Searching for the dead

Apr 5th, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

There are family members in High Ham churchyard somewhere, though in the dying light of an April evening, there was little hope of finding them. Family members had been born in the village two hundred years ago, but their gravestone would have been modest.

My maternal grandfather’s family, Crossman, have lived in an unbroken line in the same parish of Huish Episcopi in Somerset in south west England since 1716, there is then a break before the next probable forebear in the same parish in 1625. My grandmother’s family tree, Luxton, follows a direct documented line back to 1669. Thomas Luxton of Bampton, Devon (the neighbouring county to Somerset) is my great, great, great, great, great, great (that should be great six times) grandfather.

They were yeomen farmers working pocket handkerchief sized farms. Their families married into other local families and the cycle of life continued from generation to generation. Baptized in the medieval parish church, married there, buried within the walls of the churchyard; there was a reassurance in the continuity of the family. Their farms were sufficient to keep them in the locality, but not enough ever to become wealthy

The picture of rural life wasn’t as pleasant as it seems. In difficult times they lived in poverty, there is record of one family going to the workhouse, and death lurked at the door. My great great great grandfather, Thomas Luxton moved to Aller in Somerset where he married Hannah Sawtell in 1827. They had seven children. Jemima died at the age of one month in 1830. Daniel died at the age of four years in 1843, his baby brother William died at the same time at the age of four days, and they were buried on the same day. Four months after the death of her two youngest children Hannah herself died at the age of thirty-four. In the next generation there were fourteen children, six of whom were to die between the ages of four and twenty-one.

Reading through the family tree might provide a sense of reassurance, but it also provides a catalogue of pain and heartbreak. What sense did life make to Thomas Luxton, burying three of his children and then his wife? His anguish must have been something like that of a character in a Thomas Hardy novel, except of course, he would never have shown it.

Perhaps tomorrow, I shall go to Aller churchyard and quietly remember Jemima and Daniel and William Luxton, buried in 1843. If nothing else, it will create a sense of the overwhelming good fortune of living in the 21st Century.

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  1. Yes, it’s our great good fortune to be living now, and in fairly stable affluent places with a few bob in our pockets. For many of us true suffering is what happens in the tabloids, on televised appeals for emergency aid or to the ancestors on TV shows like Who Do You Think You Are?

  2. Ian, I think that that if you went to the left of the entrance gate and about half way down, you would find some graves, the only reason being is that I’m sure Albert Crossmans grave is somewhere near my Grans….My families too were Somerset farmers…The Rowswells from Barrington….family tree traced back to 1500’s and the Browns from nearby Stembridge………The Browns originally horse traders who came over from Southern Ireland.!!!! about 5 generations ago………..

  3. Dear Ian
    It would be very very nice if you could print out all your entries which mention High Ham plus, if possible, any of Les Plant’s replies. Could you do this. I have interviewed several High Ham residents and intend doing some more and have transcribed the interviews. ( I could send you the transcripts if you like, so far interviews with people far older than you – Linda Lavis, Den Davies and Ron and Guy Tapscott).. I would very verymuch like to put your text into a folder for inclusion in the parish archive which we are buildingup. Could you do this?. You could post them with perhaps a handwritten covering letter (I’d love to have your handwriting on record too after your very beautiful description of the lessons and your struggles!). You could always add to your folder over time.
    It would be wonderful to have your memories and fine descriptions in the archive.
    What do you think?
    Kate Lynch

  4. I can, of course, print the pieces off – or email them to you, which would probably allow you to have material printed in a uniform way.

    I fear my handwriting has not improved!

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