Meet The Ancestors, and the RelativesPosted: March 6, 2010
In November 2007, My mother and I visited our Welsh cousins, who still live in the home of our ancestors, and had a good look around.
We set out in the brightest of sunshine on the Friday morning and had a great journey right up until we crossed the border into Wales, when the heavens opened and that was the sunshine gone for good.
It continued cold and rainy for the rest of the trip, which is exactly how I remember Wales from when I lived there in the early 1980s.
The B&B we stayed at was really nice, run by a rather posh couple, (he, retired Civil Service, and she, a former “Point-to-Point” equestrian champion from another titled family, with fine old furniture and pictures etc to match ) so we felt very grand by the time we got home.
We went to the church at Abergwili on Saturday morning, and were shown around by a very kind and accommodating Church Warden chap, but the experience was rather frustrating and disappointing; the two oldest Philipps memorials were completely illegible and there was no sign of Griffith (1712-81) and Lucretia (1729-1810), my great, great, great, great, great Grandparents.
Lucretia, it subsequently emerged was buried at St Martin’s-In-The-Fields, in London. The only one of their children with a memorial there was John George 1, their eldest son. Most of the memorials were to the children of his son, John George 2, and all fairly dull.
I don’t mind admitting I had hoped for wall plaques to all the members of the Philipps family entombed in the vault beneath the Philipps pew in the church. I knew the remains of my great great great great Grandfather Herbert Martin Philipps were there, and those of his sister, Lucretia, who scandalised polite society by marrying a servant, Henry Harris, at a very young age and then spent the rest of her short life bearing his children and begging for money and favours from her family.
My ancestor, Herbert, a man of volatile temper who was a wastrel lieutenant in the local militia, gambled away all his money and died at age twenty eight, leaving his young wife and four children with not enough money to bury him. The family paid for the burial. To me they seem like classic Jane Austen characters.
I suppose Lucretia, Mrs Harris and our poor Herbert Martin weren’t really relations they’d want to shout about, as there was no indication of their presence there, other than burial records and other family papers. I have to admit I felt a bit crushed, and spent the time taking photos of the other memorials instead, desperately trying to disguise my disappointment. After this, we spent a fruitless hour or so in the the Abergwili Museum and then on to Carmarthen for a look about and a bite to eat, before the Main Event, our appointment at Cwmgwili.
Carmarthen is a pretty town, but the Library was shut for refurbishment, and St Peter’s, the main church, was all locked up, so no insight there.
On meeting my cousin Griff however, later that day, he was able to tell me that our ancestors do like to make their presence felt even though they have no memorial. Abergwili is so low lying that the vault floods from time to time and Griff told me of several occasions he can remember when the solemnity of Divine Service has been punctuated by the crashing and bumping sounds of floating coffins sailing about in the vault beneath!.. and considering John George 2 (my 1 cousin x 5 removed) was a 15 year old Midshipman for Capt Thomas Louis aboard HMS Minotaur, at the Battle of the Nile (1798), this seems appropriate somehow! This really appealed to my sense of humour I’m afraid!
Our cousin’s home was reached by driving up a mountain-side single track country lane for several miles, with nothing but sheep above to the right and precipice below to the left (luckily concealed by hedging) After a while we drove past some farm buildings and a gatehouse cottage hard-by two unpretentious, unmarked stone pillars. We entered. The driveway was very long and dark, under an avenue of beech trees with the ground stilldropping away to the left. The surface was poor and bumpy and we hoped we had found the right place, or that there were understanding people and a place to turn around at the other end.A couple of very sharp turns saw us swooping down from the left into a gravelled area, passing by the house on our right which was surrounded by trees and creeper covered as far as we could see.
The house is on a promontory halfway up the valley and it appears all higgledy-piggledy; many buildings of different dates jumbled together. It’s hard to get an overall impression, as there was no place (that we saw) from which you could see the whole house, we only really saw one side wall. The rendering is painted a bright custard yellow. I knocked at the only door I could see, a very non-grand looking door at one end of the building.
It was answered by Griff Philipps himself, a very tall, slender good-looking man in his 70s, beautifully spoken, with impeccable manners. He was pretty much my idea of an officer and a gentleman.
Entering a stone flagged hall about 40′ by (almost) 20′; our jaws were already dropping. It was lined with massive portraits, about 12 of them, (they have immense oil paintings the way we have wallpaper) It was like walking into a court room, or on a stage, as if one were being watched from all sides. The room was lit only on the right side by windows much overgrown with creepers so the light, which was poor anyway, was greenish. Both Mum and I felt as if we were going into a storybook world, only reachable by magical means. The long room was filled with ancient side tables, coats, boots, bicycles, toolboxes, wine racks, lawnmowers, crazy things you expect to find in outbuildings all over. At the far end of the room there was the most immense 17th century Welsh dresser, smothered in all kinds of interesting stuff. We saw no evidence of any pets though, which surprised us.
Turning left at the end, we opened a very wide but low door directly into a slightly smaller room. There was a grand piano, Persian, Caucasian and Baluchi rugs, silver framed photos of all sizes and ages, fabulous furniture, all slightly shabby; lots of books, magazines, cabinets of trophies, porcelain, silver and many exquisite miniature portraits. There was also a dozen more portraits of huge size, and an enormous fireplace with roaring log fire (the logs were each about 5′ long, just to give you an idea)
Elegant, but well used chairs and sofas were gathered around and this is where we settled down. It was quite strange to be sat exactly where our ancestors sat, and even on some of the same chairs.I handed over a whole lot of trees and bits of paper for Griff’s records, and he said that it would be very interesting for his grandchildren’s sake to have all this kind of information at some stage in the future.
Griff and Ingrid were so nice, and took trouble to put us at our ease. We also met their second daughter Charlotte, her husband, William and their (gorgeous) 3 year old son Griffith who shook our hands like a true gentleman, before shyness sent him scurrying back swiftly to Mummy and Daddy.
The son of the elder daughter, Marianne was upstairs somewhere, on his Playstation, and did not appear. I’m afraid I didn’t catch his name. He lives with Griff and Ingrid much of the time, as I understand his parents serve in the US Military overseas, but I did catch that despite his US accent and dual British / US nationality, he definitely thinks of himself as Welsh, and he and his cousins attend local Welsh speaking schools.. (no-one I met there displayed the slightest trace of a Welsh accent, but their pronunciation of Welsh place names showed they certainly knew how to speak when necessary) The youngest daughter Ebba (pronounced Ev-va) joined us to listen to what I had to say, and she was a really lovely girl (looking much younger than her thirty six years) who was friendly and intelligent and seemed very interested in everything I had to say. I seemed to hit it off with her, and we were soon chattering and laughing like friends. Both she and her sister were on a weekend visit from London.
Mum mainly talked to Ingrid; a tall, tweedy lady of effortless elegance; who had baked a delicious plain “Sunshine” cake ( a Swedish recipe) with a flaked almond top which was delicious, (and still warm) to go with our cup of tea (“China or India?”—-and there’s me, just used to teabags!)
It was incredibly dark in there, throughout. I think their electricity supply must be a lower voltage, probably from a generator. I’m pretty sure the house is off the grid. It was REALLY dark all through the house although many lights were on..but it might be because it was panelled with wood everywhere (white in the sitting room, dark in the adjoining dining room and in the passages and staircases) The electric wiring was certainly antediluvian, I can easily imagine the place burning down.
The house is formed from two mediaeval halls sandwiched together, we were told, and from an aerial photo, it looks like a backwards question mark. Most of what is visible is Queen Anne period with a lot of Georgian additions, but all of that has been crafted onto the much older mediaeval buildings; not a straight line in the place. It’s massive; not a palace, but certainly a mansion. A pocket palace, one wearing a corset, with big rooms leading from one to the next, or at most, separated by the narrowest of corridors. It felt undesigned and unplanned; spacious in the rooms, but cramped everywhere else. It feels VERY old The walls are amazingly thick and the windows have the most incredible views across the valley of the Gwili to the opposite hill, where their son, John George G and his family live in a house directly opposite his parents bedroom. It was from there we saw him get into his car and drive away up the hill. John George G’s house is probably the best place from which to look at the big house from the outside.
Griff took me on a tour of the portraits and I photographed the ones he said would be of interest. He had a couple of printed catalogues for all the pictures that someone from the University of Wales had done for him. In the sitting room I photographed a number of pictures out of courtesy, though I knew they weren’t my ancestors, but in that main sitting room were, opposite each other, a huge portrait of Griffith Philipps 1712-81 and his maternal grandmother Mary Gwyn of Cynghordy, who lived in the times of the Civil War and Cromwell. This second was a really good quality picture that looked to me like “school of Sir Peter Lely”, but we didnt discuss the artists so I dont know.
The one of Griffith showed a rather lumpish, round faced young man who seemed to be wearing some sort of turban. I’d say the portrait dates to about 1740 Unfortunately, I’m afraid the photos did not come out as well as I had hoped, although my Dad thinks they’re not too bad. He says it is hard to use “flash” on anything flat and shiny, so I guess I did quite well really.
Passing through a door by the fireplace, we found ourselves in the Dining Room. It was even darker in here, and just by the door, a small picture of Lucretia Folkes as a young girl, looking rather like an exophthalmic Virgin Mary (I was gonna say “pop-eyed Madonna” but that conjures quite the wrong picture to mind!)
They were actually unaware of our Lucretia’s many noble connections, but I’m guessing they probably weren’t all that impressed as Griff’s own mother was a very grand aristocratic lady herself; Lady Cuninghame, daughter of the 7th Earl FitzWilliam. I understand Griff was her sole heir and I conclude that many of the things in the house may be more connected to that family than to ours
Also in the Dining Room was a portrait of Fanny Hawford, “wife of J.G.2” who never lived at in the family home, as her husband preferred a house nearer town and let his brother Grismond take over. Her portrait is at the head of the wonderful antique table at which, I was told, the Queen, and her parents before her, had often dined in Griff’s father’s day, when he (Sir Grismond) was the “Lord Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum for Carmarthenshire” .
I also understand Fanny Hawford was rather ill treated by her husband and that he wasn’t a very nice man, and it is because of this, at Ingrid’s insistence, that her portrait now presides at the head of the table in perpetuity as compensation for being married to such a nasty man. My photo of her is the most disappointing, as the bounceback of the flash falls on her lovely face, but she was a pretty delicate looking little lady who looked like she was straight out of a Jane Austen book. She was the daughter of Smith Hawford and Mary Phippard Hawford of Portsea, where she was born in 1788.
Across from her was a fine picture of a man in a long, heavy, grey wig, who is believed to be Griffith Lloyd, the barrister, who, dying in 1718, bequeathed the house to his great nephew, Grismond Philipps, father of Griffith (1712-81).
Adjacent to Fanny’s picture was one of John Philipps of Kilgetty, who became the 6th Baronet Philipps of Picton, wearing the dolphin motif of the Sea-Serjeants, a society of Jacobite sympathisers. It is a very fine picture of him as a young man in a blue velvet coat, very much superior to engravings of him I have seen on the Net, of him as an older man. Next to him is a really delightful (and matching) portrait of someone I was told was his sister (and certainly the two pictures look like twins) although I have not discovered he had a sister, but there is such a striking likeness it was immediately noticeable.
Passing on to the stairs, and possibly the most beautiful lady in any of the pictures was Eliza Catherine 1787-1878 who married the barrister Peak Lewes Garland (not Pentre Garland as stated in the printed pedigrees) She was the daughter of J.G. 1, and her son, with whom she lived until her death, Arthur George Garland 1822-88, became Vicar of St Katherine’s Church, Littleton, Harestock, Winchester; this village being, (co-incidentally), my own birthplace. It was here that Eliza died, aged 90 and classed as a lunatic (probably dementia)
There were some very old pictures of some Stedmans of Strata Florida at the top of the stairs, but I didnt get a picture for some reason, and I wasnt 100% sure who they were in relation to me. We were being called down for more tea I think, and it was getting quite dark. We saw some pictures from the 16th century in a lovely study room, but again, like the exquisite picture of Lord Stafford in the Sitting Room I think they were associated with the FitzWilliam family. In the same room was a miniature silhouette portrait of JG1. He had a very large nose, as do his descendants, but they are all nice looking especially Ebba.
There was a stunning mid Victorian picture on the stairs of “Miss Philipps who married Mr Saunders Davies” I ventured that this would be Frances, but Griff said he had thought her name was Elizabeth; so whether he actually meant Elizabeth, daughter of Col Owen Philipps of Williamston Pembs. who married Daniel Arthur Saunders Davies or Frances Philipps, dau of Grismond Philipps, who married their son Arthur Henry Picton Saunders Davies is not entirely clear. Either way, the lady in the picture was apparently a bit of a martinet and had a taste for whipping her servant girls etc, and she certainly looked scary enough.
In former days, some servants talked of seeing the white clad lady about the place in spectral form, but Griffy said it was nonsense of course. The house felt welcoming and happy, although the entrance hall was admittedly very spooky.
By this time, we had been there a couple of hours, and it was getting very dark. We were conscious of the fact that Griffy and Ingrid had not yet had a chance to spend time with their visiting family and we wanted to get away and find ourselves an evening meal before going back to the B&B. Mum wanted to negotiate the driveway and the lane before it was dark, but we were too late, it was. We said our goodbyes and thanks and left, neglecting in the process to take their email details!
We returned to Abergwili Church on the Sunday for the early morning Holy Communion Service (alas the Book of Common Prayer 1984 edition, rather than the traditional one, but mercifully not the beastly over modernised one from “Common Worship”) It did give me a thrill to take Communion there though, and at the end of the service, (taken by the vicar of St Peter, Carmarthen, Will Strange, in lieu of the Abergwili vicar Leigh Richardson, who was on his Territorials duty in Iraq) we were approached by a good number of the congregation who had been friends with the late Sir Grismond and who told us of picnics and tea parties held for village children back in “the old days”.
It was lovely, everyone was so nice and friendly. We returned to the B&B after that, before driving home. It was an amazing and electric experience for me, and it gave Mum a terrific lift too. She had been very down since her adoptive sister Maureen died, a couple of months before, in September, but the change in her was amazing after this. At the time we believed her to be the last surviving grandchild of “Grandma Stroud” who claimed that her great grandfather was “related to a lord” My adventures of last summer when I rediscovered my mother’s biological sister after a lifetime of looking is really the subject for another blog.
Want to “meet with” my Great Great Great Great Granddad, Mr Herbert Martin Philipps?
What an amazing find this was, and it was a real compensation for finding him with no memorial in his burial place.
The extracts are from the Memoirs of his friend Henry Angelo. (E.O tables were a casino type game, a primitive and early form of Roulette. E.O is an abbreviation for “Even/Odd”)
In the year 1781, there were swarms of E.O. tables in different parts of the town, where any poor man with a shilling only might try his luck. They were open to every body, till at last the Bow-street police began to interfere.
Herbert Philipps (his father was known in the House of Commons then, a Welsh member) and myself, I believe, were the two first “malheureux” who had the misfortune to receive their visit. One night coming from the play, we went to one of these tables, kept a few doors under the Piazzas, near the theatre.
It was on the first floor, at a hatter’s, named Pond, and when we saw it, we could not refrain from entering. Up-stairs we marched. We had not been long in expectation of returning home rich, when suddenly in came Justice Addington, and Wright, accompanied with Bond, &c.
We were all of course very much frightened, and hastened to the fire-place, leaving sundry silver coins on the table. We were innocent as lambs, for each persisted that he had not been playing, only looking on, nor even when called upon would he confess that he had left any money on the table.
Not so, however, with my friend Herbert, who was a rum genius. “Sans ceremonie, ” he marched forward, and said, ” Six of the half crowns are mine.” “Take them up, young man,” said Addington, ” but never let me see you at a gaming house again.” “The rest of the money “, (no one having courage to come forward), “shall go to the Poor.”
After taking down our names, and telling us what we were to expect if ever seen again at a gaming table, we were suffered to depart home. The proprietor of the table, a little hump-backed man, was sent to prison, where I heard he died of grief. This was the commencement of the alarm that afterwards was spread among the other E.O. table keepers.
In 1780, when Herbert Philipps was my companion, we made an excursion to Portsmouth. It was in the very heat of summer. At night we took our seats on the top of the coach from Charing-cross.
For hours the heat continued, when about three o’clock, A. M. came on a cold damp mist; the fields around appeared like a sheet of milk ; at six, a broiling sun, which scorched us. till ten, when we arrived at our journey’s end. Though much fatigued, before breakfast, both of us plunged, indiscreetly, into the sea, heated as we were.
After a good doze and a hearty dinner, we went to Portsea Common ; the 14th regiment of Foot were on the parade, and it was there I first heard Carter’s ” Oh Nanny, wilt thou gang wi’ me,” and seeing twelve men of war pass by at the time, on a secret expedition, the melody produced an additional impression upon my mind, so that the recollection since remains of the delight I felt at the time.
The next day we saw the Flora, Captain Peere Williams, bring in a prize, the Nymph, & French frigate. On going aboard, the havock which had been made, and the sight of the wounded, gave us a dreadful idea of a sea action. We now began to feel the imprudent effects of our sea-bathing, for not only did the skin peel off our noses, but we were attacked with a slow fever, which kept us some time from pursuing our intended ramble to the Isle of Wight. It was very fortunate, that our indiscretion did not produce any worse consequence.
Op Cit. “REMINISCENCES OF HENRY ANGELO, WITH MEMOIRS OF HIS LATE FATHER AND FRIENDS, INCLUDING NUMEROUS ORIGINAL ANECDOTES AND CURIOUS TRAITS OF THE MOST CELEBRATED CHARACTERS THAT HAVE FLOURISHED DURING THE LAST EIGHTY YEARS.” VOL. II. LONDON: HENRY COLBURN AND RICHARD BENTLEY, NEW BURLINGTON STREET. 1830.