Sunday, 18 August 2013

Strangers in a small village

During a trawl through the British Newspaper Archive on Find My Past the other day I came across this wonderful little cutting from the Luton Times and Advertiser. I was searching for anything to do with Tempsford, the small village in Bedfordshire where my paternal grandmother hailed from. This article, dated 6 April 1894, recalls the occasion that two strangers were spotted in the village and the misconception that these two gents, being outsiders, were up to no good.

Luton Times and Advertiser, 6 Aprl 1894

It's probably a good thing that these two young men weren't apprehended. The idea that their assailants intended to 'break every bone' in their bodies is rather disconcerting.

Tempsford has always been a small village. In the 1891 census the population was recorded as 492 people. By 2011 the number of residents had increased by just 100. Even though the village is cut in half by the Great North Road (now known as the A1), its size meant that all the inhabitants in the village would have known everyone else. They would have farmed the same fields, lived side by side in their small cottages and married into each other's families. I've discovered in my family history that during the 19th century, my ancestors from Tempsford, the Cullips, were connected to virtually all of the main families of the village by marriage alone.

So two strangers in the village stood out like a sore thumb, as they would have done in a thousand other villages of this type throughout the British Isles. It's a shame it was not reported who they were visiting, where they were from (a large town or city perhaps where strangers could easily disappear into a crowd) or why they did not respond to the many curious enquiries made toward them regarding their intentions on that Good Friday eve. Still, if they had put the people of Tempsford out of their misery and revealed they were visiting friends, it's likely that this article would not have been written. Many years on, the curious reader would have been deprived of a fast paced and exciting account, which, although somewhat a let down at the end, provided a snapshot into the mindset of a small Bedfordshire village at the end of the Victorian era.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Voices from the Past

A few days across I discovered the British Library's website of accents and dialects. This is a wonderful find for me as it has added a whole new level of insight into my long ago ancestors. (Visit the British Library's website here.)

I was particularly charmed by the recording of an old gentleman, Mr Simons, from Great Barford in Bedfordshire. This lovely piece of audio immediately evoked the images and sounds of my ancestors who also came from this part of the world. Great Barford is, as the crow flies, about three miles from Tempsford, the small village where my paternal grandmother was born and where her father, and his father, and his father before him lived, married, worked, played and died. It's quite difficult to understand what he's saying as the dialect is so strong, but his tale of a runaway bull and mention of cobs (horses), calves, fields and 'cow-hovels' conjures up visions of life on the land and in the farmyard.

My family in Tempsford were predominantly agricultural labourers and would have been familiar with the villages Mr Simons mentions and the life he describes. I immediately imagined I could hear the voice of my 2 x Great Grandfather, Thomas Cullip, who was born in 1827 in Blunham, the next village down the Great North Road from Tempsford. Blunham is one of the villages that Mr Simon's mentions in his anecdote. Thomas' father, Joseph, was born in 1803, most likely in Roxton, just two miles up the Bedford Road from Great Barford. All these villages were within a few miles of each other and I've found in my research that the lives of my ancestors took them from one village to the next. For instance Thomas was born in Blunham, lived for a time in Roxton, yet married, lived and died in Tempsford. For this reason I can only conclude that the dialect spoken by Mr Simons in Great Barford would have been shared by my ancestors in this small knot of villages.

Map of Bedfordshire showing Great Barford, Tempsford, Blunham and Roxton.
1898-1901  (scale 1:50,000)

Of course it's entirely possible that Mr Simons did not come from this part of Bedfordshire at all. However, this recording, made in 1958, forms part of the Survey of English Dialects, a project undertaken in the 1950s by the University of Leeds to capture, as the website states, "traditional dialect... best preserved in isolated areas". It is unlikely the researchers would have travelled to this village to record someone who came from another place entirely.

Being able to hear Mr Simons' voice speaking of life in rural Bedfordshire has helped to bring my Tempsford ancestors to life and added a whole new dimension to my perception of their lives. I heartily recommend that everyone should take a look at this website and see whether a voice can be heard that helps to bring their ancestors just that little bit closer.