Happiness, Sadness, and Pride: writing the eulogy

With the death of my grandmother, I was asked to write her eulogy. The happiest, saddest, and proudest piece of writing i’ve ever done.

My grandmother passed away on New Year’s Eve, after several months of hospital care from the ever-brilliant NHS. She was 83, and the last of my grandparents.

My grandmother with her very first Great Grandchild, c.2005. Photo: Andrew Martin.
My grandmother with her third Great Grandchild, c.2008. Photo: Andrew Martin.

As we wait, for what here in the UK feels like a huge drawn-out time for churchyard burial to take place, I found myself being asked to write her eulogy by my mother and her siblings.

I won’t be reading it out. Nor will I post it here. But taking the phone call from my mother where she asked me to write it, I soon found myself feeling a huge wave of happiness, sadness, and pride all rushing at me all at once.

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother during school holidays – playing games, helping her and my grandfather in their allotment, helping what felt like an ever-lasting task of weeding the rockery and not trying to fall in their pond, singing and dancing to records, walking to her local village shops and on to her parents and in-laws to whom she provided daily care, and many bus trips in to Ely.

I remember my mother catching me packing my suitcase for my first solo stay – i was putting loose eggs in my suitcase. I didn’t know how these things worked, and I wanted to be sure I’d get fed. Of course I was.

grandparents marriage 1953
My grandparents’ marriage in 1953. Photo: Andrew Martin

In later life, after the death of my grandfather and her reliance on a wheelchair, as both of us lived alone, we were also kindred spirits. She’d revel in telling me funny risqué stories of her teenage years of dating, or the trouble she caused her parents, and of adventures of dances and trips away with her local friends – and her ‘how i met your grandfather’ stories that she’d certainly never tell my mother, aunt, or uncle!

She was my rebel grandmother. Game for a laugh, a joke, and a singsong. A gadget girl – she was the first person i knew to get a thing called a ‘microwave’ – a huge white thing which she kept in the cupboard, and it weighed a ton. She also had DVDs and CDs long before I or my parents did.

She also had a lazy susan in a kitchen cupboard that spun merrily around to reveal ‘the tin’ – which was where the chocolates lived (albeit briefly) and were magically replenished by kind unseen hands.

She had a green and yellow budgie named Joey (probably more than one to be honest) – who eventually learnt to say his name back to her after years of her saying ‘Joe-Joe Dewey’ at it. My cousins would secretly do impressions of her saying that – which I’ve got here on cassette somewhere.

My grandmother, reading me a story, whilst my sister pretends to be angelic.
My grandmother, reading me a story, whilst my sister pretends to be angelic, and 70’s wallpaper upstages us all. Photo: Andrew Martin.

She was also an absolute raffle fiend, and would win at least 2 prizes for every raffle she took part in – even if it was to win a wholly unsuitable prize – that prize was hers, and like some strange economy, she’d often put those prizes back in to the next raffle. I swear that tin of Heinz Ravioli did the local raffle/bingo circuit for a good few years.

She also delighted my 7yr old ears one school holiday breakfast time, when she went to pick up a bottle of milk she’d had delivered by the milkman. She dropped it. It broke. Then, in a flash of a second which instantly boosted my adoration of her, she ran a 5 word string of mild expletives without pause or breath. I think she realised that I had heard her from the kitchen as it was only herself and I in the house, but my little ears were utterly impressed, and I can hear her say it right now as I type – these 30 years later.

I’ve never written a eulogy before. I heard my cousin (on my other side of the family) read one for  his mother a few years back. I don’t quite remember what was in it, more the way he delivered it, but in a way, I just knew how to write my grandmother’s one. I knew I had to make it funny (to match her sheer sense of mischief), respectful (to match the occasion), and touching, with lots of memories for those cousins, neighbours, friends etc listening.

Pamela Maud Barber c1938
My grandmother in an almost timeless photo, circa 1938. Photo: Andrew Martin.

Keeping roughly to chronology, I found it easy to write, and not as daunting as I first thought, but I had to partly put my family historian aside, and let it just come from the heart too.

I emailed it to my mother. Her only words were ‘perfect. thank you‘, and thankfully my aunt, and my uncle agreed. I don’t know why they thought I should write it, but I’m very grateful they did.

It is a bit rollercoaster, but in a verse I found in my grandmother’s Ely Senior Girls school exercise book from June 1945, I found some inspiration that got me writing, and wondered whether this inspired her in life too as she wrote it down (it seems to be a copy of something, but I don’t know what):

When oft-times plans don’t work out right,
And you are feeling blue.
There is one way to make you bright,
I recommend to you…
– keep smiling.

And that kind of sums her up really. Laughter, happiness, joy, mischief, and a never-ending stream of positivity, and without a doubt, huge waves of love for us all.

My grandmother with my sister, cousin, and me (yes, i'm the squawker at 11wks old). Photo: Andrew Martin
My grandmother with my sister, cousin, and me (yes, i’m the squawker at 11wks old). Photo: Andrew Martin

Fruit picking in Witchford orchards

A reproduced 1961 article on fruit picking at Dan Ward’s farm in Witchford, Cambridgeshire.

Highlighting my love of using newspapers in research, I found this article on fruit picking in the orchards of Dan Ward in Witchford, Cambridgeshire, England.

Whilst it contains a nice insight into village life and agriculture, it includes photos of, and quotes from, my Great Grandmother Louisa Pope, and her youngest daughter Audrey Giddens. So, here it is 54 years on, re-created for the web, with original headline. It was published in the Saturday Pictoral on July 29, 1961.

It’s a ‘plum’ job but you need a head for heights

Mrs M Coe with ladder
Mrs. M. Coe shoulders her ladder and sets off to start picking another tree.

In the last fortnight the fruit picking scene in the Fens has changed. Changed from the back aching grind of strawberry picking to the arm stretching task of plum picking.

So drastic has been the change, that in parts of the Fens growers were gathering in the first part of the plum harvest at the same time as Wisbech growers were finishing off ‘the straws’.

In the most southerly parts of the Isle, fruit growers have been picking plums earlier than ever before. Not only have they completed the programme of early varieties but they are well ahead of schedule with the Czars as well.

Full gang

Dan Ward inspects a plum crop
Bowls player and Special Constable, Mr Dan Ward checks over the crop.

“This year is even early by our standards”, explained Mr Dan Ward of Witchford – certainly the ‘Little Kent’ of the Fens. “We have got all the Rivers Early and some of the Pershores off and now we are well on the way with the Czars – a later variety – and by Monday we should have a full gang of about 30 on the gardens”.

But although the plums have come early in the Witchford gardens – the locals use this term instead of orchard – the crops are not as heavy as they might be. Whereas, Mr. Ward has had 40 or more pickers in other years, he will be able to make do with far less this season.

But that does not take the shine off the crops for the pickers for plum picking is obviously a time of year that they look forward to very much. When we called in at the Ward farm this week we saw them busy at it and obviously enjoying every minute of it.

But it is only at Dan Ward’s that the Witchford people get the chance to do any amount of plum pulling. There is hardly another big orchard in the district – the next nearest centre being at Wilburton. I asked Mr. Ward how he came to be a fruit grower in such an area.

“As long as people can remember the Ward family have been growing fruit in Witchford”, he explained. “My grandfather and father before owned the gardens that I have now. I think that the industry must go back more than one hundred years in fact”. Despite the fact that the land has been in the Ward family all this time, most of the trees in the orchard are young. Mr. Ward went on to explain that he has replanted several acres – getting the trees from the Wisbech area.

Not only the trees but the end product as well have connections with Wisbech. Much of the fruit comes to Wisbech before being shipped off to various markets.

Having so many plum trees in an area where fruit growing is not regarded as a major industry could present problems to some people – but not to Mr. Ward. The organisation during the peak season at Witchford is equally as good as that at Wisbech and he has his own regular pickers who come each year to tackle the crop for him.

Louisa Pope picking plums at Witchford.
Mrs. L. Pope may not look a bit of her eighty years but as she says – “you are as young as you feel and if you keep working you always feel young”. She has been working on the Ward’s fruit farms for over 50 years and really enjoys the plum picking season.

One of them is Mrs. L Pope – who has been working in the plum gardens for over 50 years. Mrs. Pope picked from the ladders at the tops of the swaying trees last year and quite expects to repeat the performance during the next few weeks. She claims that it is the outdoor life and plenty of work which keeps her looking fit and young – she is actually over 80.


One of her daughters, Mrs. A Giddens, is following in her footsteps. As Mrs. Pope was picking from the ground when we were there, Mrs Giddens was towering above her on one of the ladders.

Audrey Giddens on a ladder, picking plums.
Mrs. A. Giddens reaches high for plums. This sort of work gives the women of Witchford a good head for heights and a chance to get out in the open air.

Monday will see the season rise to its heights. Pickers, baskets and plums will pour in and out of Dan Ward’s gardens and Witchford produce will take its place beside fruit from all other parts of the country in the nation’s major markets. So keeping up a centry-long tradition in the Ward family.

A group of plum pickers at Witchford, Cambridgeshire, in 1961.
When dinner time rolls round the workers take things easy. They find a bit of shade and have a nice quiet drink and a rest. Within minutes of this picture being taken, they were all swarming up the trees again.


Saturday Pictoral, July 29, 1961 – Denis Chamberlain
Pictures taken by staffman Harry Naylor.

Wordless Wednesday – posing in 1953 and 1973

Wordless Wednesday: Both sets of maternal Great Grandparents pose in 1953 and then again in the same formation, 20 years later in 1973.

Barber and Dewey great grandparents pose for a photo in 1953
Both sets of Maternal Great Grandparents in 1953…
Ernest and Maude Barber, with Susan and Ernest Dewey, at the wedding of their granddaughter Glenda Ann Dewey to Stephen Leslie Martin at Witchford, 1973.
and by complete serendipity, they pose in the same order 20 years later, in 1973.

Wedding Wednesday – 1929

This week, we’re off to 1929 for Wedding Wednesday – to my great grandparents’ wedding at Wilburton, Cambridgeshire.

In this week’s Wedding Wednesday blog post, it’s the turn of my Great Grandparents, who married on All Fool’s Day in 1929.

Here’s the happy couple, standing outside my great grandmother’s parents’ house at Wilburton, Cambridgeshire.

Newlyweds Ernest and Maude Barber
Ernest and Maude – married on 1st April 1929.

Here’s the happy couple again, this time with their wedding group – the groom’s half-brother Walter ‘Curly’ Hopkin, and the bride’s younger sisters.

Barber and Yarrow marriage, 1929

One of the bridesmaids is still alive, and has just turned 102 years old. My Great Grandmother (the bride), her sister, reached 104.

Ernest and Maude enjoyed 56 years of marriage, until Ernest’s death in 1985.

Wedding Wednesday – 1953

The first of my Wedding Wednesday blog series, travels back to the sleepy village of Wentworth, Cambridgeshire in 1953.

In the first of my Wedding Wednesday blog series, I’ve decided to travel back to 1953, when my maternal grandparents walked the aisle during April.

In the tiny village of Wentworth, my grandparents married. My grandfather being 21 and my grandmother being 20.

Here’s the final moments of my grandmother as a single woman, on the arm of her father. She was his only child.

Pamela and father Ernest Herbert Barber 1953

And a little bit later, the happy couple emerge. Kudos to my grandfather there for that severe ‘short-back and sides’ look.

The happy couple

And here are the bridesmaids in line.

Pamela Barber's bridesmaids

Some of the wedding party, which includes my Grandparents, Great Uncle, Great Grandparents, and Great Great Grandmothers.

Wedding Family Group

The proud parents – my Great Grandparents – (L-R) Ernest Herbert and Maude Barber, with Susan Jane and Ernest Edward Thomas Dewey.

Parents at wedding

Finally, Starr & Rignall (a popular photographer’s studio) produced a series of colourised versions of some of the photos. Here’s one of them to give you an idea of the dresses.

Colourised 1953 Wedding Group

Patriarchal terms and conditions – Wills that bridge family politics or the restrictions of law

Two 18th century Wills cast light on either sibling rivalry or on a way to avoid the restrictions of the inheritance laws.

Only a short while before their deaths, two 18th Century Barber ancestors who were generations apart, wrote their Last Will and Testaments. Were they trying to bridge family politics, or to cleverly work around inheritance laws?

reeds, peat, river bank
Rich and fertile fenland close to Witcham, with the 100 Foot River bank in the distance.                       © jsomerville8973

The Will of Thomas Barber, carpenter of Witcham, 1706

On April 4th 1705, carpenter Thomas Barber of Witcham, Cambridgeshire, wrote his Will. One year later he was dead, aged 71 years.

The Will reveals that Thomas owned five acres at ‘The Dams Heads’ (now appears to be called ‘Dams Head Drove‘). This piece of land forms the centre of his Will and he lays out strict instructions to his children:

‘… I give and bequeath unto Wenham Barber my son and his heirs forever all that my 5 acres of fenn ground be the same more or less lying and being in a  drain venn belonging to Witcham aforesaid called ‘The Dams Heads’, provided he and his heirs admit my daughter Winifred ye now wife of Paul Gawthorne and her heirs peaceably and quietly to have hold and enjoy all such fenn grounds as I shall by this my last will and testament give…’

So whilst Thomas leaves his land to his son, he leaves the right to enjoy to his married daughter Winifred Gawthorne (Thomas’ half-sister). However, he may have foreseen some half-sibling rivalry, so adds..

‘…but if he or they any ways disturb or molest her or her heirs, then I give the aforesaid 5 acres hereby before given to my said son Wenham Barber unto Winifred Gawthorne my said daughter and her heirs forever.’

By adding this, he is clearly issuing his son Wenham with an ultimatum that allows his half-sister to enjoy the inheritance too.

Thomas goes on to leave his tenement, and 2 acres of land (‘ye Cow Crofts‘ – now Cowcroft Drove) to his other son John Barber – also making him the executor of the Will. John was a son from Thomas’ 2nd marriage – whilst Wenham and Winifred were children of his 1st and 3rd marriages respectively. Was John being trusted to play the diplomat here?

What happened next?

After Thomas’ death, the arrangement must have been in place but just 5 years later, Winifred died aged 36.

Now, had Thomas bequeathed his land to Winifred and not her half-brother Wenham, the 5 acres would have technically been owned by her widower Paul Gawthorne by default due to restrictions on what women could inherit (unchanged until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870). By Thomas giving the land to his son, but allowing Winifred to enjoy it, he was in essence providing for both of these children, and keeping the ownership within the family.

Thomas’ 1706 Will stated that Winifred’s heirs could enjoy the land forever – although the oldest was just 15 when Winifred died.

Whatever happened after Winifred’s death is unclear, but the land returns to the Barber family, as found in Winifred’s half-nephew’s Will of 1729…..

The Will of Wenham Barber of Witcham, 1729.

Thomas‘ grandson, Wenham Barber of Witcham, wrote his Will on 30th October 1727. A year later at 41, he was dead. His third and final wife, Mary, had just 6 years of life left herself, remarrying in her final year to John Scam of nearby Sutton.

In all, Wenham’s three marriages brought him seven children, but at least three of these died in infancy or childhood, although I suspect that it was actually all but two that were dead by the time he wrote his Will, as they’re the only ones to get a mention.

His children, Wenham Barber (born about 1712) and Robert Barber (born about 1727) are the only two children named in his Will, along with Wenham’s wife (their mother), Mary.

At the time of writing the Will, Wenham owned land in the fertile fens northwest of Witcham, alongside the One Hundred Foot River. The ‘Damhead’ (now appears to be called ‘Dams Head Drove‘) was his main land (although he doesn’t mention its size) and he is careful as to how this asset is handled.

..I give and bequeath unto my wife Mary Barber all thereunto and profits of my Damhead ground abutting upon the 100ft bank which theeshall occupy and enjoy without indistraction for the term of 9 years. Expiring after the date hereof under this condition and limitation that if she ploughs it up or digs any turf in it, she shall forfeit it to my son Wenham Barber to whom I give and bequeath the sum of 20 shillings to be paid to him by my executrix upon the day his time is out and upon default payment she shall resign the aforesaid ground to him. Item at the expiration of the said term of 9 years to be commenced from my decease I give and bequeath all the my said Damhead and ground for ever to my said son Wenham Barber and to his heirs but if he dies before the age of 21 years. Then I give to my younger son Robert Barber.

Wenham’s younger son Robert was baptised at Witcham on 29th October 1727 – just one day before Wenham wrote his Will. Whilst the above is just an excerpt, it is very precise and I wonder where he got the 9 years (not 10) from? Why would he stop his widow from using the land for agriculture?

His Will also notes that the rest of his estate (including 4 cows, 6 heifers, 1 mare, household goods and his purse) were to the value of £17 and 10 shillings.

Again, there seems to be some kind of plan here. No doubt the family had worked long and hard to buy their lands, and so giving them up was something they wouldn’t do easily even after the current holder’s death.

Wenham appears to be restricting his widow Mary – stating that she is not allowed to do anything to the land other than profit from it, otherwise she’d forfeit it to their son. However, it doesn’t state that during the oddly chosen nine years, that Wenham isn’t permitted to farm it. This would leave the farming decisions to his son and heir, and therefore give him an incentive to work and build it up until he himself inherited it for his family.

Wenham Jnr did live beyond the age of 21, married and had at least 4 children. I have not seen Wills of Wenham or his younger brother Robert to see what happened to the land.

The Barber family infographic

Combining my love for genealogy and infographics – yes! it’s a genealogy infographic.

I’d been looking for an excuse to combine my love for infographics (small chunks of information delivered as graphics) with my love for genealogy, and now I’ve achieved it. Here’s my first attempt at combining the two.

Using the data buried in my Reunion10 Mac software (see Reports > Statistics), I’ve managed to pull some key figures from the data I have against my maternal Barber family in a bid to make genealogy that little bit more interesting for those relatives who nod and smile when you start talking about ‘the tree’ and hand them a print out showing names of people they’ve never heard of. Maybe this format will help capture their interest and give them some interesting/quirky facts to remember.

An infographic showing Barber family data
An infographic created using my Barber family data.

I had quite a bit of fun making this, so will probably create some more in due course.

Click the image if you want to see a larger version.

Wordless Wednesday – a double wedding in about 1913

Wordless Wednesday – this week is a photograph of a double wedding taken in about 1913.

"Annie Barber and Mr Smith" double wedding
A double wedding for the Barber family in about 1913.
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