Friday, November 22, 2013

The Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace and Bath Redux, Then Researching Geneology in Somerset

On November 11th, I took Mother back to Heathrow where I picked up Paul and Vincent who were returning from Los Angeles. When we arrived back at the Briarsfield Campground, Vincent and Paul proceeded to unpack and get settled. One of the gifts that Vincent brought back was a new camera for me so hopefully the quality of the photos in the blog, particularly the night shots, will improve somewhat.

On November 12th, Vincent asked me to take him to some of the highlights that I had visited when my Mother was visiting. So I decided to drive to the Cotwolds, but not explore exactly the same villages; I wanted some variation for James, Sarah and myself. We headed to Chipping Campden (Chipping=market or market place; Campden=a valley with fields or enclosures of cultivated land). I had first planned to visit the Hidcote Manor Gardens which were created by the American horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston, and is a "must see" in the area. Unfortunately it was closed that day (only open on Sunday this time of year) so we'll just have to add it to the list for "next time".

With the Hidcote Manor Gardens a bust, Vincent and Paul were beginning to feel the effects of jetlag and so we decided to go into the village centre for tea. We went to the Badgers Hall which has a charming historic atmosphere. Some of us had a traditional cream tea, while those that haven't embraced the scones (Paul and James) had ice cream and lemon drizzle cake (a new favourite).
The Badgers Hall, overlooking the old market square, offers a traditional English tea.
After the boost from our tea, we wandered up and down High Street.
Behind the WWI memorial (erected 1929), is the old Market Hall, built in 1627 at a cost of £90.00. It was for the purpose of giving shelter to the local merchants selling cheese, butter and poultry. 
The Chipping Campden High Street is long and broad, and is flanked on either side by an almost unbroken single terrace, made up of many different architectural styles. The English Historian, G.M. Trevelyan, has called Chipping Campden's High Street "the most beautiful village street now left on the island". While I agree it's charming, I personally think this statement is a bit of a stretch with stiff competition from other villages such as Bourton-on-the-Water.
After leaving Chipping Campden we drove to Bourton-on-the-Water which is regularly voted one of the prettiest villages in England. At this point, it was getting dark and so we then proceeded back to the Briarfields Campground.

On November 13th, we woke up to frost. There was lots of condensation on LandShark's windows and we started to worry about the possibility of mold growing with all this dampness. It was time to make concrete plans to move further south.
Jack Frost visited last night.
Having invested in a Blenheim Palace family membership pass, I decided to take Paul and Vincent to see Blenheim Palace. Sarah joined us while James opted to stay back with Molly and do a few loads of laundry. God bless that boy!

On this second visit to Blenheim Palace, the weather was much improved. Sunny, and in the low 50s. Paul was in an odd mood when we arrived and decided he did not want to see the Palace and chose to sit in the car while the rest of us went. (That boy makes some curious decisions at times.) So, Vincent, Sarah and I all did the Palace tour (Sarah and I, for the second time).
On the tour, several tapestries are on display. The one captured in this photo depicts the battle of Blenheim. It shows Marshall Tallard, escorted by two British officers, in the act of surrender to Marlborough (in the red coat on a white horse). A Grenadier Guardsman can be seen furling a captured French standard on the left of the image. There are burning water mills on the banks of the river; the town in the background is Hooghstet.
The state dining room: The Marlborough family eats in here just once a year on Christmas Day.
The magnificent state dining room ceiling was painted by Louis Laguerre. It depicts the 1st Duke in "victorious progress but stayed by the hand of peace".
In order that the Duke of Marlborough can continue living in Blenheim Palace, he must pay rent. In lieu of paying £s, he delivers a new Quit Rent Standard to the sovereign on every anniversary of the Battle of Blenheim. The Standard on display in one of the Palace's state rooms is that from 1946.
Afterwards, Vincent stayed on to spend time in the Churchill exhibition. It's well worth the time to read the many letters on display that Churchill wrote. Churchill was not a model student and seemed to be a very interesting character. Meanwhile, Sarah and I went out to explore the grounds, which we had missed when we visited Blenheim with Mother. We first visited the Formal Gardens.
A photo of the exquisite formal gardens. The Formal Gardens were the idea of the 9th Duke of Marlborough who, in the 1920s, hired the help of the French landscape architect Achille Duchêne to provide the Palace with a formal majestic setting much like, but on a smaller scale than, at Versailles.
Then we took the narrow-gauge railway to the Pleasure Gardens which have a number of children's play areas and the Marlborough Maze.
There is a miniature replica of the town of Woodstock where Blenheim is located.
The Marlborough Maze is the world's second largest symbolic hedge maze and covers an area of just over an acre. Fortunately, it has two wooden bridges which provide vantage points; otherwise Sarah and I might still be wandering in there today.
We then met up with Vincent and Paul (who emerged from the car), had some refreshments and walked the grounds further.
Blenheim Palace is considered one of ten of the most magnificent palaces and English castles in Britain. In it's company are Leeds Castle, Woburn Abbey, Hatfield House and Castle Howard, to name a subset.
The Grand Bridge in Blenheim Park.
The Column of Victory stands 40 meters tall. The sheep seem oblivious to it all.
Beautiful colors on the grounds as the sun sets.
On November 14th, Vince wanted to do some work on LandShark and so I took James and Sarah to Gloucester. We had intended to go to the Folk Museum but it was closed for renovations, and would only be open on the weekends. So after window shopping for a bit and having tea, we came across the Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery. Since we "tried" to go to the Folk Museum, the person at the desk charged me as if we had sought the "two museum discount". So our entrance fee was only £3 for the three of us.
Entrance to the Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery.
The ground floor looks like it has recently been renovated with the aim to be engaging for kids. It covers the history of Gloucester from the paleolithic period to present day. (This seems to be a pattern of city museums across the UK.) The first floor displays fine furniture from the last few centuries plus art from local artists. For £3, it was a good stop.
A Roman wall has been excavated about 2 yards below ground level inside the museum. Over the ~1800 years or so since the wall was built, sediment has built up raising the ground level and therefore over time the wall was covered.

There were several places for children to work on projects or build things on the ground floor. This is definitely a good place to bring children on a rainy day.
Afterwards, we headed back to our car and to the campground to pack up for our move south the next day.

On November 15th, we finally left the Briarfields Campsite and headed to the Cornish Farm Touring Park (£22.75/nt) in Taunton, Somerset. James was my co-pilot and it was a pretty uneventful few hours ride to Somerset.
A picture of our spot at the Cornish Farm Touring Park. This was a nice place to stay. The WC/shower facilities have music/radio piped in and the floors are heated. A rare find in the camping world.
When we got settled in the campground (RV leveled, slides out, electricity hooked up and facilites scoped out), we had dinner and then watched the end of the 3rd season of Downton Abbey (another present from Vince and Paul from their trip to the US). 

On November 16th, we decided to visit the Museum of Somerset, located in Taunton, which was ranked by TripAdvisor as #9 of the 250 things to do in Somerset, and then continue on to the Wells Cathedral (#2 of 250). The Museum of Somerset (free) appears to have been recently refurbished and it covers the history of Somerset in a variety of ways. It's definitely worth a visit.
The Museum of Somerset is located in the 12th century great hall of Taunton Castle.
The museum hosts a collection of toys and dolls, sculpture, natural history, fossils, fine silver, pottery remains and a collection of archaeological items.
The museum holds the Low Ham mosaic which is regarded as one of the most famous objects surviving from Roman Britain. It tells the tragic love story of Dido and Aeneas as told by the poet Virgil in about 25 BC. The mosaic contains about 120,000 coloured cubes made from local materials including Lias limestone and fired clay.
The Frome hoard: This is the largest hoard of coins ever discovered in Britain in a single container. It was found by a metal detectorist, Dave Crisp, in 2010 and contained 52,503 coins dating from 253-290AD.
A picture of the Shapwick canoe: It is believed that canoes like this one would have been common 2,000 years ago. This canoe was found in 1906 preserved in peat. It was made from an oak tree felled approximately in 350 BC.
After leaving the museum, Sarah had talked Vincent into letting her go on a carnival ride operating just outside of the museum. James opted to go on the Twister while Sarah and I went on a Green Hulk Jump themed ride. It was fun.

Afterwards, we returned to the car and headed towards Wells. We wanted to see the Wells Cathedral and attend an evensong service which had been recommended. The present cathedral was begun about 1175; Bishop Reginald de Bohun brought the idea of a revolutionary architectural style from France, and Wells was the first English cathedral to be built entirely in this new Gothic style.

When we arrive in Wells, it was practically dark and so I was not able to get a photo of the exterior of the cathedral. You'll just have to Google it.
Inside of the Wells Cathedral: Looking ahead are the scissor arches that were constructed from 1338-48 as an engineering solution to the problem that the lead covered tower was threatening to collapse.
A close up of the pattern painted on the cathedral ceiling.
The clock inside the cathedral is considered to be the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain, and probably in the world, to survive in original condition and still in use. The original works were made about 1390 and the clock face
is the oldest surviving original of its kind anywhere. When the clock strikes every quarter, jousting knights rush round above the clock and the Quarter Jack bangs the quarter hours with his heels.
Evensong was enjoyable and was sung by the cathedral boys' choir. The boys all looked between 6 to 11 years old. I really like just listening to the beautiful voices and getting lost in thought and reflection. Vincent however, I learned, prefers to be actively singing himself. So we seem to have a bit of a division in terms of the type of services we like to attend.

On November 17th, it was a return visit to Bath. I didn't think Vincent should miss attending a service at Bath Abbey and thought he and Paul should see the Roman Baths. Paul, however, had other ideas; he was worried about further falling behind in the aggressive math schedule he'd outlined for himself and so decided to stay in LandShark and work. It was difficult for me to accept this decision knowing that he probably would regret it down the road. Choosing algebra over the Roman Baths wouldn't have been my choice but I couldn't fault Paul who, until recently, had no drive to advance or master a subject. Anyway, he theoretically has his whole life ahead of him to return to Bath so I decided not to dwell on it.

So it was the four of us, Vincent, James, Sarah and me who headed into Bath. When we arrived and parked, Vincent, James and Sarah headed towards the Abbey while I made my way to the Thermae Bath Spa. I really have to say, this is a "must do". Because I only had about 90 minutes before I needed to meet back up with Vincent, James and Sarah, I went to the Cross Bath which essentially gives one the opportunity to soak in the mineral rich thermal waters just like the Romans and Celts did 2,000 years ago.
The entrance to the Cross Bath.
The Cross Bath is an intimate experience which only allows a maximum of 12 people to use it at a given time. I was the only person in the bath on Sunday morning and I had a dedicated life guard.
When I finished with my soak, it was time for Vincent and James to have their turn. I took this photo of the Cross Bath when I came back to collect the boys. (I'd forgotten my camera when I was there.) It's open to the elements so one doesn't loiter on the deck for long this time of year.
The next time I return to Bath I have a plan to upgrade my spa experience. I will put aside a day and book several hours at the Thermae Spa Royal Bath; here one can book 2 hours, 4 hours or a full day. In that time one has access to a rooftop pool, minerva mineral bath, steam rooms, a restaurant and one can also book massage or facial treatment sessions. Really seems like a perfect pampering day. Add that to my bucket list.

When Vincent and James emerged from the Cross Bath, Vincent wanted to have a tour of the Roman Baths so I took James and Sarah (who'd seen the Roman Baths the prior week with Mother) and we did some shopping. James split off from us for a while (wasn't interested in the things we were interested in.) Sarah and I shopped a bit and then stopped for a refreshment at Garfunkel's.
Bath has some wonderful pedestrian shopping areas and a wide variety of shops, both chain and independent.
Sarah and I crossed over the Pulteney Bridge (behind Sarah) and looked at the shops. There's an interesting shop that sells historic maps. If I had the room and wall space, I'd enjoy having a few of those.
Stopping for "tea" today meant a chocolate milkshake.
On November 18th, I set out to do some family research (Coles branch). I was looking up the home (Whitewick Farm) of my great great grandparents. They both died in 1882 and left 7 children behind. Their Whitewick Farm was sold after they died but it was something that seemed to get mentioned and remembered in the family archives. I spotted the address to Whitewick Farm on the internet and, since we were only about 20 miles away, I wanted to go see it. I also wanted to go to the church in a nearby village and find the graves of my great great grandparents. Mother had brought to me a few family trees, the Coles family being one, and I wanted to see if I could find out any additional information.

About 15 years ago, I did some research on the Sterne side, trying to find the linkage between Laurence Sterne, the author, and me but I otherwise hadn't pursued geneology. Fortunately there have been a few family members on all sides of my family who have done the leg work and I've just enjoyed studying the existing family trees.

To make a long story short, we did find Whitewick Farm and I did talk to the current owner. She knew the history from the 1920s and I was able to tell her about the late 1800s. Significant renovations and additions had been done to the buildings in the 1900s and I'm sure my great great grandparents wouldn't recognize it, if they were here. One interesting anticdote is that a Titanic bell hung at the front gate, intended for people to ring that they were there. The great nephew of my great great grandparents went down with the Titanic.
The Titanic Bell at Whitewick Farm: Coincidence or not?
After visiting Whitewick Farm, we set out to find a church in Stockland Bristol and hopefully, therein, the grave stones of some of the Coles family. With a few wrong turns, we eventually came across the Church of St Mary Magdalene. Lo and behold, we found 3 grave markers for members of the Coles family. One tomb stone may not have any direct connection, but two of them certainly did. At this point, it was pouring rain and very difficult to accurately read every inscription.
Grave stones for several Coles family members: Not only were my great great grandparents (Clement Poole Coles and his wife, Phoebe) remembered here, but also my great great great grandparents, Clement Poole Coles and his wife, Mary, and two of their other sons (William and Edward).
When I returned back to LandShark later in the day, I did some on-line research on Clement Poole Coles and found someone (Ian) who did extensive research in 2009. Within these on-line threads of inquiries, I discovered a previous generation beyond what we had. With some further cross referencing I deemed this information correct so I uncovered my great, great, great, great grandparents. That night I wrote an email to Ian to see if he had uncovered any more information about previous generations; his email dated back to 2009 and so I was doubtful I would get a reply, but I didn't think it would hurt to try.

On November 19th, we woke to a crisp, sunny day. I wanted to return to the St Mary Magdalene churchyard and retrieve the information we couldn't make out the previous day in the pouring rain.
The St Mary Magdalene churchyard. The two Coles graves are those with the flat markers in the lower left corner of the photo.
After deciphering all missing data on three Coles grave stones, we left and headed to St Andrew Church in Lilstock, where baptisms had been registered for a number of Coles in the 1800s. I wanted to see if there were any Coles family members buried there and, if so, garner that information. Specifically, I was hoping to find the graves of my great great great grandparents that Ian had revealed. I did find one Coles grave but it was from the mid 1900s (not so exciting when you're in the mood for 1700s) and the occupants seemed unrelated to our branch.
En route to St Andrew Church in Lilstock, I had to stop the car to try and capture these fantastic green rolling pastures against the blue sky.
So pretty.
There has been a church on the site of St Andrew Church, Lilstock, since the 10th century. Today, the church is categorized as redundant and so it only holds one service per year.
After visiting St Andrew in Lilstock, we came across the Church of St Andrew in Stogursey, which is also a place I believed some Coles information had been recorded. It was wandering around this second St Andrew's churchyard where I concluded I really wouldn't be able to find any more information from grave stones; by the time one gets to the early 1800's the inscriptions are so worn, it's impossible pretty much to discern any details. I would have to continue this research by going to specific parish registers.
The Priory Church of St Andrew had a much bigger cemetery than the other churches. So many tomb stones were unreadable and I realized I'd have to use other methods to research distant generations.
On November 20th, we woke to rain and promises of a storm. We decided to make this a day of preparation for a move to France. Also, since we'd be leaving the land of the anglophones, we should see a movie or two while we still could before we hit the land of dubbing.

The kids all put some effort on school work, while Vincent and I made some calls. Vincent arranged to have a 5k service done on my Prius, while I made an appointment to get Molly a Pet Passport, both to be done the next day. Vincent booked our passage from Plymouth to Roscoff, France for November 28th; it would be an overnight ferry with cabins and so Vince positioned this as a birthday cruise for Sarah. We'll see if this matches expectations. Vince also spent about 30 minutes on a call to get our UK mifi unlocked so that we could use it in France (and hopefully beyond); these wifi/mifi companies sure don't make it easy.

The later part of the day, we went to the cinema. Vince and Paul saw The Butler, Sarah saw Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and James and I saw Gravity.

That evening, as I was just about to turn off the lights and retire for the night, I checked my email and lo and behold, I received a reply from Ian about the Coles family tree. For anyone interested in geneology, it was a jackpot reply. Ian had uncovered, with certainty, four more generations with the oldest confirmed Coles going back to 1690. I could now trace back to by great (x7) grandparents. This meant that the Coles family tree would need to be completely redone (the one Mother and I had; Ian was several steps ahead of us).

On November 21st, we executed on dealing with Molly's passport and getting the Prius maintained. A bonus was that the Toyota service department washed the car; the car hasn't looked so good in months, well, since Vincent got it detailed way back on July 19th in Los Gatos. Vincent also spent time constructing our weather station, which I must say is pretty neat. James spent a couple hours at the Taunton Library (a great place to spend time) and then he and I went to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. When we finished, Vincent and Paul went to see the movie. Sadly there were no G or PG movies running for Sarah so she was passed around while the rest of us enjoyed some escapism.
The international family: Even Molly, the dog, has a UK passport.
The next day we would be moving to Cornwall which would probably be our last stop before leaving England. Molly would soon be using her new passport.

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