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.