Three Generations of the Curtis Family of Norfolk

Above, Samuel William "Fiddler" Curtis, born in 1852 at Hassingham, Norfolk, the grandson of William Curtis (senior).

My 5th great grandparents, John Curtis, and Ann Annison, were married at Hassingham, Norfolk in 1801.  I have so far been unable to trace where either of this couple originated, or their parents, but there were already Curtis and Annison families in that part of Norfolk prior, and I currently have no reason to think that they had moved into the area from elsewhere.  I just lack their baptism records.  Maybe one day I'll find them.

Hassingham in it's landscape in 1797.

Over the following eleven years, Ann Curtis (née Annison) had five children baptised at the Hassingham parish church of St Mary's, including a John, Richard, Theodosia, William, and finally in 1812, a Priscilla Curtis.

St Mary's of Hassingham.

William Curtis (I)

Their third son, William Curtis, was born at Hassingham during the winter of 1807/1808, and baptised in February at St Mary's.   His father, John may have rented a tract of land, to farm himself, or he may have relied on selling his labour to other farmers.  He may have done both.  The rural poor had lost all of their ancient rights, with the enclosures, but they were free to sell their labour and skills to whoever.  However, as the Agricultural Revolution gained pace - so the market for their labour was reducing, with the gradual introduction of new machinery and agricultural processes.

In 1827, William Curtis married my 4th great grandmother, Mary Ann Rose, at nearby Strumpshaw.  They were both marked down as of being of that parish, both were single, both were illiterate.  An interesting twist for myself looking at that marriage register, is that their witnesses were Mary Ann's sister, Rebecca Rose, and her fiancé, John Shorten.  I only posted about their life a week ago "From Norfolk Labourer to Yankee Gunner".  That couple were to marry in the next entry of that Strumpshaw Marriage Register, in November.  They ended up as farmers in Illinois, USA, with five of their sons serving in the Unionist Army in the American Civil War.  I keep seeing this theme in my Family History.  My direct ancestors were the ones that usually stayed - often never moving far from their village of birth.  But many of their siblings didn't stay.  I'll come back to this theme later in this post.

Between 1828, and 1850, the couple were to have a total of at least eight children, all baptised at nearby Buckenham church: Anne Amelia Curtis (1828), my 3rd great grandfather, William Curtis (the junior, 1830), Henry Curtis (1833), Alfred Curtis (1836), George Curtis (1838), Priscilla Curtis (1841), Sarah Curtis (1848), and Henry Curtis (1849).  A lot of mouths to feed.  How was William supporting these children?  If I look at the 1841 census, I find the family, as it was then, located at Buckenham (Ferry), Norfolk.  William was a 34 year old agricultural labourer.  These had been hard times for agricultural labourers in Norfolk.  Machinery and new agricultural techniques continued to replace much of the traditional labour.  Workhouses had been constructed - and Poor Laws were halting any provision of parish relief for the poor, outside of the workhouse - where inmates would be segrated from their families, and punished for being poor.  The small farmers, once the brothers of the free labourers, were increasingly associating more with other figures of the rural establishment - the squires, the land owners, and the parsons.  They often sat on the poor law union boards, determined to punish the poor.  The Established Church just watched on - and the rural poor were turning to Methodism, and other Non-conformist chapels.

In 1830, the countryside erupted in violence - as labourers swarmed the countryside, attacking workhouses, farms, and in particular, the new threshing machines that were replacing much of their labour.  They often did this under the name of a mythical Captain Swing, and hence this period of machine breaking and rioting was known as the Swing Riots.  Another of my ancestors, on my father's side, was gaoled for leading a local Swing riot, at Attleborough.  It was a period in which many local establishment figures were seriously concerned - the fear of Revolution was still in the air from France - indeed, French spies were often conjured up as being at the root of the problem - rather than their treatment of the rural poor.

It passed.  But things did not improve for the East Anglian rural working class.

In the 1851 census, William, his wife Mary Ann, and their eldest children, were all recorded iin Buckenham as being agricultural labourers.  Only there was now a ninth child.  Richard Curtis.  But he wasn't born at Buckenham Ferry, nor even in the County of Norfolk.  He was born in 1850 at Firsby, Lincolnshire.  This may infer that the family (if not just Mary Ann), had between 1841, and 1851, moved for a a period, to the Skegness area of East Lincolnshire.  People were on the move.  The rural poor were being squeezed out of East Anglia by the unemployment, poverty, and the workhouse.  Perhaps William found more profitable labour in Lincolnshire for a while.  Perhaps his skills with horses, or perhaps - like others he was attracted by the Fen drainage schemes, working as a digger - maybe like other that I've seen - it was work laying the railways?  Firsby railway station opened for business in 1848.  The railways were a part of a phenomena of migration that occurred across Norfolk during the Mid to Late 19th Century - they brought work, often attracted labourers away - and eventually carried many Norfolk families away to the Industrial North, to London, or to sea ports for migration elsewhere.

But by the 1851 census - they were back in their ancestral lands - back in Buckenham, Norfolk, by the River Yare, as though nothing had happened - except for that place of birth for young Richard.

Move on another ten years - the family are not in Buckenham in 1861.  I cannot find William at all.  However, I do find his wife Mary Ann Curtis, with some of their children, living in the Rows at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.  Mary Ann records her occupation as charwoman - a woman that worked hard, washing clothes and linen for a living.  Their daughter Priscilla Curtis, is recorded as a silk weaver:

I wonder where was William?  He could be at sea, or working away, sending money home.  Too old for the military.  I can't find anything on him in Criminal Records.  What I do find, in the British Newspaper archives, are some references to a cork cutter by the name of William Curtis, living in Great Yarmouth, dating to 1858 and 1864:

Was this our William Curtis (senior)?  Above he was working on Charlotte Street (since renamed Howard Street), Great Yarmouth.  In 1864, he was addressed to the Church Plain, Great Yarmouth.  If it was our William, perhaps he was living with Mary Ann and the children - but was away on business, or perhaps some other work (fishing?), on the night of the census.

William and Mary Ann Curtis, age 61 and 62 years of age, appear to have settled in the Yarmouth and Gorleston area.  On the 1871, William and Mary Ann Curtis were addressed on "the footpath to Burgh".  William recorded his occupation as a marsh man.  Marshmen were responsible for the livestock kept on the marshes - horses, cattle, and sometimes sheep, fattening on the rich drained marsh grasses.  He would have tended to cattle and other livestock along the southern edge of Breydon Water - an enclosed sea estuary, with the ruins of an old Roman shore-fort called Burgh Castle, on the higher ground immediately above the marshes.  I posted an article of Burgh Castle here.

The view over the marshes from Burgh Castle.

Another ten years later, William Curtis (the senior), and his wife Mary, are now living in Litchfield Place, Southtown, Gorleston.  Age 72, he now lists his occupation, for the very last time, as a Steam Engine Driver.  Now that was a surprise.

William passed away in Gorleston, in March 1888.  He was eighty years old.


William Curtis (II)

I mentioned above, that my 3rd great grandfather, William Curtis (the junior), was born at Buckenham, and baptised at Strumpshaw, Norfolk, in 1830.

William Curtis married Georgianna Larke, at Hassingham Church (photo further above) on the 11th February 1852.  They appear to have lived in the village of Hassingham, Norfolk for several decades.  No evidence this time of flits to Lincolnshire, or down river to Yarmouth.  This generation stayed put.  Georgianna was descended from two parish clerks for nearby Cantley.

Georgianna gave birth to at least nine children at Hassingham: my 2nd great grandfather (pictured at the top of this post) Samuel William Curtis (1852), Theodosia Curtis (1854), Priscilla Curtis (1856), Alfred George Curtis (1858), Sarah Ann Curtis (1861), Mary Curtis (1863), Walter Curtis (1865), Eliza Curtis (1867), and finally, Henry Curtis (1870).

Nothing unusual in their 1861 census record - Will was a 30 year old agricultural labourer with his family living in the parish of Hassingham:

Ten years later in 1871 - living at Hospital Cottages in Hassingham, still all as would be expected:

Another ten years later, William, Georgianna, and their sons and daughters Walter, Eliza, and Henry Curtis, are living on Church Road.  No change, William is an agricultural labourer.  Nothing on record happens to this family.  They are the stereotype of the Norfolk rural working class family.  William's 72 year old father was by now a steam engine driver living at Gorleston.

Move on to 1891.  Not a lot of change.  Except that they are living on Hassingham Road (High) and only their daughter Mary remains with them in the household.  Mary is recorded as an assistant teacher.

1893.  I have a record from the British Newspaper Records that looks like our William Curtis (II).  A farmer named John Draper at Burlingham St Edmund, accuses him in court of cheating him of a toll fee.  He had accused William - described as a teamman (a person that has skills at working a team of horses), of fraud.  Draper suggested that he paid Curtis to take two wagons and several horses to Yarmouth via the new toll road - but that he in reality took them via the old roads and pocketed the toll fee that he had been given.  The only witness backed up Will's account - and the case was dismissed:

However, I suspect that William's reputation was tarnished by this case - and there were few employer farmers in the area.  He survived this.  Maybe his personality and reputation was strong enough for other farmers to trust him.  In 1901, he was living at Broad Farm, Hassingham.  Yes, he was now a 70 year old agricultural worker.

He still had labour to sell.  His beloved wife Georgianna died at Hassingham on the 1st April 1911 age 79.  A few months later, the 1911 census record's Williams status.  Age 80, he is still recorded as a working, employed, agricultural labourer.  Now a widower, he had two of his daughters living with him.  Mary who was single and age 45 (a teacher?), and Sarah, now under a married name - Sarah Stephenson.  She had moved many miles away - but as we will see in the next generation with her sister Theodosia, not everything had gone well.  In the wake of her mother's death, she was back home with her elderly father William.

William continued on.  The Curtis's keep doing this - they had longetivity for a number of generations.  He died at nearby Lingwood, age 96 in 1926.  A grandson, J.P. Curtis, registered his death.  Cause, senility and haematemesis. 


Theodosia and Sarah Ann Curtis - sisters.

As I noted above, two of William (II) and Georgianna's daughters, were named Theodosia Curtis (born 1854), and Sarah Ann Curtis (born 1861) at Hassingham, Norfolk.  They had an elder brother named Samuel William Curtis - pictured right at the beginning of this post.  He was my 2nd great grandfather.  This makes Theodosia and Sarah Ann - my 3rd great aunts.

Theodosia met a fisherman at Yarmouth.  Maybe she was visiting on a market day.  The boys working in the fishing fleet must have been exciting - they risked their life's out at sea, they didn't just work the land - they would sail out.  His name was John Mitchell.  In 1874, Theodosia married John.

They had a son:

He was baptised at Yarmouth in November 1877.  It appears that like many Yarmouth fisherman wifes, Theodosia lived in the Yarmouth Rows.  Her grandmother Mary Curtis, had lived there no more than ten years earlier - and with her grandfather, now lived nearby in Gorleston.

Something happened.  You get that sometimes in genealogy.  a family appears smashed up, removed from records.  I'm going to make a guess.  A lot of fishermen were relocating from East Coast harbours like Great Yarmouth, to Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire.  My guess is that they moved there as a family between Nov 1877 and 1889.  I don't know what happened to their child.  He disappears.  But so does his father, John Mitchell.  He dies.  I can't find them on either the 1871 or 1881 censuses.  In future, Theodosia, now living in Hull, Yorkshire, declares herself as a widow.  Pushed to guess, I'm going to say that John was lost at sea.  It was a hazardous living then.

On the 1st March 1890 at Hull, Yorkshire, the widow Theodosia Mitchell, married a James Petersen, son of a Christiansen Petersen, an officer.  I'm going to guess that these Scandinavian names may be Norwegian.  James Petersen, like her late husband, is recorded as a fisherman.  I have one record of him - that marriage to Theodosia - then he also disappears.

But .. before I continue on Theodosia, let me move back in time to Hassingham in Norfolk, and to her little sister Sarah Ann Curtis.  

In 1881, 20 year old Sarah, was working as a servant in a Yarmouth household.  Was she still in contact with Theodosia - I think so.  

Like her sister, she moved up to Kingston Upon Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire.


The Great Unwritten Migration from Norfolk to Sculcoates, Hull, Yorkshire.

Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration - but I keep seeing Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire - particularly it's district of Sculcoates, in my Family Tree - as a place that a number of siblings of my direct Norfolk ancestors, moved to.  Both on my mother's, and my father's side.  I feel that this is a history that someone needs to write.  It seems that the establishing of the railways, with stations both in Norfolk, and in Kingston Upon Hull in Yorkshire, facilitated a migration event that is unwritten.  The squeeze was being put onto the Norfolk poor.  Hull offered higher wages, expanding fishing and ship building industries, and a higher living standard.  The word spread through the Norfolk countryside.  It can't just be my family!


Back to Sarah.  In late 1890, Sarah Ann Curtis married Albert Edward Stephenson at Sculcoates, East Riding of Yorkshire.  Somehow she had also ended up in Hull - and my best guess is her closeness to her sister Theodosia.  Her groom was, again, a Hull fisherman.  Perhaps he knew Theodosia?

During the 1891 England & Wales national census, I find this:

The two sisters from Hassingham, Norfolk were living next door to each other in Hull.  That brings them together.  Things didn't go well though for Sarah.  Her husband had some severe financial problems.  Perhaps gambling?  He ends up in Wakefield Prison in Yorkshire, guilty of debt, no less than three times between 1896 and 1907:

No wonder perhaps, that Sarah was keen to be with her father in 1911.

Back to Theodosia.  Her second husband, the fisherman, James Petersen, also just vanishes from record.  Abandonment, lost at sea, I don't know, but for the second time, she starts declaring that she is a widow.

In 1896, the widow Theodosia Petersen (née Mitchell, née Curtis), married a George Theakston at Sculcoates, Yorkshire.  George wasn't a fisherman.  He was a carter and van driver.  Perhaps that saved his life - for he was Theodosia's third and final spouse.  In the 1901 Census, they were living at 60 frances Street, West Sculcoates, Hull, Yorkshire.  They had a daughter called Evelyn:

Theodosia Theakston survived long enough to be recorded onto the 1939 Register at the oset of WW II:

She finally passed away at Hull in 1942, age 87.

From Norfolk Labourer to Yankee Gunner

Irstead Church, Norfolk.  The last recorded parish of the Shorten family in England

Union artillery.  American Civil War.

I could call this post "What My Norfolk-English Family did in the American Civil War".

Thomas Shorten marries Rebecca Rose

3rd January, 1838, Thomas Shorten, a local 20 year old, poor agricultural labourer, married 19 year old Rebecca Rose in her home parish of Strumpshaw in Norfolk, England.  Thomas himself was born nearby in the small parish of Southwood, where incidentally, my mother was born some 140 years later.  We don't move far in our family line.

Rebecca was the 4th great aunt of my mother.  Through my mother, I myself am descended not only from Rebecca's parents, John and Martha Rose (nee Rowland), but also from her uncle and aunt Henry and Margaret Rose (nee Ling).  I am descended from Rebecca's grandparents, Henry and Mary Rose (nee Gorll) of Loddon, Norfolk - twice over.

These were incredibly tough times for the agricultural working classes in East Anglia.  Enclosure had disenfranchised them from their ancestral land.  The land had become privatised.  The threshing machine and other new technologies then made even their labour surplus to requirement.  Poverty was made a crime through the Poor Laws.  My family line were the ones that stayed here - but as I research my family history, so I come across time after time, how many of their siblings and cousins were forced to leave East Anglia, to seek a new life in London, the North of England, or abroad in places such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or the USA.

This is the story of one of those families.

Looking for work - Barton Turf

The couple moved from Strumpshaw some fourteen miles north, to a similar Broadland water side landscape at Barton Turf - a small and old  parish adjacent to Barton Broad and to the River Ant in Norfolk.  Maybe Thomas had found precious employment there at a labour fair, or at a market.  There at Barton, it appears that Rebecca gave birth to at least four children between 1843 and 1849 - Rebecca, Thomas, George, and Sarah Ann.  Thomas supported his young family as best as he could - selling his labours and skills to local farmers.  Their children were baptised, not always immediately, at the local Anglican church, the medieval church of St Michael & all Angels.

Irstead Staithe

The growing family appear to have made a small move to the next parish of Irstead - south of Barton Broad.  They lived on the Low Road which I believe was near to the rectory and church at Irstead Staithe, alongside the small River Ant.  The photo of Irstead Church at the top of this post was taken late into the 19th Century from across that river.  A lovely medieval thatched roofed Norfolk church dedicated to St Michael.  Perhaps the family moved along that river on the sailing vessels that passed along, mastered by watermen or a little later, by the wherrymen of Norfolk fame.

At Irstead, Rebecca gave birth to at least four more sons between 1849 and 1854: Henry, Alfred, Robert, and John Shorten.  By the end of that period, they had to feed and to support a total of eight children.  The pressure must have been immense.  They most likely lived in a squalid tied cottage, with no running water.  The children would have been expected to contribute to income or house work as soon as they were old enough.  Boys were expected to earn money in simple agricultural work from around the age of six.

Emigration to New York and the USA

Around 1855 the entire family sailed from England to New York.  I have most of them on passenger lists arriving at New York.  Most of them on one voyage, paid with bonded labour.

New York Passenger List (for some reason the children here were being accompanied by a Mary - although this may have been their mother Rebecca Shorten?).

The family appear then to move westwards across New York State, to the township of Ridgeway in Niagara County.  They were now an East Anglian-American family.

In the 1860 US Census, Thomas and Rebecca, age 51 and 52, are living in the town of Hartland, Niagara, New York.  They have with them George, age 21, Sarah Ann, age 18, Henry, age 16, Frederick (Alfred), age 12, and John, age 7 - all recorded as born in England.  There is also a baby in the household - Priscilla, born in New York.

The American Civil War 1861-1865

Five years after the family arrived in the USA, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and threats to the slave economy of the Southern States, lead to the secession of a new Confederacy from the USA.  The Lincoln government reacted with force.

The Shorten family in Niagara County were not slow to come to the aid of the Unionist Government.  They were now "Yankees".  Their eldest son Thomas, age 24, enrolled in the Union army first - as soon as news reached Niagara - he joined the 28th Infantry Regiment of the New York Volunteers on the 11th May 1861.

His younger brothers followed in 1862.  George Shorten, age 23, Henry Shorten, age 18, and William Shorten, age 17 - all joined the same 25th independent battery, New York Volunteers Light Artillery in the August of that year.  Four sons of Thomas and Rebecca were now fighting on the Union side in the American Civil War - four Norfolk sons.  They grew up in sleepy quiet Irstead, Norfolk, next to the little River Ant.  Now here they were, engaged in a terrible modern war thousands of miles away.  Their Norfolk accents must have still been noticeable.  But their patriotism to their new country undeniable.

All four brothers would have seen substantial action throughout the following years of the Civil War.  In the 28th Infantry of the New York Volunteers, Thomas Shorten (Junior) would have witnessed a number of conflicts with the Confederates during his four years of active service in the Unionist infantry:

His three younger brothers, George, Henry, and William Shorten spent the War together in the same battery of the New York Volunteers Light Artillery:

The death toll of the American Civil War is estimated at 620,000.  The Shorten family were incredibly lucky.  All four brothers came back alive and apparently with no serious physical injuries.  With the victory, they were discharged from their army duties in July 1865.  They could all go home.  Thomas (Junior) after more than four years service, was mustered in South Dakota.  His three brothers all still together in the Light Artillery were discharged in New York State:

Their parents Thomas (senior) and Rebecca were living in Hartland, Niagara County, New York State at the end of the Civil War.  The brothers returned there.  However, five years later, the US 1870 Census records that Thomas (senior) and Rebecca Shorten, now in their early sixties, had moved far to the west, to their own farm in Clinton County, Illinois.  Their youngest sons, Alfred and John still with them.  The poor labourer from Southwood parish had moved a long way.

As for their older sons, I lose track of George after he appears at Hartland, County Niagara in 1865 - but Henry, and William all marry, and go on to father children in New York State.  Thomas (junior) appears in the 1890 Civil War Veterans census in South Dakota, where he had been mustered.

That's what my family did in the American Civil war.

Notes on Medieval Flegg and Broadland, in Norfolk, East Anglia.

Above image copyright of openstreetmap.org.  Modified to show local districts of Broadland and Flegg.

Flegg is a district of two hundreds, consisting of a total of 22 parishes, set in Broadland, in the east of the East Anglian county of Norfolk.  It is thought that with the higher sea levels of the Roman period, that it would have effectively have formed  an island bordered by reed beds, marshes, river valleys on the west and south, and the North Sea in the east.  As sea levels decreased slightly during the Anglo-Saxon period, and drainage systems advanced, so Flegg became better connected to the "mainland".

Roman East Norfolk showing Flegg as an island:

The name "Flegg" is Anglo-Danish in origin, as are many of it's parish names such as Ormesby, Rollesby, Hemsby, Stokesby, Filby, Scratby, Mautby, Thrigby, Billockby etc.  No other district in East Anglia, a region that formed a part of the 10th Century Dane-Law has such a concentration of Scandinavian place-names.

In this post I want to record some transcriptions taken from some studies in my book collection, that relate to Flegg, or to the wider area of Broadland (East Norfolk), during the earlier Medieval period.

The Origins of Norfolk.  Tom Williamson 1993.  Manchester University Press.  ISBN 0 7190 3928

Topography and environment.

"But there are also districts of deep, extremely fertile and easily worked loams, especially on the former island of Flegg.  The whole area is dissected by the wide lush valleys of the Wensum, Bure, Ant, and their tributaries.  The medieval settlement pattern was dispersed, with common-edge hamlets and many isolated churches."

The Norfolk Broads - A landscape history.  Tom Williamson.  1997.  Manchester University Press ISBN 0 7190 4801.

The uplands and islands.

"The Broadland fens and marshes are nowhere so extensive that the traveller loses sight of the 'upland'.  Even in the middle of the Halvergate marshes the higher ground can be seen, low on the horizon, often picked out by the lines of woodland growing on the relict 'cliffs' of the former estuary.  Some of the higher land once comprised islands: Flegg covering some 78 sq km, between the Bure and the Thurne.".
The Anglo Saxon

"During Middle Saxon times - roughly the period between the mid-seventh and late ninth centuries - the local population probably increased once again, and more complex forms of social and economic organisation developed.  The Broads area became a part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia, which was roughly coterminous with the modern counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.  It is possible that the uplands here were more densely wooded than most parts of Norfolk at this time, in spite of the excellence of much of the local soil.  Certainly, many place-names in the area seem to refer to woodland: Acle for example was the ac leah, the oak wood; Fishley, 'the wood of the fisherman'; while both East Ruston and Sco Ruston incorporated the term hris tun, 'the settlement among the brushwood'.  It is possible that, remote from the main centres of power in East Anglia, and exposed to the threat of continued sea-borne raiding, the district was relatively sparsely settled, principally used for grazing.  The importance of the latter in the local economy is again suggested by place-names: Horsey was 'the horse island'; Woodbastwick and Bastwick both incorporate the element wic, 'a grazing farm, ranch'; while the names of Winterton and Somerton - the winter settlement and the summer settlement respectively - suggest the practice of transhumance, the seasonal movement of livestock to distant pastures.  Extensive areas of seasonal grazing must have been opening up in the form of low-lying fens and marshes as the estuaries here began to silt up.  The role of Broadland as an area specialising in grazing and the exploitation of woodland - complementing the arable specialisms of other parts of the East Anglian kingdom - is also perhaps indicated by a particularly noticeable feature of the area at the end of the Saxon period.  Domesday book shows that a very large proportion of the population here was classed not as bondmen - as villeins, sokemen or bordars - but as free men, liberi homines.  Such individuals were very thick on the ground both in Flegg, and on the uplands bordering the south of Broadland, and the power of manorial lords in these areas was correspondingly circumscribed.  There are many views on the nature, and significance of such men: but one interpretation is that they were the descendants of Middle Saxon peasants whose main role had been that of herdsmen or shepherds, and whose obligations to king and nobles were thus less servile or onerous than those of arable producers."

"Elsewhere in Norfolk and Suffolk free men were more thinly spread, although they were almost everywhere a more prominent feature than in other areas of England.  Like other distinctive aspects of East Anglia's social and tenurial structure, they are often interpreted as a consequence of the settlement here, during the ninth and tenth centuries, of immigrants from Scandinavia.  While in reality, the origins of Norfolk and Suffolk's medieval idiosyncrasies are much more complex than this, a Viking elite clearly did come to dominate the East Anglian kingdom around 869 when, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 'The host went from Cirencester into East Anglia, and occupy that land, and share it out.'

In restricted areas there also appears to have been large-scale peasant immigration from Scandinavia.  One of these was Broadland.  Viking place-names - especially those featuring the suffix -by, 'farm, settlement' - are densely clustered on the island of Flegg (a name itself derived from a Scandinavian word meaning reeds), widespread in Lothingland, and scattered more thinly along the upland margins of the Yare and Waveney."

"Whatever the nature (and extent) of Viking settlement in the area, there is no doubt that by the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 the upland parts of Broadland were no longer a sparsely-settled landscape of woodland and pasture.  They were now - together with the neighbouring clayland areas to the south and west - one of the most densely settled and intensively farmed regions in the whole of England.".

The Middle Ages

"The region's dense population, and complex social structure, are manifested in another way: in the small sizes of parishes, and thus in the large number of parish churches.  Indeed the upland areas of Broadland have one of the highest densities of parish churches in Britain.  Many of these (although not the present structures) were already in existence by the time of Domesday: their proliferation reflects not only the comparative wealth of this fertile region, and the need to house large congregations, but also perhaps the confused tenurial structure of the locality.  Families of freemen may have been keen to endow churches in order to establish their status: church-building was the mark of the lord, rather than the peasant."

"In East Anglia, in contrast [sic to the classic "great open fields" elsewhere in medieval English parishes - PB] medieval agricultural systems were much more flexible and individualistic: seldom were the strips widely scattered across two or three great 'fields' but were instead more closely clustered in the vicinity of the peasant's homestead, and individual farmers had more freedom of choice about what they grew and when.  In the west of Norfolk, such freedoms were somewhat limited by the institution of the 'fold course' - the right of the manorial lord to graze sheep across the tenants' land for much of the year.  In Broadland however - where the power of manorial lords was more circumscribed - fold courses were rare and tenants enjoyed almost complete freedom over how they organised their cropping, and rights of grazing over others' land were often limited to the period after the harvest."

Medieval Flegg.  Two Norfolk Hundreds in the Middle Ages East and West Flegg, 1086 - 1500.  Barbara Cornford.  2002. Larks Press.  ISBN 0 948400 98 6

p14. "Until recently the A149 road from North Walsham crossed the river Thurne by the medieval bridge at Potter Heigham"


p 16. "Flegg farmers have always distinguished between the upland and the marsh (The upland in Flegg is all land over five feet above sea level)."

p20. "Yarmouth has always been the market town and urban centre for Flegg.  In the Middle Ages corn from Flegg fed the town.  For centuries Flegg farmers and small-holders have sold their livestock, vegetables and fruit at the Wednesday and Saturday markets."

p22. "The Danish settlement of East Anglia began after 880 AD, when, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Danes occupied the land and shared it out.  They must have come to Flegg in considerable numbers for they gave names to thirteen out of twenty-two villages in Flegg."

p22 "The name Stokesby, which is Saxon in its first element and Danish in its second, is an interesting one.  Not only does it suggest the mingling of the two groups, but it may also explain why the Danes found the Muck Fleet valley virtually empty.  The Saxon word 'stoc', pronounced with a long 'o', was used to describe an 'outlying pasture near water where cattle are kept for part of the year'.  If this is true of Stokesby, then the Danes may well have found only cattle-minders in the valley, with perhaps small and scattered settlements around the heath to the west."

p23. "Most of the Danish village names in Flegg incorporate a personal name, such as Orm (Ormesby), Malti (Mautby), or Hrodulfr (Rollesby).  Dr Sandred believes that these are the names, not of warrior chiefs, but of free farmers, more interested in acquiring land than pillage and warfare."

p24-25. "Danish words have survived in Flegg as they have generally in Norfolk.  Holme means an island and is applied to an area of dry ground in the marsh, often a gravel bank.  Winterton and Somerton Holmes are sufficiently well drained to be ploughed and contain farms.  Medieval field-names include 'gate' for a road, 'wong' for a furlong or collection of strips in the open fields and the 'syk', a marshy strip of land by a stream.  These words are still used.  Ferrygate and Damgate are roads in Martham, villagers go 'over the wongs' from the church to the hamlet of Cess, or through the 'syk' meadow, marshy ground, which was once a navigable stream, marking the boundary between Martham and Bastwick.  One Danish name has vanished.  The hamlet of Sco, mentioned in the Domesday survey, lay where Martham, Bastwick, and Rollesby meet around the present Grange Farm (OS TG 437 172), but Sco never became an ecclesiastical or civil parish.  The word is Danish, from skogre, a wood, and is appropriate for a settlement at the bottom of Speech Oak Hill."

Chapter 2.  Flegg in the Time of the Domesday Book

p29-30. "A few words of explanation are needed about the terms used in the extract.  The hide was a Saxon measurement of land, which notionally contained 120 acres.  In Norfolk, the Danish word carucate, also 120 acres, was used instead of hide.  The carucates and acres recorded are not very accurate measurements but they give a rough idea of the size of a manor dmesne ir a freeman's farm.  The demesne was the home farm of a manor and its produce went to the lord of the manor for his use.  Villeins and cottars, or bordars as they are called in Norfolk, were attached to the manors and provided much of the labour force on the demesne.  Serfs, possibly slaves, were present in small numbers on a few manors.  Freemen and sokemen were always regarded as free tenants.  The number of ploughs is always recorded on manors and on the freemen's and sokemen's holdings.  The word 'plough' includes a team of eight oxen."

p31. "The two Flegg Hundreds, along with others in East and South Norfolk, were the most densely populated in the county.  The freemen, villeins and other tenants were heads of households with dependant families.  I was surprised to see how close the number of Domesday households were to returns from the first Census of 1801.  Many readers will have some idea of what life was like in Norfolk two hundred years ago in the days of Nelson, Parson Woodeford and the Agricultural Improvers.  It is important to remember that Norfolk was probably as busy a place in the late eleventh century, as it was several hundred years later."

"Over two thirds of the inhabitants of Flegg were freemen and sokemen, that is men and women of free status, but it is not always easy to define their position in society.  Sokemen are almost always attached to manors and on some manors had specific services to render to their lords.  On manors belonging to St Benet's Abbey they were often employed as ploughmen.  In theory at least, freemen were free of all feudal control, but most had commended themselves to a powerful lord in order to gain protection.  These freemen, in commendations only, as Domesday says, had minimal obligations to their lords.  They could sell their land, often without even consulting the lord.  They had the right to attend the Hundred Court and to take part in its deliberations.

Freemen and sokemen were numerous all over Eastern England, their numbers declining towards the west.  Historians have thought that it was a Danish origin or influence which enabled the freemen to maintain their independence from feudal pressures.  A more likely cause is now thought to have been the general economic prosperity of eastern England that helped the freemen to withstand the pressures of the feudal lords."

p33."Villeins and bordars account for only a third of the tenants.  Whatever their exact legal status, they were certainly under close control of their manors on which they lived and where they provided most of the labour on the demesnes.  They had their own farms, but the size of their holdings is nor recorded.  A  hundred years later the usual villain holding in Martham was about twelve acres, but there were wide variations.  Bordars had smaller holdings, perhaps about five acres.  Bordars are particularly numerous in west Flegg where the small manors sometimes relied entirely on them for labour.  Only twelve serfs are recorded in Flegg."

p36. "Corn was not the only valuable commodity produced in Flegg.  Both salt production and sheep farming brought in extra income.  The spring tides up the river Bure flooded pools in the estuary with salt water that gradually evaporated in the summer sun and wind.  The resulting brine was taken to earthenware pans on the marsh edge where the brine was heated until the salt crystallised.  At the time of Domesday, Flegg was the centre of salt production in East Norfolk."

p53. "In the twelfth century the introduction of windmills gave the landlords other sources of income.  By 1200 windmills at Herringby and Rollesby had been recorded and by 1300 windmills were common in all Flegg villages.  At the same time the use of horses for ploughing meant that the lords were less dependent on the ox-drawn ploughs of their freemen and sokemen to cultivate the demesne.  By 1245 ploughing was done by horses on the Abbot of St Benet's manor of Ashby and no doubt on most other manors."

p91. "At Martham, as was usual in East Norfolk, a tenant's holding was not a block of land, but a collection of strips in the open fields, usually in the fields nearest to the tenant's home, although some holdings were scattered more widely in the village."

p138. "The Black Death arrived in Norfolk in the spring of 1349 and spread up the river valleys from Yarmouth.  It was particularly severe in South Norfolk, along the Yare and the Bure valleys and on the coast."

p139. "The Inquisition Post Mortem taken after the death of Thomas de Essex in 1351 for his manor of Runham states that all the tenants were dead.".

p144. "It is surprising that Flemings left the Low Countries to work in England after the Black Death.  Flemings were employed in many places in East Norfolk in the 1350s.  In 1355 a Fleming was hired to cut and harvest five acres of wheat in Martham for which he was paid 3s. 4d.  This separate entry suggests that perhaps he worked away from the other harvesters.  The next year a Fleming was employed for eleven days to thresh seven quarters of wheat at 3d. a quarter, which is considerably less than the usual rate of 5d. a quarter.  I have found Flemings mentioned at Rollesby, Ashby, and Scottow.  St Benet's Abbey employed twelve Flemings for the harvest of 1356.  Perhaps these men went round in a gang hiring themselves wherever they were needed.  It is difficult to understand why they came across the North Sea to seek farm work.  It has been suggested that the Black Death did not claim so many lives in the Low Countries where the standard of living was higher and resistance to the disease greater than in most of Europe."

I'm stopping there.  I could take it through the Peasant's Rebellion and the Late Medieval.  I highly recommend Barbara Cornford's little book.  She in particular, has dissected the manorial records of Martham, Norfolk.  She successfully brings the Medieval in that manor to life.  Not so alien.  People were still clearly very much people as we know them.

Summary

On a personal, genealogical level, I have many, many Broadland ancestors on my mother's side recorded over the past 400 years or so.  However, their main cluster area was immediately to the south of Flegg, along the Yare valley in Broadland.  But tracing back - some of the lines there had moved down from the general region of Flegg - Moulton St Mary, Acle, South Walsham, Stokesby, Repps-with-Bastwick, Herringby, Rollesby, Ormesby, etc.  Therefore on a personal level, I've enjoyed researching this history, as I most likely had many ancestors on Flegg a few centuries earlier, during the Later Medieval at least.

I don't have very many photographs taken on Flegg.  Once I've completed the Wherryman's Way long distance trail, I need to explore the churches and landscape of Flegg.

On a Population Genetics Level - 3 points.

  1. The 1348 Black Death.  It killed a lot of families.  At least one third of the population died, in addition to a famine and hard times that preceded the disease for several years before the outbreak.
  2. Once again, I find evidence of admixture in East Anglia, from the Low Countries.  The long term link across the North Sea to the Lower Rhine Valley.
  3. Movement during the 15th Century.  As Feudalism gradually collapsed over the 150 years following the Black Death, more and more people started to move around England - away from their ancient manors and parishes.  Cornfield noted three brothers from Martham during the 15th Century.  One ended up in Ely, Cambridgeshire, another in Halesworth, Suffolk, and the third in London.  Should any of the brothers had returned to the manor they would have owed money to their lord.  They didn't, people were moving around by then.

Flegg doesn't yet have a great landscape history of the Late Prehistoric.  It does have an importance during the Romano-British, with the Fort of Caister etc.  The current story picks up during the Middle Saxon, where we currently get the impression that this last wild landscape of East Anglia was picked up - vulnerable to sea raiders.  It's natural resources at first exploited for woodland materials, then more so as grazing land and pasture.  It's almost bizarre concentration of Danish place-names and words from the Late Saxon period.  I cannot think other than that an Old Danish-speaking people - at the very least, a significant immigration, settled here, and finally founded villages and farmsteads with names.  It's not the traditional story of raiding, marauding Vikings, but of the immigration of farmers.

By Domesday it's full of people and production.  A centre, an agrarian hub.  The imposition of feudal pressure by Norman lords being resisted for centuries by local freemen farmers.  They say that Norfolk does different.  Flegg certainly did, with it's proto-capitalism and relatively (to the West Midlands for example) free labour markets.

Worth recording and appreciating.

Thurne Mill.

East Anglia and the other Low Countries

By en:User:Fresheneesz - en:Image:The Low Countries.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link with modification to include East Anglia in the mini-map for illustration.

Locations of my mother's recorded ancestors in East Anglia.

I've posted on this subject a few times before, by looking at the 16th/17th Century Norwich Strangers at Immigration into East Anglia and more recently at some of my families personal DNA ancestral analysis at Are the South East English actually Belgian?  However, as I continue to see comparisons between our DNA and DNA from samples of Iron Age / Romano-Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Modern Dutch, Modern Belgian, so my interest in links between the Low Countries, and the region of South East Britain known as East Anglia increases.

Here is the latest K36 Oracle map for a member of my family:

I have recently been investigating a link on my mother's ancestry.  One ancestral line of hers that lived in East Norfolk, carried the surname Tammas.  I can only trace it back to a 4th great grandfather, born around 1774.  However, I recently became aware that the surname Tammes can be found in the Low Countries, possibly originating in Friesland.  More evidence perhaps, of post-medieval migration into East Anglia.  I have other surnames on my mother's eastern Norfolk side, that are also found not only in Norfolk, but also in the Netherlands, France and Northern Germany.  For example, Fen, Rosier, Moll, Mollet/Mallett, and Wymer.  The Wymer surname is of interest because in 1881, the UK distribution was still very centered on Norfolk.  Wymer, Weimer, and other variants are found in Northern Germany, and in the Netherlands, including in Frisia.  So there are a few hints of the Low Countries in my recorded genealogy - just there maybe - but do they echo a much older, and wider period?  Just how close are the East Anglians to Frisians, Walloons, Flemish, etc?

The Norfolk coast is as close to the Netherlands, just 113 miles, as it is to London and in medieval times it only took a day to sail to Amsterdam, but four days to travel to London. At that time Norfolk was isolated by muddy marshland and dense forest so we have always looked to the Continent

Source: Visit Norfolk website

The people that carried the Bell Beaker cultural artifacts into Britain at the close of the Neolithic period, most likely (based on genetic and ceramic evidence) did so by crossing from the Lower Rhine Valley (now the Low Countries) on the Continent, to south eastern Britain.  The connection was always there - and most likely, had already existed throughout late prehistory.  The fact is that the Low Countries and north east France are very close to us in sea distance.  It's a fact often understated in discussions around the origins of British people.

Move on to the Iron Age.  That metal work and art style, that is so associated with "Celtic" culture, the La Tène, most likely arrived in a similar fashion.  It could have shifted along the West of the Irish and British Isles along the Atlantic - but it perhaps more likely, shifted here with trade and exchange - perhaps accompanied by people, from what is now north-east France / Belgium.

Towards the close of the Iron Age, Roman historians claimed that parts of south east Britannia had recently experienced an immigration event of Belgic people - from again, the area that we now regard as the Low Countries.  Could it be that all they were witnessing, was the result of long term exchange and contact with that region, perhaps with the additional pressure of Roman expansion - both in terms of war, and in trade.  The Romans even suggested that in the Belgic homeland, they were some sort of blend between Gallic and Germanic.  Rather like the blend of French and Germanic languages in the Low Countries today?

Then we arrive with the Anglo-Saxon period.  We know that there was a major immigration event from the Continent during the 5th Century / early 6th Century AD.  Continental tribes ascribed to the event included not only Angles (from the modern Northern German border with Denmark), but also Frisians and Saxons.  Both Frisians and Saxons were also active in the Northern Low Countries.  Indeed, Old Frisian is regarded as being the closest known language to Old English - from which English as we know it evolved.  Frisian and English belong to the same language group.  For a long time, an East Anglian would most likely have been easily able to understand and communicate with a Frisian fisherman, selling fish at Yarmouth.

A study based in the Cambridge area, based on the DNA and archaeology of a number of human remains from local cemeteries, including of some remains assessed to be recent Anglo-Saxon immigrants, suggested that the modern English are likely to have had 10% to 40% ancestry from Anglo Saxon immigrants - the remainder appearing to be largely inherited from the people that already lived in Britain previous to the Anglo-Saxon immigration event.  They also suggested, that the modern DNA population that most resembled the DNA of their Anglo Saxon remains in Cambridgeshire, were the Dutch and Danish.

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10408

Does the relationship between East Anglia and the Low Countries end there though?  No.

Medieval manorial records in eastern Norfolk, report the employment of Flemish immigrants following the 1348 Black Death.  During the 1350s - 1370s, there are numerous reports of Flemings being paid (albeit at a lower rate of pay) for harvesting, ploughing, and threshing.  There's even a riot in Yarmouth when the locals turned onto the houses of the Flemish workers.

http://paulbrooker.posthaven.com/notes-on-medieval-flegg-and-broadland-in-norfolk-east-anglia

Throughout the Later Medieval, there are a number of references to Dutchmen, Frenchmen and other Aliens living, working, or travelling through the East Anglian countryside and market-towns.

http://paulbrooker.posthaven.com/immigration-into-east-anglia

Then we reach the late 16th Century, and a well documented immigration event to East Anglia and south east England from the Low Countries:

The Strangers’. Norfolk doesn’t have squares, it has plains. The word is from the Dutch ‘plein’ – a reminder that the language was spoken in the streets of Norwich for many years by ‘Strangers’, the flood of religious refugees and traders who fled persecution by the Spanish duke of Alva in the still-to-be-independent Low Countries in the 1560s and 1570s. Historians still debate the exact impact of the Strangers on the city’s key industry of weaving, but there is no doubting the numbers: by 1582 there were 4,679 of them in the city – more than a third of its population. There was still an annual church service in Dutch in their church – the chancel of Blackfriars in Norwich - until 1921.

Source: EDP

More than a third of the population in Norwich, the urban centre for Norfolk, were Dutch, or French-speaking from the Low Countries!  And there were indications that they were also dotted across the East Anglian countryside.  The son of a Walloon 9th great grandfather of my own - Jean Rosiere, was moving across mid and west Norfolk, where he met his wife and settled - perhaps buying wool, or gaining commissions for textiles.

The Huguenots were to follow, with a community in Norwich.

But aside from these population events - there are mentions in the background.  Frisians selling fish at East Anglian sea ports.  north east French fishermen frequently sheltering on Norfolk and Suffolk beaches from bad weather.  The occasional merchant, and artisan, selling their wares in England.  The French and Dutch prisoners of War in the Fens.

And was all of this one direction?  How many East Anglians (for example, puritans and royalists), ended up sailing to the Spanish Low Countries?

An old relationship.

Are the South East English actually Belgian?

The above image illustrates of some of my ancestral locations, as according to documented genealogy.  As can be seen.  I have quite a lot of East Anglian ancestry.  What might also be observed, is the location of East Anglia, and of South East England, in relation to Belgium, the Netherlands, and North East France.

I'm an East Anglian.  Much of my family tree is East Anglian.  Before documented genealogy picks up my family trail, who were the East Anglians, what were their origins?  The traditional answer would be that they were the descendants of the Angles.  An early 5th Century AD tribe, that relocated from Angeln, now in Schleswig Holstein, on the North Germany, South Denmark border.  Them, and maybe a few Saxons, Jutes, Suevvi, etc.  All pretty much from what is now North Germany and Denmark.  See the map below:

Archaeology sort of backs this up ... but also offers some slight alternatives.  At first, British Archaeology supported the Historians - that there was a near genocidal event during the 5th and 6th centuries, where the Anglo Saxon tribes arrived and displaced the Romano-Britons that had until then, lived in South East Britannia.  There certainly is plenty, even, overwhelming evidence, of Anglo-Saxon culture if not settlement in East Anglia at this time.  Below are the locations of a few of the many Anglo-Saxon cemeteries found in East Anglia - and their closest artifact correlations on the Continent - in Northern Germany:

It's all adding up.  However, then, a new trend appears in British Archaeology that plays down the Anglo-Saxon invasion hypothesis. From the 1980's onward, some British archaeologists started to argue that they saw patterns of land use continuity between the Romano-British and Pagan Saxon periods.  They argued there was no archaeology of genocide.  No battle sites.  No mass graves.  Instead they proposed that only limited numbers of Anglo Saxons arrived - and that their culture was largely adopted by the Romano-Britons that already lived here.  Some even suggested that no Anglo Saxons came here - it was merely a cultural import.

Then Genetics stepped in.  Most notably with POBI (Peopling of the British Isles) 2015, but also with a number of other studies, often comparing the DNA from excavated remains to modern populations.  They proposed a new middle house consensus.  No there was no genocide.  The modern English have more old British ancestry than Anglo-Saxon.  However, there was a significant Anglo Saxon immigration event.  But they mixed, intermarried.  Anglo-Saxon culture was adopted, but Anglo Saxons had not displaced the Britons.  They had married them.  The modern English it seems have around 10% to 40% Anglo Saxon ancestry, and 60% to 90% British.  Sort of watered down Celts.

The assumption that we have made, is that rural populations on the front-line immigration - such as East Anglians, were the most watered down, with highest percentages of Anglo-Saxon ancestry.  Why not.  The archaeology would support that.  The East Anglian landscape is littered with Anglo-Saxon, and Anglo-Danish place-names.  It is the most Anglo-Saxon landscape, and later, was firmly within the Dane-Law.

My Ancestry

It's all over this blog.  However, in summary, I am an East Anglian.  Born at Norwich, with all four grandparents of Norfolk birth.  I have been researching my family tree using genealogy, for thirty years, on and off.  I have accumulated the recorded names of 490 direct ancestors.  Around 80% or more of this ancestry lived here in East Anglia.  At Generation 6 (3rd great grandparent), my ancestry was 97% South East English, and 3% Swiss.  This is demonstrated in this fan chart of my recorded ancestry:

If that's not East Anglian enough - look at the right hand side of that fan chart, my mother's side.  My mother has 225 of her direct ancestors recorded, and everyone lived firmly in East Anglia.

I have documents, likenesses in family photos, and family stories to back my narrative ancestry; but I am also gradually building biological evidence through the use of DNA matches to other testers, that share a common ancestry with me, that correlates well with the shared DNA:

That the vast majority of our ancestry is very rural, and poor agricultural working class, would suggest that we have had ancestry here in East Anglia for a very, very, long time.  I have traced some lines back to early parish records in the 16th Century.  I would expect that many of our ancestors belonged to peasant families in Medieval Norfolk and Suffolk.  These, I'd expect were the descendants of Anglo Saxons, Romano-Britons, and Danes.

Here comes the paradox.

Population Genetics and the DNA

Documentary evidence confirms that I'm an East Anglian, and English.  But when I tested with the commercial DNA-for-ancestry vendors, such as 23andme or FT-DNA, my results, although seeing me as pretty firmly, a North West European, doesn't really see me as particularly British.  23andme suggested only 32% British.  They instead suggest that my ancestry is rather Continental.  High levels of "West European" or "French & German".  I at first assumed that this was ancient or early medieval ancestry, my Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish East Anglian roots showing through.

But is that the case?  Analysis using some of the latest calculators challenge that.  Here are the PCA locations of myself and my mother, on one such calculator.  This one (By David Wesolowski) includes many modern references grouped on language family, but also includes some references from actual ancient DNA in Northern Europe, including some extracted from Anglo Saxon remains in Cambridgeshire, close to East Anglia:

You see the red squares represent the Anglo Saxons in Cambridgeshire?  Mine and even my very rural East Anglian mother's place well to the right of them, closer to modern day Irish speakers, overlapping with modern day French speakers.  More Celtic it seems than Anglo Saxon.

Here's another PCA showing our positions (red myself, orange, my mother), this one by Lukasz, but based on the Eurogenes K36 calculator:

It puts me closer to Flemish then Walloon, followed by SE English.  Finally a third PCA, from Eurogenes K15: 

We consistently position between SE England and North France, Belgium, and the Netherlands; rather than between SE England and Northern Germany and Denmark.  It appears that we relate closer to Normans, Belgians, Walloons, Flemish, and Dutch - than we do to modern day North Germans or Danes.  Here is our K36 Oracle maps by Lukasz:

My mother has a slight more pull from Denmark and Schleswig Holstein.  Perhaps this is from early medieval Angle/Danish settler in East Anglia?  However, we both pull strongest outside of England, from the Low Countries.  Flemish, Dutch, and Walloon come up as closest Continental matches.  I'm not surprised.  I've noticed for some time, that the big vendors appear to give some testers of Normandy, Hauts-de-France, Belgium, and the Netherlands ancestry, very similar results to my own.

If our results were at all representative of East Anglians of local ancestry, then the modern East Anglian is perhaps as much, or more of a Belgian than he or she is a Dane or Angle.  So I've added a secondary circle to the map that I used above, to illustrate what are popularly beleved to be the origins of the East Anglians.  The new blue circle, represents not what history or archaeology suggests, but what my family's DNA currently suggests:

Note that I have included South East Britain in there - because clearly, there was no displacement.  The Romano-Britons were among our ancestors.

The Language Connection.

It has long been noted, that the very closest dialect or language to English, is West Frisian.  Old Frisian and Old English (or Anglo Saxon) were close.  Linguists group them together as "Anglo-Frisian".  Why is this?  If we all descend from Angles and Danes?

When did our "Belgian" ancestors arrive in Britain?

By Belgian, I'm referring to ancestors that we share not only with Belgians of local ancestry, but also the North French, and the Dutch.  Answer.  I don't know.  All that I am pointing out, is that the DNA of my East Anglian family appears to be more like that of people that today live in that part of the Continent, than in Denmark, Norway, or even North Germany.  However, here are a few ideas:

  1. The Bell Beaker.  During the Late Neolithic.  We believe that the British Bell Beaker people largely crossed over from the Lower Rhine Valley.
  2. The Belgae.  I'm not quite so sure about this one, but let's just go with it.  Roman historians recorded a late Iron Age migration from the Belgium area, into South East Britain.  They described them as using a Celtic language and culture, but being closer related to Germanic tribes to the east.
  3. An unrecorded migration from Northern France to Southern Britain during Late Prehistory.  This one was suggested by POBI 2015, that claimed to detect a relationship between the Southern British and Northern France, that they claimed was most likely Late Prehistoric.
  4. Roman Britain.  Britannia was often administered along with Gaul.
  5. Saxo Frisia.  Saxons didn't only Southern Britain, they also settled the Low Countries, where they took the name of the earlier tribe there - the Frisians.  Did many Anglo-Saxon settlers actually crossed over from Frisia?
  6. Norman.  1066 and all that.  A whole new elite arrived, often bringing artisans and supporters with them.
  7. Angevin and Medieval French.  For a time, large regions of France were ruled along with England.  French artisans, merchants, monks, priests, etc.
  8. The Elizabethan Strangers.  Protestant refugees were invited from the Low Countries, both Dutch and Walloons.  They particularly settled towns in South East England such as Norwich, and Colchester during the 16th and 17th centuries.
  9. The Huguenots.  French Protestant refugees that arrived during the 17th and 18th centuries.
  10. Background migration.  My favourite.  In addition to all of the aforementioned proposed migration events, the slow, gradual contact between South East England and the Low Countries / Northern France, that has always been there.  The drip-drip in the background.  That the North sea and Dover Strait separating the two areas is so narrow.  Merchants, refugees, masons, artisans, weavers - the Dutchmen and Frenchmen recorded as Aliens in many post medieval surveys.  The fishermen from Haut-de-France that frequently beached on the Norfolk coast.  The dutch herring fishermen that traded herring at Yarmouth market.
Summary.

All of this hinges on the DNA test results of just one Norfolk family.  I'm just making observations here, and I would so love to see more East Anglians test, and to use these calculators, to explore their ancient ancestry as well.  I have seen only one other East Anglian of a local family test, and their test results were similar to my own:

My 23andme "speculative Ancestry Composition results:
The other East Anglian local tester:
Pretty similar.

I'm NOT claiming that modern East Anglians or South East English, of local ancestry, do not have Anglo-Saxon, or perhaps Old Danish ancestry.  My mother's K36 radiates slightly around Denmark and Schleswig Holstein.  I'm NOT claiming that all East Anglians with local family trees would have the same results as my family.  However, if they did turn out to do so... then it would appear that we have so far under-rated our close relationship to the Low Countries.

We need more ancient DNA from Anglo Saxons, Angles in Schleswig Holstein, Frisians, Iron Age South-East British, South-East Romano-British, Franks, Old Danes, and others if we are ever to sort this out.  And we need more South east English of local recorded ancestry to DNA test, and to take an interest in population genetics.

Until then, I will postulate that on top of that red circle (Denmark, Northern Germany) - we South East English have more ancestry from that blue circle (Netherlands, Belgium, and North East France), than is popularly assumed.

East Anglian Ancestry for far-away genealogists

User:Ras52, OpenStreetMap, Amitchell125 [CC BY-SA 1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This guide is really aimed at distant cousins with ancestry from the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. It's the perspective of a present day East Anglian from the ground.  My ancestors were the ones that usually stayed in East Anglia.

First - definitions of what constitutes East Anglia.  One modern governmental definition: "the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire".  Estate Agents, trying to sell properties in idyllic East Anglia, often go even further, also including Huntingdonshire, Rutland, parts of Lincolnshire, and Essex.  The ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia (see above image), didn't really include these add-ons.  I go with that, but include parts of northern-most Essex.  Why?  Because on the ground, those areas still feel (and sound) East Anglian.  Norfolk, Suffolk, eastern Cambridgeshire, and northern most Essex.  That feels East Anglian.  But it's heart remains the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.

East Anglia is situated on the North Sea coast of South-East England.  It is lowland.  A chalk bed lazily slopes down from west to east, with a layer of  boulder clay on top running through mid Norfolk and high Suffolk.  I say high, nowhere in East Anglia is high.  This is Low Country.  Our hills are in the main, very gradual, slight affairs.  To the west of the chalk bed, lays even lower country - the ultra-flat landscape of the East Anglian Fens.  Wetlands that have been drained for agriculture in rich peat and silt soils.

East Anglia is rural.  It is agricultural.  Largely arable, with favoured crops of wheat, barley, sugar beet, and oil seed rape.  Medium size agri-business fields of crops across a very gently rolling lowland landscape, with parish church towers around every corner, and a buzzard in every copse of trees.  Ancient narrow roads with bordering hedgerows, twist around long forgotten open fields and farmsteads.  Mixed farming enters the river valleys, where cattle are fattened on rich grasses.  Intensive pig and poultry broiler units also dot the landscape.

What about the East Anglians?  That is one of the subjects of this post.

East Anglia isn't on the road to anywhere, but East Anglia.  You don't pass through East Anglia on the way to the Industrial North, Scotland, Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham, or London.  It's far out on the periphery of Hub.co.uk.  It's main urban centres are the small City of Norwich, and the towns of Ipswich, Kings Lynn and Bury St Edmunds.  They are all, 'small'. Norwich comes in at a lowly 48th in English town by population size.  You see, small.  Far more medieval towers than modern high rise towers.

After the urban centres, most modern East Anglians probably live in or near the market-towns.  These are really tiny "towns" some little more than villages.  Some are lovely, ancient, with unspoiled centres and market places.  Places such as Wymondham, Holt, Diss, Woodbridge, Swaffham, Beccles, Pulham Market, Laxfield, Long Melford, etc.  There must be dozens scattered across East Anglia.

Wymondham market-town centre.

The rest of the East Anglians live in the countryside, outside of the market-towns.  Trying to explain this to American genealogists where the old Roman ideal of planned city prevails, is difficult.  We have villages.  We have lots of them.  Most are early Medieval in origin.  They are set in ancient divisions known as parishes.  Many East Anglians now live in suburbs on the edges of towns - but until a century or two ago, most of them lived further out in the countryside, in these villages.

How many villages have we got in East Anglia?  Would you believe, somewhere around 1,300, with over 700 in the county of Norfolk alone.  They absolutely dot the East Anglian countryside.  Living in the countryside, in farmsteads and villages - that really is the Anglo-Saxon way of Life.  Look at the below snip of a part of south Norfolk.  See all of those red circles.  Villages.  The Blue circle is a market town on the old Roman road (A140).

© OpenStreetMap contributors

Until a few centuries ago, most East Anglians lived in the countryside.  Most of these villages will have a medieval church.  There are more than 600 of them in Norfolk.  They'll also often have a later non-conformist chapel as well.  Over 600 medieval religious buildings in Norfolk!  Possibly the highest density of medieval churches anywhere in the World.  This is because Medieval Norfolk was central.  It wasn't so peripheral before the Industrial Revolution.  The medieval City of Norwich was the second or third largest city in England after London.  All of those empty medieval churches.  Where did the populace go?  Some of them may have been your ancestors.

How about the origins of the East Anglians themselves?  Who are they?

There are very few "Celtic" place-names in East Anglia, other than the Ouse river system.  Most of the villages and place-names in East Anglia are of Anglo-Saxon origin, dating to between the 6th and 10th centuries AD, around 1,200 years ago.  In addition there are a number of place-names that are Anglo-Danish in origin, dating to the 9th - 11th centuries AD, with a cluster of them in eastern Norfolk.  See the map below, of the area called Flegg, an Anglo-Danish place-name in itself.  All of those -by place-names - they were most likely settled by "Viking" Danish immigrants during the 9th to 11th centuries.

© OpenStreetMap contributors

Previous to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons during the 5th century AD, the region that we know call East Anglia had for centuries,  been a part of the Western Roman Empire.  Even further back than that, at the turn of prehistory to written history, the northern parts of the region were the home of the Iceni tribal federation, and the southern part to the Trinovante.  These Late Iron Age peoples were descended from an immigration event from the Continent into the British Isles that took place some 2,000 years earlier.  Call their ancestors Bell Beaker, Celt, British Celt, or Ancient Briton - their DNA is still the most dominant aspect of the modern British, and even English gene pool.  The Roman occupation appears to have had little impact on their genetic make up.

Then the Anglo-Saxons arrived.  They came from what is now Northern Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands.  Early Anglo-Saxon artifacts found in East Anglia, have their closest correlation on the Continent with artifacts in Northern Germany, south of the Danish border.  This was the origin of the Angles - which the early kings of East Anglia clearly identified with.  Saxo-Frisians in what is now the Netherlands were well placed to migrate to the region, and contributed to this migrant community.

The most recent genetic studies suggest that rather than displace the Britons in the lowlands, that the Anglo-Saxons admixed with them in marriage.  Indeed, as I said, genetically, the DNA of the earlier Britons is still the majority component, even in England.  There was no genocide.  However, an Anglo Saxon identity, culture, and language was adopted by all during following centuries.

West Stow reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village in Suffolk.  The birth of the East Anglian village.

Not all of the Continental DNA in East Anglia arrived here during the 5th or 6th centuries AD.  Some may have already been here from the Empire, or earlier.  Some arrived during the 9th to 11th century settlement of Danes in the region.  Then the Normans.  The Medieval saw Angevins from Aquitaine, and other French arrive.  Then during the 16th century, there was a significant settlement of Elizabethan Strangers (protestant refugees) from what is now the Netherlands.  Huguenots followed.  Asides from these noteable immigration events, there would have been a drip-drip feed of foreigners into the region.  Dutch herring fishermen and engineers, Lithuanian timber and fur traders.  Drovers from the Midlands.  Indeed surname studies suggest that during the late medieval and following Tudor periods, there were a number of people moving into the Norfolk countryside - from the Continent, but also from other parts of England such as for example, Yorkshire.  East Anglia isn't on the way to any where, but neither is it totally isolated from ingress of new settlers.

The consequence of the location of East Anglia in the North Sea World, is that Genetic Genealogists looking at their DNA "Ethnicity Estimates" or "Ancestry Composition" results might see high levels of DNA matching the panels for the Continent, rather than for the British Isles.

How did the East Anglians live?

Many genealogists proudly brag of documented descent from early medieval kings and emperors (usually Charlemagne).  The lines that they trace in order to claim this must be those of the minority of the medieval European population - the titled and landed nobles, with their heraldic records.  This elite weren't really representative of the entire population.

East Anglians were mainly rural, untitled, and really didn't have a lot of wealth.  During the feudal Medieval, most East Anglians would have been within the ranks of the common peasantry, owing a range of fealties to their lords, in return for protection.  Not all were particularly free, although there were high percentages of freemen peasants in eastern Norfolk.  Others were tied in levels of servitude to their manors.  They tilled their strips in the communal open field systems.  They grazed their meagre livestock on the commons.  They also worked the lord's land, supplied him with sheep fencing, ale, fuel, and grains.  When called on, the men would have served the lord in wars against the Scottish, French or other houses.  Life was hard, brutal, and often too short.  However, the abundance of medieval churches across the region testify to the wealth that their labour actually created.  It testifies to the success of their medieval economy here in East Anglia.

Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter c1325-1335 f74v - BL Add MS 42130

Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter (c.1325-1335), f.74v  See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.  Originally published/produced in England [East Anglia].

Most peasant families didn't even adopt hereditary surnames until around the 13th to 15th centuries AD.  Except for brief mentions in manorial records, tithes, and polls, most don't even enter the records until 1538, when parish registers were introduced with the English Reformation.  So unless you tie into an aristocratic line - you are not going to trace your East Anglian ancestry much further back than 1550.  Indeed, many parish registers are damaged, lost, or destroyed.  Many records are illegible.  There is no guarantee of making it back that far.  I find it difficult to trace back rural East Anglian roots with a high degree of certainty much earlier than 1720, for the lack of correlative evidence from censuses, transcripts, etc.
Hoard of 12th century (Henry III) hammered silver coins recovered in Norfolk, and recorded by my late father.

Not all East Anglians worked the soil.  There were skilled crafts people such as the cordwainers, potters, smiths, and weavers.  Some based in villages, others in the towns.  Protestant beliefs and practices spread across Eastern England following the Reformation, particularly in urban areas.  This was re-enforced during the late 16th century AD, when protestant refugees from the Roman-Catholic crown, in the Netherlands, were invited to settle in Norwich, Ipswich, and elsewhere across East Anglia and south east England.  One poll of Norwich at this time suggested that as much as one third of the City population consisted of these Dutch and French protestants.  They were invited not only as allies against Roman Catholic Europe, but to bring their valuable crafts and skills to East Anglia.

Their protestant vigour was infectious.  East Anglia became a hot bed of Protestantism.  As the Crown and Establishment turned down the Reformation, opting for keeping Conservative values in their Anglican Church, so the Protestants ... protested.  Some hopped back over the North Sea to the Netherlands, which had for the time being, repelled the Catholic powers.  However, some of these most puritan protestants then asked the English king for permission to set up their own colonies in New England.  Permission was readily granted.  The Puritans left Eastern England en mass.  The point though is that this particular chapter of East Anglians migrating away, was centred in main, on urban classes, skilled workers, and  those that could actually afford the voyage.

Norfolk saw little bloodshed during the 17th century English Civil War, as it was safely Parliamentarian. Except for a riot and explosion in Norwich when the Puritans tried banning Christmas. 

Back to the countryside...

Between the 16th and 19th centuries AD, the descendants of the old East Anglian peasantry had to adapt to a number of economic changes that were not in their interest.  The great land owning families were enclosing and renting out their lands to free tenant farmers, breaking up the old manorial estates.  Some fields were enclosed, and the peasants found themselves replaced by more profitable sheep.  Even the commons were enclosed and privatised.  While the more entrepreneurial freemen rented out land to farm themselves, as tenant farmers, many others found themselves surplus to requirement, and alienated from the soils that had fed their ancestors for generations.  They became farm hands, the great army of "ag labs" (agricultural labourers) of the 19th century censuses.  Not all  labourers were equal.  The more fortunate, loyal, and skilled might find themselves almost in full employment, with a regular wage and a tied cottage.  The less fortunate were the paupers.  Seasonal workers that had to constantly look for work, or beg for parish relief.  The rural poor didn't always accept these changes without resistance.  In 1381, Norfolk and Suffolk peasants joined in a rebellion that threatened London.  In 1549, Norfolk peasants rose into an army that captured the City of Norwich.  In 1830, East Anglia was a centre of the Swing Riots.

Many agricultural labourers and their families still married and baptised as Anglican at the Church of England, but although much of the puritanical fervour had by now swept away from East Anglia, many were increasingly turning to non-conformist chapels of the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Methodists.  The Primitive Methodists were particularly successful in East Anglia during the 19th Century.

If you had rural working class East Anglian ancestors during the 16th to 19th centuries, imagine them very poor.  Following the Agricultural Revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, new machines and technologies replaced much seasonal and manual labour on the fields.  The commons, where the poor had grazed their animals had been taken away.  Poor relief was ceased, and the desperate were forced to enter prison-like workhouses, in order to be fed - families split into separate dormitories, the poor harshly penalised, and discouraged from asking for relief.

How the land owners, farmers, and parsons saw it - the East Anglian countryside simply had a large surplus of unwanted labour.  They were encouraged to leave.  Some to far away colonies - Australia and Canada.  Others to feed the factories and mills of the Industrial Revolution in places like Newcastle, Yorkshire, or London.  For many - the railways arrived just in time to escort them away.

Example of East Anglian Accent.

Researching rural East Anglian ancestry

Understand that:

  1. Most East Anglians were not titled, nor recorded in heraldic records.
  2. Parish registers online are incomplete.  Not all parishes or registers have even been digitally photographed.
  3. Some parish registers have been lost, destroyed, or are badly damaged.
  4. The transcriptions of the registers on some online genealogical services are sometimes incorrect.  Always if you can, try to see scans of the original registers online.  Because of these frequent errors, the databases often fail on searches.
  5. If your ancestor was rural, use OpenStreetMap.org and magnify down to get to really know the area that they lived in.  Appreciate distances by foot.  People did sometimes move more than several miles - but very often in East Anglia, didn't!  It's not unusual to see one family in the same small parish for several generations.  Sometimes marrying cousins.  It was the arrival of the railways, that sometimes allowed families to finally escape the rural poverty.
  6. You find Harry X marries Mary Z in a village.  You search the online databases for his baptism (and parentage).  You find a baptism of a Harry X in the same county.  You add him and his parents to your tree.  Problem is ... the baptism was 23 miles away, and you don't realise it, but there were a number of Harry X at the same time, several closer to the place of marriage - you have made an error.  You just saw the one on the database.  More research might have uncovered a more likely candidate, with siblings named like his children, in the village next to that in which he married Mary Z.  Getting to know the area really well may have made you search harder.
  7. Illegitimacy is a surprise to some.  You will see plenty of it in 18th and 19th century East Anglia.  It was generated by poverty, poor housing, poor education, and desperation.
  8. Most of your rural working class ancestors will be illiterate, and sign with an X.  Education of the labourers was discouraged.  However, now and then, you will find one that served as the parish clerk.  Some could read.
  9. Widows and widowers, with children in tow, would frequently remarry quickly.  Support for the children was vital to keep them out of the workhouse.
  10. Infant mortality can be very depressing or sobering.  Expect some high rates.
  11. Don't be surprised to find ancestors listed as paupers, or as inmates in workhouses, gaols, or even the asylum.
  12. Check non-conformist church records, as well as the Anglican.  The Methodists operated by "circuits".

My Drover Ancestors - walking in footsteps

I've recently, through DNA matching, reinvestigated my Peach ancestors of the Maxey area of Northamptonshire.  The men of this family were usually recorded as drovers or shepherds.  Below for example, are some of my Peach drovers as they stayed for the night at an inn in Hoe, Norfolk during 1851. Young James there, walking livestock from the other side of the Fens, was the 20 year old younger brother of my 3rd great grandfather, David Peach.

The family lived for a number of generations, in the area of Stamford, Maxey, and Eye, in what was then the County of Northants, close to Peterborough.  It was the perfect base for the transportation of Welsh cattle, sheep, and other livestock, from the North and West, across the Fen droves, and down to the rich meadows, pastures, and marsh grasses of East Anglia, where livestock could be fattened, before then being driven down to markets including Smithfields in London. Before the railways, this livestock had to be transported the hard way - by foot along a number of trails and droves, that took in watering points, grazing, and were secure from gangs of rustlers.

Many drovers were young men, that later settled as shepherds and labourers.  They were travellers outside of their home areas.  Visitors to far away inns, markets, fairs, and parishes.  Maybe that was an attraction for some local girls, such as my 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Ann Riches, of the South West Norfolk parish of Great Hockham.  These lads from far away, with strange accents.  Did she walk back with my 3rd great grandfather David Peach, all the way back to Northamptonshire?  They married at Holywell Lincolnshire, in 1835.  Sarah must have been heavily pregnant, because she gave birth to their daughter Ann Peach a few months later at Etton, Northants.

The livestock that these drovers were paid to walk many miles were often highly valuable, their monetary value far in excess of the personal value of a poor drover.  They had to be trusted to take care of them, and to behave with honesty.  It would be so easy to sell an animal on the journey, and to claim that it had died of natural causes.  Some drovers broke that trust.  In 1837, my 3rd great grandfather, David Peach, was convicted at Lincoln Assizes of stealing two cattle.  He was taken to a prison hulk ship moored into the Thames.  A few months later, he was transported for Life.  His convict ship stopped off at Norfolk Island, before then moving him to Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania) in 1838.  He was sent to the notorious hard labour Port Arthur convict settlement.  Some years later he was pardoned, but he was not granted licence to return to Britain.

Meanwhile, his young family suffered.  His wife Sarah Ann, with their young daughter, Ann Peach, returned to her family in Norfolk.  A wife of a convict, even if transported for Life, could not remarry.  She had to find means to survive and to raise Ann on her own.  She lived many years in the Norfolk market town of Attleborough, where she scraped a livelihood as a charwoman.  She had two further children.  One, she named David Wilson Peach.  Wilson, most likely the biological father - but she gave him her husband's first name.  Did she still harbour strong feelings for her far away husband?

Other male Peach's in the family continued to drove, as the above 1851 census reveals.  David was literally in another world.  Two of Sarah's siblings, Henry Riches and Maria Hudson (nee Riches), also migrated to Tasmania, albeit during the 1850s as volunteer settlers to the north of the Island.

Walking in footsteps

I had one of those time-traveller moments today.  It occurred to me, as I found a DNA match supporting my descent from these drovers, when I visited a website about them, how I on a personal level, have always been a long distance walker.  From sponsored long distance walks as a kid, until walking the Marriot's Way, and Boudicca Way in Norfolk only this year.  I absolutely love walking through the countryside.  Testing my endurance.  With a dog or two even better.  I've walked the Peddars Way twice, the Fen Rivers Way, the North Norfolk Coast Path, and the Weavers Way.  In 2016, I walked a part of the Pennine Way.  But all of those walks, some of them would have even crossed where my drover ancestors crossed.  With their dogs.  It's almost as though we have that hereditary link.  I'm the descendant of drovers and I walk.  Without knowing it, I have walked in their footsteps.

Here are some of my photos from my 2017 walks.  Perhaps some of these landscapes may not have been too dissimilar to the green lanes and landscapes that they knew (albeit without the huge open fields).

So maybe, just maybe, there is a link there.  The guy that just loves to walk through the East Anglian countryside all day, and those drovers of the Nineteenth Century.  The desire to walk and to explore.