By Di Edelman.
Last September my niece, Georgina Alley from Geelong, and my cousin, Kay Prosser from Victoria, British Colombia, our husbands and I spent a week in Wiltshire visiting the places where our ancestors had lived. We stayed in an Airbnb in Freshford, just over the border in Somerset, hired a car, stocked up with food at the local farm shop and were ready to explore.
My birth father was Sydney Herbert Alley, son of Frederick Ernest Alley and Rose York. I had prepared and laminated a spreadsheet showing all the little villages we wanted to visit and what happened there to whom and when and how they were related to me. With that, we planned our itinerary to allow us to see as much as possible in our week. I will just share with you the highlights of our trip. To see the location of the places we visit I suggest you have a look at this map of Wiltshire.
My great grandfather, Frederick Alley and his wife Elizabeth Gould and family moved from Trowbridge to Swindon in the north of the county in 1870 where Frederick worked on the Great Western Railway (GWR) for many years. Many descendants of Frederick and his brother George Richman Alley still live in Swindon and two of my second cousins, Wendy, and Christine, organised a family gathering for us in an old pub in Swindon. What a lovely day it was! We met so many cousins and heard so many stories and visited the site of the grave of Frederick and Elizabeth in the Radnor Street Cemetery.
Whilst we were in Swindon, Wendy showed us something very special – a family bible given to my great grandmother, Elizabeth Gould by her mother, Ann Gould neé Millard on her 21st birthday. It has all the family dates written in the front. How exciting was that?
Our visit to STEAM, the museum of GWR in Swindon was very interesting. Frederick and Elizabeth had 18 children, five of whom died very young but the boys all went on to do their apprenticeships at GWR. My grandfather, Frederick Ernest became a Boiler maker and then moved to West Hartlepool in Durham County in the North East of England to work in the shipyards. My father was born there in 1895.
The Freshford station was just down the street from our home, so we caught the train several times to avoid driving narrow lanes and trying to find a park and each time we were travelling on the GWR which I found strangely nostalgic. It was just 10 minutes into the beautiful city of Bath and the same to Bradford on Avon. We engaged a qualified guide for a tour of Bradford on Avon and its history in the textile industry as our York family worked there in the wool industry. It is a beautiful town, well worth a visit.
We found St Mary’s Church in Dilton Marsh and it was here that my GG grandmother, Ann Millard, was baptised on 21 Oct 1808.
In North Bradley at St Nicholas church, we were hunting for the Guly or Guley family and I very easily found the Vault in which Gifford Guly and his wife Ann Tadd were buried. They are my 4th great grandparents. Gifford was buried on 24 August 1788 and Alice on 15 Dec 1772. It seems they must have been wealthy or important or both to have such a large vault very close to the front of the church. Investigating their lives is a challenge I have set for the future, but it was exciting to find the vault.
We visited Lacock, a beautiful village, being maintained by the National Trust and kept true to its appearance as it was in 1946. We looked for some family graves but there were no headstones. Lacock has been used in the filming of two of the Harry Potter Movies and for Pride and Prejudice. It was definitely worth a visit.
We visited St James Church in Trowbridge where my GGG Grandparents, Thomas Richman and Martha Martin were married on 3 Apr 1804. William Alley, brother of my great grandfather Frederick, lived in Trowbridge between 1820 and 1904. He was a bellringer at this church for 66 years even after his 80th birthday when he was thought to be one of the oldest bellringers in the country. He rang the bells for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838, her jubilee and her diamond jubilee. Whilst we were in Wiltshire, Queen Elizabeth II died so it was all very poignant.
Also in Trowbridge we walked along Castle St trying to locate number 62 which was where Frederick was born on 12 Mar 1845 but the numbering was difficult to follow. His birth certificate shows that his father, Job Alley was a dye-house man.
We then went searching for the Baptist church in Trowbridge but it is now the Vineyard Church. We were really lucky as the Minister was there and he allowed us to enter the church. A plaque on the wall honoured Louisa Matilda Richman Alley, Frederick’s sister for her service to the church. It shows that she was born in Trowbridge on 3 Sep 1843, baptised on 1 Nov 1865 and died on 20 Jun 1948, aged 104. It was also in this church that Frederick and Elizabeth were married on 14 Jul 1864. This church obviously played an important part in the life of my ancestors.
Kay, Georgina and I felt so lucky to have this week in Wiltshire, meeting living family and learning more about those who went before. We were very grateful to our long-suffering husbands who patiently came along – never complaining so long as there was time for food, coffee and beer. Ben even did all the driving- coping with narrow English roads with high hedgerows and four back seat drivers – I was silent, of course!
All images from Author’s private collection.