Saturday, November 11, 2006

Joans town


Bondi and I set off for Devon around 9am, quickly gliding into 3 lanes of stalled traffic on the southbound M3. After a half hour of slowly emitting carbon and curses, we picked up a little bit of time, and then all of a sudden saw Stonehenge sitting less than a hundred yards off the side of the road. Having only experienced a few minor henges in Ireland, and the much more recent "shit henge" on a newer spur of the Microsoft campus in Seattle, there was little question that I would pull over.

Leaving Bondi in the car (so he wouldn't be tempted to emulate the stone construction with his own efforts in reprocessed chicken cartilege), I picked up an audio headset from the English Heritage folks at the gate, and circled the site. My first impression is that it was a lot smaller than expected, not Spinal Tap small, but still, these early Britons were already hard at work at miniaturising their timepieces. Presumably the Swiss version of Stonehenge is sitting on an archaeologist's mantlepiece somewhere, autowinding every time it's shifted for dusting.

Back with England's version, the site is so close to the main road, some atmosphere is lost in the background traffic noise. Apparently there are plans to enclose the neighbouring roads under grassed in roofs, so that some normalcy is returned in sight and sound. At solstice, Wiccan priests and priestesses will be free to jiggle around under moonlight rather than the high-beam glare of a passing road-train.

I know that Chris is expecting me to report barrows-full of my ancestors around the Stonehenge site, but while this is undoubtedly true, I'll save excavation until such times as I can smuggle Bondi in to dig around for me.


Pressing on, we got into Tavistock about 1.45pm and proceeded directly to the local library. I was shown the archive shelves and a microfiche reader, and left to my searches. Goal #1: find the birth/baptismal records of Samuel Jones from approx 1813. I'd already purchased transcripts of the birth records from 1813-16 from the Devon Family History Society, and not found any notes for young Samuel. After a few minutes of figuring out how the microfiche records matched up to the index, I located this parish baptismal record from June 20, 1812:

Samuel, son Thomas Joans (carpenter) and Ann his wife


Well that was certainly a variant/mis-spelling of Jones that I hadn't considered. I also went back another decade or so to look for other Jones/Joans/Jonez babies, but didn't strike any. Plenty of "Johns" but nothing else close. I noticed later that Samuel's first son is named Thomas. His eldest child Elizabeth Ann appears to be named for (who I believe to be) his wife's mother Elizabeth, plus his own mother Ann. These fine details make for nice corroborative points.

I figured that it was time for a break from reading pages and pages of two-hundred year old handwriting, so picked up Bondi from outside the library and strolled into the heart of Tavistock. The weather and light were deteriorating quickly, so I grabbed some maps and leaflets from the town information centre, and then had a look around the "famed" Panniers Market. I'm not sure what the root of its fame or notoriety might be, but the people there were all very pleasant, an opinion that settled on me as I walked further round the streets and noted how extraordinarily cordial the locals were. I've probably visited as many towns and villages around the country as anyone, and there's certainly no correlation between population size and generosity of spirit, but Tavistock was acing it this wet Friday afternoon.

I broke for a late lunch and coffee and then returned to the library to see if I could chance on any marriage records for Thomas and Ann. The transcripts from around that time hadn't yielded anything, and the microfiche archives were equally ungiving. My guess is that they were married in another parish. My choice is to check the records for each little parish in the area (which I *may* do) or put this search on hold and wait until massed efforts to transcribe Devon parish registers into computer searchable form make that activity less demanding. While the baptismal record shown here is reasonably legible, going back only 10-15 years to another less legible hand made searching very much harder. The other avenue to be explored is to look for post-1837 records for Thomas and Anne Joans/Jones that have been made available on the internet. These would be census and death/burial records - assuming they survived Samuel's birth by 25 years.

At 5.30pm I thought I should head for our farm-stay B&B. I would normally have gone out their earlier to locate the place in good light, but I thought that the proximity of the farm (in the middle of close-by village) and my new satnav system would handle it. The satnav delivered me through a number of twisting roads to the village, but I couldn't spot which set of buildings I needed, all looking much the same in the dark and drizzle ( - it was a dark and drizzly night... - ) I tried to call for directions but found that I had no network coverage, a few miles from the largest market town in this part of the county. After looping through the streets back to where the satnav had directed me I found that I was only about ten yards from the farm gateway. I drove up in and parked in the driveway near the only lit window I could spy.

My hostess came out and directed me around to the other side of the building. As I reversed the car and spun the wheel towards that direction, I found that I had driven over something like a large rock. In the blackness I discovered that a) a patch of lawn had been partially outlined with rough quartz boulders; b) one of these rocks was wedged under my car; and c) I could smell fuel.

At this point a yard light was turned on (for some inexplicable reason there was no motion sensor to do this automatically). My hostess said the rocks were there to stop people driving on the grass but they still did it. Probably because guests turning up in the dark couldn't see enough to distinguish rocks from grass from gravel. Anyway the car wouldn't start, so I extracted Bondi and luggage from the vehicle, and returned with a torch to review the situation. I pulled the jack out of the boot and elevated the front of the car enough to slide the rock out, but then my attempts to restart the car just produced more fuel vapours. The farmer himself turned up, and we decided to move the leaking vehicle away from the house, which we accomplished partly through gruntwork and finished with him nudging the car over the rise in the driveway with his tractor.

For a while, I was left to my own devices as the farmer's wife was hosting a bell-ringing evening. I could see a parade of bells on the kitchen-table, and was wondering what group of rural campanologists would be turning up to wield them.

Back inside, I called the RAC and they surprised me by having someone turn up within 30 minutes. He identified the line that had been vented due to a connector being stripped by the rock. Within about half an hour he had replaced some hose that would get me by until I had time to go to a garage. The car started, the fuel smell was gone, replaced by my relief that I wasn't trapped for the weekend in the Tavistocky Horror Picture Show. After an hour of shimmering sounds emanating from the kitchen, someone is trying to pick out Amazing Grace (not Dammit Janet) on the piano, and I'm very tempted to go down and finish it off for them (but not like Eddie was finished off).


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