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.

The Baxter-Hudson Enigma

My great great grandfather, William Bennett Baxter.  Born 8th January 1846 at Gressenhall Union Workhouse, Norfolk.

I'm creating this post in order to try to make sense of a family history that has a confusing, sometimes conflicting series of evidences.  I'll start with the order of discovery.

I learned nearly 30 years ago, that my paternal grandfather's maternal grandfather was named William Bennett Baxter.  He was named as such on my great grandparent's marriage certificate.  I met aunts that remembered a few accounts of him.  My grandmother had the above photo of him.  My late grandfather, Reginald Brooker, had been raised by his grandparent's, the Baxters, in the wake of his parent's marital breakdown.

The next step in discovery, was when I bought copies of his marriage and birth certificates from the GRO in London.  They told me that he was the illegitimate son of an Eliza Baxter, born in 1846 in the workhouse at Gressenhall, Norfolk.  I've made many visits to Gressenhall Rural-Life Museum since then - set in the old buildings of that workhouse.  Eliza would have been punished for being a single mother in need of relief.  She would have been marked out, made to wear a yellow jacket of shame.  His marriage register record at Swanton Morley, Norfolk, also suggested that his father was a labourer, named William Bennett.  I know that on marriages, illegitimate born people often claimed an imagined or faked father, to avoid what was then, a shameful thing.  But his full name would support that his biological father was indeed, named William Bennett.  It might be a coincidence, but there was a young miller in the area at the time named William Bennett.  It's just difficult to prove - although perhaps one day, another DNA match?

I couldn't find any references to 3rd great grandmother Eliza Baxter - for many years.  I eventually lost interest in genealogy.  When I returned to it, three years ago, Internet Online Genealogy, and even Genetic Genealogy had emerged.  Indeed, I'm looking into this now, because I have a DNA Match in South Africa, that I suspect, relates to myself with shared ancestry somewhere around the Baxter Line.  I'm writing this partly for her.

Online Genealogy has allowed me to greatly extend my family tree, and often, to fill it with actual stories - which as some of my recent posts suggest - I love to do.

More Recent Discoveries - the Censuses 1861/1851

I found his mother, I believe that I found Eliza Baxter.  I thought maybe she died soon after 1846 - the poverty, or perhaps married someone, took a new name - left her son behind.  I was wrong.  At least I think that I was.  How did I miss her?  In 1861, she was still in Swanton Morley:

Eliza Baxter, an unmarried servant in a household headed by a Robert Hudson.  Wait a minute, below her are a William Baxter age 15 years of age (born circa 1846 - that HAS TO BE our William Bennett Baxter), and he has a little sister, a Faith Baxter age 12 years.  My great grandmother - William's daughter, was born later in 1885 as Faith Eliza Baxter.  She was named after her aunt here, and her grandmother.  Although Eliza is an unmarried servant, quite clearly, they are her children.  Surprised that Robert Hudson is okay with that.  wait a minute, William and Faith are recorded in the census as grandchildren of the householder, Robert Hudson.  Ah, so they are family.  Eliza isn't just a servant there.  William - as I explained above, might have had a biological father named William Bennett.  But here, William is recorded as a grandson of Robert Hudson.  Which son of Robert, is claiming to be the father of William and Faith Baxter?  The only contender in the household there in 1861 is Robert's son, John Hudson.  A 42  year old labourer.  Even if he wasn't the biological father of William - it looks as though he may have had a relationship with Eliza, he may even have been the biological father of Faith, but the record in the census keeps it all respectable.  It says Eliza is an unmarried servant.

But turn the page of that 1861 census - and there are more grandchildren of Robert Hudson in that household:

Two granddaughters born at Swanton Morley of John Hudson called Faith in the same house?  One Faith Baxter born circa 1849, the other Faith Hudson born circa 1855?  Confusion.

You'll see these people appear to keep changing surname, age, and place of birth.  In genealogy, that normally suggests that you are tracing more than one individual - making genealogical mistakes.  But you'll see, there is a common thread uniting these people, suggesting contradictory evidence.

In that 1861 census, Eliza is recorded as being born at Runhall around 1823.  However, who was talking to the census enumerator?  Our Eliza was born in 1820 at East Dereham.  Not an awful distance from Runhall - but the first contradiction.  As for William - he is perfect, and the name of his sister fits the family history perfectly.

Let's go back in the census.  I appear to find the family 10 years earlier, but with contradictions.  Let's go to the 1851 census.

This HAS to be them ten years earlier.  A John & Elizabeth Hudson, with children William and Faith Hudson.  The entry is actually outside of Norfolk, over in the Fens at Ramsey, Cambridgeshire.  John is recorded as working as an excavator, without much doubt - working on a Fen drainage system.  Hang on - here he claims Leicester as being his place of birth!  Is this the same John Hudson as in 1861 - because he recorded Swanton Morley as his place of birth, where he then lived with his father.  Elizabeth (Eliza?) claims Hardington, Norfolk as her place of birth, and that she was born circa 1822.  I don't believe that there is a Hardington in Norfolk.  You might think that this is the wrong family.  But, William "Hudson" was born around 1846 at Swanton Morley, Norfolk.  Perfect for our William Bennett Baxter - Faith fits perfect as well born circa 1849 for Faith Baxter rather than the six year old Faith Hudson in the 1861 census. I have no idea where her claimed birthplace of Grassland, Norfolk is.  How could there be another family with so many correlations in 1851 that matches in our family in 1861?

I at this point, should state a doppelganger couple.  There was a contemporary John & Eliza Hudson at Necton in Norfolk.  But the bride was named Eliza Ollett, and no children called William or certainly Faith.  I'm aware of their existence.

When I think it over, I'm reasonably happy that this 1851 family residing at Ramsey, are the same as the family residing with Robert Hudson at Swanton Morley, in 1861.  But I can't explain the contradictions.  If I accept them - then William Bennett Baxter, my 2nd great grandfather, was the same person as William Hudson, born Swanton Morley (neighbouring Gressenhall Workhouse), in 1846.  He had a younger sister born circa 1849, named Faith Baxter or Faith Hudson.  John Hudson was perhaps her biological father.

Do you see the contradicting evidences?  They continue.

Faith Hudson-Baxter

Faith was baptised as Faith Hudson at Swanton Morley church, in Norfolk, on Christmas Eve, 1848.  That suits Faith Baxter better than the six year old Faith Hudson in 1861.  Her parents are recorded as John & Eliza Hudson.

I can't find their marriage records.  John Hudson is stated as a labourer:

I don't find a baptism or a birth certificate for a brother in 1846 called William Hudson, but I have a copy of a birth certificate for William Bennett Baxter.  Let's face it - they are the same person, born 8th January 1846 at Gressenhall Union workhouse, near to Swanton Morley in Norfolk.  I don't believe that John and Faith were married.  Not an uncommon situation in the 19th century working classes - nor for this area of Norfolk I suspect.  I've seen local rectors complaining about the situation (what they referred to the sad state of concubinism in the district) of their lack of parental marriage, or didn't care.  He baptised Faith.

There's more - more contradictions.

I believe that my 3rd great aunt Faith Hudson-Baxter married a William Codling at Litcham, Norfolk in 1866.  If it was her, she recorded a John Baxter as her father.  But that could have been the normal cover up to explain the surname that she was now using.  After all, in 1861, she was called Faith Baxter, granddaughter of Robert Hudson.

I haven't yet found her in the 1871 Census.

But in the 1881 Census?  Would you believe it:

Is this really her?  In Sculcoates, Yorkshire (where I know a lot of Norfolk people moved to) not as Faith Codling, but as Faith BAXTER, widow, born circa 1849 in Swanton Morley?  Not many Faiths born in that village then.  She is a widow but she has reverted to the surname Baxter?

The Marriage - that never happened.

Months before that critical 1861 census that this puzzle began with, on the 29th December 1860, the marriage banns of John Hudson and Eliza Baxter were finally read out for the third and final time:

But they didn't appear to marry.

No ensuing marriage record at Swanton Morley church.

Instead, four months later, on the 7th April 1861, we get that record where Eliza Baxter is a servant in the household of Robert Hudson in Swanton Morley.  John is there as well.  The marriage doesn't appear to have taken place.

Instead...

John Hudson appears to die sometime between November 1861 and January 1862.  Eliza disappears from record.  William Bennett Baxter - he goes on to marry my 2nd great grandmother Harriet Barber who had also been born in Gressenhall workhouse - as were their first two daughters.  Their last child was my great grandmother, Faith Eliza Baxter, born at East Dereham in 1885:

She had an older brother named Robert Baxter, born at Swanton Morley in 1873:

He served in the Norfolk Regiment in the Boer War in South Africa, as well as later, British India.  He might have nothing to do with it - but he may be our link to that South African match?

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.

SHARP - Sedgeford Archaeology BERT Course Review

July 2018 - I recently completed a BERT (Basic Excavation and Recording Techniques) Course in Archaeology at the SHARP Project in Sedgeford, Norfolk.  I've been interested in archaeology for decades.  My interested probably kicked off during the early 1970's when as a kid, I witnessed a number of excavations around my father's shop in Norwich.  Around 16 - 21 years ago, I was a keen amateur archaeologist.  I studied part-time for two years with the UEA, and gained a certificate in "Field Archaeology & Landscape History".  I contributed as a volunteer field-walker, or as I liked to call it, surface-collection surveyor.  I carried out a one man survey of over thirty compartments with disturbed soils in Thetford Forest.  Here is a link to the web archive of my old project website Thetford Forest Archaeology.

My main interest was in survey methodology, late prehistory, and in British lithics.  However, Life moved on as it does for me.  Years later, I look at the SHARP (Sedgeford Archaeological & Historical Research Project) website, and spot their course, BERT (Basic Excavation & Recording Techniques).  I remembered field-walking for a day at Sedgeford, with the UEA group, around 19 years ago.  The Sedgeford Project was still up and running after all of these years!  I'd never excavated before.  I liked field-walking as it gave me independence to carry out all aspects of the project.  But even though I had a long term interest in archaeology - I'd never myself, as much as lifted a trowel at a dig.  Time is moving on - I decided to add it to the bucket list of life, and to execute it.  I signed up for a BART Course to commence and run for six days in July 2018.  This is what I experienced.

SHARP (Sedgford Archaeological & Historical Research Project) is a project both to a) deep research over a long term period, one English village parish, set in the North West Norfolk landscape - using multiple archaeological and historical research methods, and b) in democratic archaeology, where locals, members of the public, amateurs, students, enthusiasts, and volunteers can contribute to and become involved in a high quality research project.  Archaeology is demystified, as volunteers often gain enough experience to become supervisors and trainers at the Project themselves.

I'd say that they have achieved both of those goals, and over an incredible 23 year period - and still going strong, with plenty of excavations and other research possibilities to keep them busy in that one small Norfolk parish, for many years to come.  Indeed one very important lesson of SHARP - is that Sedgeford is just one rural East Anglian village parish.  Not particularly special.  Out of some 1,200 or more East Anglian parishes.  Yet it has proven to provide decades of research and opportunities.  For those that believe that Archaeology is all done and dusted, think again.

The setting.  Sedgeford, a parish in the north west corner of the East Anglian county of Norfolk.  A few miles from the coast of the Wash and the North Sea.  July 2018.    A small stream passes through the village.  In past times, it was a navigable stretch of Heacham River.

The UK has been in a drought for several weeks, and are in what the media refer to as a "heatwave", the hottest and driest for over forty years.

Above image copyright from openstreetmap.org.

I purchased a place on the BERT course at the off-site rate (GBP £290).  Full Rate On-Site (GBP £430 - there is also a concession rate) would have entitled me to a pitch in their camp, as well as to evening meal, evening community activities (some of which may require a further fee), and to breakfast.  I know that I was missing out on that aspect of the SHARP experience.  During the week, evening activities included a quiz, a game of cricket, a lecture, and at the end, a storytelling evening followed by a punk rock act!  However, as my interest was in the archaeology, I couldn't justify the extra cost when I could drive home to sleep and rest each evening.

There were a number of things that I was notified of that I needed: a few basic tools, including an archaeology trowel, a leaf trowel, a plumb bob, line level, pencils, 5 metre steel tape, a broad rimmed hat, sun lotion, etc.  Of those, the most essential were the archaeology trowel, pencils, the hat, and sun lotion.  In addition, had I known, I would have brought a pen, a drink mug, food dish / bowl, and knife and fork.

Day 1. Sunday

I arrived around 07:15 on Sunday morning.  I had missed out on an induction held for the campers the previous evening.  I could have got there a bit later, maybe 08:15.  The SHARP community schedules the morning meeting in their central marquee tent for 08:20 Sunday - Friday.  I would reiterate, that this is a democratic project, and that there is a strong communal feel to the camp.  I met some of the supervisors, and a few other BERT students, one that kindly lent me some cutlery for the day (do take your own).

First session - Health & Safety on site induction.  There is no mobile plant on site, the main hazard being the hot weather.

Second session - straight into it!  To the current excavation, Trench 23, and first instructions on excavation trowel work.  This was a bit of a pleasant surprise.  SHARP pride themselves in this sort of approach.  Whereas many commercial digs are renown for exploiting volunteers to do the dirty work, this project straight away starts to involve the novices.  If I had actually made a significant find during that first session, I feel sure that with supervision, I would have been allowed to fully excavate and explore that find myself.  This project demystifies the techniques, and enables volunteers.


Above image - my brand new trowel broken in.

A bit now about the Trench 23 Excavation that we were training on.  Sub soil features were initially indicated by magnetometer survey.  Top soils were removed a few seasons ago, and the trench (as pictured in some of the above images) had been worked down to a Middle Saxon layer.  Almost all of the pottery recovered in this level was Ipswich Ware, the typical ceramic of the Middle Saxon (or Middle Anglo-Saxon period if you prefer) in Eastern England.  This heavy, gritty, wheel-turned grey-ware was fired in kilns located in Ipswich, Suffolk, between around 625 AD and 800 AD.  This site was securely dated to this period, which marks the return of Christianity to Lowland Britain, as it was finally embraced by the growing Anglo Saxon kingdoms of East Anglia, and Mercia.

The main features that excited the geophysics surveyor turned out to be the foundations of two kilns or ovens, dating to the Middle Saxon period.  The working hypothesis was that these ovens, along with the other features that included working floors, post holes, and at least one cistern feature, as well as a midden, and burnt charred grain from barley and rye, could represent a malt-house complex.  If this is the case, then it could be the first ever malt-house yet recorded from Anglo-Saxon Britain.


Third session.  In a mobile classroom for basic recording and context technique training.  Excavation, stratigraphy, colluvium, turbulation, Harris matrix, and other subjects were also introduced, as well as the "context form".

Fourth session.  The World Cup Final was scheduled, and a lot of the community including some BERT students were excused to watch the Final between France and Croatia on a screen.  I wasn't particularly interested, but keener to have more time in Trench 23 on the trowel work.  Out in the baking sun.

Day ended 17:00.  It felt good.  Time to drive home.

Day 2. Monday.

Back on site for the 08:20 morning meeting.  Coffee.

Recap and we are issued with our BAJR (British Archaeology Jobs Resource) Archaeology Skills Passport.  A booklet in which you can collect signatures from supervisors, as you accumulate skills and experience.  A well signed passport is key to gaining placements on more excavations that welcome experienced volunteers.

Then we were back onto Trench 23, this time for training in the survey and recording of a trench section.  Got to play with plumb bob and line level.  Similar to my training with the UEA years ago in surveying an earthwork - only inverted into a trench section.  We were also tasked to actually start identifying changes in soil colours, textures, inclusions - to distinguish an actual soil stain.  We recorded our section on a scale of 1:20.


We were introduced to the safe use of a mattock to clean an area of trench.

Day 3. Tuesday.

On Day 3 we had training on the identification, context, and recording of small finds in an excavation.  We each had to complete the session by filling out a small find record, complete with description, context, dimensions, description, and a drawing of a metal artefact.

Next session was Bulk Finds - cleaning and treatment of different materials such as daub, bone, shell, ceramics, etc.  We were taught to systematically keep bulk find trays with context tabs.

Some more trowel work in Trench 23.  Practical assessment of the ability to plot a plan of a trench and features.

Day 4. Wednesday

Training with a Dumpy Level - in order to record height of excavation features and small finds.

Training in site photography.  How to clean and prepare a feature such as post holes, take photographic records, fill in the photography register, use metre sticks, context boards, etc.

More general trench trowelling and other work.

Day 5. Thursday

Environmental Archaeology.  Trained to strain soil samples in a flotation tank, in order to separate light organic material, heavier bulk finds such as daub, from soil.  We also sorted through the bulk finds from a flotation sample - separating finds such as daub and bone.

I and another student, Anna, were asked to excavate a sondage on the edge of Trench 23, in order to test if a Saxon dated drainage ditch continued in that direction.  I particularly took great joy in that work - but so hot in the heat-wave.

Day 6. Friday - Goodbyes.

We had a recap on excavation recording.

An introduction to geophysics and non-intrusive archaeological methods.  As I studied non-invasive archaeology with the UEA for two years in the past, this was like a recap and update for myself.  However - we got to play with a magnetometer (flux gradiometer) out in the field, which was certainly a new experience.

We also had an introduction to reporting.  Each week, the new crop of BERT students have to complete a new section of a report for the Trench 23 excavation.

I was allowed to complete my beloved sondage trench, and yes - it revealed the soil stain of the Middle Saxon ditch:

We were presented our BERT certificates.  With another student, I was tasked to guide some members of the public visiting the excavation.  We got the thumbs up from a supervisor.  At close of the week some of us made a presentation to the SHARP team about what we had been learning.

Summary

It wasn't just trowel work, site photography, dumpy levels, or even flotation that I learned about and experienced over the week.  What I also discovered were human stories and community.  I saw a sort of collectivism in action, in the form of People's Archaeology - individuals helping each other up.  I enjoyed the work.  I enjoyed meeting like minded people on their own journeys.  So much so that I'm looking forward to returning next summer as a volunteer at Sedgeford.  Last day was actually emotional.

Thank you SHARP.

Attleborough Ancestors

St Mary's, parish church of Attleborough, Norfolk.

Whites Directory of Norfolk, 1854, reported that:

"ATTLEBOROUGH, or Attleburgh, is an ancient market town, pleasantly situated on the Norwich and Thetford turnpike, 15 miles S.W. of the former place, and 14 N.E. by E. of the latter, and on the north side of the Norfolk Railway, which has a neat station here. In the Saxon era it was the seat of Offa and Edmund, successively Kings of the East Angles, who fortified it against the predatory incursions of the Danes. These fortifications may still be traced in the ridge called Burn Bank. It was afterwards the seat of the Mortimers, whose ancient hall, (now a farm house,) is encompassed by a deep moat. The parish contains 501 houses, 2,324 inhabitants, and 5,247 acres of land. The Rev. Sir Wm. B. Smyth, Bart., is lord of the manor of Attleborough Mortimer, and its members, (fines arbitrary ;) and Mr. C. Cochell is the steward. S. T. Dawson, Esq., is lord of Chanticlere manor, (fines arbitrary,) and the rectory has two small manors, subject to a fine of 2s. per acre on land, and to arbitrary fines on the buildings. The town is comprised chiefly of one long street, with several good inns and shops ; and the market on Thursdays is well attended. The old market cross was taken down many years ago. Fairs are held on the Thursday before Easter, Whit-Sunday, and on Aug. 15th, for cattle, pedlery, &c. A pleasure fair is also held on the day before the March assizes. A stone pillar on the Wymondham road commemorates the gift of £200, by Sir E. Rich,Knt., in 1675,for the reparation of the road, which is said to be the first turnpike made in England, being formed under an Act passed in the 7th and 8th of William and Mary..."

It was also home to many of our family ancestors - with a recorded family line going back to at least 1577 in this small Norfolk market town.

Here they are, first our Attleborough Ancestors on my late father's side, starting with that line going back to 1577:

My father descended from Attleborough ancestors via his mother, Doris Brooker nee Smith.  When my grandmother Doris was alive, I interviewed her several times.  She was born in 1904 in Norwich, but she remembered her father taking her on a horse and cart to Attleborough, where he visited a pub with a grapevine outside.  I realised that this was his parent's old Attleborough beerhouse, the Grapes, but my grandmother herself didn't pick up on this family history.  Since then, I've revealed a very old family history in Attleborough.  It starts as I said, with an uninterrupted line from Robert Freeman, who had three children baptised in Attlebough between 1577 and 1581.  The family may well have - most likely did have, much earlier connections to the market town - but on record, they start here, not long after parish registers were first introduced by Thomas Cromwell, following the church split with Rome.

The baptism of Ann Freeman in Attleborough, 1577, daughter of Robert Freeman.  Robert fathered at least three children at Attleborough.  He was my 11th great grandfather.

William Freeman, my 10th great grandfather, was the son of Robert Freeman, baptised at St Mary's Attleborough, in 1581.  He was to go on and father a son:

My 9th great grandfather, Robert Freeman was baptised at St Mary's, Attleborough, in 1610, the son of William Freeman.  He married an Elizabeth.

My 8th great grandfather John Freeman, the son of Robert and Elizabeth, was baptised at Attleborough in 1639.  He married Agatha, and they had two sons in Attleborough between 1674 and 1675.

My 7th great grandfather, Thomas Freeman was baptised in Attleborough in 1675.  He married Elizabeth, and they had five children between 1695 and 1707.

My 6th great grandfather, John Freeman, was baptised at Attleborough in 1699.  He married Elizabeth.

My 5th great grandfather, named after his father, John Freeman, was baptised at Attleborough in 1734.  He married Anne.

My 4th great grandmother ends the Freeman dynasty for our tree.  Elizabeth Freeman was baptised at Attleborough in 1779. In 1803 at St Mary's, she married Robert Hewitt, a farmer - but most likely, not a prosperous one.  Agriculture was changing, and many small farmers were losing their land, being squeezed into the ranks of labourers and paupers.  They had five children at Attleborough, between 1805 and 1814.  Elizabeth died age 52, leaving Robert a widower.

My 3rd great grandmother, Lydia Hewitt, was baptised at Attleborough in 1807.  She married Robert Smith at St Mary's, Attleborough, in 1827.  Robert Smith was also born in Attleborough.  He had also farmed land, but the times were changing, and the family fell on hardships.  They had six children born in Attleborough, before Lydia died age 37.

Their son, my 2nd great grandfather, Robert (Hewitt) Smith, was born in the town in 1832.  Although he started out life in poor circumstances, he for many years, ran a beerhouse (the Grapes), and builders yard in the town, along with his wife, Ann (nee Peach) whom he married at St Mary's in 1857.  In 1879, the couple made the local new headlines, when they were burgled by an armed robber:

They had six children born at Attleborough, including:

My great grandfather, Frederick Smith, born in the market-town in 1860.  Fred served an apprenticeship as a wheelwright, and moved to Norwich - ending this part of the Attleborough Ancestors story.


Other Attleborough Ancestors of my Father

My paternal grandmother had other ancestors in Attleborough:

William Hewitt, my 5th great grandfather, was born near to Attleborough, at Great Hockham, about 1742.  However, with his wife, Elizabeth, they moved into the parish of Attleborough itself.  There, they had at least seven children, born at Attleborough between 1772 and 1783.

Their son, my 4th great grandfather, Robert Hewitt, married Elizabeth Freeman, as noted above.  Ten years after Elizabeth passed away, he married again, to Ann Batterby, in Attleborough.

We have a lot of Smith ancestors from Attleborough.  John Smith a 6th great grandfather, was born circa 1700, married Maria, and was buried in Attleborough in 1776.


Their son, my 5th great grandfather also John Smith, was baptised in Attleborough in 1731.  He married Judith Dennis at Attleborough in 1771.  They had four children there between 1771 and 1778.

Their son Raphael Smith, my 4th great grandfather, was baptised at St Mary's in 1775.  He married Mary Smith (yes, also a Smith before marriage) at Attleborough in 1798.  They had seven children born in the town between 1798 and 1813.


Their son Robert Smith, my 3rd great grandfather, was baptised in Attleborough in 1807.  He was an interesting character. He married Lydia Hewitt.  I believe that they had some land to farm, that they lost.  Robert joined the ranks of the labourers, and lead them in a riot during the "Swing Riots".  His mob attacked threshing machines, the local workhouse, then the parson at St Mary's, for refusing to drop tithe taxes.  Robert threatened the parson with a mattock.  The court quoted him as saying:


Somehow, he received a lenient prison sentence in Norwich Castle Gaol, and successfully appealed for early release.  Robert and Lydia raised six children at Attleborough, before she passed away.  He then married again, to a Frances Husk.  In his fifties, they moved to Sculcoates, Yorkshire, and founded more Smith lineages there.


Another Attleborough Smith ancestor - Richard Smith, 5th great grandfather.


and his daughter, my 4th great grandmother, Mary Smith, whom married Raphael Smith.  That wraps up my father's Attleborough Ancestry.  However... I also have some on my Mother's side!


Attleborough Ancestors of my Mother

John Page, my 10th great grandfather, fathered Robert Page at Attleborough about 1630.

My 9th great grandfather Robert Page, married Agnes.  Their son:


Thomas Page, my 8th great grandfather, was baptised at St Mary's in 1664.  He had a son:


Also named Thomas Page - my 7th great grandfather, baptised in Attleborough in 1690.  He married Maria Hynds.  They moved out of the town, to Besthorpe.  The family later moved to Wymondham.

There ends my Attleborough Ancestry - at least, that on record.

23 direct ancestors between 1577 and 1860.  The association still goes on.  We are still in Norfolk not far away.  I had a sister marry in Attleborough.  I work only a few miles from the town today.

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.