Saturday 28 September 2019

A Wonderful Day

Hello, thank you for calling in.  The earth has moved a little further around the sun and we have slipped into autumn.  There is a chill in the air in the early morning and the rain has fallen out of the sky as if it has been queuing up behind a locked door.  No washing has been dried on my line and for the first time in weeks I have worn long sleeves.

We were very busy during the school summer holidays, in the best of ways: a new grandchild, a special birthday celebration, a wedding, family visits and four days at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival.  All were good but it felt quite tiring and there was no time for the Best Beloved and I to get away by ourselves for a bit of restorative peace and quiet, which I really missed, so when a friend suggested that we go to her flat by the seaside for a weekend, I gratefully accepted.  Of course, this weekend had to fit around Shrewsbury Town F.C.'s home matches because the Best Beloved has a season ticket and he gets VERY grumpy if he has to miss a home match (we are currently in negotiations over an important family party in Cardiff on a December Saturday)!
That was last weekend and the flat is on the south coast of the Lleyn Peninsular in Wales, in Criccieth, which styles itself as "The Pearl of Wales on the Shores of Snowdonia".  We'd never been there before but knowing that it has two beaches and a medieval castle was enough to get me fizzy with excitement as we loaded up the car and set off on Friday evening.  We arrived in darkness at about 9.30pm, unpacked the car, opened a bottle of wine and ate a cold dinner before watching a film.  Now, the Best Beloved had told me that I could choose the DVDs to take with us, a rare treat indeed, so I chose Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, An Officer and a Gentleman and Local Hero; I did not choose any science fiction, superheroes, detectives or action films.  That evening we watched...Sherlock, which the Best Beloved pulled out of the basket of DVDs we found in the flat because he didn't fancy any of the films I had brought!  Harrumph!  I began to feel a bit dubious about the weekend.
I needn't have worried because Saturday turned out to be a wonderful day.  We went out for breakfast, bought a newspaper on the way and found Tir a Mor, which I think means Land and Sea and which describes itself as "a daytime coffee shop restaurant".  Hmm.  Well, their grammar may be a bit peculiar but their food is delicious and the service is good.  It was a real treat. We lingered.  I do think a leisurely breakfast is an excellent way to start the day.

We went back to the flat, packed a bag, collected a picnic blanket and went straight to the beach, where we spent the rest of the day.  The temperature was 25 degrees, the breeze was warm, the sky was blue and the sea sparkled.  It really didn't feel like the penultimate day of summer.  The Best Beloved swam, napped and wandered up to the castle while I read a book and, when I really couldn't read any more, indulged in some crochet and looked around.  To the west I saw the castle atop the headland which divides the town's two beaches and to the east I could see across Cardigan Bay to the golden beaches of the west coast of Wales, backed by mountains.  I could just make out Harlech Castle, several miles across the sea.  A seal popped up a few metres from the shore, disappeared and popped up again, repeating the entertainment for a couple of hours.  In the late afternoon we had delicious ice cream from Cariad Gelato - actually, I suppose that was delicious gelato - while we watched a raft of about thirty sea birds diving for food near the shore.  I didn't have anything else to plan, do or worry about and I felt properly content. 
We left the beach at about 5 o'clock and went back to the flat for a cup of Earl Grey and a relaxing soak in the bath.  To be honest, I was relaxed before I got into the bath but I was a bit sandy and salty, whereas after the soak I was relaxed and clean, which is not the same.  I gently rubbed in some scented body lotion and donned my pyjamas.  I felt lovely.  We opened a bottle of wine (again) and ate a cold dinner (again), snuggled up on the sofa together and watched... Local Hero.  I hadn't seen it for about twenty-five years and I had forgotten how much I like it. 
I cannot remember the last time I felt so relaxed and happy.  I said to the Best Beloved, "This has been a wonderful day, the best day I have had for a long time."
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Friday 20 September 2019

The South Tawton Forger

Hello, thank you for calling in.  Today I am sharing with you an ancestral tale I have been working on for a couple of years; it's not finished yet, and indeed it may never be finished, but I suppose family stories are never finished because there is always more to discover, but I feel that I now know enough about this one to tell it. 

Ashburton is a small market town on the edge of Dartmoor in rural Devon and in about 1778, when King George III was on the British throne and America was newly independent, John Orchard was born there.  At least, I think he was, but I can't be entirely sure because I haven't yet found any record of his birth or baptism.  However, he was said to be 49 when he died in April 1827 and I am entirely sure that his parents, John and Elizabeth, were married in Ashburton in December 1777 and that his brothers Thomas and James were born there in 1781 and 1784, so please indulge me.  I don't know anything about John's childhood except that his father inherited property from a relative in the nearby parish of South Tawton in 1784, when John was about six years old, and that the family moved there, where two more brothers, Paul and William, were born in 1787 and 1790.  James and Paul will feature later in this story.

John married Grace Curson in October 1806 and their daughter, Dorcas, was born five months later in March 1807 but Grace died in December of the same year.  I lose sight of John at this point until 1818, when this story really begins.  Before I tell this story, however, I need to explain about mortgages - I know that you probably know how a mortgage works, but you might not, and I do believe that there's no such thing as a silly question.  So, when you take out a mortgage, the ownership of your property is transferred to the person who lends you the money, usually in a document called a deed, and when you have paid all the money back, with any interest which has been agreed, the ownership of the property is transferred back to you.  This transfer of ownership means that if you default on your payments, the lender can sell the property and so recoup the money they lent you.  Right then, on with the story...

On 15th December 1818 (the date is important) John married again, a young woman called Elizabeth Mortimore.  They married in the church in her home parish of Lustleigh and a son, John Mortimore Orchard, was born nine months later in September 1819.  Eventually, three more children were born, a girl and two more boys, the last, Jabez, in April 1826.  However, by the time Jabez was born, his father was in trouble.
It came to light that in 1818 John's father, John Sr, had mortgaged an estate called Ford to a woman named Mary Lane for £1,000.  John Jr had negotiated the arrangement through a solicitor and was present when all the paperwork was signed because his father, who was in his seventies, was said to be frail and "unable to transact his own business".  The money was released to John Jr on 23rd December 1818, eight days after his wedding, and he paid it into his own account at the Devonshire Bank; it later transpired that he actually paid in £971, of which £750 was used to clear a debt.  (£750 in 1818!!!)  So, ownership of Ford was transferred from John Sr to Mary Lane at this point.

The mortgage agreement included interest payments at 4.5% and they were paid for a few years but then stopped so in 1824, Mary Lane's solicitor gave John notice for the sale of the Ford estate so that she could recoup her money - effectively, this was a repossession notice.  The sale was advertised but did not actually go ahead because it was discovered that John Sr had actually transferred the legal ownership of the Ford estate to his son in 1817, a year before Mary Lane had lent him the £1,000.  This meant that the loan was not secured on the property after all and the mortgage document signed by John Sr was worthless as, in effect, he didn't own the Ford estate, so there was no way for Mary Lane to recoup her money.  When John Sr was asked why he had transferred the property to his son in 1817, he replied that he didn't know anything about it.

When James Tyrell, a solicitor based in Exeter, saw the advertisement for the Ford estate he came forward and said that he had arranged a mortgage for £1,400 on the estate between John Jr and a Mr Sparke of Ashburton in 1817 - so the estate was effectively owned by Mr Sparke when John Jr arranged the mortgage with Mary Lane, and I suspect that he used her money to make the outstanding interest payments to Mr Sparke.  Another solicitor, Mr Partridge of Tiverton, also came forward and said that he had conducted business for John Sr: an earlier mortgage had been raised on a number of properties, the loan having been made by a Mr Pope and the ownership of those properties had been transferred to him.  Presumably some of the money must have been repaid because Mr Partridge's job was to transfer the ownership of all the properties except the Ford estate back to John Sr, the actual wording on the document read "save and except that capital messuage tenement called Ford".  However, the document was altered and the words "save and except"  were erased and replaced by "also" so the transfer now read "also that capital messuage tenement called Ford".  So, ownership of the Ford estate was transferred back to John Jr and Mr Pope had no way of recouping his money as the deed was everything.  Mr Partridge testified that the word "also" was in John Jr's handwriting.
This is all quite complicated but are you still with me?  To put it in a nutshell, it seems that John Orchard Jr forged the title deeds to the Ford estate so that he could use them to borrow money fraudulently from Mr Sparke and Mary Lane.
The English legal system was developed to protect property ownership and these were very serious offences.  In January 1827 the newspapers reported that 
John Orchard, father and son, of South Tawton, Devon, were last week fully committed for trial at the next assizes, charge with having forged and altered a deed conveying an estate, with intent to defraud a Mrs. Mary Lane of £1,000.  The elder of the prisoners is nearly eighty years of age.
John Jr's wife, Elizabeth, pawned everything she had to pay for her husband's legal defence.
The men were tried on twelve counts at Exeter assizes on 26th March 1827 in front of a crowded gallery.  The witnesses who gave evidence included Reverend Oliver, who testified that he had known the defendants for more than thirty years and that they were "honest and respectable men".  The judge, Sir James Burrough, gave his summing up and the jury delivered their verdict about two minutes later: John Orchard Sr was Not Guilty but John Orchard Jr was GUILTY.  These are the words of the Salisbury and Winchester Journal:
The Judge directed the father to be removed from the bar, and an awful silence pervaded the court as the fatal cap was placed on his head.   The Judge said, "Prisoner, you have had the benefit of a fair and most impartial investigation into your case, - you have just heard the opinion a jury of your countrymen have formed upon it; of the justice of their decision I entertain no doubt; during your trial you have had the benefit of most able legal assistance; it now becomes a painful but necessary task for me to perform my duty - your crime is of that description that strikes at the root of all security of property, and must be checked with the strongest hand; a man to borrow £1000 and tender as security for it that which he knows not to be worth one farthing, is a degree of offence, as affects the public, of the first moment, and bids me imperatively to permit the law to take its course - therefore, form no delusive hope, for, be assured, I shall not interfere to sty the completion of the awful sentence I am about to pronounce upon you, and as an accountable being, I recommend you to diligently employ the little time that yet remains to you in this world, in preparing to appear before a tribunal from which no action of our lives can be concealed; - the sentence of the court is, that you be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck, till you are dead, and may God have mercy on your soul."
John Jr was sent back to Exeter Gaol and his brother James, who was a solicitor based in London, immediately organised an appeal against the conviction.  A letter was sent to the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, asking for clemency and signed by James, Elizabeth, Mary Lane's solicitor, the Mayor of Okehampton, the Vicar of Okehampton and several notable citizens of that town.  The stated grounds for clemency were
No intent to defraud; since obtaining the mortgage he has paid several years interest thereon; in a recent agreement for sale of the property to his brother he had stipulated that £1000 plus interest be paid by the purchaser to Mary Lane; previous good character; he has a wife and five children, four of whom by his present wife and under eight years of age without the means of subsistence; the prosecutor joins in the petition; he was ignorant of the capital nature of the offence; the purchaser was not called as a witness.

The letter is in the National Archives at Kew and this list is copied from their catalogue description which also states "April 12th 1827, Mr Peel sees no ground for interfering".   

The following day, Friday 13th April, Elizabeth took her children John, Elizabeth and Paul to the prison to bid their father goodbye.  John, the eldest, was seven years old.  Elizabeth returned to the prison two days later with baby Jabez and twenty year-old Dorcas, her stepdaughter, to see him for the final time.  The newspaper reported that "The prisoner conducted himself with becoming fortitude through this trying scene" so I imagine that everyone else was distraught. 

John Jr seems to have spent most of that Sunday night and the following morning praying - in fact, the contemporary reports state that after his conviction, he spent most of his time praying and reading the bible.  His brother Paul, a Methodist minister, arrived early on Monday with another minister, Rev Mr Burgess, who had "constantly visited" the prisoner since his conviction and they stayed with him until just before midday.  This is the newspaper report for the rest of that day, Monday 16th April 1817:

"as the moment drew near for ascending the platform his fortitude forsook him, and a considerable time elapsed before with the assistance of two sheriff's officers, he walked down the pathway from the governor's house: his eyes were closed and his ejaculations incessant; his dress was that of a man on his farm - fustian jacket and trousers.  While the officers pinioned him in the press room, he appeared scarcely conscious of what was passing, continuing his ejaculations without the smallest intermission; the support of the officers was again necessary in ascending the steps, and being placed on the machine, the Chaplain in vain waited several minutes for the usual signification of the prisoner's being ready to join in the last service, when seeing his state, the Chaplain mercifully commenced the service, and all being ready, as he had nearly closed the service for the dead the bolt was drawn, the platform fell, and in a few moments life appeared to be extinct."

The newspaper reported that a huge crowd of spectators gathered to witness the execution.  John's body was cut down and at 5 o'clock the next morning it was placed on a hearse and sent to South Zeal where he was buried that  same day.

A little over two weeks later, on 5th May, this notice appeared in the  Exeter and Plymouth Gazette:

To all who feel for the Distresses of Others.

The case of the WIDOW and FOUR INFANT CHILDREN of JOHN ORCHARD, who was lately executed at Exeter, is respectfully presented.  They are left in a state of perfect destitution, and the poor Woman, who was brought up tenderly, (now residing in St Thomas) has been driven to pawn all she had for the purpose of raising the means of his defense.

The object of this application is to raise if possible a sum that may enable the poor widow to redeem her Furniture, and place her in circumstances whereby she may be able to support herself and children.

Subscriptions will be thankfully received at the Exeter, City, and General Banks, and at Curson's and Balle's, Booksellers. - Exeter, 30th April 1827

I'm afraid I don't know whether or not this attempt at crowdfunding was successful.  I do know that the legal proceedings had not finished because, after all, Mary Lane was still owed money.  Remember that women were not legally able to own property in this country until the Married Women's Property Act of 1868 so when John Jr was executed, the ownership of any property he owned passed not to Elizabeth but to her son, John Mortimore, even though he was only seven years old, but being a minor, he was not able to legally agree to any contract.  So, when he reached the age of majority, which at that time was twenty-one, there was another court case, this time a civil case rather than a criminal one, which resulted in his inherited properties being sold and his father's debts repaid.  

I haven't been to South Tawton but I hope to visit at some point, to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors.  The South Tawton Forger was my great, great, great, great grandfather.  

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Monday 16 September 2019

St James' Church, Stirchley

Hello, thank you for popping in to my Shropshire patch.  We are definitely heading towards autumn here, as we turned into our street yesterday I noticed that the leaves on the trees are changing colour.  However, it is still summer until next Saturday, the weather has been sunny and unseasonably warm for the last few days and on Friday I saw four small tortoiseshell butterflies and a comma on the small buddleia in the garden.  I was pleased to see so many small tortoiseshells as their numbers declined by 75% between 1976 and 2018. 

Telford is an interesting place - or group of places.  Created as a New Town in 1968, it appears that the planners actually took a group of much older communities, plonked a large shopping centre in the middle, made a good road network to join it all up and built lots of housing estates in the gaps.  Parts of it are very old, some places being recorded in the Domesday Book, and parts of it are very beautiful, although nobody seems to talk about those places.
Stirchley is one of the old places, originally a farming community whose church dates from the twelfth century.  It is a church I had wanted to visit for many years and last September, I finally made it. 

We parked outside the churchyard and entered through the wrought iron gate.  This is the view which confronted us: a lot of brickwork.  However, as we walked all around the building, this is what we saw. -
Intriguing, isn't it?  The chancel, at the east end of the church, shows the original Norman stonework.  In about 1740 the nave and the tower were remodelled: the windows were enlarged, the whole thing was encased in bricks, the roof was replaced and an extra storey was built onto the tower.  Why they didn't also encase the chancel in bricks I don't know because it all looks quite odd.  Moving forward it time to 1838, a family of wealthy local employers, the Botfield brothers, paid for a brick extension to be added to the north side of the church, which is the block with large windows which you can see in the photo above.  This extension added seating for an additional 120 people, including a gallery for the brothers' employees.
Inside, the church is typical eighteenth century with high-sided box pews, pulpit and reading desk which probably date from that 1740 remodelling.  I do love box pews, that whole thing about closing the door and being in your own little space is very cosy.  However, I have to report that the seats inside these particular little spaces are very narrow and quite high; I couldn't put my feet flat on the floor, which was tricky as my well-padded bottom was sliding off the perch!  I really found them very uncomfortable.
I sat there for quite a while because this church has a lovely, serene feel, perhaps because of the plain white walls which are free of memorials and other "clutter".  Looking from the chancel towards the west end of the nave, there is a rather lovely clock.
However, the real jewel of this church is the twelfth century carving which decorates the arch between the chancel and the nave and which looks so crisp and fresh that it's hard to believe that it's nine hundred years old.  I sat and looked at it for a long time.

In the picture above you can clearly see that the chancel arch was once very much bigger.  This was revealed when the plaster was removed from this wall in 1979.
The stained glass windows date from the nineteenth century and were bought from another church in the 1970s and installed here.  On the day we visited they were simply and sweetly decorated ready for Harvest Festival.
The church was declared redundant in 1975 and later sold to Telford Development Corporation who restored it for use as a museum.  It now belongs to The Churches Conservation Trust and is kept locked but you can borrow the key from the people who live in The Old Rectory next door, which is now a guest house.  However, if you visit next weekend, 21st and 22nd September, the church will be open between midday and 4pm and friendly volunteers from a local historical society will be there.  You could even stay for the Harvest Festival at 4pm on Sunday.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Sunday 8 September 2019

Pistyll Rhaeadr

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  Is all well?  The Best Beloved and I sat out in the garden in the sunshine for three quarters of an hour this afternoon, drinking tea and watching the butterflies.  Hasn't it been a glorious summer for butterflies?  We have two buddleia, one enormous and one much smaller, and on the smaller one we saw at least eight small tortoiseshells, two red admirals, a painted lady, a comma and some kind of white, all five species there at the same time.  I've never seen so many small tortoiseshells together before.  A few bees were still searching for nectar inside the pink flowers of the hardy geranium and right next to us, a brazen robin sat on a branch of the large buddleia to sing his song.  It all felt rather idyllic on a late summer afternoon.
We are back in the school routine again now but on the last Friday of the school holiday we drove out to Wales with our children and grandchildren, to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys and then we climbed out of the village on the narrow, old drovers' road to Bala for four miles.  The road no longer goes all the way to Bala, it stops at the tallest waterfall in Wales, taller than any in England, Pistyll Rhaeadr.  We have been coming here since our girls were small and we have many happy memories of picnics by the shallow river, paddling in the pool at the bottom of the falls and climbing the path to the top to look at the stunning views.  This was to be Tom Kitten's and Cottontail's first visit and although we didn't expect her to be particularly bothered at the grand old age of six weeks, we were all looking forward to playing in the water with Tom Kitten, who was wearing his wellington boots especially for the occasion.  Here are some photos the Best Beloved took in August 2010. -

The last time we visited was two years ago when the Best Beloved and I came by ourselves on a beautiful warm, sunny day in April.  I sat on the rocks beside the river and he climbed through the woods on the opposite bank to take some photographs before coming back down.  We didn't take a picnic that time, but we bought ice creams in the tearoom and sat outside on the terrace in the sunshine to eat them. -

Can you see why we like it here so much?  On this last visit we noticed that the atmosphere had changed: people were queuing up to stand on the rocks in front of the waterfall, at the edge of the pool, or on the bridge near the tearoom, and take selfies on their mobile 'phones before walking back to their cars. The purpose of their visits seemed to be to take these photographs, presumably for their social media accounts, rather than to enjoy being there.
So, this time we drove past plenty of cars parked beside the narrow road, I guessed because the owners wanted to avoid the parking charge, and we paid £4 for each car to park in the car park.  I then paid 20p to go through the turnstile to use the public loo, which was very clean and well-kept and worth every penny of that 20p.  We gathered up our picnic paraphernalia and walked through the overflow parking field where we noticed that a lot of new fencing had been erected since our last visit.  We were about to go through a gate when a woman hurried up to us and ask where we were going.  "We're looking for a place to picnic by the river," I said.  She replied that there was no public access to the river and that she was expecting a wedding party.  "So where can we picnic?" I asked.  "In that field," she said, pointing.  "Which field?" I asked.  "Where those cars are," she replied, pointing towards the overflow parking field.  So we spread out our blanket and ate our picnic beside the parked cars.  I was very disappointed and thought that I wasn't sure that I would pay £4 to park if all I could do was walk up to the falls and back to the car.  I suppose some people might go for a proper hike, in which case the parking is probably worth £4.  The Best Beloved even said that it might be the last time we visit the falls, which made me feel sad because they are very beautiful.
So, if you want to go to Pistyll Rhaeadr you can still walk up to the falls but there isn't really anywhere to linger at the bottom unless you want to spend time in the car park, which I don't, or the tearoom, which I don't.  I am happy to report that Tom Kitten did enjoy being in the water, even when he went too deep and it flowed into his wellingtons.  His little sister slept in my arms and really wasn't bothered.
I have just found this 1985 shampoo advert on YouTube which some of you might remember.  At the time I thought it was filmed in some exotic paradise, but the actual location was Pistyll Rhaeadr - not exotic, but still a kind of paradise.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x