Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Perhaps the family story has a little more fact than fantasy!

LEFT: A church in Colebrooke.

There's a reason why family stories remain alive and often it is because there is some substance to them.

The story of Elizabeth Mashford's 'noble' connections has been in the family now for nearly two hundred years, spanning some six generations.

But, there was no way of finding any evidence for the story until we discovered that Elizaberth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins had been born in Devon. From that point we had a place to search which narrowed the field considerably.

Finding a birth record for 1819, Winkleigh, Devon for an Elizabeth Mashford born to Elizabeth Mashford, father Partridg(e) and finding family members living in a nearby village, whom we know travelled to Australia with Elizabeth on the Princess Royal in 1847, gave greater credence to the 'find.'

All we needed was a Partridge family in the area and that was easy. There were a lot of them. All we then needed was an Elizabeth Partridge, about the right age, who could be the 'Lady Elizabeth' who was 'responsible' for sending our Elizabeth out to the colonies.

And that was the hard part. Not only could I not find any 'noble' Partridges, I could not find an Elizabeth Partridge let alone a Lady Elizabeth Partridge who could fit the time-frame.

Until today. As part of my research I got in touch with some descendants of the Devon Partridges whose ancestors also emigrated and who are living in Canada. Donald Partridge wrote back to say he knew nothing about any illegitimate daughters... but then of course I had not expected any Partridge would ... and he put me in touch with his cousin, Pam Vaughn who wrote:

'Donald’s and my Partridges were mostly around Colebrooke and Coleford (adjoining villages.) The family legend that came down through several branches was that the patriarch was an Earl. This part was interesting which is one of the reasons I set out on the quest to learn more. Indeed Thomas was of the gentry, but of the lowest strata. More like a country squire. He was listed as “gentleman” in the census. This meant that he hired all labor to be done. A few of his sons were later listed as “yeomen” which meant they hired laborers but also worked in the fields, too.

Thomas (the gentlemen) and his wife, Elizabeth, have a tomb in a prominent location in the Colebrooke churchyard.'

LEFT: a Church gate, common in Devon churchyards.

Colebrooke and Coleford are similar distances away from Winkleigh to that of Coldridge where so many Mashfords were recorded in the 1841 census and then later identified as accompanying our Elizabeth on her journey to Australia.

So, not only do we have a Partridg(e) in the area, we have a 'noble' connection and we have a 'Lady' Elizabeth! She may well have only been the wife of a country squire but have ranked highest in the little village and held the title of Lady in either an official or unofficial sense.

Then again, just as our 'family story' looks like having some substance, so too may the 'story' handed down through the Partridge families of an ancestor being an Earl. Such stories usually endure because they have some substance in fact and that makes them worth remembering. It seems to be human nature to remember both the 'best' and the 'worst.'

One Partridge family history states that there were four families of this name which probably had their origins in the Norman conquest and which settled in the areas of Medfield, Duxbury, Hadley and Salibury between 1630 and 1650 and in time found their way across the length and breadth of England.

When William, Duke of Normandy, defeated Harold, the King of England in 1066 he seized the land and estates of the British nobles and handed them over to his faithful Norman gentry. As one does. One of those to be so fortunate was 'Partridge the Norman.' He is said to have migrated during the reign of Stephen, 1135-1154 and in recognition of military services, to have been given estates in Essex by Henry II, 1154-1189.

In 1254 a Richard de Pertriche (the French spelling of Partridge), is recorded as the family head with manors in the county of Gloucester.

The English surnames Patriche, Patridge and Partridge derive from the Old French Word, 'perdriz' which in turn came from the Latin, 'perdix, perdicis,' and no doubt found its way to Gaul (France) with the Romans. Yet more invaders in that ever-present way of history.

It could have started as a nickname - someone looking a bit like a partridge, which seems odd - or it could have been related to occupation - someone who caught partridges or hunted them - or it could have been taken from the name of a village where partridges were in plentiful supply.

The first record of the name was in 1176, in the Pipe Rolls of Devonshire, during the reign of King Henry II - an Ailward Pertriz no less and perhaps an ancestor for our Devon Partridges... or even all Partridges including the John Perdrich found in Staffordshire in 1244; the Philip Partrich found in Cheshire in 1260; the Sibil Partryge found in Staffordshire in 1332 or the John Pattridge found in Suffolk in 1622.

Interestingly, the Mashford name is believed to have also originated in France. Although this is hardly unusual given the French invasion which engulfed England after the Battle of Hastings. But one story has it that the Mashfords were latecomers to England having arrived around the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Two families with the same name Mache, arrived on English soil and one of them changed their name to Mashford because they marched over a ford.

I think this story is a bit of a stretch given that 'mache' in French means 'chewed.' How on earth would you get a surname like 'chewed'? Did they make 'papier mache' and hence were landed with the nickname which became the surname? No wonder they changed it to something sensible like Mashford as soon as they arrived in the incredibly sensible country of England.

We seem to have stumbled into 'silly surname' territory with this search. Although not as silly as the name of one famous Partridge seat - Wisbanger. Now there's a name.! Wisbanger,which came into the hands of the Partridge family in 1557 may well have been as 'whizz-bang' as the name suggests.

As the records state:
'The manor house itself is very quaint and picturesque, as may be seen from the cut herewith presented. It was rebuilt and a porch added in 1578 by Robert Partridge, then head of the house, and the impaled coat of arms of Robert and his wife Anne may still be seen, carved in stone over the front entrance. [See Burke's "Landed Gentry," Vol. ii, pp. 1056-57.]

John Partridge, of Wisbanger, seems to be the one to whom this estate was originally granted. He was succeeded by his son William, who was member of parliament for Rochester in the fourteenth year of Elizabeth (1572). (I suspect William of Wisbanger had quite a time of it as a kid.)

Miles Partridge, brother of William, was a man of note, and one who played a prominent part in the history of those troublesome times.

He was High Sheriff of Gloucestershire during the last years of the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547), and received from that monarch a grant of the manor of Almondsbury (Amesbury). He was a friend and comrade of the unfortunate Duke of Somerset, whom he accompanied in his Scottish expedition, and was knighted for conspicuous bravery on the battlefield of Pinkie (September 10, 1547)'.

Sir Miles Partridge also lost his head on February 26, 1552 having fallen foul of Henry VIII along with the Duke of Somerset and sundry others. However, clearly there were plenty of Partridges to make up the loss of one and perhaps there were others who had also risen to noble rank. Given the longevity of the Partridge family, the 'story' may well be sourced in an ancient truth. A truth which is interesting rather than important.

Colebrooke, by the way, is the birthplace of the famous English wrestler, Abraham Cann .... perhaps a relation on the Cann side of the family if we can ascertain that Mary Mashford, whom I think was Elizabeth's 'aunt' or step-grandmother, gave her son John the middle name of Cann because it was her maiden name.

But, back to Elizabeth and the family story of her ancestry. While the evidence is circumstantial, it is weighty all the same. We have place, birth records and dates which fit the family story. There's not much 'noble' in the connection, at least by today's standards, but enough to justify the story Elizabeth's mother and family told to her and which she in turn told her children and they handed down through the generations until my father and other's of his generation, told their children.

Times have changed and it's not a story I would consider important enough to tell my children and perhaps that is why now is the right time to finally lay it to rest in some 'bed of truth.'
There is more checking to be done but it looks like we may well have brought a modicum of 'justice' to our bastard Elizabeth nearly two centuries after her birth. I like to think so anyway.

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