09 August 2009

Family History – the Oxfordshire Connection

I have to admit to very much enjoying the Oxfordshire section of my family, about whom I knew very little until recently. Not to take away anything from the long-loved Suffolk and Scottish folk, but it’s nice to have a bit of variety, after all, and this lot certainly provide it.

I’m particularly diverted by my great great great grandmother Elizabeth (née Burman) and her second husband. She was born in 1802, married William Meades and had four children, and was widowed in her early thirties. She then married John Harwood, a stone mason from Charlbury thirteen years her junior, so only about ten years older than her eldest son (William the mason, as I always think of him). She then had three more sons: George who was also a mason; Henry, who was a photographer; and Alfred, who among other things ran an eating house in Shoreditch.

John Harwood may even have been a Freemason as well as a mason, which would have helped, but he does seem to have had the three things I always feel you need to get on in life: ability, persistence and luck. He kept a shop in Chipping Norton as well, and the family, including his younger step-daughter Sarah, evidently helped to run it. It was probably something fairly general to begin with, but by 1871 it was a toy shop (!) and he then went into dealing in furniture. That business lasted for some years, and was evidently so profitable that he and Elizabeth eventually retired to Worcester and lived on their own income. She died there at 89, and at some point he moved back to Chipping Norton, married a sprightly young thing in her late sixties called Hannah, and died aged 81 in 1903.

Obviously the paper records aren’t going to tell you what the man was really like, or how happy he and Elizabeth were. It wasn’t all roses, as their youngest son and some of their grandchildren predeceased them, for example, but some of the later Meades family history is really rather grim, and it makes a pleasant change to read about two people who were apparently prosperous and healthy, and lived to a ripe old age.