Case Closed

Just to spoil the fun of speculation, here – at last – are the facts. And the moral is that just because something is written down in black and white, it ain’t necessarily so.

Two old men, brothers, one of them a farmer and the other his labourer, are working on the harvest. Joe, the elder, dies. I don’t have his death certificate, so I don’t know the cause, but he was 79 and in 1859 that was a ripe old age. Maybe he simply over-exerted himself. He’s buried a couple of days later, on 14 August, and no doubt younger brother Sam was upset at losing him. But the harvest has to be brought in, so Sam and Joe’s son Charlie get on with it.

Maybe Sam is grieving and his concentration isn’t so good that morning. After all, he’s 72 and he’s had to get up at 5 am to start loading the wagon. It’s a big wagon, and with a full load needs 3 dray horses to pull it. Sam takes the rein of one of the shaft horses, and off they go. At a bend in the road he stands back to make way for the horse, but there isn’t enough space and the horse steps on his foot. That’s a few hundred kilos of horseflesh, and Sam doesn’t stand a chance: he falls, and the wagon runs over his chest. An inquest is held, and two days after the accident, on 24 August, Sam is buried. In the parish register, his burial immediately follows that of brother Joe ten days earlier.

The newspaper reporter got the results of the inquest right, but he conflated the brothers and got the name wrong. To add to the confusion, the clerk who copied the details of the Probate inquiry into Joe’s estate six months later wrote the date of his death as 12.9.1859 instead of 12.8.1859. Easily done. And there we have it.

I’m sorry to disappoint my readers: no foul play, no conspiracy to rid the village of its Hardwicks, no evil characters lurking in the hedges to push old rustics under the wheels of wagons. Just a sad way for an old man to end his days.


Strange Coincidence

This is a post script to my last post, and concerns a strange coincidence.

As I recounted, the two brothers Joseph and Samuel Hardwick died within weeks of one another in the summer of 1859. Samuel, who was 72, died when he was run over by a horse and wagon, according to his death certificate.

I have been aware of that fact for a long time. However, it was only now, as I was delving into what had happened to the family farm, that I have been sent a newspaper cutting describing the death of his brother Joseph, aged 78, just a few days later. And this is what it says:

HEATH: FATAL ACCIDENT: On Wednesday an inquest was held at the house of Mr Rome, The Elm Tree Inn, on the body of Joseph Hardwick, farmer, of Heath. The deceased left his home about five o’clock in the morning to assist in the harvest field. They were leading corn from the field to the stackyard about eight o’clock. They had come with a load out of the field with a four-wheeled wagon and three horses. There was a turn in the road, and the deceased was in it. He had hold of the head of one of the shaft horses. The horse turned round sharply, knocked him down and trod upon his foot, and the wheels passed over his chest. He breathed thrice and died. A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned. 

As my informant says, it looks like a case for Miss Marples – or is this a nineteenth century version of Midsomer Murders?

Hunting the Hardwicks

Genealogy has me in its clutches again! Yet another distant cousin has sailed into my sights, providing me with copies of wills made by my fifth and sixth great-grandfathers in the eighteenth century, as well as a few other documents.

I’m back with my Hardwick ancestors, a very prolific bunch by all accounts, but am still feeling dubious of claims by another distant cousin that we are actually all descended from Sir Jocelyn de HAVERMERE/Everemere de HARDEWYCKE/ Herdewycke/ Hardwicke etc who was born circa 1040 AD in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia during the reign of King Canute.  He fought on the wrong side at the Battle of Hastings, so William the Conqueror stripped him of his titles and confiscated his lands and possessions. Sir Jocelyn’s son was cannier: he married the daughter of a Norman knight, and had everything restored to him by King Henry I.

It’s a pretty tale, but I’m wary. To my knowledge, anyone who belonged to the household of the Hardwicks – including the lowest servants – or came from the village of Hardwick, could be given that surname. So we might just as well be descended from any of the Hardwick serfs – and not second cousin thirteen times removed to the great Bess of Hardwick and the Duke of Devonshire.

Be that as it may, by 1721 my sixth great-grandfather Thomas Hardwick had managed, by fair means or foul, to acquire two farms, which was convenient for him since he had two sons as well as two daughters.

I like the way Thomas wrote his will. He sounds like a straight-talking, no-nonsense kind of man, with none of the fancy formulations and legalese jargon you usually find. The clerk who wrote it had a clear, legible hand, too.

Sons James and John get a farm each, out of which they have to support their mother, either by giving her a home with them, or by paying her an annuity totalling £5. She only survived her husband by two years, so that wouldn’t have been a drain on their finances.

The newly-wed younger daughter Alice is left £20, and the elder daughter, Mary, married with a little girl, gets £10 and a “new calved cow”. Mary’s husband gets “my cloathes and wearing apparel except for a new pair of Boots” and his brothers-in-law have to supply him with sufficient land to keep one cow, summer and winter. Their little girl, Thomas’ granddaughter, is promised another “new calved cow” when she marries, but then comes the strange stipulation that she should be brought up by her uncles.

That makes me wonder. Why? Did Thomas think she wasn’t being treated properly at home? Or that her parents were feckless or too poor? Did she stay with her mother and father, and therefore not get her cow? Or did she, a little maid of seven at the time of her grandfather’s death, go to live with one of her uncles? Or did she spend 6 months here and 6 months there, and visit her parents in between?

I don’t suppose I will ever know, but I do feel sorry for that little girl and her parents.

Thomas Hardwick - Will 1721 - Heath Derbyshire

My fifth great-grandfather, Thomas’s son John, also didn’t do too badly. In his will he bequeaths £20 to each of his four oldest sons and two married daughters, and the farm he lives on goes to his youngest son. I was pleased that he treated his girls the same as his boys, but I was surprised that the baby of the family got the farm.

Then I found the will of the eldest brother – who sounds like a kind and caring husband and father – and realised that he, too, was a husbandman (i.e. farmer) with his own farm, so maybe John had already divided up some of his holdings among his lads before he died. John held his land from the Duke of Devonshire, so there must be some records at Chatsworth House (another link with Bess of Hardwick!) and maybe even some maps, showing who had what.

I was curious to know what happened to the old homestead, named as “Hallam’s Farm” in Thomas Hardwick’s will.

The “baby” who inherited it in 1779 was my fourth great-grandfather, Samuel Hardwick, and after his death in 1822 the farm passed to his elder son, Joseph, born in 1780, big brother of my third great-grandfather Samuel Jr, born in 1788.

At this point, that good old resource the census comes in useful.  From the 1841 and 1851 censuses, I could see that my third great-grandfather Samuel Jr lived next door to Joseph, and worked as an agricultural labourer, presumably for his brother. Whilst Samuel and his wife had twelve children in all (five of whom died), and Joseph had several daughters, he had only one son and heir, Charles: in 1851, a 35-year-old childless widower living with his parents on the family farm. Joseph and Samuel were now old men, and they both died within weeks of one another in August and September 1859, so Charles was left to carry on alone.

I suppose that, as it says in the old song, “The farmer wants a wife”: by 1871, Charles had not only a wife, but also a 13-year-old “general servant” called William Charles Hardwick to help him with his 30 acres. Were they related? I have found the boy’s parents and siblings, but can’t establish a blood connection with Charles. Maybe he was the boy’s godfather, and that would account for his middle name.

Whatever the situation, they must have got along well because when Charles died in 1889, he named William Charles Hardwick as his sole heir and executor. Various records have confirmed that William Charles married, had children, and was still farming in 1911 (the last census available). He died there in March 1943, so that should help us to locate the farm.

Back then to my newly discovered distant cousin, who lives not so far away from the ancestral home and is now avidly searching the records. And I am imagining plots for historical novels …

Musical Furniture Merry-Go-Round

Last year, I explained in these two posts – Musical Furniture and More Musical Chairs – how furniture does the rounds in our family. In the past few months, we have had the equivalent of a furniture symphony. Clearing my mother’s house out in July and September revealed many items that we really didn’t want to relinquish, but which could hardly be classed as heirlooms. The solution? Take them to our holiday home in Brittany and turn them to good use.

This was originally my house, bought in 1991, but over the last three decades all the family has spent at least one holiday a year here, so everyone feels it’s home, right down to the newest member of the family who is not yet a year old but has enjoyed two holidays here already. Bringing my mother’s things here conflates the two places that have been home to us longest, always there in the background, providing a sense of permanency as we all moved house over and over again.

Living room TT 1.jpg

So now, here is the dining table with two of its four chairs, that cost my parents 17/6 in 1938, and the bureau that my mother’s landlady sold her for £3 in 1935. The wardrobe that passed to my parents when my aunt died won’t go round the bend in the stairs, so it also now stands here in the living room, together with Mom’s rocking chair and Dad’s wing-backed chair, both desperately in need of reupholstering. Oh yes, my daughter has no fear of tackling that task and has already bought some material for the covers.  For the time being they are swathed in throws and blankets, and don’t look too bad.

Over in the corner by the window stands the Sherlock chair that first belonged to my granddaughter and was passed on to my mother last year: a perfect fit. Next to that, the occasional table my father made and opposite it, his bookshelf (still holding some of his books). Mom’s tea and dinner service will be happy to stay close to the table they have always graced, and much of her cut-glass and crystal is also on display. Another comfortable mid-century chair that I inherited from my ex-husband’s aunt, and passed on to my mother, now looks as if it has always been part of the kitchen, as do my mother’s two kitchen stools.

The 1930’s oak bedroom furniture is also here in Brittany: the bedhead and chest of drawers in my bedroom, the dressing table in another (and its triple mirror awaiting a decision, as it doesn’t really fit anywhere except maybe the bathroom). The little dressing table Mom found for £1 when she was first married, and that was mine throughout my childhood and teenage years, slots neatly into my granddaughter’s bedroom. The slipper chair – also in need of some TLC – adorns my daughter’s room, along with the doll’s cradle my grandfather made for me and which my daughter also played with when she was little.

Even my daughter admits that there is really no room left for the two easy chairs that originally belonged to my aunt, then to me, then to my mother, and now to my daughter –  if chairs are sentient, they must be very confused at such extreme musicality. They are destined to come to Switzerland in the spring to be renovated, and to replace two club chairs that my son-in-law inherited from his godmother and which will now go from the sitting room to his office.

We loaded the car to return to Switzerland, and there was no room for these armchairs, nor for the stuffed fish caught by my father in 1950, nor the stone birdbath sculpted by my grandfather. These will also have to wait until spring to be fetched. Books, china, ornaments, glass, pictures, textiles – my daughter’s poor little cocker spaniel cowered in her seat, as suitcases and boxes were piled up around her. But she survived the journey, as did most of our cargo: just one casualty, a picture I hadn’t wrapped properly suffered broken glass. I don’t have room at present to hang that one anyway, so not a tragedy.

And how miraculously everything found a place in our Swiss houses! Little echoes of our old family home and my mother’s spirit are everywhere, both in my place and in my daughter’s. I’m especially pleased with how well this 3D picture, embroidered by an old friend for my mother’s 90th birthday, and the vase made by my mother at pottery evening classes in the 1950’s, marry with my vintage table lamp.

Adrienne's picture

And finally, the two pieces of furniture that are literally musical: a small marquetry storage table containing a musical box movement, sent as a souvenir from Sorrento and for which my mother could never find a suitable place, now sits comfortably next to my longcase clock, a reproduction Comtoise with Westminster chimes, also made in Italy: compatriots united! Will they sing Italian duets together?


Emotional Surfing

Time and inclination have been against me lately; a poor excuse I know for my failure to post anything new. This upsy-downy year continues to toss me to the crest of the wave then dash me deep into the trough, and September has been no exception. Just back in Switzerland again, after two short weeks in England, during which time a lot was accomplished and much was not.

Thinking the family home was sold, as I recounted recently, I landed in the UK with mixed feelings, but chiefly looking forward to closure.  That wasn’t to be. My buyer is having second thoughts, and although she hasn’t actually withdrawn her offer, I just have to wait till she makes up her mind. Knowing her situation, I’m not pushing; but it is frustrating nevertheless. “Sold subject to contract” means that we can’t yet put it back on the market. In the meantime, I have to continue paying taxes, insurance and utilities, whilst the garden deteriorates into a jungle – heavenly hunting grounds for the neighbours’ cats!


As it looks now …


As it was.












On the plus side, our social life was extremely active and I indulged in some delicious food with far too many calories and carbs. Moreover, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed bonding with Darling Daughter and Dear Middle Granddaughter, both of whom have strong attachments to Great-Granny and her home.

They have been invaluable in the sorting-out process and very supportive in moments where I was frankly paralysed at the idea of throwing out this or that item loaded with treasured memories: worn, useless and outdated those things may be, but I feel unreasonably responsible for their future wellbeing and a few came back in our suitcases.

In America, we’d have held a yard sale, but that wasn’t an option here. The Internet was a boon. Some things found good homes, and a young woman came by to pick up eight boxes for her car boot sale; we called her to pick up another box, but she didn’t react, so presumably she wasn’t too impressed by our first lot of dilapidated treasures. Other bits and pieces placed strategically by the front gate disappeared overnight. Friends, family and neighbours pounced with delight on some things we feared would end up in the dump.

The house doesn’t look as bare and desolate as it might have done: carpets and curtains are still in place and the rooms do look bigger though not quite empty. As in the story of the Three Bears, there are still three beds, an ancient three-piece suite (no fireproof certificate, so can’t give it to charity) and four dining chairs (one for Goldilocks, perhaps) as well as an assortment of cutlery, mugs and dishes, a kettle and toaster, and even a French press to make coffee. A wardrobe, a 1960’s bookcase with matching sideboard and the unique multipurpose unit that my mother designed in the 1950’s are also still in place awaiting their fate. I imagine their new owner will dump them heartlessly, but that deed was beyond us. Too many associations.

What next? Furniture and objects that we can use in our holiday house in Brittany were packed up and despatched; taking delivery of them is the next stage for us. My DD has a clear vision of where they will go, and I need to be there to “supervise” so by the end of October, that job at least should have been ticked off the list. Some heirlooms will even travel on to Switzerland when we can find space for them.

We said very moving fond farewells to all our loved ones in England, promising to return “sometime”. With the house still unsold, I think that may be sooner rather than later. I have a sense of “final performance” followed by a comeback and then a series of “last final performance” with all the emotional upheaval that entails. In the end, our exasperated family, friends and neighbours may well breathe a sigh of relief and cry “Good riddance!”

End Of An Era

This is a tough post for me to write but I need to do it.

I started this blog in September 2011, exactly six years ago, pushed by an indeterminate urge, a sense that I was at a sort of crossroads and it would be interesting if not useful to keep some kind of record. I never intended this to be a journal, just a place where I could muse and ramble and ruminate on all the things that catch my short span of attention without boring my interlocutor to tears. Readers can skip the boring bits, whereas listeners just doze off. So a blog serves a useful purpose.

In the event, it has been a lifeline during a period in my life that I could not have anticipated. And now, that period is drawing to its close and I am embarking on the final phase of my life. At least, that’s what it looks like from here: what Germans call “Lebensabend”. I hope that I am sailing into a beautiful sunset.

My parents’ house, which has been home to us all for the past eight decades, has been sold. I flew the nest in the early sixties, but then in December 2011 my mother needed my assistance and I returned – initially for three months, thinking I’d set up some kind of care system for her, and then, when I realised that wasn’t going to materialise, my three months turned into four and a half years. This blog fortuitously coincided with that time span so I don’t need to repeat here what I have already published.

This is the one place I have always returned to no matter where I was currently residing, the house my parents moved into, a young couple aged just 24 and almost 22, in April 1938 even before the plumbing had been connected, so that they had to use a tap in the garden for the first few weeks. They could have bought it for £200 but they rented first, unsure if they would stay. After the war, they bought it for about £700 as sitting tenants.

This little house has always drawn me as if I were attached by an elastic umbilical cord; it’s where I was born and grew up, where my parents lived – forever it seemed – and where they both wanted to die; where they left their mark as they painted, decorated and furnished it over the years; the home I left and returned to when my mother could no longer manage on her own; the ancestral home for my daughter, her children and their families. And now it’s going to be home to someone else.

This is a home that has always been full of love, a happy, hospitable home, with WELCOME! not only on the mat but pervading every room. “…in need of some improvements but holds much character…” says the estate agent’s blurb. I pray that the new owners will make the necessary improvements without losing the character, that they will feel and respect the spirit of this place, the gentle and generous genius loci, and I pray a blessing on them, that they may be as happy and contented as all those who ever lived here have been.

I am relieved that the new owners are people I have known for several years, good people, kind and caring. I feel I owe it to our long-suffering, big-hearted neighbours to ensure that someone decent comes to live next door. And even though this sale marks the end of my own official link with my childhood home, I look forward to returning some time to see how they are getting on.

The bond between this place and me will, I think, endure: after my birth the midwife gave my father my placenta to bury in the garden! No wonder I feel the pull of the umbilical cord!


Name This Child

“Hallo,” came a voice over the fence as I was hanging out my washing (oh, the delight of clothes that have dried in the sunshine, absorbing the scents of freshly mown grass, thyme and roses). “Haven’t seen you for a long time,” she added.

I was surprised, actually, that my neighbour still recognised me after almost six years. It always unnerves me slightly when this happens: what is so peculiar about me that I should make such a lasting impression? Our contact had been slight, though it was usually when I was hanging up my washing so perhaps I was simply a bit of déjà vu for her. Anyway, she remembered my name.

I put down my pegs and walked over to her, making a fuss of the little black Labrador that suddenly appeared at her side shoving his nose through the palings. I explained why I had been away for so long, and then, rather embarrassed, confessed that I had forgotten her name. I expected her to tell me her family name. This is Switzerland, we have only exchanged small talk over the fence, and know nothing about one another really, so this seemed to me a classic case for the formal “Sie”. However, she smiled and said: “Hortensia.”

Telling a person to call you by your first name in Swiss German is an invitation to use the informal form of address, “du”, and although it’s common enough among young folk, it is not so usual among those of a certain age and older, as we are. So I feel quite flattered in a way, in spite of our having lived next door to one another for twelve years. That’s nothing in a Swiss village: you can be here fifty years, and still be strangers.

I responded with my Christian name, sealing the fact that we are now “duzis”. I have never met anyone called Hortensia before, and I was secretly wondering if she liked her name when she informed me that her daughter was also Hortensia. So presumably she does. You wouldn’t saddle your baby with a name you disliked, would you?

We chatted for a while as I finished pegging out my clothes, and she updated me on the latest garden news: she no longer has any hens, they all died of old age, as did the Labrador she used to have (I had noticed that this one seemed not only smaller but also quieter than its predecessor) and that the hedgehogs still frequent the gardens at night, probably nesting and hibernating under her shed. I was pleased to hear this, as hedgehogs seem to be dying out. And the crows have a nest in our other neighbours’ fir tree, which is why our dawn chorus is less enchanting than it was when the blackbirds inhabited it. I presume that the name Hortensia is somehow connected with the Latin ‘hortus’ meaning garden, so I was mildly pleased by the context of our conversation.

As I returned to my other chores, I ruminated on her name. Hortensia, I vaguely recalled, was an ancient Roman matron famous for giving a speech in front of the Senate, as well as another name for the hydrangea plant. Interesting: you wouldn’t name your daughter Hydrangea, would you? Oh, well, maybe nowadays you would. Nobody would blink any more.


I went back to my laptop and the family tree I’ve been working on. Aptly enough, it’s one of the German lines, featuring ancestors with evocative names we rarely hear nowadays like Apollonia, and the Three Wise Men: Melchior, Balthasar and Caspar.  I say apt, because there before my eyes was grandfather Ernst Friedrich Adolf Richard Traut. No, I can’t see any of my granddaughters wanting to name their babies after him.

And as I began browsing through a new family tree, compiled by a distant relative, I saw that Ernst FAR Traut (no, definitely; nobody would give their child those initials nowadays, I hope) apparently had had an older brother, Martin Traut.  No middle name, I noticed. Had he been jealous of his younger brother, blessed with not one but three middle names?

Click, and there’s Martin’s son: Moses Hugo Karl Adolf Bertold Otto Traut. Surely that can’t be just one person? Oh yes, it is, and there’s even a photo of him. He looks normal enough, thank goodness. But I can’t help wondering whether his father had indeed felt short-changed, and given his son a different name for every day of the week to compensate for his own meagre moniker. Or did he have a number of rich uncles he was trying to flatter? I don’t know if this side of the family had Jewish connections, but if not, Moses was not a fortunate name to bear in the Third Reich. Maybe he dropped it and used one of his alternatives?

I’ve been reviewing the Trauts. They seem to have a penchant for resounding names: Emilie Ernestine Friederike, Karl Friedrich Wilhelm, Maria Elisabetha Thekla, Anna Ida Lina, Karl August Ludwig Martin, Ernst Gottfried Bernhard and Ida Dorothee Augusta. But none of them can match Moses.

Incidentally, Moses Hugo Karl Adolf Bertold Otto Traut married Lina Ella Olga Leipold. Their children all had short names.