It was a big fad a few years ago to research your family history. Certain websites appeared, some quickly disappeared, to take your money and help you find out what your ancestors got up to in their day. Is that TV programme Who Do You Think You Are still running ? Never watched it myself.
As a young boy I listened to my grandparents as they talked about the war, both of them, wars I mean: The Great War - The War To End All Wars - World War One 1914 to 1918 and its conclusion in World War Two 1939 to 1945. My childhood conversations taking my grandparents down Memory Lane seldom moved outside wartime Britain.
My Dad's Mum was eleven years old when Queen Victoria died, she was twenty-two when The Titanic sank. I would love to go back and quiz her about these and other memories.
Max Robinson is my pen-name, this Silly Old Man is really David - David Ashford. Over the years I became aware of two Ashfords with a certain claim to fame. I signed up to one of those ancestry websites to see who else I could find.
You may find it a bit of fun, no you will find it a lot of fun, to check out members of your family. Go on have a go.
Let me tell you about Daisy Ashford, Thomas Ashford, John Ashford and William Ashford. And so let this ramble begin....
I am not the first Ashford to be a writer, even if my name is Max Robinson. There was Daisy Ashford, bless her. Born on 7th April 1881. Today we have typo's, Daisy had spelling mistakes. She was only nine years of age when she wrote the book The Young Visiters, a novelette set up in upper class England in the late nineteenth century. The publishers decided to publish it complete with her childhood spelling. How many spelling mistakes, I mean typo's, have you found in this book ?
Daisy wrote a lot more during her lifetime, she died on 15th January 1972 but nothing sold as many copies as The Young Visiters. A few years ago The BBC dramatised her story.
My book The Bridge House is a semi-fictional account of the factual times through which my Dad's Mum lived. She was born in 1890 and left us in 1984. Both the death of Queen Victoria and the sinking of The Titanic feature in my novel. At one point in my writing I found I was writing The Bridge House in the style of my ancestor Daisy.
Daisy achieved fame, more fame than I ever will with my writing.
Thomas Elsdon Ashford was born in 1859, he was a postman. He never achieved fame delivering letters in the late Victorian age. At the age of eighteen he joined The 49th Regiment of The Royal Fusiliers. Soon after he found himself fighting in The Second Anglo-Afghan War. He left the army and went back to being a postman. He took two medals he won during his service, put them in a draw and while not forgetting all about them set them aside from his daily life delivering letters.
What medals did he win ? He was awarded the same campaign medal every serviceman in the Second Anglo-Afghan War win, the other was The Victoria Cross For Bravery.
A group of soldiers came under enemy fire, Thomas and another made it to a place of safety but the third was hit and injured. The two immediately left cover and ran under fire to rescue their friend. Rescue him they did.
Queen Victoria herself pinned the medal on Thomas's chest.
I would like to think that if I were in the same situation as was Thomas that I would have acted as he did, without stopping to think about his own safety. I would also like to think that I could have the same level of modesty as did Thomas, to put the medal away in a draw and not write a book around what happened.
Thomas's medal is now on display in The Tower Of London.
I knew about my relation, Daisy, from years back but Thomas I only found out about in my recent research.
Daisy and Thomas are famous members of my family. Mary is infamous. Mary managed to get herself murdered !
Sutton Coldfield, where I grew up, was the focus of national attention in 1817 when Mary Ashford was found murdered in the town. She had been attending a party in Erdington on the evening of 26 May 1817, and had left with Abraham Thornton and her friend Hannah Cox, who later left Mary and Abraham. The following morning, her body was recovered from a water-filled pit by Penns Lane. (these locations will be familiar to those living today in the area, I knew them all when I lived in Sutton Coldfield.)
Thornton was quickly traced and arrested for her murder. At the trial, Thornton provided evidence that it was not possible for him to have killed Mary at the suggested time. As a result, the jury found him not guilty of her alleged murder and alleged rape, allowing him to walk free from the court.
Public response to the acquittal was that of outrage and a private appeal was brought against the verdict by Mary's brother, William Ashford. Thornton was taken to London where he was tried at the King's Bench. When Thornton was called upon for his plea, he responded, "Not guilty; and I am ready to defend the same with my body." He then put on one of a pair of leather gauntlets. Thornton threw down the other for William Ashford to pick up and thus accept the challenge, which William did not do. By Williamnot accepting the challenge under the trial by combat laws, Thornton was freed, although by this time he gained a notorious reputation.
This challenge to a duel, trial by combat alarmed both the judiciary and parliament. in 1819, a bill was introduced and an Act passed to abolish private appeals after acquittals and also abolish trial by combat.
So that's Mary.
The name William appears many times in my family. My uncle was William, Billy, he features in my book An Interview With Flight Sergeant Billy, features no - he is the central character. Billy lost his life on the night of 8th March 1945 when his Lancaster Bomber was shot down on a raid over Germany. His father was also William, my grandfather. He died at a young age from tuberculosis contracted in the trenches of World War One. With Mary's bother that's three Williams but there is another. I knew about the original three but only through my family research did I lean of this gentleman.
Another William was born in Birmingham in 1746, wow we are going back into history now. George II was on the throne, Handel's Messiah has first been performed just four years earlier. It would be another seventy-three years before Queen Victoria was born and two-hundred and four years before I made my own entry to this world.
At the age of eighteen William stared a job with the Ordnance Office and moved to Dublin which he made his home. He thought of himself as an Irishman and loved the country. He also loved painting, landscape painting. He became President of the Irish Society of Artists in 1813, and was first elected President of the Royal Hibernian Academy. He died on 17th April 1824.
At the time of my writing this ramble there is a lot up for auction at The Sotheby House:
Perhaps if this book becomes a best seller I may be able to afford to buy a painting by my ancestor. When I wrote my book The Bridge House I featured a painting by William Ashford.
Daisy, Thomas, Mary, now we will come to John. In August 1834 John Ashford was awarded fifty-five pounds, fifteen shillings and nine pence compensation by the government. That's about ten grand in today's money.
William was a government naval official on the Caribbean Island of Antigua. This was a very significant location in the British Empire. Forty-eight years earlier when America declared independence Britain considered its Caribbean empire to be of much more importance than the American Colonies.
So why was my ancestor John given the money ? Well he had to free his slaves as the government had banned slavery in its empire. John only owned two slaves, house servants. Five thousand pounds in modern money for each of his slaves. How sad to value a human life so little. How sad to have an ancestor in my family who actually legally owned two other human beings.
So that brings me to the end of another rambling chapter. May I encourage you to now go and find out what you can about your family. Off you go.