200th post!

Crikey, this seems to have come round quickly – so quickly, in fact, that I hadn’t actually prepared anything for it. However when I was trying to sort out the mis-dating of the family photos recently I stumbled across a little snippet of family-related news which is definitely worth including here – no matter how distant the actual relationship may be.

So, let’s start with an explanation. You’ll have figured out by now that Leonard’s wife, Eva, had a brother named Joe. Joe, married to Lydia, lived in the fascinating house in Shelly Road, Exmouth, which fell a victim to the Council bulldozer in the 1970s.

Family at Tiverton, 1960

This picture, taken by either June or Eva*, shows Lydia in the centre with her grand-daughter Claire on her lap and Joe standing behind her. Joe is flanked by (left) his son-in-law Eric Shapland and (right) Eric’s father Harold Shapland. On either side of Lydia are her daughter Pat (left), and Alec (right), and on the front row are Susan, Kay Shapland, and Carol.

Harold Shapland was a bit of a minor celebrity and actually a good deal younger than he looks in this photo – he didn’t turn sixty until a few months later – and among his other achievements he was a commentator on bowls for both BBC radio and television.

Eric, although apparently not sharing his passion for bowls, certainly followed him in local politics. It was while attempting to verify the identification of the men in this photo as Harold and Eric that I stumbled across Eric’s recent obituary. Our families had lost touch over the years, but clearly Eric was a very popular man in the Tiverton area and his passing will leave a considerable gap.

I wrote a letter on 20 July which I hoped would reach a member of the family eventually, and by coincidence had a message via this page from one of Eric’s daughters a day or two later. I replied by e-mail but haven’t had any further response, although it would be nice to join up another loose end and exchange family news.

*Likely, I think, to be June, who is obviously missing from the photo. This was almost certainly a day trip from Clevedon, and if we left one adult behind everyone else would fit into Leonard’s car; Eva, therefore, despite the visit being to her brother, would no doubt have ‘stayed behind to get the dinner’. The only exception might have been if June was unwell and had opted out, allowing Eva to go instead, but Eva was not exactly a reliable hand with a camera and I honestly don’t think this is her work!


This blog is a year old!

I’d just been looking at celebrating the 150th post in a couple of days’ time when to my astonishment I realised that it’s actually a year since I started posting!

For anyone who may not have been around then, the justification for this blog is as follows: I have inherited, as well as a lot of family history paperwork, ten years’ worth of letters between (mostly) my parents and my grandparents. I am posting the letters now on the 60th anniversary of the dates they were written, although in due course there will also be some other family history related articles on here. I’m acutely aware, for example, that I’ve pretty exclusively stuck to the Atkins family (as well as their Chinese associates) so far; I also have Baker, Fewings, Mullinger and Macord in my family tree – the last two of which I have researched myself and come up with some fascinating snippets.

I have newspaper clippings, theatre and concert programmes, photographs going back to the mid-nineteenth century, and goodness knows what else. The aim is gradually to reduce the amount of storage needed, which is why I’m posting all these letters online – and yes, destroying the originals. They are valuable not for themselves but for the information they contain, after all.

I’m sorry to have to report, however, that I got short shrift from the second cousin who had previously indicated that she had a lot of family history memorabilia in her loft. She now denies having said any such thing, and reminds me that her father died in 1986. (I knew that, actually.) That was not so much a door closing as a blast door slamming shut and a detonation taking place on the other side of it; there is no route, now, leading in that direction, and although I think that is a terrible shame I have no alternative but to accept it. Her loss, I feel, but clearly this stuff has more value to me than it has to her. I shall at least not feel obliged to consult her about any of this in the future, which is something of a relief.

And so we enter our second year; I know there are a few people reading this now, and I’m not just whistling into the void, so we’ll keep posting and just see what happens. I feel I have an obligation to the people who amassed all this information in the first place to make some attempt to preserve it and share it with anyone who may be interested. I can’t imagine who you may be, or why you’re here, but I know you’re out there somewhere – to quote the words of a song – and even if you weren’t I’d probably still be doing this because I Am Really Just That Sad. 😎

Fewings – what’s in a name?

Elsewhere I’m going to list the many variants of the surname ‘Fewings’ Alec and his fellow researchers amassed during their investigations, which will make for a tedious but potentially useful post. Some of the variants may shed light on the derivation of the surname, but as Alec and his group eventually decided it is probably fallacious to think of there being a single true origin for any name. Just think how many people must suddenly have found themselves called ‘Miller’, for example, when the need for surnames first arose; they’re unlikely to have been related genetically, but suddenly they all had the same name.

Thus, it’s perfectly possible that all these potential derivations are correct!

feoh : an old English word meaning ‘cattle’.

fue or few : a Scots dialect word for a feudal benefice or fee, relating to a type of tenancy where the rent (or fee) is paid in cash rather than in service.

fuin : to bake, from the Irish word ‘fuinim’ This in turn may derive from the Norse word ‘funi’, meaning a flame or fire.

‘of Ewan’ : which has distinct ‘Handmaid’s Tale‘-type resonances but was of course the way many names were originally formed.

I should point out at this stage that I’m just reporting this research, I haven’t checked the veracity of any of it, and it may be that there are other theories as well. The only thing I’ll add, from my researches into another part of the family, is that ‘ing(s)’ tends to be an Anglo-Saxon diminutive … there are a lot of ‘-inger’ surnames derived from place names, for example, which probably date back to ‘the coming of the Saxons‘ after the dissolution of the Roman Empire. This would tend to suggest that at least some variants of ‘Fewings’ could be as much as 1700 years old, although the same could arguably be said of a great many other surnames too.

Where do we go from here?

Now that the daily diary entries have ceased, there’s a bit of a gap in the proceedings until we start the 1959 letters on 24 May – and from then on posting will be irregular until eventually we start dealing with the 1918 diary.

There is method in this madness. If we can tie an existing document in to a particular date and post it then, that’s what we’ll do.

In the interim, there’s a chunk of research material that Alec generated when – towards the end of his life – he started delving into his family history. He got to a certain point with the Atkins line and then hit a brick wall; later research indicates that he had been given flawed information by a ‘professional genealogist’, for which he no doubt paid handsomely, and it sent him off in the wrong direction. In short, he was looking in Northamptonshire when his ancestors were in Somerset all along.

As a result, Alec changed tack and started delving into his mother’s line – the Fewings family – and was briefly the acknowledged expert on the name. He did consider setting up a one-name study group, but was put off by the amount of bureaucracy it would require at a time when his health was already beginning to deteriorate. However from 1992 to 1999 he and a couple of distant relatives produced a twice-yearly ‘Fewings Newsletter’ exchanging information about their findings. Only about a dozen copies of each one ever went out, at their own expense, and most were printed on Alec’s (t)rusty old dot matrix printer.

Much of this information is already out of date, having been gleaned from databases which are obviously in constant flux and becoming more comprehensive all the time. (I unblocked the ‘Atkins’ logjam very quickly, with proper access to online sources which were not available to Alec at the time.) However, some of it may well be worth passing on.

His approach to the information was rather peculiar, though; he was only interested in basic dates – births, marriages and deaths, and maybe changes of address. Anything that approached social history – what an individual did for a living, for example – was completely irrelevant to him. He ‘collected’ ancestors in quantity, but stubbornly refused to learn anything about them as people.

I’m still scratching my head about that one, to be honest.

Next post Monday 22 April at 06.00 UK time.