It’s always exciting to discover a relative who had a bit of money, or at least owned some property here and there. It makes you feel slightly above other genealogists who so far have only been able to trace labourers and farmers in their family tree. Not that my family is that superior, mind you, but I was quite excited when I started putting two and two together yesterday afternoon, and managed to get a broader picture of my 19th-century Vickress ancestors.
I often find that writing down a person’s entries in the different census returns allows you to chart a sort of backbone of their life. Coupling the date of birth and death, and you have the starting and finishing points of the life you have just drafted. Add the “side details”, such as marriage, the birth (and often death) of children, and so on, and you will realise you are actually (though possibly vaguely) starting to visualise a short biography of your ancestor.
The life of my 4x great-grandmother Elizabeth Vickress (formerly Gatehouse) is something of a mystery. I haven’t managed to trace her birth or baptism, nor her parents’ names, but fear not: this is what makes genealogy exciting. After becoming a widow in 1852, Elizabeth stayed in her adoptive Hope-under-Dinmore with a handful of her as-yet-unmarried children: the invalid Drusilla, the eternal bachelor Alfred (soon to be snatched into matrimony by his sister-in-law’s niece) and the seemingly unremarkable Jane, who died a spinster aged 42 without ever having landed herself a job in her life. By 1871 Elizabeth (noted in 1861 as a “householder“) was occupying two acres of land in Hope. Not bad for an old granny!
With an almost absolute certainty, the Vickresses were by the time living in Codling Hall, in Hope-under-Dinmore. This might sound very impressive, but a quick search on Google Books (Google itself was not much use) proved quite revealing. A short entry in the An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire (1934) explains that, despite its pompous name, Codling Hall is actually a cottage (I do not know how big it is, if indeed it is still standing); it is located some 350 yards north-west of the local parish church (which tallies with the 1891 census recording poor old Drusilla and her spinster, dressmaker sister Milborough living near the vicarage). Moreover, Codling Hall was built in the late 17th or early 18th century… Dare I dream that it was one of my ancestors who erected the cottage? Not quite sure if the Vickresses had already moved to Hope-under-Dinmore by then… Oh well. I can dream.
Codling Hall was apparently passed on to granny Vickress’s spinster daughters Drusilla and Milborough in the 1870’s (the other spinster daughters Jane had already passed away by then). The two sisters kept each other company until their own deaths (in 1901 and 1894 respectively); in all probability, Codling was inherited by their nephew, naughty uncle William Vickress (I’ll explain the naughty some other time), who already lived there by 1911; William’s niece was my great-grandmother.
Whether William left the property to one of his numerous children, and whether the house is still in the family, I do not know. Perhaps a short letter to the local vicar of Hope-under-Dinmore, or perhaps a blog comment by a local neighbour who knows more about Codling Hall, might prove revealing. Maybe I should just give it a rest.