Urban sketching in Robertsbridge and the land of my ancestors
My mum was a very keen genealogist, and long before the internet she spent years researching our family history in person, gathering birth and death certificates, visiting cemeteries, hand searching shipping records and writing letters to potential relatives. It was a hugely important part of her life, and she left us countless records and albums of photos and certificates.
My daughter Beth and I have taken on the job of keeping them safe for future generations, and we are gradually computerising them so that we can share them more easily with the rest of the family. It’s a huge job, because mum did so much work, and also because she was very strict about not making assumptions. Mum would have been very suspicious of how easy it is to create an entire family history online these days – true or not!
Anyway, the upshot of this is that we know quite a lot about our ancestors who came from England and Ireland. We also know that many of those who came out to Australia did so with a little bit of government assistance (ahem, cough, cough …) … considering the number of convicts we can claim a connection to, our ancestors were clearly an interesting and resilient lot!
Thanks to mum, exploring the English countryside on this trip has become much more personal. As we drove through Sevenoaks I could imagine my great great grandfather walking through the streets and going into one of the pubs in the mid 1800’s. I could imagine good old George Howell, something of a family legend, whiling his days away on a prison hulk in Portsmouth before his generously assisted passage out to Australia. And we clearly had a lot of family members getting up to no good in London in the mid 1700’s.
All of this helps me feel more of a connection to the land we are travelling through. It is pretty exciting to think that we may be walking in the same places, and seeing many of the same things. I wonder if any of our ancestors visited Robertsbridge, where we spent our first night in England. Did they go to the George Inn for a drink? Did they visit Bodiam Castle like us? It’s possible.
There is such a sense of history here, and connection to the past. Like the scenery, it’s pretty magical.
I wonder if my ancestors had the opportunity to sit and draw like I do. I suspect not, because it would probably have been an upper class thing. And upper class we were definitely not. If they were stealing horses and loaves of bread, then paper and pencils, let alone paints, would probably have been an unobtainable luxury. It makes me feel even more fortunate to have what I have.
And speaking of fortunes, how about the luxury of staying in this stunning cottage in Robertsbridge? We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it as it seemed so picture perfect – like an imaginary fairy tale home from a country decorating magazine. There were fairy lights in the fireplaces and across the mirrors. There were flowers blooming everywhere. There were sheep in the paddocks and roses in the kitchen. There were Tudor houses in the village. History everywhere.
From every angle, the view was magnificent. Clearly, it needed to be drawn.
How lucky am I to have this opportunity?