Thursday 28 March 2019


Thank you #Mayflower400UK for an incredible week!

I learned more about the Mayflower story and had it brought to life by being in the communities where the various pieces of the history played out 400 years ago.

I met warm, passionate, enthusiastic team members whose pride in their community was both infectious and uplifting. I heard about the wonderfully creative events being planned for celebrating this historic occasion.

I managed to travel 995 miles by car and my experience was enriched because of it. Thank you to each and every person who took the time to share their passion and pride about their community, to share their knowledge about the history of their community, to enjoy a meal while sharing the plans being made for a memorable year of celebration.

Thank you to the accommodation partners, food and drink partners, local and museum guides. 2020 is going to be an extra-ordinary year for the descendants of the Mayflower thanks to each of you and to the team you have put together.

Tuesday 26 March 2019


There are just three spaces left for the genealogy tour to the Scottish borders. Dates are Sept 20-27, 2020. In addition to research opportunities there will be a trip to some historic sites in the Borders.

We will be stationed in Melrose and will travel to Galashiels and Hawick for research. 

This specialized trip is being offered on a one-time only basis and will not be offered in future years.

The three remaining spaces will go on a first come, first served basis.

Berkeley Castle

My last place to visit was Berkeley Castle and I was honoured to have Charles Berkeley as my tour guide. Charles is the 27th generation of Berkeleys to live in the Castle. He was delighted to share what growing up in a castle was like for he and his brother, Henry (“We were two boys, 11 months apart. Irish twins!”) who would walk the battlements on the roof, awake to sounds of shouting outside their bedroom windows to see a film in the making, slide down the banisters and play hide and seek in the old medieval rooms (“It once took him half a day to find me”)

Charles was most gracious with his time and as he was sharing the stories of the people in the large portraits on the walls of the castle, it dawned on me that not only was he sharing a behind the scenes glimpse of England’s history, but also of the Berkeley’s history. This was HIS family’s history! On the walls of a medieval castle!

The castle itself dates back to the 12th century and was originally built as a keep. The castle was granted to Robert Fitzharding, a Berkeley ancestor, by King Henry II. It has been in the Berkeley Family for 900 years, having once been relinquished to the Crown in exchange for a title. The Eighth Earl of Berkeley was himself an architect and dedicated a great deal of time and money to restoring the castle back to its Norman beginnings, purchasing lintels, fireplaces, masonry and firebacks from France or from other estates.

The Banqueting Hall is a wonderful room with a large 16th century wooden screen across the back where the minstrels and jesters would have entertained the guests. The same screen that the last court jester in England fell from, resulting in his death. There is a question as to whether Dicky fell or was pushed. I suppose only Dicky knows for certain. Dicky was so fondly thought of by the Berkeleys that he is buried in a table tomb in the church next to the castle. His epitaph was written by Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels fame:

Here lies the Earl of Suffolk’s fool
Men call’d him Dicky Pearce
His folly serv’d o to make folks laugh
When wit and mirth were scarce
Poor Dick alas is dead and gone
What signifies to cry
Dicky’s enough are still behind
To laugh at by and by

In more modern times, the Banqueting Hall is used for wedding breakfasts or wedding receptions.

The family has a long history with the Navy, with several Berkeleys having been Admirals. The family also has a history of trading with the East India Company. There are several pieces of Chinese pottery within the castle that come from this trading relationship.

In 1619, Richard Berkeley boarded the ship Margaret in Bristol and sailed to Virginia, where the Berkeleys have a plantation. The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1619 in keeping with instructions from the Virginia Company of London which was:

  “We ordaine that this day of our ships arrival, at the place assigned for plantacon, in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

This is chronicled by the family’s historian, John Smyth of Nibley. Those archives are known as the Nibley papers and are on deposit with the New York Public Library. Each year on the first Sunday in November, the Berkeley Plantation still celebrates the Virginia Thanksgiving.

Another ancestor of the Berkeley family was Sir William Berkeley who was a governor of Virginia. A couple of years ago, there was a celebration of Berkeleys, a family reunion of sorts, at Berkeley Castle hosted by Charles and his brother with descendants of Berkeleys in Virginia.

The Castle has been graced by some very important guests including Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses. Perhaps the most famous of the Kings is King Edward II who was imprisoned in the castle and also met his death there. While the preferred story is a rather gruesome one of a red-hot poker up his backside, the more likely story is that he was, in fact, smothered with a pillow. Whatever the cause, several accounts within the Castle’s vast archival collection suggest that Edward was treated rather well in the time leading up to his death.

Next to the room where King Edward II was held captive is the castle’s dungeon, which is actually a 30 foot pit that was used as a well. Folklore has it that the Berkeley Toad was “A great toad the size of over a foot” that was said to have lived at the bottom of the pit.

Shakespeare had ties to the family and it is thought that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written about the wedding of one of the Berkeleys.

The castle was a gathering point for Barons from the west of England before heading out to Runnymede to meet with King John ahead of the signing of the Magna Carta.

Edward Jenner, son of the vicar of the church next to the castle, developed smallpox vaccine and inoculated local children from a hut on the outside of the kirkyard’s wall.

Sir Francis Drake was a friend of the family and the bedroom where he stayed while at the castle is named after him. In the room are his rather ornate bed as well as his chest made from cypress.

There is a church on the grounds of Berkeley Castle, used primarily by the staff and local people in the village. The Berkeleys were Catholic and worshipped in the chapel inside the Castle. However, the church has incredibly ornate painting on the walls, not unlike most Churches in the days before the Iconoclasts. Accounts in the family’s archival collection talk about it having been whitewashed and then rediscovered during some maintenance work.

Monday 25 March 2019

Jamaica Inn

Following my guided tour of Dartmouth, I made my way to Cornwall, to the Bodmin Moor where I had a private tour of the Jamaica Inn by owner, Allen Jackson. 

The Inn, high on the Bodmin Moor, dates from 1750 and was a favourite haunt of smugglers. The Inn was made famous by Daphne du Maurier, who stayed at the Inn and subsequently wrote a book about it.

The hotel boasts 36 rooms. 10 in the old part of the Inn and 26 new rooms.

Room three is the Daphne du Maurier room, where she had stayed while at the Inn.

Room 5 is said to be haunted by 13 year old Madeline. Guests leave treasures for Madeline so she won't feel lonely. This basket of toys has been in the wardrobe for years.

In addition to the hotel and restaurant, there is a museum which includes displays of Daphne du Maurier who spent time in the Inn, which inspired her book, Jamaica Inn.

And several displays to do with smuggling, which was an important part of Plymouth and Cornwall history.

I was treated to dinner in the bar and was then joined by Allen who shared some amazing stories of serendipity. He really was delightful.

As I was leaving the Inn, the mist was beginning to fall on the moor, making it very atmospheric

Just TWO Spaces Left for ORKNEY 2020

There are just two spaces left for the Orkney genealogy tour in May 2020. Dates are May 24-31. In addition to three full days of research, there will be the opportunity to tour the neolithic sites, the Italian Chapel and more. 

As with all Genealogy tours, these spaces will go on a first come, first served basis. This is a one time only tour and will not be repeated in future years. 

For more information:

#Mayflower400 Plymouth

Following a full afternoon in Dartmouth, I was off to Plymouth where I checked in to Rooms by Bistrot Pierre at Royal William Yard. Royal William Yard is the former victualling yard for the Royal Navy and is enormous. It is 16 acres in total and now houses boutique restaurants and pubs, a bakery, upscale flats and Rooms. The hotel has character, charm and the rooms are big, bright and airy. 

On Wednesday I met with Jo, Marketing and Communications Officer, for a look at The Box. The Box is under construction but promises to be a destination point for Plymouth. The building is being purpose built to house the city's archives, the Southwest Film and TV archives, and local studies library collection. In addition, The Box will be a museum where there will be rotating exhibits, including an exhibit to the Mayflower, coming in time for next year's #Mayflower400 celebrations. The Box will also house a gallery. 

After leaving Jo, I met up with Jane, a Blue Badge guide who took me on an extensive walking tour of Plymouth, sharing its rich history and maritime heritage. 

Plymouth was decimated during WWII and this shows particularly in the churches that were destroyed. The shell of St Charles' stands as a testament to the blitz

 St Andrew's, by the Guildhall was rebuilt and has been graced with six John Piper windows

At the gates to the entry is St Andrew casting his net

As with any port city, Plymouth has a history of merchants and trade, much of that with Europe and Africa. 

The harbour was boasted a busy market area

Victorian era cooperage

Horses were led through this tunnel to be washed and
cooled  before their return journey home from market

remnants of the old market buildings and warehouses
only broad gauge railway system still in evidence anywhere in the world

the old engine shed

From the harbour, we walked up to the Hoe

Sir Francis Drake remains Plymouth's most famous son
Drake's coat of arms

view from the Hoe

Drake's island as seen from the Hoe

Building on Drake's island

Smeaton Tower a memorial to Eddystone Lighthouse engineer John Smeaton

Then it was over to the Citadel

And on down to the Barbican

The Emigration House where a quarter of a million emigrants were
 processed for health checks prior to leaving Plymouth

Stone masons hard at work to refurbish the Mayflower Steps ahead of next year's #Mayflower400 celebration

I met up with Abigail from Mayflower400 for a lovely lunch at the Boathouse Cafe where I heard about the wonderful things planned for 2020. There will be a full week of celebrations from September 14th to 20th as the lead up to the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. 

We were shortly joined by Ben, owner of the Boathouse Cafe. Ben showed us his new Scallop Shack where customers will be able to buy fresh scallops, either live or shucked. There will be five new scallop based items added to the menu. Ben will have some special Mayflower themed dishes as well for 2020.