Saturday, 19 December 2009

Sepia Saturday: Julia

My grandfather was a wonderful storyteller, and many of his tales were rooted in his own upbringing. He often spoke affectionately about his mother, a soft and gentle woman, who had endured great hardship without complaint.

But beyond the funny anecdotes and hidden amidst the touching accounts of her struggles, were few details of her origins. When asked about his mother's birthplace, grandfather would make vague references to the Hampshire market town of Romsey. He knew little more than that, and there was no reason why he should have.

Some years after his death, I started to research the family history, and made the discovery that Julia Elizabeth Baker had, in fact, been born in a neighbouring village.

It was odd that we moved to our present location in 2000, not realising for one moment, that my great grandmother had started her life just two miles from our front door. What's more, her father, James Baker, was born, here in our village, as was his father and his father before. In fact, the Bakers have a history, right here, back to the late 1600s.

In 1896 Julia, aged 22, married my great grandfather, William George Gregory. Five years later they were living in Sway, in the New Forest, with their new daughter, my great aunt May. Six more children followed in the ensuing years, as the family moved about the county, taking up residence in a series of tied cottages. Agricultural work apparently lasted little more than a two year term with any one employer. Michaelmas seems to have been the point in the calendar when men openly declared themselves available for new work, usually by wearing an ear of wheat in their button-hole on market days.

Julia had a musical ear and taught herself to play the harmonium. Each week, the Sunday newspaper (I think it was the News of the World) printed the sheet music of a popular song of the day. Gathering around to listen and sing was the highlight of the week.

Having developed heart problems later in life, Julia died in 1940. William continued living on his own until ill health prompted my grandfather to take him in. The doctor gave him a few weeks at most. He recovered and stayed for nine years. There are no photographs of William but I have a clear mental image of him, thanks to family recollections. He wouldn't have his image 'taken'. I'm so glad that Julia took a different view.

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© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges


  1. Isn't family history fascinating? I don't want to discover I'm the descendant of someone famous - interesting will do fine.
    We recently discovered two 'lost' great uncles of my husband's. I've the grave number of the elder who died in Bagdad in WWI. The younger brother ran away to join the army when he was 14 and was never heard of again. Can't even find a death certificate and with a name like Hackles that should be easy.
    Thanks for sharing your interesting relatives.

  2. With the coming of the internet, researching into family history has become a possibility for so many more people. I had a fine old time ferreting out a Great Granny who started life in Londonderry, but I've not been able to trace her maiden name, and the trail went cold. It's lovely when you have photos, or family stories, that help you delve into the past. It's a plus when you find somebody writing as well as you do, who let's us share the stories!

  3. I love this picture. I want to have a cup of tea and a bun with her. Fascinating family stuff.

  4. Wonderful piece. Classic Sepia Saturday stuff. Family histories are full of geographic surprises. I too discovered via the census records ancestors who lived a couple of miles from where we now live.

  5. You obviously have your grandfather's story telling DNA, Martin. Wonderful post!

  6. I enjoyed this so much! What a wonderful discovery that you now live so close to the beginnings of your ancestor's lives.

  7. Lynne

    Yes, I've probably spent more hours researching than I should have, but it can be compelling. Just one small clue and you're off again. No one famous here either, but some interesting characters and unexplained mysteries.


    We probably have more stories than photographs here, and it's the stories I love the most. Thanks for your kind words, as ever.


    My mother tells me that Julia was kind and gentle, although I think this picture reveals a weariness that comes from having a large family and a hard life. In spite of all that, I'm sure she would have made you welcome with a cuppa.


    Thank you. Yes, some of the things you discover can be spookily coincidental at times.


    If I have truly inherited that trait, then I am one satisfied individual. Thank you.


    Thank you. You know, every time I go walking hereabouts, I think of my forebears treading the same paths. I think they would recognise much of the village and surrounding landscape, as very little has changed here over the years.

  8. I love to hear of people's lives in times gone by. My, we have it easy now.
    That's amazing you ended up back here you came from, so to speak! You must have known, somewhere in your bones.

    A few years back my mother went on a crusade to track down as many family photos going back as far as she could and now has a wall covered in them. It's fascinating to see family resemblances crossing the years, right down to my own children.

    Family history is a wonderful thing to be able to pass on, isn't it?

  9. Ciara

    I agree, we do have it much easier now. Imagine having to mangle the laundry outside this time of year!

    That's wonderful for you and your children to be able to see all those family faces from across the years. Family history is important. Not just the names and dates, but the stories that hold it all together. As you say, a wonderful thing to pass on.

  10. Hey there. I hope you're having a good weekend. It's been cold and rainy here. Our internet keeps going out so I did want to leave a comment on your blog. Take care. Have a great week. Cheers!

  11. Keith

    The weekend has been good, so far. It's cold and crisp here, with clear skies and a sun so weak, it can barely lift it's head.

    Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week yourself.

  12. A lovely gentle reminiscence. She would be pleased.

    Thank you for following me.

    And have a Happy Christmas.

  13. Brenda

    Thank you. I'd like to think so too.

    I'm enjoying your blog, and although I may not comment often, rest assured I'm following every post.

    Happy Christmas to you and yours!

  14. Your post reminded me of all the Thomas Hardy novels, with the workers wondering whether they would be rehired for another term. Of course, in the novels of Thomas Hardy, they never were. You're quite near Hardy country, aren't you?

  15. Susan

    Yes, we are quite close to Hardy country. In fact, Dorset is a neighbouring county. Oddly enough, Julia's husband, William George, was born in Dewlish, Dorset.


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