Guess who’s coming to dinner…my ancestors.

Julie over on Angler’s Rest totally inspired me to write this post in her story for NaBloPoMo on Relatives. Thanks Julie for the inspiration!

I’d love to welcome my earliest Australian ancestors to an early evening dinner party so I could get to meet them as real people. I think it would have to be a typical outdoor event, under the shade of a spreading Banyan tree or a Moreton Bay fig so everyone felt at home. We’d have long tables and folding chairs. I’d buy some brightly-coloured melamine plates and drinking glasses to match pretty place mats and napkins (of course).  Hurricane lamps with lightly scented candles would light the tables so the mood was familiar and cosy, and I’d hang some lamps from the trees.

To welcome everyone we’d have a good malt beer to honour my Kent family who were Hertfordshire publicans…before they became Methodists…and some spring water for those who were traditionally abstemious. Thinking on my maternal 2x great grandfather, William Partridge from Coleford, I think we’d need a good Gloucester cheese to go with the beer.

We would have to serve roast pork in honour of my Bavarian 2 x great grandfather, George Kunkel, who was a pork butcher. Instead of slaving over a hot oven in the kitchen we’d cook the pork in our Weber Q – would that seem familiar to them or somewhat wondrous? George also made his own wine and so we’d drink a white wine similar to that traditional in his birthplace…and again that spring water.

The pork would be accompanied by crispy roast tatties for my Irish ancestors, Mary O’Brien Kunkel and the Gavin and (Mc)Sherry families, and, come to that, my Highlanders, the McCorkindales. We might even introduce them to multi-cultural 21st century Australia with an Asian-inspired salad as an accompaniment.

While we ate we’d play some Scottish reels and Irish fiddle music to cross the cultural borders of my ancestry. How much nicer it would be to have a real fiddler play rather than a 21st century i-touch and if our feet wouldn’t stop tapping, we’d dance a quick reel in the twilight. There are so many questions I’d love to ask my ancestral visitors about their lives…another reason to keep that wine and beer flowing. I think they’ll be glad to escape by the end of the night!

McCorkindale brothers informal jam session. Gift of a family member c1988.

Dessert would certainly have to be spectacular to impress my pastry chef ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin, with perhaps a real Aussie pavlova (great pic) decorated with King Island cream and superb fruits like passionfruit, mango, kiwi fruit and fresh summer berries. Maybe we could even buy some delicious Haig’s hand-made chocolates to see if they match SGM’s standards…I’m realistic here, I couldn’t make them myself.

As this wonderful inter-temporal gathering came to a close, I would ask one of my McCorkindale great-uncles to play Auld Lang Syne on the pipes, and with a wee dram, toast the courage of these ancestors who came to Australia. I’ve nary a doubt I’d share more than a few tears as I farewelled my guests who’d visited all too briefly.

I raise my glass to all my Aussie immigrants: George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien, Denis and Ellen Gavin, Annie Sim McCorkindale and her adult daughter Catherine, Peter and Mary McSherry/Sherry and their son James Joseph, Stephen Melvin and later his mother Margaret Gillespie Melvin/Ward/Wheaton, James and Bridget McSharry/Sherry, Richard and Mary Kent and their adult daughter Hannah and her future husband William Partridge.

Sandon, Hertfordshire enclosure and the Kent family

Sometimes with family history it’s one small fact that is the key to opening a door. Such was the case with the enclosure documents I’d photographed while visiting the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) last year.  Despite having the information for nearly a year I hadn’t got round to looking at it in detail until I took the Pharos  course on Enclosure Maps and Records for Family Historians.[i]

I won’t attempt to go into the details of enclosure here except to say that it was the process, put simply, whereby formerly common lands were enclosed for private use usually by the bigger landowners of a parish. Also during this process the landowners may have “swapped” their land plots with others in order to consolidate their properties in a more rational and productive way. The National Archives has this informative guide to Enclosure Records.

Roe Green a hamlet in Sandon parish, Herts, but no sign to my Kent family’s former home.

Sandon parish in Hertfordshire, where one branch of my ancestors lived, commenced this process in 1840 and the award was enrolled in 1842. [ii] At the conclusion of the enclosure process a detailed map was produced and all land adjustments recorded. This comprehensive map is available through HALS.[iii]

At the commencement of the enclosure process, a community meeting was held to discuss the ramifications and proposals around the enclosure. The meeting was advertised in advance by notices on the church door and also in the local newspaper, The Reformer. However it was the location of the meeting that was to be my gold key. It was held at the public house of Richard Kent known by the sign of the Anchor at Roe Green, a hamlet in the parish.

While I’d known from the 1841 and 1851 census enumerations that Richard Kent (and indeed his father) was a publican I had never known the name of the pub. This snippet giving its name was indeed the key to learning more about his life before he, his wife and adult family emigrated in 1854.

The next strategy I applied was to ascertain whether the pub was one of the UK’s listed buildings. I figured if it had been around for a couple of centuries, this might be possible.

Believe it or not, Roe Green really was this green! But which of these heritage houses might have been where my ancestor lived? © Pauleen Cass

There were two pathways to this information:

1. The first, through British Heritage, enables a search of a locality http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/. I used the advanced search to locate Sandon in Hertfordshire and not others.

2. The second provides the same information but you go directly through the Listed Buildings site at http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/england/hertfordshire which let me then choose the parish and the building.

Both provided me with a listing for The Old Anchor as it was also known in subsequent years. Both also provided me with detailed descriptions, but overall I think I prefer the first option as a search tool. So what did I learn about the building? The full description is subject to Crown Copyright but you can read it here. In essence, it is a former public house dating from the 17thcentury and is grade II listed. It also provides its grid reference and a local map. It must be said though that the location of the building on the map can be a little imprecise.

The (Old) Anchor on Roe Green, Sandon, Herts in 2010. © Pauleen Cass

Armed with this additional information, and the alternative title, I googled the name for more information, using various search combinations. This turned up a range of information ranging from real estate sales to renovation approvals, hiking/walking trails and general information. All of which are grist for the family history mill.[iv] One site in particular deals with the common lands, remaining after enclosure, in Sandon parish and specifically in the locality of Roe Green.

Google images provided me with a great photo of the house taken by Mark Jordan for Panoramio. It was so evident it was the Anchor, that I went back to my own photos, taken on a scattergun approach before I learned the name of the family’s public house and knew its location.  Lo and behold I had taken a photo which did show the anchor over the front door but it is nowhere near as obvious as on Panoramio. I’m indebted to Mark and his photo for giving me the “tipoff”. (Rhetorical question: why do you always learn pivotal information after you’ve visited the place??)

Another useful site I came across shows images of listed buildings circa 2001, at the turn of the 20thcentury.  Images of England is linked to the National Monuments Record website. The Old Anchor is photographed on this site and the copyrighted image can be seen here.

There are also a couple of sites which deal with old pubs or inns in Hertfordshire and mention this public house. They are a Flickr discussion site and Dead Pubs though both discuss later periods. Previous to learning the pub’s name I hadn’t had enough detail to know in which property at Roe Green the Kent family had lived. Now I could go back and trace it through all the decennial census records from 1841 through to 1911 using Findmypast UK: while not every census gives the actual name of the building, a couple do, which makes it possible to link them up. Historical Directories also provide useful information on the inhabitants over time.

What becomes apparent is that while Richard Kent classed himself in 1851 as a publican, as well as a farmer of 40 acres, presumably through a lease agreement. This was not the case with subsequent owners/tenants of The Anchor. Why was this so? Had his land lease been taken away? Was this one of the reasons the family left for Australia in 1854? Did the next tenant simply not want to take on the farming lease given they already had a trade? So many questions which only further research both in reading and in the archives might address.

Meanwhile I’m looking forward to learning more about the background by reading Behind the plough: agrarian society in nineteenth-century Hertfordshire by Nigel E Agar and Brewers in Hertfordshire – A historical gazetteer by Alan Whittaker.

This research is © P Cass September 2011.

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[i] These courses provide historical context for family history research and are excellent.

[ii] The Award is also available from The National Archives at Kew at CP 40/4003.

[iii] HALS reference QS/E/85. Sandon parish is also fortunate to have the Tithe map from 1840 as well. DSA4/90/2