Monday, August 22, 2011

Offa’s Dyke 10: Oswestry Shropshire

When I was starting to get into family history research in earnest about eight years ago, the only ancestor I knew had been born outside Australia was my paternal great grandfather. So once I’d located his birth record (Dolgellau Wales 1874), I had his parents’ names and could go looking for their marriage details. At that time one was really limited to browsing through quarterly records from the England-Wales marriage registry, and I located them in the JUN 1869 records under Oswestry.

This was a little confusing for me as it was in England (five miles across the border), some fifty miles from Dolgellau. This threw up all sorts of questions for me at the time about where my family really came from or how scattered records might be. As I did more genealogical work and uncovered more about my family history, I started understanding more of what was going on. My travels through the UK from 2005, visiting the places where they lived helped to further dramatise the lives of my forebears.

Llanymynech - border street

When my twice great grandparents Ellis and Hannah married in 1869, she was living in Llanymynech (where I’d just spent the night) which was part of the area administered by Oswestry. In fact the England-Wales border runs up the main street. They were married in a church on the English side of the street, although I guess it’s conceivable that they crossed the border to the Bradford Arms or went to Bengal Spices for a curry wedding banquet.

So how did Ellis and Hannah meet? One thought was that it was at some market day in Oswestry – it’s the big market town in the area and has been for a very long time. Many of the places I’ve visited this week have recorded histories going back well over a thousand years and some like Montgomery and Oswestry have the remains of Iron Age settlements. I walked into the Oswestry market square today – more by accident than design – and was immediately struck by the thought that some of my ancestors could have met here.

Further research into sibling branches of the family showed that Hannah’s brother Thomas worked as a gaol warder and was stationed in Dolgellau around this time ( as discovered from 1871 census ) and so there’s the possibility that Ellis met Hannah through him.

Oswestry centre Oswestry

I wasn’t expecting to find too much going on in Oswestry on a Sunday, but perhaps I’ve been conditioned by my year in France where everything closes down for the day. I felt like a bit of people watching, and stumbled on a Costa Coffee on one of the high streets. I left Munson to mind a table outside and went in to order some coffee with very low expectations. I was really surprised to be served a flat white that looked like it had been properly prepared, albeit with the British habit of supersizing coffees to make them a bit weak. Still, it was the first espresso I’d enjoyed since leaving London and I even had a second.

I spoke to a lot of people on the street that day – all very polite and good-natured – and I must add that I was struck by this in Welshpool also. I get quite a lot of incoherent babblers when I’m out with Munson so tend to be sensitive to local differences. Having a lot of time to kill I went to a poundsaver type store and stocked up on a lot of foodstuffs like curry sauces that you can’t easily find in France , and also to a Boots to get pharmacy items that were labelled in English. For some things it’s so much easier to do self-serve rather than have my requests interpreted slightly askew by someone who has to fetch them from a cupboard at the rear of the store.

I browsed around a remaindered book and DVD store where some kids were treating the place like a playground, tossing stock between themselves as they raced around the store. One of them yelled cheekily at the store manager: “What’s this dog doing in the store? Are dogs allowed in the store? What’s he doing?” The manager replied with a weariness that suggests this was an ongoing hell for him “Well the dog’s being very quiet and well behaved….hmmmm”. I think his point was lost on them.

After a slow circuit of the high streets we came around to a very large, quietly busy park. I chased Munson around a bit to let him burn off some energy – although with my foot still restricting movement it was more “stand and dodge” for me and mad bounding around in circles for Munson.

Our evening accommodation was at Carreg y Big Farm B&B, which includes the Oswestry Equestrian Centre. As seems to happen quite frequently when I travel alone (sans human not dog) to country establishments, I was invited to join the host family for dinner. I had one of my most enjoyable evenings along the trail, making me feel very satisfied that I’d made the right decision in continuing in this manner.

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