Sunday, 22 November 2009

A Tangled Web

I think it's fair to say that my maternal grandmother was an eccentric. And although, as a family, we recognise that a pinch of eccentricity is 'in the genes', her sometimes unconventional approach and her unpredictable personality probably owed more to nurture than nature.

A bright child with a passion for learning, she would have fulfilled her potential at school but for the social hurdles of her time, too high to clear without serious money. Ability just wasn't enough.

Abandoned to the care of a grandmother she adored, she grew up on a ramshackle smallholding on the fringes of a large artificial lake. An idyllic scene perhaps, but she found little romance in fetching cows down through the woods for milking in all weathers, laying in bed with rats scurrying about in the roof above and living in fear of her grandfather's moods, that darkened after bouts of drinking. In fact, Wellington, or 'Duke', as he was known, wasn't her real grandfather. He just happened to marry Jinny, her grandmother, when she was already a single mother.

Duke and Jinny coming home from market

A liaison, in 1883, between Jinny and an unidentified aristocrat, left her holding a very real baby, in the shape of my great grandmother. Nothing unusual in that, of course. Guest of the family at the 'big house' has wicked way with lowly parlour maid. Maid is dismissed under a cloud of shame whilst the gentleman in question goes about his merry, procreative business.

Unusually, in Jinny's case, her former employers, for whatever reason, provided her with somewhere to live in addition to occasional, though meagre financial assistance.

Jinny feeding swans on the lake by her cottage

My grandmother knew the whole story, apart from the true identity of her real grandfather. She would recall how Jinny's funeral, in 1943, was attended by representatives of those who had 'looked after' her. She remembered, clearly, the expressions of relief on their faces when she assured them, that what had taken place all those years ago, was now over.  

In the course of researching our family history, I discovered that my great grandmother was in service in London around 1900. Coincidentally, the head of that house, had a place in the country adjoining the previously mentioned, 'big house', where in all probability she was conceived. These highly privileged neighbours were both senior officers in the same regiment of the British Army and prominent Freemasons. In fact, my great grandmother's employer was not only an English Mason, but a Knight Templar, Grand Inspector-General of the Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite, a 9th degree member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, and 2nd degree in the Order of Light (Fratres Lucis), an occult body founded in 1882. He was also a Justice of the Peace.

The mystery is always going to be there, but I'm sure that much of what occurred in her youth, made my grandmother the person she was. I think it would have been impossible to remain unaffected by the weighty intrigue generated by such enigmatic characters, their secret lives and arrangements.....don't you?

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges


  1. A romance novel waiting to be written -- but perhaps the ending could be twisted a bit -- bringing one of Jinny's descendants into contact with the sole survivor of that aristocratic family and then...

  2. What a fascinating story. Love the detail, love the mystery. A fine read.

  3. What a wonderful scenario for a book - are you writing one yet? :)
    That's a super photo of two old dears, too. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Vicki

    I agree. There are a number of scenarios that come to mind, courtesy of my ancestors. I've been toying with this story for some time and I do believe it 'has legs' as they say.


    Thank you. I'm glad you liked the story.


    I am playing around with two or three possible projects at present. Hopefully, I'll get serious about one or the other quite soon.

  5. There are parallel stories to be found amongst family and friends in this era also. Life has templates that are put in play again and again.

  6. English Rider

    Oh yes, you are so right.

  7. Great post, Martin. Fascinating story, beautifully written. The mystery is part of the appeal. So different from the telly today, where we learn more than we ever wanted to know about total strangers.

  8. I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.


  9. Sounds like the makings of a great novel, to me.

  10. the photo is lovely and thank goodness those who were far better off helped her a bit. It must have been tough really.

    1. Thanks, Kathe W. Yes, it was not easy for her. But like other women who found themselves in a similar position, she made the best of it, with little complaint. I only wish I had met her, although I feel I'm getting to know her more, with each new revelation.


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