Monthly Archives: October 2010

A brief melting pot: motorway service stations

We’ve been travelling up and down the country over the past few days, and finding brief respite from the road in the institution of the motorway service station. Although visually unexciting, motorway services do in fact contain as full a cross-section of Britain as you are likely to find anywhere, and are fascinating for it.

Motorway services have this amazing captive audience, as they provide the only option for fuel, food or a WC stop for perhaps 50 miles. As a result everyone is forced to use them, irrespective or whether they’re landed gentry or chav, Jag driver or on a coach trip. What results is something of a spectacle of Britain passing through those doors – all strata of society forced together unnaturally and out of necessity. Regardless of whether they’re veering off into the Waitrose, or queuing up at the KFC, they are all there together, for a short while.

Curiosity demands a pause with a coffee to bear witness to this constant flow of people comprising this country of ours. Most stops take place far from both home and the destination, surrounded by unfamiliar accents that are in turn supplemented by an array of dialects even further out of place. You may be sat next to the sort of people you’d never meet in your life otherwise, and are briefly granted an insight into lives that are no less British but potentially entirely foreign to your own. All these people brought together, all trying to kill time by browsing the WHSmith or deciding whether £8.99 for a breakfast is highway robbery taken one step too far…

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Recent culinary discoveries

The recent absence of blogposts might have been making you think that married life has put an end to our usual weekend trips out and pub exploration. Not so. In fact we’ve no less than three recent discoveries to bring you.

The Swan, Ley Hill, nr Chesham

This pub was recommended a few months ago. We decided to pop over there on the August Bank Holiday, not realising that it’s a time when many villages and towns hold special events. Ley Hill was no exception, with live music and stalls set out around the Swan as part of the Ley Hill Festival 2010. Fortunately we decided to call ahead, so did have a table secured, although were completely bemused by the level of activity greeting us on arrival! Despite being so busy there was good food and service to be had.

The Swan, Ley Hill

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Genealogy gone mad

Having responded to a comment on our post about the Fat Aubergine, I’ve realised we haven’t written anything for a while. So sorry, dears.

Fact is, when not engaged in the enlightenment of ignorant teenagers, over the past two weeks (or is it three?) I’ve been hooked on researching the family tree. This all stemmed from my bright idea to put a small (note, SMALL) family tree in the back of the wedding album so that our future offspring will know how all the people in the pictures are related to them. Then I registered at www.ancestry.co.uk, but rather than using their tree-building programme, shoved all the data into a free programme I downloaded from www.myheritage.com.

Ancestry’s pretty thorough (on the medium price plan option) – you can access census records from 1841 to 1901 (not 1911, yet, though); birth, marriage and death index records; and, in some cases (particularly in London) marriage and baptism records in more detail. The military records from WWI are also interesting, particularly for physical descriptions of one’s ancestor. Rather more personal than census records. My most successful investigations have been into the branches of my family who lived in London. Being able to see fathers’ names on marriage records makes jumping back to the 19th century very much easier. If you can’t bridge the gap between the elderly living and the 19th century, going back is quite hard. For example, my mother-in-law doesn’t know very much about her grandparents, and so we’ve hit a brick wall, because I can’t push back into the richer census records. Similarly, but for a different reason, my great-grandfather is very hard to pin down. The perils of having a name like Edward Browne in London!

However, we’ve had wide-ranging success in getting back to great-great-great-great-great grandfathers in several branches. It turns out that I have impeccable working-class credentials, except in a couple of cases, where we go back to Kentish farmers (not sure how big an estate of 350 acres is!). So many migrated from Kent or Berkshire or Somerset to the Big Smoke to work as tailors, painters and bargemen. I’m very pleased to find that a great-great-uncle was an early motor bus driver in Brentford in 1918, just as my grandfather and great-grandfather were. Two branches owned pubs: one in Kent and one in Brentford. Fascinating, but such superficial knowledge of so many people (645 and counting!).

Of course, the Irish lot are a dead end at the moment. I don’t imagine the records in Galway would be in a particularly good state, but we’ll have to see.

So, I’m pleased with Ancestry in that it’s possible very easily to trace back six or seven generations (unless you’re beset by misspelling of names, which can be a real problem). However, I think what I need to do now is to try to build up a more detailed knowledge of the more recent generations – 645 names is wonderful, but doesn’t really mean very much.

I’ll keep you posted.

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