Monday, 11 April 2016

Roots

The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a kickstart at getting me to write something here. So, it began with a visit to Preston and the surrounding area to spend a weekend with Lorna and Heron. The plan being to meet up and have some discussions about Brython (spangly website update and a new blog incoming) and generally have a catch up. I will probably do a write up of that another time. Suffice to say coming away from that weekend I had something confirmed what I had probably been aware of it a roundabout way; I don’t feel and sense of roots to a place any more.

I grew up in Fishguard on the west coast of Wales; lots of history, much of it prehistoric and a long family history on that patch of land (300 years I can find in genealogical documents and 2000 years from Y chromosome analysis). When I was living there and for the first few years after moving away, it had a strong and definite sense of home to me. Since leaving almost 18 years ago, I have lived in Cardiff and Portsmouth for a few years each and have been in London now for 9 years. In London though I still don’t feel a strong sense of belonging to the place and am definitely leaving in the next couple of years to move to a more rural or at least much less urban area – I am not meant for long term city living. I find the one place I know about the landscape; know its history, its stories and have a sense of connection to the landscape itself is the one place I don’t live and wouldn't really consider to ever go back to living in again.

Which leads on to the next thing I want to mention. Lorna has a VERY strong sense of the landscape and it’s hidden history, she showed us around, showed us the lane the faery funerals walked, where the springs were than were broken up and the aquifer that was killed…all tied together by Mary of the Marshes. When I got back to London I did a little searching to see if I could recall some of the similar stories about my hometown – the one story that keeps coming up isn't so much as folkloric or mythic but is rooted in historical fact; the Last Invasion of Britain.

Back in 1797 the French had a go at invading Britain via my hometown. They were foiled by a local shoemaker called Jemima Nicholas. She and the local ladies scared off the French who were about to land by wearing their traditional costume (red and black) which the French mistook at a distance for British soldiers. They landed further round the coast, looted a farm, got pissed and were rounded up and forced to surrender by Jemima and her cohort.

Local lady becomes Folk heroine. 

There was a huge bicentenary celebration back in 1997, a 100ft tapestry made by the locals to mark the story and its events (very Bayeux Tapestry) and a woman from the town ‘voted’ as Jemima Nicholas. She spent years wearing the costume, being something of a tourist attraction in and of herself whilst also working for charity – kind of like a really awesome mascot and figurehead for the town. I knew of the lady in question, Yvonne Fox, and she was a bit of a character. What I know of Yvonne and how she came to be this badass historical lady has made me think that the ‘Jemima’ of them is worthy of being on my ancestor altar.

I might well have written about this before, but I have a problem with ancestors; most of them were very devout Catholic or Baptist, so the notion of ancestor veneration seems inappropriate. Sure, we could do the condescending thing of saying “Oh, but they know better now” but that really doesn’t lie well with me. To me, my more recent ancestors are best honoured by my genealogical work, remembering them, who they were and how they lived.

Jemima is more of a tribal ancestor; not direct but embodying something important. Yvonne – she died a few years ago too embodies something of the spirit of my hometown; that slightly badass and strong female character I know of in many other women from Fishguard.


I found a photo the other day of Yvonne as Jemima and it is beautiful. This is going to go my altar and drinks – Yvonne liked a drink – will be raised for her.

1 comment:

Lorna Smithers said...

It's good to see our meeting inspired you to start writing again :) Thanks for sharing some of the local history from your current home. Jemima Nicholas and Yvonne have fab stories and sound (and look) well worthy of veneration.