Friday 29 September 2023

Sycamore Gap at Hadrian's Wall

Hello Friends.

By now, many of you will have seen the devastating news about the three hundred year old tree  at Sycamore Gap on Hadrian's Wall.  

For those who have not heard, please read this 

This is what I have just written on Facebook.

I was never fortunate enough to visit and see this tree in person. However, like so many people this morning I am filled with a variety of emotions over the wanton destruction of this beautiful, natural and living landmark. In recent minutes these emotions of anger, dismay, disbelief, and more are being replaced by an overriding thought. What if we all channel these emotions that we are feeling over one single tree and focus them on our one precious planet? We are just as guilty as the 16 year old boy who has been charged with vandalism against the single tree. We are just as guilty, but on a much larger scale, for we are doing exactly the same thing. to our own beautiful planet. Think about it.

Until next time
Stay safe, stay well
Debbie xx

Monday 11 September 2023

Wild Garlic and Ravens

Hello Friends!

Recently my friend Caroline over at Ragged Robin's Nature Notes {here} wrote about Eye, a few miles from Berrington Hall, and she explained that "Eye" is old English for island.  Immediately , this triggered a memory of mine, which I wrote about in the comment I left on her blog. It was such a lengthy comment that I have decided to bring it over into my blog as a thread of its own being to enable me to expand on it.

Some years ago my father ran a boat trip company that, amongst other coastal and fishing trips, landed people on Ramsey Island.  For decades, Ramsey Island was in private ownership, prior to which it belonged to the Church, but circa 1996 came into ownership of the RSPB.  As a crew member, I did a lot of research on the Island, surrounding area, and wildlife in order to give our clients the best possible experience when on one of our excursions. 

The area where I live is rich in history, dating back to prehistory. I am surrounded by Stone Age sites, Cromlechs, Iron Age hill forts, Norman castles, birthplace of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, and so much more, including what one person hashtagged on the site formerly known as Twitter a "whopping mediaeval cathedral".  It is inevitable, therefore, that the diversity of the past be reflected in the diversity of place names of the present.  Gateholm, Grassholm, Fishguard, Hasguard, to name a few that have a particular Norse influence, for with inevitable predictability, the Vikings invaded here.

This brings me to Ramsey Island.  For years people asked if there were sheep {rams} on Ramsey, which the answer was "yes" but that is not how Ramsey came by it's name.

Back in the day, I had only one, quite plausible, explanation.  At one time, during the Middle Ages when the island was owned by the Church, it is known to have been covered in that most delicious of wild herbs, wild garlic, which you can read about here.  The Old English name for wild garlic is Ramsons, which has it's roots in the Saxon word hramsa.  Please take note of these spellings, their important to what follows.

Although the island is now relatively free of wild garlic, testament to it's presence in the past remains on one small, wild garlic covered point that bears the name Trwyn Garlic, literally Garlic Nose, but in English is simple known as Garlic Point.

I would tell people the history of the wild garlic on Ramsey, and then say that in my opinion the name Ramsey is derived from a contraction of Ramson's Eye, or Ramson's Island {in effect, today we unwittingly say Ramson's Island Island}  It seemed perfectly plausible until along comes the RSPB who changed all that, disrespectfully sweeping it away overnight and replacing it with what I can only describe as marketing.

Now, I'm not saying they are right or wrong in their assumption, just that they are wrong to simply usurp one opinion without giving any credence to it whatsoever, other than a blunt "No, it's wrong". 

Here's what they say.

Quite simply that Ramsey is a derivation of Raven's Eye, which has it's roots in the old Norse word for raven, which is hrafn {pronouncedhrap}. The island was therefore named after the eye of birds of the Corvidiae family, Ravens, which can be found in small numbers on the coast.  No ifs, ands, or buts, that's what they say and there's an end to it.  Eye, according to the RSPB, has nothing to do with the old English word for island.  However, what the RSPB fail to acknowledge is that during the Middle Ages then the primary bird on Ramsey was the puffin.  So populous was the puffin that it was a valuable source of food, especially during Lent when it was consumed during abstinence from meat, as it was declared a fish due to it's overtly fishy taste.

The old English word for raven is hræfn.  To my ear, this is sounds more like raven than the old Norse.  The Norse word for puffin is Lundi.  Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel is testimony to this!

Earlier, I asked you to remember the word hramsa, the Saxon word for ramsons.  To the eye and the ear, hramsa and hrafn are incredibly similar, but hramsa has more in common spelling wise with Ramsey than hrafn does.  The similarities are too close to call!

For over two decades I have listened to the RSPB telling people their version without so much as a nod to the other plausible possibility.  I understand their need to promote by romanticising the origin of the name, but at what cost?  They could actively be erasing the true origin from memory.  I'm not saying either one is correct, or incorrect,  both are plausible, therefore both should be offered for individuals to make up their own mind.  It is wrong to overwrite or ignore one option in the name of marketing.

As an aside, a nearby beach promontory is called Trwyn Hwrddyn, which does translate into English as Ram's Nose!  Confused?

For now, for me, it will always be rooted in garlic not raven or eye of the raven.  I hope I haven't confused with my observations, and look forward to what you think.

Until next time
Stay safe, stay well
Debbie xx

Tuesday 5 September 2023

A History Mystery

Hello friends!

I have a little family history mystery which no one in the family can solve. So I put my best thinking cap on and try to work out what it is.

Going through a box of my late mother's belongings, I came across a small brass match case. It is very obviously something from the First World War and has two significant engravings on it out of three sides, all of which are engraved.

The least significant engraving is this one.

The main areas of engraving on this side are a Cross in the centre, which flanked by what appeared to be two oak leaves. There is a crown in the top part of the cross which might point to a regiment, or simply be indicative of the owner being a soldier of the King, and the date 1914 on the opposing side of the cross.  Directly in the middle is a capital letter W.

Let's take a look at the two sides and what's engraved on them. 

The opposite large side has the wording D Williams engraved on a banner across the centre and it is flanked by what appears to be two stylised daffodils.

I will come back to my thoughts and discoveries on this shortly. But first, I will share with you what is engraved on the spine of this book like box.

It is not easy to make out the engraving, because it is highly stylised. However, after much experimenting with letter combinations, I have. discovered it is AUDRUICQ.   Audruicq is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France.  

Further research revealed to me that during the First World War it served a
s a transport hub where goods arrived in bulk by ship and were broken down into wagon-loads and sent on by rail
 to the Front.  It was also a centres for collecting, sorting and despatching reinforcements to units in the field.

Now onto the name, which is the most important part.  D. Williams.  I know of only one D Williams in the family.  He was my cousin, the late Rev. David Williams and he most certainly was not born until well after WW1.  In truth, he wasn't old enough to go to the Second World War either. So it's not him. The only evidence of anyone going to the First World War I have on that side of my family is my grandfather J.G. Williams, who also happens to be the grandfather of Rev. David.

So, who is this D. Williams of the matchbox cover?

I have done some basic family research and I find it rather fascinating, but it does draw me in and becomes cost prohibitive by the time you order and pay for all your certificate copies, etc.  Unfortunately, on my mother's father's side, the information I have is scant at best.  Now that there is no one left to ask, as happens with so many other people, I am full of regret for not having asked questions while the relevant people who could provide answers were still alive.

Rev. David and I shared a grandfather, but we had different grandmothers because Dacu {Welsh for Grandfather} was married twice.  

Due to my grandmother being his second wife, I am finding it very difficult to go back further into the family history on that side. All of the history that I have to my fingertips came from my mother and does not contain much information from his first marriage.  I suppose if I really wanted to dig around, I could find the information. However, I did manage to do a little research in which I found out that my grandfather and his younger brother, apparently named David, ended up in the workhouse when they were around 9 and 7 years old respectively. How sad it that?  Orphans and in the work house at such a tender age.  When I learned they had ended up in the workhouse at such a young age, my research came to a grinding halt. I couldn't seem to get past that my grandfather had been in the workhouse from such a young age.

So have I found the D Williams, whose name is engraved on the matchbox? I think perhaps I have. Although scant, the information I have  certainly would make him eligible to be conscripted or able to be a volunteer for the war.

The only thing is this: everybody to whom I have spoken has no recollection of another David Williams, or for that matter, anybody with the initial D {Williams} in the family.  To date, I have not found any record of how or when D. Williams of the matchbox died.  Did he die in France, or did he return home?  My records are scant, and as happens there are many possible candidates on Ancestry and Find My Past with the same initials or names living in the general area.  

Anomalies and errors in the Censuses don't help, nor does the changing street names and construction over the relevant decades.  For example, there are few alive today who know the location of the Reading Room, or that Goat Street was formerly Ship Street, or that Oakley Street was not part of Nun Street as it is today.  Accurate family research is not limited to just censuses. birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates.  You have to be prepared to sift through maps and all kinds of other documents and records in order to correctly identify people.  Tithe maps are particularly interesting!  I digress.

I am wondering if my Uncle Billy, {father of Rev David Williams, and son of JG Williams} was the only one who knew of this other D. or David Williams? It is highly possible that he did know of him, and if he did indeed perish in the First World War, maybe Uncle Billy named his first born son after him.

Unless I decide to dig further, or someone in the family discovers something new, I guess we'll never know who D Williams was.  I am about to pass this little piece of history on to my cousin, Rev David's son.  Maybe he will pick up the baton with success?

So my friends,
Until next time
Stay well, Stay safe
Debbie xx