One of our recent challenges was to research the history of what turned out to be a former squatter’s cottage in the Shropshire hills – and I mean literally in the hills. Directions took me to the edge of a village then up a track, up another track, through a gate, up another track etc, but the views were astounding and there was no passing traffic, not even sheep. Built in the 18th century, the property was initially home to workers in the nearby coal mines and stone quarries. An act of enclosure granted the land to the vicar of the parish and it was a later incumbent who petitioned the Bishop of Hereford for permission to demolish the property and a dozen of its neighbours as he considered the buildings ‘dilapidated, unsightly and an incumbrance to the benefice’. Fortunately for my client this order was never carried out and the next vicar ordered repairs to the property instead.
We seem to be going through a phase of researching house histories as gifts for significant birthdays at the moment, and long may it continue. The squatter’s cottage was one such and we have just finished another which has been a fascinating tale. Dating back to the 17th century, the property was bought by a local man from the indebted estate of a Royalist supporter whose beliefs cost him dear. The new owner and the next four generations of his descendants extended the building and bought nearby land to create a substantial farm over the course of the next 180 years, only for it all to be blown away by the fifth generation who lost the lot. There had been earlier ructions in the family when one of them tried to disinherit his daughter in favour of his two sons by a second marriage, however she cut up rough and sued her father. Although she lost the house, she did get compensation through the court, but only a shilling from her father in his will.
Unaccustomed as we are to royal visits, we were rather hoping Her Majesty the Queen would be touring the trade stands during her visit to the Shropshire Jubilee Show at RAF Cosford this summer and we would have the opportunity to offer to research the history of one of her properties. It was a gorgeous bright, sunny day and we watched with anticipation as the royal helicopter approached the air field. On arrival, the royal party were taken to lunch, then watched a parade of floats a good 200 metres away, separated by cheering, flag-waving crowds. After a slow circuit past the crowd by car, they were whisked away by helicopter to the next event. So on this occasion Building Beginnings’ house history research went unseen by the royal eyes, but undaunted we will be ready at the next opportunity to offer our services.
Every now and then a remarkable document comes to light that stops my research in its tracks and causes a serious diversion to the day’s work. Such a case was an autobiography of a Victorian industrialist describing his rise from coal miner earning shillings a week to mine and furnace owner whose estate was worth over £7m when he died. Not only does the account provide enough material for a dissertation on early 19th century mining development, but it was also extended by his grandson with stories about his father’s associations ‘with the reckless followers of the Prince Regent’ written by his uncle under a false name. Despite including them in his work, the grandson evidently had little belief in these allegations commenting that ‘it shows what may be done in writing parochial history when not troubled by the burden of facts, but left free to the unfettered inspiration of genius and fancy’.
We talk about lots of topics related to house history research on our blog. Here are some we’ve written about recently:
The new research facilities at Worcester
Adding perspective to the age of your house by looking at the rock it’s built on.
Extraordinary goings-on at the Caynham and Ashford Women’s Institute one winter’s evening when the local fire officer gave a demonstration on the causes of combustion using everyday household goods.
South Shropshire Journal 17 February 1978
‘He sprinkled ordinary baking powder over a lighted candle, then placed a small piece of wire wool in contact with an electric battery, sprayed hair lacquer over a candle and placed a pinch of weed killer with a similar amount of icing sugar. In each case sparks were caused to fly immediately on contact and in the last two cases poisonous fumes given off which of course were strictly controlled by the Fire Officer.’This entry was posted in News