I recently read a blog post entitled ‘grave matters’ that highlighted the rapid rate at which some gravestones deteriorate, even over a few decades. The post also reminded me of the numerous parish churches that I visited when I first became interested in family history research. I remember my great grandmother, Granny Peg, naming the churchyards where each of her family members had been buried. I believe it was my Great Peg that said “The older I get, the more people I know in the churchyard.” She now rests in the churchyard alongside family and friends.
In one of my family history folders is a ‘Cemetery Records Form’ which was filled out in 2001 when I was fourteen years old, some twenty-one years ago! The form records the details found on many family graves at St. Paul’s, Bledlow Ridge, Buckinghamshire. Granny Peg lived in Bledlow Ridge where many of her family had lived for generations.
I remember coming across one of the older gravestones at the front of the church for the surname Eggleton. I had known that my 3rd Great Grandmother was named Bertha Eggleton (1873-1949), so I decided to record the details that were legible, not knowing if this was a family grave. The gravestone was clearly illegible in places as my notes include “can’t read inscription”. I was able to record “Jesse Eggleton, Died November 2nd 1888” and “Ann Eggleton, Wife of the Above, Died January 31st 1918, Aged 84 Years.”
You can see Jesse and Ann Eggleton’s gravestone in the image below.
Once I had returned home and looked over my notes, I discovered that this was the grave of my 4th Great Uncle and his wife, Ann Keen. Jesse Eggleton was the elder brother of my 4th Great Grandfather, James Eggleton (1850-1897), and uncle to Bertha Eggleton (1873-1949). Their father, Thomas Eggleton (1809-1876), was the farmer of Radnage Bottom Farm, which covered 230 acres. The 1881 census shows that James Eggleton was publican of the Two Brewers in Bledlow Ridge which is now a private residence known as ‘Whiteleaf’. In 1891, James Eggleton was living at Radnage Bottom Farm and was working as a carter.
History repeated itself a couple of weeks ago when I visited Bledlow Ridge one evening with my parents. I had been staying with my parents whilst on a research trip and we decided to take advantage of the evening sunshine. It always feels like I’m returning to my ‘ancestral homeland’ as every inch of the village is steeped in the history of my family. We parked opposite ‘Batting Close’ on Church Lane which was named after the Batting family who had previously lived there.
It’s difficult to write about a visit to the churchyard without digressing as I encounter family history at every turn. Turning right and walking towards the entrance of the churchyard we passed the old school that was built in 1874. My grandfather told me about many of his school experiences, but I will save those for another day!
When I still lived in High Wycombe, I would sometimes take long walks in the countryside. On one occasion, I walked from my home in High Wycombe to Bledlow Ridge. I took the path up to Hughenden Manor and followed the footpaths through Downley to West Wycombe. From here I walked towards Bradenham and then across open fields to Bledlow Ridge.
These were the villages where my ancestors lived and worked and it felt as through I was walking in their footsteps. I remember stopping at St Paul’s, Bledlow Ridge and finding foot-stones lined up against one of the chapel walls. Back then, it was much more overgrown and dark down the side of the chapel. Today, it is well maintained and much more spacious than I remember. One of these is the foot-stone for Jesse and Ann Eggleton’s memorial.
Visiting the places where our ancestors lived helps connect us with the past. My latest trip to Bledlow Ridge brought back many memories and reminded me of the stories shared by family members as well as those that I have uncovered through research.
There are still many more stories to uncover!
© Richard Holt, Holt’s Family History Research 2022