Searching for Granny ….

….. well, great-Granny actually. I hadn’t exactly lost her for I had ‘discovered’ her in old census records when researching our family history. I also remembered being told, as a child, that “Granny used to live there”. What I hadn’t realised was that Granny and my more distant ancestors were some of the most important mill owners on the River Thames, the premier river of England. The family owned Marlow Mills, which they converted from corn to paper production in the early 1800’s.
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Marlow Mills survived many mishaps ranging from a very destructive fire to withstanding the riots that were a spill-over from the agricultural riots of the 1830’s. Other mills in the area had their machinery destroyed – the ancestors were obviously made of tougher stuff, for they surrounded the mill with vicious man traps. The traps could still be seen hanging in their offices in the early 1900’s – perhaps as a warning to any other miscreants! What it didn’t survive was the craze for redevelopment and in the 1960’s they were bulldozed and luxury riverside homes built in their place. Sadly, we no longer owned the mill by then: if we had I might be living in luxury for the 17 properties on the site sell now for around one million pounds each.
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Yesterday, I found myself in Marlow on business but, with time to spare, decided to explore. How odd it felt walking these once familiar roads and riverside walks now knowing that two hundred years ago my family were doing the same. This street view probably hasn’t changed much although, as the family were so religious, I can’t imagine that they sat outside the local pub drinking alcohol in the warm, summer sunshine!
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The view of the river, the church and the bridge must have changed even less, although they would have watched with interest the suspension bridge, designed by William Tierney Clark, being built in the 1830’s (the old wooden bridge collapsed into the river in 1828). Ten years later, he designed and built a larger version of the bridge in Budapest, with which Marlow is twinned.
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This old post box must be one of the very earliest ones made for, even in Victoria’s reign, the design became more elaborate. This one looks ancient but is still in everyday use – the VR stands for Victoria Regina, she reigned from 1837 – 1901 and is our longest reigning monarch. If it is one of the earliest it could date back to 1853, the year that post boxes were first introduced. Incidentally, by tradition, all British post boxes bear the initials in Latin of the reigning monarch at time of manufacture. I wonder how many of my family had posted letters here?
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I knew, from an old record found on the internet, that Joseph Wright – my great-great grandfather – had been instrumental in building a free church in the town. To my delight, not only did I find the church still thriving, I was able to speak with a senior member of the congregation who, by chance, happened to be there. I was shown a history of the church but there was no mention whatsoever of the Wright family connection, a name not even known to them. Had I got the right place?
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Searching through old gravestones, I first came across one with the initials J W and M A D carved in the base. The initials turned out to be for Mary Ann Downing (not for death by insanity!), a name I’d not heard of and, frustratingly, the husband’s name had been damaged and was barely legible – I could just make out the name Joseph. However, it had obviously been a smart grave once for there were the signs that it had been surrounded by iron railings. But why Downing and why J W?
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Then I came across the grave, below, that looked so recent. To my amazement it wasn’t new at all but over 130 years old. The marble and the railings of such high quality that they showed no sign of wear. Here the names were clear – they were of William, Joseph Wright’s brother and partner in the milling business, and his wife.
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Further along was another grave in good condition, although more modest. It was unusal for it was very long and narrow. Almost overlooked in my excitement, this was the grave of Ellen Wright my ‘own’ grandmother’s mother. I had found great-Granny! I knew of Ellen for she had been born in Finland, which had always been something of a mystery. I found that she had been born there because her father was, for a few years, at a paper mill there before returning to the mill at Marlow. Was he learning new techniques or was he there advising?
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The final pieces of the jigsaw came into place when, at home, I found that after Joseph’s death, Mary Ann had remarried (hence the Downing surname). Her widowed husband obviously agreed to her wishes and she was laid to rest with Joseph, her first love.
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Feeling extraordinarily emotional (strange, really, for I did not know them in the true sense), I reported back my discoveries to the gentleman in the church who was equally delighted to discover that these unknown benefactors were still present within the church they had helped to create.
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Now all that is left to close the circle of 200 years is for me to attend a service, something I hope to do in the very near future.
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15 thoughts on “Searching for Granny ….

  1. Well Johnson, this is a remarkable read! Thank you so very much for writing about your family history journey. I am very keen on genealogy as well, and can share in your "feeling extraordinarily emotional" even though you didn't know them in the true sense, as you say. I think, there is something deep within, that ties us to our past, which we, the fortunate ones, can access and acknowledge as you have, …an emotional link that is awakened even though two hundred years have passed. To come from Canada to England to find my great grandmother's grave, was akin to your emotion, ..I hope you carry on in your journey and do attend a service in the church the Wrights helped to build.

  2. Great post, it is so exciting to dig into ones history and discover what had been lost. Both my wife's family and mine are recorded in book form well into the 1600's with pages dealing with individual life skills and details. Doc

  3. Dear Johnson, What a fascinating account of your family history and, particularly for me, the connection with the Szechenyi or Chain Bridge in Budapest. A bridge which is such an important part of Budapet's wonderful Danube panorama which, in my view, has no equal.It has always seemed strange to me that two Clarks were responsible for the Chain Bridge. William Tierney was the architect and the engineer overseeing the building was Adam Clark, a scotsman who later married a hungarian woman and stayed in Hungary.All these connections just serve to make one increasingly feel that the world is a small place!!

  4. Johnson, I love the history! How exhilarating to trace, piece together, discover ones heritage. I was able to trace my maternal grandparents back to 1700 several years ago, and now with a bit of additional information from a "cousin" I happened upon online, we may find a link back to 1400. What a fabulous tool the internet has been. Thank your sharing your wonderful discovery with us.

  5. Thank you all, for your comments andinteresting to find that you too have been able to trace your family back so many centuries.I wasn't aware, Edith, about the two Clarks being involved. I have seen the bridge in Budapest and, of course, it looked so familiar to me because of Marlow. I'm inlcined to agree that it is a most beautiful sight.Johnson

  6. What a wonderful story. I do enjoy doing some geneaolgical research myself and one of my ancestors used to be the mayor of Canterbury. We visited his house on a visit there years ago.Unfortunately, none of my ancestors owned any property worth much…..PS. Thank you very much for your kind comment on my 'Gracie' post.

  7. Oh I so enjoyed this family taleWhat a rewarding journey you are onto walk where they walkedand to see their fnal resting placehallowed ground to their lineagewonderful wonderful

  8. Really great that you were able to visit the place of your ancestors! I have visited the village where my grandfather was born and it did feel strange. I felt like he was watching me 🙂 Also I find it fascinating that people moved around so much probably to find work.

  9. I just came across your blog and have greatly enjoyed reading it. Something interesting: My 7th g-grandfather was named John Shortland – born about 1676 and died about 1744 in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, England. He married Elizabeth Izzard. He owned the Crown and Cushion pub in Chipping Norton. Their daughter Dorothy married Thomas Insall. John's great-grandson, Thomas Holifield Insall, emigrated to America and eventually bought a plantation in Louisiana. His descendants went to Texas.
    I wonder if there is some connection to your family.

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