear Reader #144

Dear Reader,

My latest translation, the Dutch version of Operation Zigzag, Eve’s War Heroines of SOE, book one.

My latest article for the Seaside News.

John Howe, my 5 x great grandfather, was baptised on 28 April 1761 in St Hilary, Glamorgan. He was one of only ten children baptised in the village that year, including a set of twins. John’s parents were farmers so he spent his formative years learning the business of farm management.

John Howe married Cecily Lewis on 1 January 1785 in Cowbridge, Glamorgan. Cowbridge was the nearest market town to John’s home in St Hilary and it’s likely that he met Cecily there during a social event connected to the market.  

Cecily was born in Cowbridge in 1764 and it was the custom that marriages took place in the bride’s parish.

The interior of Holy Cross Church, Cowbridge (People’s Collection Wales).

Like his father before him, my 5 x great grandfather John Howe was an Overseer of the Poor. In 1797 he paid 2s 6d to ‘Ten men in distress coming from the sea.’ The Vale of Glamorgan coast is beautiful, but dangerous due to hidden rocks.

Le Vainqueur, which sank off Sker Rocks on 17th December 1753.

Taxes greatly affected the direction of the Howe family. In 1798, my 5 x great grandfather John Howe featured in the Land Tax Redemption register for St Hilary ten times (out of twenty-seven entries). Most people featured once while John’s brother, William, featured twice. 

John wasn’t ‘Lord of the Manor’, that title fell to the Bassets (although their influence was on the wane), but he was certainly ‘Mr St Hilary’.

The Land Tax became a permanent charge on the land in 1798 and was fixed at 4/- in the pound (20%). However proprietors were given the option to pay a (considerable) lump sum or purchase government stock to free themselves from future liability.

By 1799, the Napoleonic wars had taken their toll on Britain. The British royal treasury was running out of money to maintain the royal army and navy. Soldiers were starving and His Majesty’s navy had already mutinied. For Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, the solution was simple: impose an income tax.

Under the Act of 1799, all citizens who earned above £60 were to pay a graduated tax of at least one percent. Those with an income of over £200 were taxed ten percent. Some people regarded the tax as a patriotic duty while others complained. 

I don’t know what John Howe thought of the taxes, but it seems they were the reason why he moved his family ten miles west to Coity breaking the Howe connection with St Hilary, which had lasted over 200 years.

After 49 years of marriage, Cecily died  on 7 May 1834, aged 70 while John died on 4 February 1835, aged 73. The couple are buried together in Coity.

John and Cecily’s grave in Coity.

On Wednesday 4 April 1787 Cornelius Gordon and his wife Mary Bevan were gardening, and arguing, at their house in Crichton, Llanrhidian when Mary collapsed. A servant, Thomas Westley, and a neighbour, Elizabeth Long, helped Mary to bed. She slept while Cornelius continued his gardening.

The following morning, Cornelius told his servant Thomas to get Mr Thomas Williams, surgeon and apothecary, from Swansea. Surgeon Williams arrived at Crichton to find Mary dead. Relatives arrived. Accusations were made.

On Friday 6 April 1787, Gabriel Powell, Coroner, summoned twenty-four ‘honest and lawful men’ and held an inquest into Mary’s death. Evidence was taken. The servant, Thomas, “didn’t see anything” while Surgeon Williams stated that “the deceased did not die from a violent blow.”

A second surgeon, Thomas Sylvester, supported Surgeon Williams. The coroner’s inquest concluded that Mary died ‘by the visitation of God’, and she was buried the following day. However, Mary’s family were not happy and they intervened.

On Tuesday 10 April 1787, Rowland Pritchard, a Justice of the Peace, ordered Charles Collins, a surgeon from Swansea, to exhume and examine Mary’s body. He discovered a fractured skull, consistent with a violent blow, possibly caused by a spade. 

Surgeon Sylvester changed his tune and supported Surgeon Collins. Servant Thomas was questioned. His statement revealed that Cornelius had struck his wife about the head, and that during their marriage they had ‘frequently had words’.

Cornelius Gordon was tried four days later, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He was hanged on Stalling Down, Cowbridge, on 20 April 1787, a fortnight after the murder. This was the last hanging to take place at Stalling Down.

In the mid-1800s a Mrs Howe (first name sadly not recorded) spoke to David Jones an antiquarian. She said that as a young child she was taken up to Stalling Down to witness the execution of Cornelius Gordon.

Mrs Howe recalled the scene as Gordon’s family stood by with a coffin ready to transport his body back to Crichton. Mrs Howe stated that at the moment of the execution “the whole ground trembled, as with an earthquake.”

Next week, the Howes in America.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #141

Dear Reader,

We experimented by placing Operation Rose, Operation Watchmaker and Operation Overlord, the next three books in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series, on pre-order without blurbs and with dates running into next January, and already they are top 50 hot new releases. Many thanks to my readers for their support.

My latest article for the Seaside News appears on page 14 of the magazine. This one is about an illicit affair in 1814.

My 4 x great grandmother Sarah Foreman was born on 12 October 1803 in Tetford, Lincolnshire and baptised in the local church, St Mary’s, two days later. She was the youngest of four daughters. Sarah’s parents were Hutton Foreman, born in nearby Toynton in 1764, and Lucy Ironmonger, born in nearby East Kirby in  1761.

Hutton, who worked on the land, married twice. His second wife, Mary Blades, was nineteen years younger than him. He fathered eleven children, the last when he was sixty-four. He died in 1847 aged eighty-three.

Hutton’s first wife, my 5 x great grandmother, Lucy Ironmonger was widowed twice before she married him. Unusually for a rural woman of that time she was literate.

Sarah had three sisters, all with similar names: Mary born 1796, Maria born 1798 and Mary Ann born 1801. Maybe their mother Lucy liked the name Mary. Or maybe the children died in infancy because there is no further trace of them in the historical record. If the Marys did die in infancy then with Lucy’s death Sarah would have become the ‘mother’ of the house.

So what did Sarah make of these complex family dynamics? Sarah lost her mother, Lucy, when she was only eight. Her father, Hutton, then married a woman who was only fifteen years her senior. Sarah would have learned from Lucy in her formative years, so she was educated. Did she get on with her step-mother, Mary Blades? We don’t know. But we do know that by the early 1830s Sarah was living in London.

Sarah was in her late twenties or early thirties when she arrived in London. She was unmarried, which suggests that she had a career. In London, Sarah became a nurse/chemist/dentist. Although I have no proof, I suspect that she was nursing in Lincolnshire before her move to the Big City.

Why did Sarah move to London and how did she get there? Clearly, she decided that village life was not for her and that she would take her chances in the city. Maybe she responded to an advertisement looking for a nurse.

In the 1820s and 1830s the annual rate of pay for a nurse was £10, the equivalent of £600 today. Living expenses were covered. Even so, this was meagre renumeration.  In comparison, in the 1820s/30s a skilled tradesman could earn £10 in fifty days.

Sarah probably travelled to London on a coach. The journey from Tetford to London cost around £2, a huge financial commitment. She was making a life-changing journey and if things didn’t work out in London it was unlikely that she could immediately afford the journey back.

In London, Sarah met my 4 x great grandfather John Glissan, a surgeon/chemist/dentist. Had he placed the original advertisement seeking a nurse? After her initial time in London, did she apply to work for him? We don’t know, but I suspect that their careers overlapped, which led to love and marriage.

Sarah and John married on 24 March 1834 in St Brides, Fleet Street, a notorious location for ‘Clandestine’ marriages, marriages conducted in haste or secrecy, without the posting of banns. Many of my ancestors married in this fashion. However, Sarah and John posted banns so theirs was a regular marriage. Sarah and John signed the wedding register, thus confirming they were literate.

Separately, Sarah and John had travelled hundreds of miles from their homes to meet in London. Now, they were a couple. What would married life bring?

More about Sarah and John next time.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #127

Dear Reader,

Preparing for 2022. The new year will see the continuation of my Sam Smith and Eve’s War series, the conclusion of my Olive Tree Spanish Civil War Saga, and the start of a new series, Women at War, five novels about ‘ordinary’ women fighting fascism in France, Spain and Bulgaria, 1936 – 1945.

Exciting news. My Sam Smith Mystery Series will be translated into Italian. We will make a start on Sam’s Song this week. As a European, I’m delighted that my books are available in twelve languages.

A rarity in the Victorian era, a husband’s petition for divorce, filed 16 November 1883. The husband stated that on ‘diverse occasions’ his wife committed adultery with ‘sundry persons’. Marriage dissolved. Damages awarded to the husband.

For Armistice Day.

My latest genealogy article for the Seaside News appears on page 36.

My direct ancestor Sir Edward Stradling was born c1295, the second son of Sir Peter de Stratelinges and Joan de Hawey. The exact location of his birthplace is unknown, but likely to be the family estates in Somerset.

When Sir Peter died, Joan married Sir John Penbrigg, who was granted wardship over Sir Peter’s estates and both young sons, Edward and his older brother, John, until they reached their twenty-first birthdays.

As an adult, Edward was Lord of St. Donats in Glamorgan, and Sheriff, Escheator, Justice of the Peace, and Knight of the Shire in Parliament for Somerset and Dorset. He rose to such prominence through his staunch support for Edward III.

St Donats Castle, a print from 1775.

Edward Stradling married Ellen, daughter and heiress of Sir Gilbert Strongbow. They produced the following children:

Edward (my direct ancestor) who married Gwenllian Berkerolles, daughter of Roger Berkerolles of East Orchard, Glamorgan.

John, who married Sarah, another daughter of Roger Berkerolles. Two bothers marrying two sisters.

When John died, c1316, Sir Edward inherited the following lands:

St Donat’s Castle, Glamorgan.

Combe Haweye, Watchet Haweye, Henley Grove by Bruton, Somerset, all of which included three messuages, a mill, five carucates, two virgates of land, thirty-one acres of meadow, and one hundred and forty-one acres of woodland.

Halsway and Coleford in Somerset.

Compton Hawey in Dorset.

Through his wife’s inheritance, he also obtained two manors in Oxfordshire. 

As Lord of St. Donats, Sir Edward rose against the Crown in the Despenser War of 1321–22. The war was a baronial revolt against Edward II led by marcher lords Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, fuelled by opposition to Hugh Despenser the Younger, the royal favourite.

15th-century illustration showing Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer; execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger in the background.

The Crown arrested Sir Edward in January 1322 and seized all his lands in England and Wales. It took two years and a loyalty payment of £200 – £92,000 in today’s money – before his estates were restored.

When Edward II was deposed in 1327, Edward Stradling was knighted by Edward III. Several appointments followed, including Sheriff and Escheator of Somerset and Dorset 1343, MP for Somerset 1343, and Justice of the Peace for Somerset and Dorset 1346–47. On 11 September 1346, Sir Edward was one of three knights of Somerset at Edward III’s Westminster parliament.

Sir Edward was one of the chief patrons of Neath Abbey and on 20 October 1341 he gifted the monastery one acre of land. He died c1363, either in St Donats or Somerset.

The Strandling line continued through the second Sir Edward, born in 1318 in St Donats Castle to Sir William, born in 1365 in St. Donats, to another Sir Edward, born in 1389 in St Donats. This Sir Edward was Chamberlain and Receiver of South Wales, Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset 1424-6, Steward and Receiver of Cantreselly and Penkelly, Keeper of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire (appointed 22 August 1439), Constable of Taunton 1434-42, and Knight of the Sepulchre.

Already well established amongst the nobility, the Stradling’s influence increased through the deeds of the third Sir Edward. He married Jane, daughter of Cardinal Beaufort, great uncle of Henry VI. This marriage ensured that he held a powerful position within the royal court. 

Administrative posts in South Wales and money followed. As with modern nobility, medieval nobility was a moneymaking-racket, a mafia, exploiting the poor. Lords and knights gave money to the Church to assuage their sins. Many lords were brutal and ruled through fear. Some, and I hope Edward was amongst them, used their positions of privilege and wealth to better their communities. For Edward these communities included parishes in Glamorgan, Somerset, Dorset and Oxfordshire. Of particular interest to me is the Stradling manor of Merthyr Mawr, a beautiful village, which is on my doorstep.

Sir Edward fought at Agincourt. He was captured by the French, and wool, a staple product of South Wales, was shipped to Brittany to defray his ransom.

In 1411, Sir Edward Stradling went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In 1452, aged sixty-three, he went on a second pilgrimage, but did not return. He died on 27 June 1452 in Jerusalem.

View of Jerusalem (Conrad Grünenberg, 1487).

To be a peasant or a noble in medieval times? Although I’m descended from noble houses, my inclination is to side with the peasants. Life is hard for the poor in any age, and it was certainly hard in medieval times. Against that, the nobles had to contend with political intrigues, treachery, wars and pilgrimages, from which many did not return. 

Given a choice, I think I would select a middle course, neither peasant nor noble, but an observer, a chronicler, recording my life and times. After all, through fiction, that’s what I do today.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #118

Dear Reader,

My Sam Smith mystery The Hermit of Hisarya has been included in academic lectures this week in Bulgaria, discussing cultural studies and world literature, and the interrelation between cultural identity and the imagination. What an honour, I’m blown away 😱

https://academia.edu/51152850/

My latest translation, The Hermit of Hisarya in Portuguese.

My article about my ancestor John Howe features in this month’s Seaside News.

c1926, five generations from the Iveson branch of my family. More about the Ivesons next week.

My 5 x great grandmother Jennet, aka Jane, Williams was born to David Williams and Mary Jones in 1787 in Newton-Nottage, Wales. In the eighteenth century Newton-Nottage was a rural community and the majority of its inhabitants earned a living from the land.

Nottage, 19th century tithe map. Source: The National Library of Wales.

Jennet married Thomas Morgan in nearby Laleston on 10 October 1815. The couple produced five children: William, Richard, Mary, Sarah and a second child called Richard. Sadly, infant mortality was common in the nineteenth century and parents often reused a favourite name.

Jennet and Thomas’ eldest son, William, was born in 1812, three years before their marriage. Their first Richard was baptised on 21 January 1816, which indicates that Jennet was six months pregnant with her second child at the time of her marriage.

The accepted wisdom is that bastard children and their mothers were cast out by Victorian society. For the middle and upper classes this might well have been true. However, for the lower classes and those living in rural communities the locals took a more pragmatic view. Producing babies, in and out of wedlock, was literally a fact of life. An example from my family tree: my 3 x great grandparents William Bick and Fanny Brereton had six children before their marriage on 13 December 1868 (they had five more children after their marriage). Obviously, they did not feel pressurised into marriage and were not ostracised by their community. Marriages were expensive and many people needed the money for food and shelter. That said, some women were embarrassed about admitting to an illegitimate child as we shall see shortly.

Jennet’s husband, Thomas Morgan, was a shoemaker while his father, Richard, was a victualer in Laleston. When Thomas Morgan was born in 1784 only seven children were baptised in Laleston (population 2011, 12,586), which indicates that it was a small community, and that a birth, marriage or death was a major event.

Laleston baptisms, 1784.

Thomas Morgan died on 28 December 1827. A widow, Jennet supported herself and her family by working as a stone cutter at the local limestone quarries. Women who worked with stone, iron or coal usually wore shorter dresses compared to the Victorian norm because of the danger of those dresses catching fire. ‘Shorter’ in this instance means just a few inches above the ankle, so they were hardly a huge advertisement for health and safety.

In 1829 Jennet met Thomas Harris and the couple produced a son, George, baptised on 8 December 1829. In the ten years before 1829 and the ten years after there was no one called Harris living in Laleston or surrounding villages. A family called Harris arrived in the 1840s, but they were not related to Thomas or George.

George’s baptismal record.

So, what of the mysterious Thomas Harris? It would appear that he drifted into Laleston looking for work, took advantage of Jennet, a lonely widow, then drifted out again. There is nothing to suggest that he acknowledged George as his son or supported him during his childhood.

Between 1829 and 1851 George was know as George Morgan and George Harris. In 1841 Jennet told the census enumerator that George’s surname was Morgan, even though her husband had died two years previously. Clearly, with this untruth she was trying to save face.

On 24 December 1853 George, now a blacksmith, married Lydia Williams and the couple took the surname Morgan. Indeed, George acknowledged Thomas Morgan as his father. Did he know the truth? Probably, because at various times before his marriage he did call himself Harris. Thomas Harris played no part in George’s life, so George decided to adopt his mother’s married name.

Lydia was a ‘minor’ at the time of her marriage to George and the couple were living at the same address. A ‘minor’ in this context means someone under the age of twenty-one; Lydia was twenty. During her marriage to George she gave birth to ten children.

On 9 April 1873 at the age of 86 Jennet died in Laleston. In her later years she lived with her daughter, and my direct ancestor, Mary, along with Mary’s husband and children. All of my Welsh ancestors during the Victorian era were tight-knit and supported each other. To date, I have not discovered any of them in the workhouse.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

For Authors

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #114

Dear Reader,

A lovely message from my local library this week. Apparently, my books are ‘proving popular’ with borrowers and the library would like to acquire more copies. We will send them a parcel of my books, free of charge. ‘Libraries gave us power.’ Support your local library!

Eve at #1 and another lovely review. “Great read! Can’t wait to read the next episode! I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read about the resistance, spy and wartime.”

Many thanks to everyone who supports my books.

My article about SOE agent Pearl Witherington appears in the August issue of the Seaside News. Pearl is probably my favourite SOE agent, although all were truly remarkable.

A remarkable discovery. A writer in the family. On 24 December 1716 my direct ancestor William Axe, the son of a clergyman, boarded the St George bound for the Cape in Africa. He was one of four writers who joined the crew and the ‘Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading with Africa.’ 

The Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading with Africa, later known as the Royal African Company, was founded by the British royal family in 1660. It shipped more African slaves to the Americas than any other company in the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade. I wonder if William Axe wrote about that. More research required.

In the spring of 1846 my 4 x great grandparents Thomas Thompson Dent Jr and Dorothy Hornsby set sail for New York bound for Canada. They arrived in New York on 24 June 1846 then with their five children, William, Thomas, Elizabeth, Richard and Henry, and baby Dorothy, travelled north where they established a farm in Ontario, Canada. Why did they make such a hazardous journey with the risk of disrupting their stable lives?

As the eldest son of Thomas Thompson Dent Sr, Thomas Jr stood to inherit much of his land – Thomas Sr owned at least four farms in Bowes, Yorkshire, and the surrounding area. Did father and son fall out, or did Thomas Jr reckon that the prospects for his family were better served in Canada? When Thomas Sr died in 1854 he made no mention of Thomas Jr in his will, so the migration to Canada appears to have severed all ties within that branch of my family. That said, passenger lists indicate that Thomas Jr did travel to Britain then back to Canada in 1871. Although travel was slower in the Victorian era our ancestors were often more mobile than we sometimes realise.

In 1846 Thomas and his family made their initial journey by steerage, the cheapest form of maritime travel. Their ship, the Rappahanock, sailed from Liverpool with 453 passengers. Travelling by steerage, one imagines that their journey was a challenging one.

The Pays d’en Haut region of New France, 1755, an area that included most of Ontario.

In the 1840s, Canada was a young developing country. The Canadian government were looking for settlers to farm the land and they made generous offers to entice people to settle. In Britain, orphans were often sent to Canada to work the land. Many of them stayed and you could argue that they faced better prospects in the fields of Canada than in the slums of a city like London.

Between 1815 and 1850, Over 960,000 people arrived in Canada from Britain. The new arrivals included refugees escaping the Great Irish Famine as well as people from Scotland displaced by the Highland Clearances. Infectious diseases killed between 25 and 33 percent of Europeans who immigrated to Canada before 1891.

The 1840s in particular saw heavy waves of immigration into Ontario. During this decade the population of Canada West more than doubled. As a result, for the first time, the English-speaking population of Canada West surpassed the French-speaking population of Canada East, tilting the representative balance of power.

An economic upturn followed in the 1850s, which coincided with an expansion of the railway system across the province. The economic situation improved further with the repeal of the Corn Laws and trade agreements with the United States. As a result, the timber trade, mining and alcohol distilling boomed. Farmers too benefited from this good fortune.

Halton County, Ontario, 1821, home to the Dent family from 1846.

In Ontario, Thomas and Dorothy had two more children: Mary and Robert. In 1851 Thomas and his family were farming in Halton County. All their immediate neighbours – farmers, shoemakers, carpenters and a clergyman – came from either England or Ireland.

Ten years later, in 1861, Thomas and Dorothy were living in a two storey farmhouse built of brick. They were prospering. However, as we have seen, life in Canada could be a struggle with a battle against infectious diseases and within two years two of their daughters, Mary and Dorothy, died.

By 1871 the family had dispersed with sons and daughters marrying. Thomas and Dorothy worked their farm with the assistance of their son, eighteenth year old Robert. Presumably, they hired servants for seasonal tasks. However, at the time of the 1871 census none of those servants lived on the farm.

Thomas died in 1876, aged 69, of typhoid. He was buried in St Stephen’s Anglican Cemetery, Hornby, Halton County, Ontario. 

By 1881 Robert was running the farm. Dorothy was seventy at this point and still going strong. However, she died in 1888 and was buried in the family plot at St Stephen’s Anglican Cemetery, Hornby, Halton County, Ontario. 

As for Thomas and Dorothy’s children: William Dent married Margaret Featherstone. They raised a family and ran a farm in Halton, Ontario. Henry Hornsby Dent married Mary Ann Gilley. He also raised a family and ran a farm in Halton, Ontario. By 1911 he regarded himself as a Canadian. Robert married Augusta Tuck. He also considered himself a Canadian and farmed in Halton, Ontario. For this branch of the family the transfer of allegiance from Yorkshire to Canada was complete.

Of the daughters, only Elizabeth survived into adulthood. On 30 October 1861 in Halton, Ontario she married Henry Gastle, a farmer originally from England. The couple produced eight sons, pictured, c1880.

In all of this, what happened to my 3 x great grandfather Richard Dent? In the 1860s he decided that a farmers life in Canada was not for him and returned to Britain. More about Richard next time.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

For Authors

#1 for value with 565,000 readers, The Fussy Librarian has helped my books to reach #1 on 31 occasions.

A special offer from my publisher and the Fussy Librarian. https://authors.thefussylibrarian.com/?ref=goylake

Don’t forget to use the code goylake20 to claim your discount 🙂