My brother, Richard Earle, stated that, regarding genealogy, he was only interested in the living, not the dead. Me, I think the dead give you far less hassle than the living and detecting their relationships and history is a fascinating and rewarding pastime. If you like detecting, that is.
And I do; witness my life-long ambition to be a writer of thriller and crime novels.
By the time I got to the UK to sort out my dear departed aunt’s possessions, churches had long since surrendered their parish records, firstly to dusty libraries in the county seats, then, as material exceeded space, and we edged into the digital age, to especially built centres to house these precious records and to transfer and transcribe them to microfiche and then to digital.
A lot of this material was free to the world until specialists started blocking it for their own financial ends where you have to pay for access. It is a mystery to me how these records were released to them in the first place and how the original holders were compensated in the second.
Be that as it may – what a wonderful expression; you can avoid an argument, not admit agreement or otherwise and still add your own opinion – I gave myself a week to explore the HAMPSHIRE COUNTY RECORDS OFFICE in Winchester.
Although I had/have a friend in Southampton who, it turned out, would have put me up, I established myself in the town of Stockbridge, eight miles from the city, being the nearest I could find, at Carbury House for the reasonable price of £25-00 a night. (Compare that to the equivalent of £5-50 I was charging at my Backpackers back in South Africa.) Stockbridge is a pretty little town with a long main street under which several trout streams pass. It made for a pleasant evening stroll to select any one of several diverse restaurants for supper.
Starting out at 09h00 every day to avoid the rush hour, I could choose a different route to vary the scenery to get to the CRO on the edge of Winchester, opposite of which was a convenient multi-storey carpark.
The front desk was very helpful on my first day, a Friday, where I paid a modest fee as a temporary reader and was given a pencil with strict instructions to use nothing else. A hermetically sealed door separates the reception from the main hall containing the help desk, then 4 computer terminals (at that time), relevant book shelves, banks of micro-fiche machines and parish record indexes. Indices? At the far end of the hall is another desk at which one can order manuscripts that are brought from even more dust-free, temperature and humidity controlled vaults. Gloves provided, of course.
Stupidly, I had left all my previous Earle Family notes at home, so I had to work from Enham Place, the turn-of-the century family seat, Knight’s Enham, the parish involved, and Smannell, the church to which my great grandmother turned after a spat with the Knight’s Enham vicar. She donated the organ, stain-glass windows and pews and a monument to her youngest son killed in Cameroon in WWI. She, her husband and brother-in-law are buried there.
But Smannell was a dead end, excuse the pun. Her father-in-law, Henry Earle, had been a solicitor in Andover, died there and was buried there, but the question was: Where was he born and who were his parents? Henry’s eldest son, Benjamin, died in infancy. This I had discovered on my visit to the UK in 1971. There was a Benjamin in the family bible which had come into my father’s hands, but no clue as to how he connected to us. There was, however, the tradition of naming one’s eldest son after one’s father, and I hoped that this had been the case as the dates did more or less fit.
Hearing my name called to look at some documents drawn up by my great great grandfather, Henry, led an elderly gentleman to approach me to ask if I was related as he knew a John Isherwood who had, until recently, been a partner in the same law firm. He said he would give me his number to phone to ask if he would like to meet me. It was arranged for the following Tuesday at the CRO.
Benjamin Earles were thin on the ground. The next day, Saturday, I finally found one in the parish of Itchen Stoke, a village about seven miles away from Winchester, which I decided to visit on Sunday when the CRO would be closed.
Taking the general direction towards Winchester, I went under the motorway and continued eastwards on the pretty Arlesford road alongside the River Itchen, through such villages as King’s Worthy, Abbott’s Worthy, Martyr Worthy, Itchen Abbas to Itchen Stoke. The buildings tend to red brick and blue flint. Itchen Stoke consists of a few such cottages and a striking church seemingly plucked out of France.
A little notice on the heavy doors told me to ask for the key at one of the cottages, which I did. It is as beautiful inside as it is out, but the sandstone is crumbling away and there were pamphlets for The Redundant Churches Fund for £1-00 on a shelf with a piggy-bank beside them. Trust is an amazing thing…
I added some coins and grabbed a couple of them along with a photo postcard. Apparently, this church design was based on that of La Saint Chapelle in Paris.
There had been two churches built on this site, the second of which was not likely to have seen Earles on their knees there as even the earlier one had been built in 1831 and demolished to make way for the present St Mary’s built in 1866. The pamphlet tells of an earlier church in the damp meadow down the lane near to the River Itchen. And, indeed, there were some relicts from it, like the font and two 1500 bronze plaques, in this church.
Lurking behind the vestry I found a family monument to Benjamin Earle, who died in 1825 before the first church was built, and his wife Sarah Earle and some of their children, including a Henry who died young. This was a blow as I was now looking at the wrong Benjamin. But it did tell me that the monument had probably been moved, with or without their bodies, from the earliest church. But, these names were many of those in the family bible, so it was puzzling.
Monday, I spent the whole day researching surrounding parishes to see if there were any more promising threads. Nothing; but it was interesting, nevertheless. On Tuesday I met John Isherwood (70) a retired solicitor from a village near Andover. He was able to tell me the history of his legal firm.
It was started by a solicitor named Bird in 17-something, who took on a partner named Coles. Bird and Coles became Coles and Earle, (Henry arrived in Andover in 1828, aged 26), then Earle & Everett, then Earle & Smith, then after Henry dropped dead of a heart attack on the main street of Andover in 1867 it became Smith & Son, then Smith, Son & Barker, then Barker & Son, and finally Barker, Son & Isherwood. The Isherwood was John’s father, but the name remains so today, even though John himself had retired when I met him.
Family folk-law says our name derives from Arles in France where one or more of them came to England with the forces of William the Conqueror and finally settled in Hampshire where the name is pretty common and most parish records had mention of Earles who were mostly yeomen but also anything from labourers to magistrates.
The most telling find in the Itchen Stoke parish records was a second Henry born to Benjamin and Sarah, their last child, born in 1802! And also, he was the only one to have kids of his own, one son who then begat as well (and boy, did he beget; ten kids including my grandfather who only had my dad just before he himself croaked), and here we are!
(Since then, the Net has revealed that Ben’s dad was Joseph, whose dad was also Benjamin born in 16-something.)
Friday night found me a guest of Joy Evans, a wonderful old friend from Botswana, at her home in Southampton, who treated me royally for the weekend before I returned to my uncle’s brewery on the Monday.