The Maharajah and me

New BBC programme looks at the life of the last Maharajah, as I recall my childhood living with a piece of his legacy.

When I was a young child from about the age of 1 through to 10yrs, I lived on a country estate. Sounds rather posh, right?

Actually, it was (and still is) a large working farming and forestry estate called Elveden, right on the Norfolk and Suffolk border.

red brick gatehouse at Elveden
My childhood home at Elveden for most of the 1980s. Photo: Andrew Martin

Today, it’s well known for its Christmas trees, Centre Parcs, and finally getting its sweeping A11 bypass on the way to Norwich, but back then, it was my world. We lived in a red brick former gatehouse on the East side of the village, and my playground was acres of swaying cornfields and pine forests. We’d take long bike rides to see our neighbours, and what seems unbelievable today, we’d run across the A11 to go to primary school each day.

A few years ago, I discovered that my paternal Brightwell family had also been resident at Elveden almost 200 years earlier, when my 4x Great Grandfather John Brightwell was born and baptised there with his siblings during the 1780s. A fantastic coincidence!

Another coincidence happened earlier today when I received an email telling me about a new BBC Four documentary, and it’s piqued my interest because it’s all about one of Elveden’s most famous residents.

The programme is titled ‘The Stolen Maharajah: Britain’s Indian Royal’ that’s on BBC Four this Sunday 12th August 2018. Depending on your territory and licence, some of you may be able to watch it online.

The Maharajah

Born in Lahore in the Sikh Empire (now Punjab, Pakistan) in 1838, Prince Duleep Singh became Maharajah at the tender age of just 5 years old after the death of his father. He would turn out to be the last Maharajah of the Punjab, who was taken into the care of an official of the British Empire. He even had Queen Victoria as his godmother.

The Maharajah Duleep Singh
The Maharajah Duleep Singh

He surrendered his Sikh religion and signed away his ancient kingdom to the British – a decision he would come to regret. Instead, he would become a wealthy English country gentleman and part of the social elite, with his own country estate at Elveden.

His estate drew large shooting parties, where the social elite including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), Duke of Leicester, Duke of Athol, and numerous others during the 1870s. He really was in with the heights of British society.

Elveden Hall and pond in 1980s.
Elveden Hall is, as it was in this 1980s photograph, obscured by trees, hiding it’s Italian-styled exterior and its Indian-styled décor inside. Photo: Andrew Martin

However, eventually his relationship with Britain turned sour, and he would eventually leave for Paris.

I haven’t seen the documentary yet myself, but I look forward to it. The promo blurb I’ve been sent reads:

This is a documentary about the last Maharajah of the Punjab, Duleep Singh, who was wrenched from his mother’s arms as a child in the 1840s and put into the care of an official of the British Empire. Growing up in a colonial enclave in India, the boy king abandoned his Sikh religion and signed away his ancient kingdom to the British – decisions he would come to bitterly regret. He moved as a teenager to Britain, where Queen Victoria became his godmother. Duleep Singh lived most of his adult life here as a supremely wealthy English country gentleman, part of the British social elite. But, in time, his relationship with Britain turned sour. This documentary retraces the journeys of Duleep Singh and his family: from the royal palaces of the Punjab, to royal palaces in Britain, to his own English country estate, Elveden in Suffolk, to bohemian Paris. The programme uses recently re-discovered letters by Singh, letters and diaries written by those whose knew him, extraordinary photographs and surviving artefacts. We interview historians to get at the motives and inner life of Duleep Singh as he set out to recover his Sikh heritage and turn his back on his colonial past. This is a story from the age of Empire about someone whose life was defined by those historic forces.

The Maharajah’s legacy in Elveden

Whilst my lifetime did not overlap with the Maharajah (he died in 1893, in Paris, and I arrived 80 years later), the impact of his time in Elveden surely did. When he arrived, the Georgian house was vastly upgraded to become a huge hall dressed in Italian styled exterior and complete with some intricately marbled Indian-styled rooms. Staff were installed and with them came their families all needing to be housed in houses like my childhood one.

I was really fortunate to tour the inside of Elveden Hall just days prior to the Christie’s Auction of the house contents in 1984, along with my fellow primary schoolmates. I remember it being huge, and beautiful, even though he had not lived there for decades.

Christie's Elveden Hall auction catalogue, 1984.
Christie’s Elveden Hall auction catalogue, 1984.

I also remember being dared to ring the doorbell by my sister once on a walk past the front door (it was a daily route to school, right by the front door). I pressed it, heard it ring inside, and then some clunking sounds. I ran for cover behind my mother, and a bewildered caretaker and his daughter emerged.

The Maharajah also helped to upgrade the parish church in 1869 to cater for all the extra residents and staff in the village (it was further extended in 1904). The church sits just across from the hall, and it’s here where he is buried with some of his family.

I returned there in 2012 for my second cousin’s christening.

The Church of St. Andrew and St. Patrick, Elveden during the 1980s. Photo: Andrew Martin
The Church of St. Andrew and St. Patrick, Elveden during the 1980s. Photo: Andrew Martin

Whilst I can’t see any of my Brightwell ancestors still resident in Elveden around the time that the Mahrajah was resident, it’s clear that this Sikh Prince went on to have a huge impact on the place they once knew; the place I knew and loved; the British Empire; and the Sikh community.

I’ll definitely be watching.

VOTE: Your favourite episode from the second half of Who Do You Think You Are? (UK, Series 10)

Vote for your favourite episode from the second half of the 10th UK Series of BBC One’s Who Do You Think You Are?

So, the tenth series of the UK version of Who Do You Think You Are? has ended.

Following on from my poll on the first five episodes, it’s time to vote for your favourite episode from the second half of the series.

Voting lasts for one month.

BBC after home movies to tell the story of a family

BBC looking for individuals who have video footage of their family in their own family archives.

BBC logoI’ve had an email from the team over at Video2DVDTransfer, who are helping the BBC find personal archive video footage for use in a BBC2 documentary.

They write:

Help us help the BBC.

The BBC is looking for individuals and/or families who have charted their lives with a video camera – spanning decades and changing formats and technologies.

This is for a unique and fascinating BBC2 documentary that will hope to tell the story of a family by using their video archive.

Perhaps you know of a video enthusiast in your family who owns a camera and is prone to film big life events as well as the mundanity of day-to-day life? Whether it is filmed on Super 8, 16mm, VHS or digital, we are open to all formats.

You may have hundreds of hours of family archive sitting in your loft of you, your parents, cousins, siblings waiting to be pieced together – if this sounds like you or someone that you know, we would love to hear from you.

Contact us and we will pass on your details.

Email sales@video2dvdtransfers.co.uk

Video2DVDTransfer recently converted a 1987 primary school christmas play (starring yours truly in copious solo singing moments) from video to DVD and video file format. They did a great job of it, and carefully looked after my video tape and returned it with speed and care. You’re not going to see it though!

Who Do You Think You Are? – which celebrities will be in the 2013 UK series?

Utilising my search skills to see if i can find the celebrities that will feature in the 2013 BBC UK series of Who Do You Think You Are?

BBC Who Do You Think YOu Are? logo

The internet is full of the great news and excitement that the US version of Who Do You Think You Are? has been picked up again by network TLC.

This has got me wondering who will be featuring in the forthcoming 2013 series of the UK edition of Who Do You Think You Are?, so I thought that I would employ my research skills to see if I could find out (naturally, I checked Twitter for those on-set spoiler tweets).

Sarah Millican (Comedian)

Comedian and writer Sarah Millican couldn’t be lured into giving any revelations about what is lurking in her ancestry – even after I offered my own prediction:

Gary Lineker (former Footballer, Sports TV Presenter, crisp advertiser)

Gary’s involvement was confirmed earlier in the year, after he tweeted about it, joking ‘..I’m a descendant of The Elephant Man. Would explain a couple of things.’

One helpful follower pointed out a possible ancestral trait (his ears) that might originate from the African plains!

Prediction: The Lineker ancestors will turn out to have invented the potato, which they originally used to kick around, as they didn’t realise it could be eaten.

Nigel Havers (Actor)

A number of reports back in April suggested that Nigel Havers was filming his episode in Colchester, Essex.

Brian Cox (no, the Actor one)

Having already mentioned the series in passing in an article in the Scottish Catholic Observer in September 2012, actor Brian Cox also seems to have filmed an episode in this cafe in Glasgow:

Minnie Driver (Actress, Singer)

Hollywood A-lister, Minnie Driver, turned heads at Stockton Library when filming her episode back in February this year. The article quotes her as researching her father’s family.

In a short series of tweets, she added this (amusing?) snippet of information:

Have you spotted any more hints of who’s starring?

Who would you like to see go under the WDYTYA spotlight?

The BBC and Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine are yet to announce the official line-up of celebrities, and the date of broadcast.

In the meantime, while we wait for the new series, turn your speakers on, press play on the video below and close your eyes…. and imagine your very own episode..

Keep researching!
Andrew

Heir Hunters returns for a seventh series

BBC One’s probate research programme, Heir Hunters returns for a seventh series.

Probate research programme, Heir Hunters, has returned for a seventh series.

BBC Heir Hunters

The Heir Hunters programme, which follows probate research companies as they seek the benefactors of unclaimed estates, is currently showing during BBC One’s daytime weekday schedules and also on iPlayer (UK only).

As a fan of the show, I’m pleased to see it return, although know some friends who aren’t fans of the show – seeing the probate researchers as ‘money grabbers’.

In my opinion, if the estate is left unclaimed, and distant relatives have no idea of their relative’s death (or even existence in some cases), the commission that the probate teams earn is perfectly acceptable. In addition, with millions of GBP going unclaimed each year – it would simply go to the government if a probate researcher didn’t seek these out.

In addition, several previous episodes have acted as closure or a sad but welcome reunion for family stories and memories.

The first episode covers the cases of Prudence May Bone‘s railway family history, and a mysterious gentleman William Maxwell Naismith Wilcock, whose friends had no idea whether all his unusual life stories were true, and suspected him of being a spy.

The Bona Vacantia Unclaimed Estate Lists all the unclaimed estates since 1997 and can be viewed on their website. Is there an inheritance waiting for you?

 

A Victorian Christmas

I thought I’d take a look at last Christmas and bring you this video from the BBC’s “Victorian Farm”, featuring Social Historian Ruth Goodman.

Below is a compilation of Victorian Christmas treats to make.

The Mystery and The Monkey

James Martin (1851-1934), originally uploaded by familytreeuk.


The December issue of the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine features my photograph in their ‘Over To You’ section (page 36).

I’m pleased to see it in print – it’s such an interesting/amusing photograph – showing a real mixture of characters. There appears to be four railwaymen (like my Great Great Grandfather, James Martin who appears at the top of the photo with the monkey on his shoulders), but also some sailors too (their hats read ‘Albert’).

I think that the photo was taken in 1887. My reasons for this are that this was the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee (hence ‘Albert’ on the hats) and the jumpers of the ‘sailors’ appear to have “RTYC” (Royal Thames Yacht Club?) embroidered on them and they raced in 1887…..

“Ocean races officially organised by clubs were unknown until 1887. That was the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and a race ‘the like of which had never been known in the annals of yacht racing’ was announced by the Royal Thames Yacht Club over a course of 1,520 nautical miles round the British Isles. Later meetings at the Albemarle Street Club House refferred to this event as the Jubilee Yacht Race.” – Royal Thames Yacht Club history

I also think that my Gt Gt Grandfather looks like he’s in his thirties.

I’m amused by the ‘dwarves/smurfs’ at the front of the photo and also of the very scary looking ‘black beard’ pirate character lurking towards the back.

Who were they? What was going on? When was this? Where was it taken?

Hopefully the magazine will throw up some answers in the show’s web forums.