Wednesday, 18 April 2012

An everyday story of countryfolk..

I've been dipping into my family history over the last few days and thought I'd share a trip I made with my sister to capture what life was like for our great grandfather Francis Wells.

Francis was born in 1852 and brought up at Cucumber Farm in Singleton, Sussex where his father and grandfathers before him all worked as agricultural labourers. Breaking with tradition, Francis went to work for a local family the Burns-Hartopps where he became their Coachman in nearby Pennerley Lodge at Boldre.  He married Hester in 1887 and they moved with the Burns-Hartopps to Little Dalby Hall in Leicestershire where he continued as their Coachman. Dalby Parva is hamlet four miles south of Melton Mowbray and the Hall stood in a densley wooded park of approx. 20 acres.

Francis and Hester c. 1890

My sister and I, with our husbands took a trip up to Somerby for a weekend about 7 years ago in the hope of finding where Francis had lived. We chatted to some locals in the village pub who told us that the family living at the Hall now would probably be more than happy to see us. We took the bull by the horns and drove down their long gravel driveway and nervously knocked on their door. The lady of the house was charming and although she did not take us inside, she gave us a tour of the beautiful grounds and told us a little about the history of the house.

Little Dalby Hall 2005

Little Dalby Hall c.1890

This is the stable block where Francis and his family lived and
where my own dear grandad William was born in 1891

Not far from the stable block were the cellars that ran from beneath the stable area and wound their way undergound for about 3-400 yards to the Hall, where all the household wines would have been kept. Nearby stood the old ice house which was where all the meat and poultry would have been stored. Ice from the frozen lakes in winter would have been collected and packed into the ice house which meant all through the summer months it would remain cold and keep the meat fresh.

Apparently the son of the Burns-Hartopp family was the master of the Quorn Hunt in 1898 which met in nearby Melton Mowbray. People came from far and wide to visit the area in the hunting season. With its close proximity to Melton, the Hall served as a hunting lodge during the season where several members of the Royal family visited often and in later years by Edward and Mrs Simpson.

History has it that the first person to produce Stilton cheese was a Mrs Orton who was housekeeper at the Hall in 1720. She sold her cheese to a  publican in the nearby village of Stilton and that's how it got its name. Apparently because of their handy size, Melton Mowbray pork pies and small pieces of stilton were given to the huntsmen to carry with them whilst out hunting.

Visitors staying at the Hall in the mid 1800s would be entertained by the family who would put on plays for their guests - in a room especially built for this purpose at the rear of the house overlooking the beautiful grounds. These plays would have been both written and acted by the family.

I hope you enjoyed this look into the life and times of a Coachman in the late 1800s. More to come shortly...


  1. Interesting post, I know Singleton as that's where the Weald and Downland Museum is and I go there most years to do courses. It's always good to see where our ancestors lived, you were lucky that the owner of the Hall showed you round the grounds.

  2. Thank you for sharing with us, history is fascinating, especially when you can link it to your own family. Like Rowan I immediately thought of the museum in Singleton, I went there years ago on a school trip!
    Lisa x

  3. Fascinating post! Your ancestors ended up living in the same area as mine! On my mother's side of the family my ancestors lived in the villages of Hose and Long Clawson which are near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. My great great grandmother who was a widow supporting a family is listed in 1871 as a butter and cheese maker in Long Clawson:)

  4. Absolutely facinating Patricia, lovely to see "now" and "then" photos of the Hall, very nice of the lady to show you around the grounds, I can imagine the feeling of being able to see where Francis and his family lived, especially as your grandfather was born there too! Must have been very moving. My mum has traced both sides of her family back for generations, all from the Midlands. She has a great many old photographs and went on many trips like you did to visit places where the family lived or were born. Sadly back then I was 14 years old and used to find these trips extremely "boring" and would insist upon staying in the car with my walkman in my ears reading some silly teenage magazine! What a shame!! I would love to have been the age I am now when she did all that research, it would be just up my street now!
    Thank you for sharing such a lovely post, I will look forward to hearing more! Marina xx

  5. Saw your comment on Beach Hut Cook and thought I would take a peek. Great blog with some stunning photos.



I love comments! Thank you for taking the time to pop by and let me know what you think.