Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tracing the family tree in Chelsfield, Kent

Picture by Matthew Black

The Bo Peep Public House, Chelsfield, Kent

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, last Sunday we were hot on the trail of the family tree in Kent.

After an enjoyable few hours in Shoreham, we decided to move on to the village of Chelsfield which is located not far away on the outskirts of Orpington.

Many of my ancestors were farm labourers in Chelsfield in the 1800's and some of them actually resided at the pub pictured above - the Bo Peep.

I can think of worse places to live!

Unfortunately the village of Chelsfield is not as picturesque as Shoreham having had the misfortune to be transected by the busy Orpington by-pass constructed in the 1920's.

Just off the by-pass is the Parish church of Chelsfield, St Martin of Tours, which dates back (at least) to the 1100's and was the place where many of my ancestors were baptised, married and buried.

St Martin was born in Hungary in 316 AD and was forced to join the Roman army at age 15. Five years later, he spontaneously shared his cloak with a poor beggar and subsequently had a vision of Christ wearing the cloak. He became a Christian and left the army eventually becoming Bishop of Tours in 371 AD. He died in France in 397 AD.

Unfortunately, we were not able to find any gravestones bearing our family name. This is almost certainly due to the fact that our ancestors were lowly farm labourers and sadly would not have been able to afford any type of lasting memorial.

Another possible, although less likely explanation is that a German bomb exploded in the churchyard during World War Two destroying many graves and damaging the church's Victorian stained glass windows which were later replaced...

The sun shining through the stained glass made a stunning picture...

One of the other stained glass windows has an interesting story behind it...

The top panel of the window has a picture of a grasshopper on it.

We were racking our brains to think of any religious significance attached to this particular creature. We couldn't think of any bible stories that mention a grasshopper.

Back home, on closer inspection, it transpires that the window is dedicated to the Norman family associated with Martin & Co Bank, Lombard St, London.

Martins Bank was founded by Sir Thomas Gresham in the 16th century but ended up in the hands of Barclays Bank in 1969. The grasshopper appears on the Gresham family crest.

According to a legend, the founder of the Gresham family, Roger de Gresham, was a foundling abandoned as a new-born baby in long grass somewhere in Norfolk in the
13th century and found there by a woman whose attention was drawn to the child by a grasshopper!

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  1. A very interesting post! Doubly interesting for me, as my family lives in Kent, and my Grandfather worked for Martin's Bank from the early 1930s, and for Barclays once it was taken over. My parents have a massive, heavy brass grasshopper from one of the branches.

    At the time by Grandad worked for the bank, it was based in the north-west, I think the headquarters were in Liverpool.

  2. Hi London Girl - I'm glad you found this post of interest.

    You are quite correct, Martins Bank were based in Liverpool at one point.

    If you would like to see a close up picture of the window please have a look at http://www.flickr.com/photos/l2f1 - picture set St Martin of Tours.

    Best regards
    Kent Today & Yesterday

  3. Hi
    My family resided in Chelsfield from the early 50's til Mum & Dad moved to wales in the late 80's. Both my Sister & I were married in St Martins (both receptions held in the Village Hall) & our Mothers & stepfathers ashes are intered there. The Bo Peep was our Saturday night treat wwhen we were kids (in the late 50's.)Although everyone knew it as the Bo Peep, it was called, at that time, The White Hart, reverting back to the Bo Peep some years later. The Five Bells was run by Doug for many years & taken over by his son 'young' Doug (who's my age!) for many years later. It would be interesting to find out how long the family ran it for. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  4. Dear Matthew - I read your report from Chelsfield with interest, as I paid a visit there this weekend to track down my family history. I have a great grand-father who had a herd of cattle in Goddington, so there might be some overlap. If you are interested let me know and I will send you more.

    Richard Lander