The Littleport Society Open Day 2015

The Littleport Society Open Day takes place at The Barn, Littleport, Cambridgeshire, on Saturday 19th September 2015, 10am – 4pm, with FREE ENTRY.

The Littleport Society crestThe Littleport Society are opening their doors on Saturday 19th September 2015 – with free entry to a range of specially built displays.

I’ve known the Society for many years, having helped them with their first web presence back in 1998.

Earlier this year I was co-opted onto their Committee, and this is allowing me to help them with digitally cataloguing their huge archive of items which ranges from dinosaur fossils, right through to Manorial Records, wartime documents, and the latest community leaflets and photos from 2015!

The Open Day will give you the chance to learn more about your Littleport ancestors, find out what your ancestors may have done, and how The Great War affected the lives of those in Littleport.

Entry and parking is FREE, and the doors open at The Barn (off Main Street) from 10am until 4pm.

For the latest information, check out The Littleport Society website.

EVENT: The Littleport Society holds Open Day on 20th July

The Littleport Society are hosting an Open Day on 20th July. Free entry!

My chums over at The Littleport Society are holding an Open Day on Saturday 20th July.

The Littleport Society logo

Held at The Barn, in Main Street, Littleport, the Society will be displaying collections of local memorabilia and photographs, taking family history enquiries, and offering its latest publications via their book stall.

The Society played an important role in my family history research – as the town which it represents, was home to several branches of my family, including Barber, Burnell and Gilbert.

The Barn, Littleport
The Barn, Littleport

Doors open at 10am, and the Open Day runs until 4pm. It is free to attend, and light refreshments will be available.

For the latest information about the event and the Society, take a look at their website 

Surname Saturday: GILBERT

Surname Saturday: GILBERT – The Gilbert family of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire are the focus of this week’s meme day.

This week’s Surname Saturday post is that of my paternal Gilbert family. My connection is through my paternal Great Grandmother, who was born in 1884, in Littleport, Cambridgeshire.

With the help of the research of distant relative Colin Tabeart, the tree has been found to stretch back through time as far as 1694 when the family turns up in Abbotsley, Huntingdonshire (now part of Cambridgeshire). It is here that they are noted in the parish records and taxation records.

It appears that the earliest Gilbert I’ve found (with, as yet, an unproven connection) was in Abbotsley, Huntingdonshire in 1605, when a John Gilbert takes his daughter Maria to be baptised in the parish church of St Margaret on 24th February.

Abbotsley Church
St Margaret’s church at Abbotsley, Cambridgeshire.

By the beginning of the 18th century, the Gilbert families in Abbotsley were booming with each seemingly having at least 9 children, and up to as many as 13 children over a 24 year period – as was the case of James and Anne Gilbert between 1752 and 1776.

In 1767 at Abbotsley, Elizabeth Gilbert (née Hale) – the widow of James Gilbert – is noted as paying a Land Tax of £1, 19 shillings to a Mr Robert Edsope.

In 1828, the son of my Gilbert line – William – leaves Abbotsley and heads about 40 miles North East to Littleport in Cambridgeshire, where he married Elizabeth Brightly. The couple settle down in Burnt Chimney Drove – an area of rich agricultural fenland just to the North West of Littleport, where William becomes a farmer. The couple bear 12 children, although sadly a few of these don’t survive their early years.

Whilst William’s relocation may well have been because of his love for Elizabeth, his parents – Edward and Susan Gilbert have fallen on hard times –  by 1851 they are both noted as ‘paupers’ and are living with their daughter Mary and her husband Thomas Cade. Susan has become blind, but goes on to live another 8 years. Edward only lived until 1852.

Elizabeth Howlett and James Gilbert
Elizabeth Howlett and James Gilbert

Despite this hardship, William and Elizabeth were making progress for themselves and managing to live outside of poverty thanks to farming. Their 9th child (also Edward and Susan’s grandson), James, was my Great Great Grandfather, and he survived his two older brothers. In doing so, and in an act not unusual or unlike primogeniture, he inherited his father’s farm in 1879, which by 1871 had grown to 40 acres and employed one family.

By this time, James had got married to Elizabeth Howlett – and they had already bore two of their eventual family of nine children.

The family still lives and farms in the area today.

2010 Littleport Show taking place this Saturday

This Saturday (24th July) sees the Littleport Show – an annual day out for the family from 9am until 6pm at Highfields.

Included in the line up of this excellent show is the return of The Littleport Society marquee – where you can meet members of the Society’s team and find out more about your Littleport family roots. Perhaps you’ll spot a familiar face in a photograph or parish record?

Check out the event site.

Littleport Society announce 2010-2011 meetings calendar

I’ve just received the Summer 2010 (Issue 77) of The Littleport Society magazine and with it came the calendar of their meetings at the Village Hall in Littleport from 7.30pm.

They are as follows, but please note that you should check before travelling and I take no-responsibility for any changes made to the line-up below. Non-members are always welcome.


  • 7th Sept: Brian Jones – “William Harrison the Fenland Poet”
  • 5th Oct: Veronica Bennet – “The National Trust Properties of Cambridgeshire”
  • 2nd Nov: Stephen Kelley – “Life in Britain during WWII”
  • 7th Dec: Iain Harvey – Christmas organ concert – this will be in St George’s Church rather than the village hall.


  • 4th Jan: Ken Wallace – “Autogyros and other flying adventures”
  • 1st Feb: AGM and Members’ Short Talks
  • 1st Mar: Janet Morris – “19th Century Rural Paintings”
  • 5th Apr: Les Millgate – “The History of RAF Duxford”
  • 3rd May: Tony Kirby – “Technology and the Victorians”
  • 7th Jun: Susan Oosthuizen – “Cambridgeshire from the air”
  • 5th Jul: Michelle Bullivant – “Poison and powder – cosmetics through the ages”

Tombstone Tuesday: James, Elizabeth and Willie Gilbert

This headstone stands in the cemetery in Littleport, Cambridgeshire.

The Gilbert family were and are land owners in the area.

The stone shows that Elizabeth and James died close together – perhaps one of a broken heart?

Willie Gilbert is their young grandson.

Elveden and the Brightwells

One of the family trees that I am currently climbing has a bit of an evolutionary name. The most recent incarnations in the late-19th century are ‘Brightle’, ‘Brightley’ and ‘Brightly’ as found in Littleport and Little Downham fenland, Cambridgeshire.

The latter two are clearly pronounced ‘bright-lee’ as in, ‘well lit’, but the first version seems a little odd. Perhaps it still is ‘Bright-lee’ but with just one ‘e’. However, after stumbling across a note that my ancestor John Brightly was born in ‘Elden, Suffolk’, I decided to see what I could find. Not only did he have this changing surname that I wanted to follow, he was also from outside the county – which in my genealogy is quite rare.

I already had a hunch of where ‘Elden’ was but checked it out on Genuki, which confirmed my suspicions.

Much to my delight, my ancestors appeared to be from the same Suffolk village that I had grown up in, gone to school in, and enjoyed living immensely – Elveden, on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. I havent’ lived there for more than 20 years now but this chance coincidence feels like a full circle! Do you ever get that sense of pride or excitement when you visit a place that your ancestor would have known well?

Fortunately, the village is in Suffolk and also classed as West Suffolk, which means that the parish records are deposited at the record office in Bury St Edmunds, so I knew I could easily pay them a visit to check up on the claim of John Brightly’s birthplace.

I found ‘Brightwell’ to be the chosen spelling, and several family members were listed in the births, marriages, and burials – including a Robert Brightwell noted as being a farmer in 1785. ‘Brightwell’ fits with the ‘Brightle’ spelling – if you think of it being pronounced as ‘Bright-all’ – not far from ‘Brightwell’ which with an accent could easily sound like ‘Bright-wall’.

The parish records are copied onto microfiche and it was easy to claim a reader for use. Unfortunately, the mid-late 1700’s registers were subject to some fading (or bad microfiching!) and some dreadfully wafty and artistic handwriting from George Burton the Rector. The earlier entries from the 1600s were immaculate though – clearly written, well organised, and the spelling was perfect.

After collecting up a few Brightwell entries that I could glean from the microfiche I departed, pleased to think that my Brightwell ancestors had lived in a place that I enjoyed living so much, and that I had re-trod their steps quite literally and obliviously by chance, some 200 years after them.

I was also interested to see in the 1700s, that the village was home to three family names that were there when I was a child and I think are still present there today: Harper, Turner and Gathercole – That’s more than 300 years of their family history!

Littleport Society forthcoming events calendar

The Littleport Society shieldI’ve just received the latest Littleport Society magazine and they are currently confirming the following calendar dates – all of which take place at 7.30pm at the Village Hall.

  • 4th December 2009 – Society Bookstall at the late night Christmas shopping
  • 5th January 2010 – Tessa West – Life of a Huguenot family in the Fens in the 1600s.
  • 2nd February 2010 – AGM and a chance to view the Littleport Master Plan – followed by a slide show by Bruce Frost.
  • 2nd March 2010 – Gordon Easton – Growing up in the Fens – a humble tiller of the soil.
  • 6th April 2010 – Bill Wittering – History of the royal mail

Please check with the Society before travelling long distances – they reserve the right to cancel/change the schedule of events at short notice.

The Workhouse

It’s unlikely that anyone would have wanted to go to the workhouse unless they’d lost all hope of finding support elsewhere.. but after two illegitimate children (Caroline and Edward Clarke), and an 1838 marriage to widower Mr William Bailey, Mary Ann Clarke and her family ended up in the Hartismere Union – which had workhouses at Eye and Wortham, Suffolk.

Mary is notably missing from the family nest in the 1841 census (no idea where she went!), but the rest of the new family are present and living together at Back Hills, Botesdale.

The family must have hit on hard times, as they are broken up by the time the 1851 census arrived. It’s unclear at the moment as to when the family entered the workhouse, but the births of a series of children may provide the clue as to the date after viewing their birth certificates. I’m assuming that at least one – Alfred – was born at the workhouse.

The 1851 census shows that Mary (39) and her youngest children Ameila (5), Francis (4), and Alfred (1) are living amongst the inmates of the Eye Workhouse. On another census folio, her husband William (45) appears. It was common practice to keep the men and women separate, although young children were often kept with their mothers until they were old enough to enter the houses of industry, or the boys were old enough to move into the mens part of the compound.

Over in Botesdale, and at the Ling House of Industry, was Mary Ann’s oldest (and illegitimate) son, Edward (14), having adopted the Bailey surname. He’s listed with other boys, some as young as 6yrs old. His step-sister, a daughter from William Bailey’s first marriage to Sarah named Louisa (18), is also in there too. The whole family is caught in the workhouse system… except for one – Caroline.

Caroline, my ancestor, and Mary Ann’s first illegitimate child, has escaped the workhouse. She’s the breadwinner in a way at the age of 17, although she’s far away from the family in Littleport, Cambridgeshire. She appears on the 1851 census at Mildenhall Road, Littleport, as a ‘House Servant’ at the home of Henry Flowers – a farmer of 250 acres and employer of 10 labourers. She too has adopted the Bailey name, and it’s this job as a servant that saved her.

In 1861, things are on the up. William and Mary appear on the census at Botesdale Street, aged 56 and 46 respectively. William is noted as an ‘Agricultural Labourer’, as is his 18 year old son Philip. Included in the household are Fanny (13), Alfred (11) and Charles (9). Living next door is son Ellis Bailey (21).

By 1871, William Bailey has died, leaving Mary Bailey as the head of the household. She appears on the 1871 Botesdale census as a 60yr old widow with her sons Philip, Alfred and Charles.

But by 1881, Mary, noted as a 68 year old widow and working as a housekeeper… is back at the Union Workhouse in Eye, Suffolk.

Today, the site of the Eye Workhouse, which was built in 1835 on Castle Hill (see map 1904 map below), shows no sign of its former workhouse architecture. In fact, modern development has hidden this piece of history with a number of houses.

Map showing location of Hartismere Union Workhouse at Eye, Suffolk in 1904.
Map showing location of Hartismere Union Workhouse at Eye, Suffolk in 1904.

The only slightly positive thing was that the family eventually left the workhouse and were able to support themselves for a few years before Mary returned there some 30 years after she had first arrived.

The workhouse had a purpose, and whilst conditions were undoubtedly grim for anyone that entered through their doors, they provide some basic conditions – food, clothes, a roof, and basic healthcare that would certainly have helped to keep the Bailey family alive.

I hope to visit a Norfolk workhouse at Gressenhall soon, and to delve further into what life may have been like for the Bailey family 150+ years ago.