Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Oh, what a beautiful morning. Much bodes well - the back doesn't ache, a crossword is completed all but three clues and the weather looks perfect for picking whinberries.
I brief the Glam.Ass; he is to go to Woodmoor in my stead to scale and draw out pictures of a performing seal and a jolly clown for the Young Farmers to paint. That is another story.

My fellow berry picker and I meet up at the village hall and drive on to the Bog Centre - and yes, there really are places in Shropshire called 'The Bog'. The Bog Visitor Centre, housed in an old school house is now something of an oasis in a wilderness, providing tea and buns, toilets, local knowledge and a little history in an area which is a magnet for walkers and holidaymakers alike. If you feel the need for a jar of SBS's pickles, more than likely you will find that too.

We'd foisted one of our books on them - and blow me, contrary to their expectations it had sold and blow me again, they wanted another. Today was a good opportunity to deliver it. We actually took two - nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Time for a coffee too before we get out on the hill picking berries. The Bog has a number of items of local history on display - this was after all one of the centres of Shropshire's lead mining industry 100 years ago. We flick through bits of this and that, scan photographs, make mental notes...I pick up a file which holds copies of pages of a 'Day Book' -  it looks like a simple ledger of jobs taken on, for whom and prices charged. It's a bit selective - I gather that the pages copied are only those which relate to the Bog area. No matter, it's something to look at.  The original document was obviously beautifully written in a neat copperplate hand. That hand records mainly maintenance jobs; some building, joinery, groundworks and quite a lot of coffin making. Then a man worked days to earn a pittance I noted.

I flip through idly and a name catches my eye. Cross. And then I spy Marston - yet another family name. Then Cross again and again and again. And Swain. More pertinently S.Cross snr. and later Harriet Cross; that's great grandfather and great grandmother. Crosses in 1909 are builders and joiners (though I suspect they'll turn their hands to any trade) and it seems they are employed by the writer of this Day Book. They even worked on the building we are sitting in now.

It looks too as if Sam Cross, back in his native hills after a sojourn in Birmingham, builds himself a house - and that house may have had 2 storeys (there is a flight of stairs on his bill). I have a photograph taken in the early '20s of what I believe to be his house - a single storied thatched hovel - so I must now re-think that in light of what I've read today.

John Cross and Edward Marston (brother and step-brother I believe) bury their wives in oak coffins, embellished with brass and ormolu, six months apart. They are billed for shrouds too - costing 3/- and 5/6d respectively. Was one wife larger than the other perhaps - thus accounting for the extra half-crown cost. 
I have found gold. This is treasure. Yes, I knew these people lived and worked hereabouts but I had all but given up hope of finding anything more than cold statistical references. This is putting flesh on bones. They are here. I have found them. A shivery sensation creeps up my spine - I feel surrounded by ghosts.

One of the final entries is to 'the representatives of the late Harriet Cross'. It is the bill for her coffin and shroud; a coffin of oak with electro-brass furniture and a 'best' shroud. She died on the 15th January and the bill was settled on the 28th. It was for £6. 10/-.  She is my great-grandmother - a stern looking woman in my only photograph  - and I now know more about her death than I do about her life.

(I doubt if most people will want a closer look - but if you do, a click should enlarge the pictures.)

We did eventually get whinberry picking - a short stroll up onto the heathered slopes of Black Rhadeley found an abundance of berries - easy picking today -  and more than enough for a pie.
I'm looking forward to a slice already.


elizabethm said...

This makes me shiver too, the old "someone walked across your grave?" shiver.
We should be more like the Chinese. Our ancestors are only just over our shoulder.

Pondside said...

That gave me goosebumps too.
Four years ago I found the grave of my great-grandmother. Her death,here on the west coast, thousands of miles from her east coast home, was shrouded in mystery. Finding it in Vancouver was an incredible moment.
BTW - I'm enjoying the book, even without a connection to the village!

bayou said...

What a great find! And the berries look so tasty, mmmhhhhh.

Twiglet said...

The Bog Centre is a real gem isn't it. Hopefully we will pop up there next week. We were just contemplating a whinberry/billberry picking trip. Our relatives worked and farmed in the area, so I suspect, if we delved deep, we might find a bit of family hsitory there too. Thanks for another great blog.

Frances said...

I absolutely loved reading this post, as your beautiful words curved around the unexpected arc of your day.

Your discoveries about your ancestors are quite wonderful. Do you guess now that none of your current extended family knew anything about this ledger? (I write this as someone who actually knows very, very little about most of my ancestors on my mother's side, although my father once did quite a bit of research about his side of the family.)


Chris Stovell said...

Wow! What a find!

And congratulations on sales of the book.

Could I have some pie too?

(Haha! Word verification thingy is 'tesca' not quite tesco but near enough to taunt me!)

Mac n' Janet said...

Wow, I'm impressed by your discoveries, that is a goosebump moment.

Nikki-ann said...

We've got a few whinberry pies in the freezer after my parents went whinberry picking last week. I don't know what Dad was doing with the whinberries but his jeans were purple by the time he'd finished!

Family history discoveries are great. It's amazing what you can find.

Well done on the book sales :)

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

One of my daughters , having settled in Leicester by chance , has discovered that , on her way into the center , she's walking over a long-abandoned graveyard where many of her father's family lie .
I think I prefer your discovery !

Diary Farmer said...

Doreen has already made her picking efforts in two pies with the help of a willing granddaughter. They each had a slice this afternoon. It was a bit unnerving to come home from work to be greeted with purple smiles!!

The book sales are going great with two copies - one Vancouver way and one in Ontario. Great fun helping with the research into someone elses family who lived in the village.

Tattie Weasle said...

Isn't it wonderful when you come across the day to day flesh and bones of your ancestors. It gives you a wonderful sense of charcater. A real treasure there ate the Bog Centre!

snailbeachshepherdess said...

What a great find! Love the Bog Centre - try the hand cream when you go next time = we are desperate to go picking but life keeps getting in the way!!

Jayne said...

Love whimberry pie, with luck i too can pick them at the Bog next year. How marvellous to stumble on your families names written in the ledger.I like to see the old ink writing.
Hope you got my reply on PC.

Fennie said...

The berries look delicious. I can imagine them with cream and honey. Good news on the book and fascinating to read about your ancestors, though the corollary is (for me anyway) that I begin to think 'what's the point?' Were my ancestors reading their ancestors records and will my descendants be reading mine? But so glad you found so really interesting material