Today I went to Hankerton, in Wiltshire. It’s a hamlet, a scattering of houses and a tiny church set in the Wiltshire countryside. It’s where my granny was born and raised, and is full of family history. It is your history too, so I will tell you about it, because one day you might visit on your own.
Granny was born in Pear Tree cottage. She lived there with her parents, Mark and Mary Woodward. Mary washed clothes for the surrounding houses, and there was a well in the back garden, and a wash house next to the cottage. Mark was a busy man. I think he built part of the roof for the church, so maybe he was a builder. Mainly he was busy, because, it was later discovered, he actually had two families – my granny’s mother and another wife and children in the nearby market town of Malmesbury. Not sure which one was first, and therefore the legal wife. I have no idea what became of the other family, or if they resemble us or know of our existence. But Mark Woodward died in his fifties, and there is no stone to mark his grave. His wife was buried alone.
The story I grew up with, was that when he died, both wives went to claim the body, which is how they discovered the other existed. I have since been told that isn’t true, and that Granny’s mother was shopping in Malmesbury, when she overheard someone talking about Mark’s other wife. I’ve no idea which is correct, so believe whichever you like. It makes for an interesting bit of family history though.
I visited the cottage once, when I was very young. I remember the big room with the fireplace, and the well in the back garden. When I went back today, I met the people who now live there, and they invited me inside. The ‘big room’ is now their lounge, and they’ve extended the cottage on both sides. The well is now at the front, as the original cottage faced away from what is now the road, so when they extended they made a new front door (at the back, which is now the front, if you see what I mean).
The church is where my granny was married. It is also where many of the family are buried, and as you wander around the graveyard, lots of the stones belong to Woodwards. One grave is for Frank Winwood. I never met him, though I know he had a heat attack while driving, and his wife, Nell, had to grab the wheel. I did meet Nell. Aunty Nell lived in Peartree cottage after everyone else had left. She went a bit nutty towards the end, and had to be put into a home, which she didn’t like, so she used to turn the fire hose on the nurses and phone 999, asking to be rescued. She was buried with her husband Frank (her real name was Eleanor).
Granny’s other sister, Elizabeth, died before I was born. She had two sons, David and Ken, and we used to meet David and his family when I was little. Elizabeth died when Ken was born, so I think my granny helped to care for the two boys. Certainly they feature in lots of the stories my father told.
Inside the church, is a document showing all the vicars. In the 1600s were two vicars named Beale, who are also our ancestors. Some of my cousins have Beale in their names (not sure why my brother doesn’t, guess my mum didn’t like the name).
Next to the church is the old school house. When my granny’s mother was dying, Granny went to nurse her, and so my dad (your Grampy) went to school there for a few weeks. You will find his name in old registers.
You never met my granny, but you’d have liked her. She had a wicked sense of humour, and she told stories. I wonder if that’s where me and Aunty Ruth get our love of stories from. Most of her stories were ghost stories though, and tales about people in the village. I’m not quite sure now which ones were true, and which ones she made up. When her father died, when she was fourteen, she had to leave the grammar school in Malmesbury, and join her mother washing clothes. I sometimes wonder what her life would have been, if she’d been able to choose.
So, that’s a little family history for you, an eighth of who you are. If you ever go through Hankerton, remember to stop and visit the church. It’s a lovely place, and has a comfortable feel to it. It’s where our roots are, and I think you’ll like it.
I don’t know much about my Grampy’s family, but I do know about my mother’s relatives, who seem to have owned most of Huntingdon. Now there are some stories for you – but that will have to wait until another day.
Have a good week. Take care.
Thank you for reading.
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