Thursday, 26 May 2011

Tracing the ancestors - Bradford on Avon

For much of 2010 I worked on my sons' family tree.  The New Zealand side of the family had never tracked their ancestry back much beyond 3 generations and I decided that since I now have a grandson it was timely to prepare a family tree for him and for future generations.  Although I am not the same family by blood I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process and became very involved in the history of my late husband's family.  By good fortune I made contact with a distant  relative in England who was good enough to share his family tree to the point where his side branched off from ours.  The common ancestor was William  who died in 1802.  My job was to work forward from there which I managed to do with the aid of the many brilliant on-line ancestry websites.
2nd building from left is the ancestral home
Being in England gave me the opportunity to visit at least one of the ancestral homes and villages so this particular day I took the train from London to the delightful and picturesque Saxon Cotswold town of Bradford on Avon, the home of my sons' great grandparents.  Bradford on Avon is 8 miles from Bath straddling the river which meanders through the town.  I was captivated from my first moment there.  Unlike some of the more well known Cotswold towns Bradford on Avon is not over run by tourists allowing for a blissful day wandering the quiet streets and lanes soaking up the history and atmosphere of the town.  My first aim was to find the home of Winifred, my sons' great grandmother so I headed to the main street, Church St.  Now a solicitors office, the building  was once both her family's home and their haberdashery/tailors shop and dates back to the 16th century.  Two doors away is the attractive 16th century hotel, The Swan.  Adjoining Church St is The Shambles, a short quaint alley now filled with pretty tea rooms and gift shops, once the home to the town's butcheries. I loved the idea of the lock up for the drunk and disorderly in the middle of the 13th century town bridge, we could do with a few of those these days.
The Shambles
Bradford on Avon was a centre for wool and cloth for six centuries and some of the cloth mills still line the river.  Now used for general office space they are handsome buildings.  High above the town are rows of simple weavers cottages.  I enjoyed strolling the tiny lanes through and past these cottages with their rambling roses, hollyhocks and panoramic views across the town, the valley, and across to the giant white horse on the hillside at Westbury. Once humble workers cottages they are now sought after by trendy young things who commute to the cities of Bath and Bristol to work.  At the end of the rows of cottages I gently pushed the door open and let myself in to the tiny peaceful medieval pilgrims chapel of St Mary's, its modern stained glass window behind the altar coming as something of a shock. In the hour that I wandered the lanes I saw only one person, a man walking a dog, I relished the peace and tranquility.

The weavers cottages

Sauntering back down the hill I was astounded to see the Piha Surf and Ski shop on a side street.  Piha is a Maori word and the name of a beach in Auckland.  I simply had to find out two things; why it was called Piha and why there would be a surf and ski shop in the middle of Bradford on Avon, so called in to ask.  It turns out that the owner is a New Zealander who still dreams of home and that many of the locals go to Cornwall to surf or Europe to ski and find it convenient to buy their gear in Bradford before they leave for their holidays. The owner told me that business is brisk.

Lunch time called and so did The Bridge Tea Rooms, a higgledy piggledy former blacksmith's cottage dating from 1675.  With thick walls, deep set windows and a low door, that even I had to stoop to enter, it is as copy book picturesque as you could wish for.  The waitresses dress in serving maids outfits and the cream teas are delicious and substantial.

Once fortified I walked  beside the river and through pretty fields to Barton Farm and the stunning Tithe Barn.  This took my breathe away.  Dating from 1341 it is 168 feet long and has a colossal timber roof spanning it. The building is still in perfect condition and is so vast it inspires  awe and wonder.
Bradford - on Avon thatched cottage
 Bradford on Avon is a delightful town and it was balm for the soul after the hustle and bustle of London.  It was also satisfying to look at some of the places I have researched and thought about so much for the family tree. I now look forward to passing on my knowledge of the town to other family members.

White Swan Hotel 1500..
ancestral home 2nd building to the right


The Bridge Tea Rooms 1675

The old cloth mills beside the river

Inside The Bridge Tea Rooms

Bradford on Avon