Hunting in London

I’ve spent the last week at the UK National Archives, trying to find the story of William Howet, mill-wright of Nottinghamshire.

My cunning plan to go through the taxation records didn’t really work.  They are too fragile, and in tiny 16th century handwriting in ink faded to pale brown on pale brown vellum.

The first day I was there, I was too tired (after 30 hours’ travelling) to do any real research, so I flicked through some old wills.

One was for Thurston Hawet in 1577, odd name, wrong spelling, and several counties away.  Partly out of amusement (because Thurston Howell III was the rich dude on Gilligan’s Island) I took a look anyway.  And that was quite interesting.  All of Thurston’s brothers and sisters died shortly before him (plague?), leaving his nephew and niece William and Ann.  Thurston left them some money, via his closest relative, his cousin William Howett of Fletton in Huntingdonshire.

William of Fletton owned a windmill, and his will (1594) refers to young William as his “servaunte and kynsman” — and he does mention Uncle Thurston by name, so we can be sure it’s the same one.

Thurston’s father (any my putative ancestor) was named Rees Howett, which rather boggled my mind.  I’ve been cheerfully assuming that my unlikely name combination is unique in the cosmos, and now find that I might be descended from another one 500 years earlier.  His father, Thomas, was one of the foremost Welsh scholars of his age, and the first to translate the Book of Revelations into Welsh (which I imagine would be a challenge).  So there’s some rich family history pickings with this line.

These wills and another by William of Fletton’s son John make it clear that my William was extremely young in the first will, and not yet 21 in 1594.  This would make him about 90 when he died in Nottinghamshire, old but not exceptionally so for that time.  There is additional circumstantial evidence that fits.  Unfortunately, I can’t find any compelling evidence (“I leave 5 shillings to my cousin William Howet of Eastwood”) probably because he had very few relatives left.  Thurston’s widow seems to have remarried a year later, so I’ll see if I can get a will for her or her husband.

So I’m not yet sure whether my expedition has been successful.  I did collect a whole stack of other material, and with more time I might be able to put some more pieces together.

I’m writing this at Heathrow, about to fly to Frankfurt to meet up with Allison and Owen.  We have made contact with quite a few of our past wwoofers, and look forward greatly to seeing them again.

Also this trip I’ve managed to see Kew Gardens, Hampton Court (bit disappointed), the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral and “Macbeth” at Shakespeare’s Globe (some great bits, but a bit brutal for me!).


Leaving for overseas

On Monday, I’m flying to London.  I’ll be meeting Allison and Owen in Frankfurt a week later, and we’ll spend three weeks visiting some of our former wwoofers.

I plan to visit the Globe Theatre, Hampton Court and some galleries, but mostly I’ll be locked away in the UK National Archives at Kew.

When I was 13, we had a school assignment to research our family history.  My ancestor who came to Australia was Dr Godfrey Howitt, born in the Derbyshire village of Heanor in a lovely old house that I have visited.  (This house has never been sold in 300+ years, and the present owners are very distant cousins… and when they go, it will be knocked down and turned into Council flats.)

Dr Godfrey was a quaker and an important figure in early Melbourne, and helped to found many of the institutions like the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Botanical Gardens.

I dug around and found a family history written down in the late 1700s, which said that my family were descended from the Hewetts of Killamarsh (Derbyshire) and in turn from Sir William Hewet of the village of Wales in Yorkshire who was Lord Mayor of London.  Killamarsh is a 28 mile drive from Heanor.  Wales is at the very southern point of Yorkshire, and just 3 miles from Killamarsh.

Even as a 13 year old, I was a pretty thorough sort of fellow and tracked down some other people researching the family.  One fellow wrote back to say that the traditional family history was a bit dodgy.  For instance, Sir William Hewet the Lord Mayor had only had one surviving child, a girl.  He found a chain of wills, which I now have, showing conclusively that the family goes back to William Howet, a millwright in the Nottinghamshire village of Eastwood, about 2 miles from Heanor.  This William died in 1664, and shows up in records from about 1620 when he had children in Eastwood — and that’s where the church records peter out.

Lots of people have tried to go back further than that.  For more than 30 years, I have done vast amounts of research on every William Hewet/Howet/Huet/Hawet/Hywet/etc in the English midlands, but still can’t make a compelling case to show where the millwright fits.  Alas most of the men in the family were called William, or otherwise Robert/Richard/John/Thomas, a pattern that continued for 500 years.  There are a lot of surviving documents, but the placenames change and spelling is wildly variable, or they get aggregated to the parish or the nearest big town.  It’s a mess.

So now I’m going back through ancient taxation records, village by village, to get a better picture on who was where when.  We have to keep our tax records for 7 years, but it’s sobering to think that the tax records from 700 years ago, and longer, are still available.  These will be in Latin on parchment, in the bizarre handwriting of the 15th century, but I expect to get some good information.

I love sorting through all this stuff.  It’s a bit like a murder mystery, with no guarantee of a tidy answer.  It’s fabulous handling ancient deeds and maps from 500+ years ago, and being able to make sense of them.

I have found a few interesting things already.  It turns out that the Lord Mayor had a nephew who himself became Sir William Hewet of Wales, and had four sons, so maybe the old family history is partly right.  Some of them seemed to have lived in Killamarsh, and spread further south towards Eastwood.    This was a literate Norman middle-class family.  Another confusing factor is that many of them were merchants in London with several country estates, so they pop up everywhere.

So my success factor for this trip is conclusively finding William of Eastwood’s dad.  I’ll let you know how I go.

A neighbourly weekend

Monday was a holiday to celebrate when the Queen’s birthday isn’t, so we had a three-day weekend.

We had a full house: my son Owen and his mate Ryan, Allison’s daughter Jessica, Jess’s partner Phil and son Deacon, and Allison’s cousin Gail (a regular at CF).  In the wwoof house we have Joonas from Finland, John and Claire from England, and Romain from Belgium.

Anyway, the days were sunny and pleasant, once the frost lifted.  We did some horse riding and various tasks around the farm.

On Sunday night, our neighbours Shane and Kerry held a bonfire.  They had cleared some old pine trees, leaving a huge amount of unsalvageable timber.  So they had a row of big bonfires, and a barbeque.  We all went over there and had a pleasant evening.  Our other neighbours on the corner, Tony and Meeka (sp?) were there too — we hadn’t seen them much since our own bonfire last year.

As we were leaving, we saw another fire bursting forth on the next hill, like a beacon fire of old.  So we headed over and visited our other neighbours across the paddocks, Martin and Gail.  They were quite good friends of ours when we moved to Cockatrice Farm, being related to the previous owners (who were also at their bonfire).  Again, we’ve been so busy lately that we haven’t seen much of them, and it was great to catch up.

I took the wwoofers out to the magnificent Bungendore Woodworks and back through the Lerida Winery which was a great way to end the weekend.  Allison didn’t come to that, as she caught a virus from Joonas.  She’s now given the virus to John and to me, so excuse me if I’m sore and cranky for the next few days.

A quiet weekend

A quiet weekend … how lovely.

Owen (my son) asked if he could have a friend over for a sleepover, so I did need to go into Canberra on Saturday morning.  Then the boys kept themselves busy for the weekend.

Then there was a Permaculture Goulburn meeting.  We proposed such an organisation a year ago, and were thinking of holding a barbecue to kick it off.  Actually we wimped on that when we got too busy, but now there are two separate and rival Permaculture Goulburn groups!  So I went along to a garden tour and caught up with some of the permaculture community.

Halfway through that, I got a call from Allison to say that our friend Jan — and two sons — had found some time to come over and mark (castrate) our calf.

Longtime readers of this blog may remember Tasty the Calf, and our previous attempt to sort this matter out.  Anyway, he has been up to his middle in clover in the bottom paddock, and Tasty the Bull is getting ever bigger, so this surgery was becoming increasingly urgent.

So I raced home and hopped on Paulie the horse to help round Tasty up.  Actually Jan and Shane (and their horses) did most of this work, but having a third horse really did help.  Heather the cow did challenge Jan, but then backed down and headed along the fence line and into our new stockyards.

With some juggling, and some heroics from Jan and Craig, we did get the calf into the crush.  This is a moving wall that catches the neck and (somewhat) immobilises the animal.  Mum (with the huge swinging horns) was in the next section of the crush and letting us know that she was seriously unhappy.

The next stage was rather slower than planned.  It turns out that highland cattle with their winter coat are really, really hairy.  It was quite an operation just finding the testes, and the calf had an unusually small sac and an undescended testis.  Anyway, Jan was able to deal with all this as a fairly neat job, but it did involve quite a bit of fiddling about restraining the rather unimpressed calf.  He did get through it all OK and is happy enough now.

We then resaddled Paulie and wwoofer Joonas had a ride — he’s now trotting really well.  Our other wwoofers, John and Romain, had the option of riding too, but weren’t so keen.  Then I did some work on my cantering, and Allison went for a boundary ride.  It turned out to be a lovely sunny day, so again it was great riding weather.

After that, we gathered the kids and the wwoofers and headed off to the Parkesbourne Old-time Dance.  I’ve blogged about this before; it happens twice a year and we regard it as our cultural duty to inflict this relic of 1940s Australia on our wwoofers.  John and Joonas came along, but we couldn’t convince Romain.  We all had a great time, and caught up with lots of friends.

Sunday morning was domestic duties.  The last few weekends have been rainy, so our laundry was overflowing.  We’ve made good inroads into that, and we also tackled the kitchen and loungeroom.

Allison killed a couple of ducks and made a stew.  I made some very yummy mince and fruit and spinach tarts (broadly to a medieval recipe) and John made some stunning bread.  Which we took to…

The Canberra medieval club ( had its monthly “pot luck” dinner.  This is a fairly informal gathering of about 20 people, in costume.  We (and wwoofers) had a good time there too.

And then home to bed.  Thank goodness for quiet weekends.


After our long and lovely autumn, it has turned cold and wet.  It rained most of the past weekend.

After the ute leaked in the rain, I looked around for a new backup vehicle.  (The Camry still has an unresolved electrical problem, which 4 garages have so far been unable to fix.)

I bought a ’94 Pajero for $4000.  It’s roomy, looks pretty good inside and out, has cruise control (great if you have to drive to Canberra regularly) and can pull a horse float on the odd occasion.

That’s pretty cheap for a car like this … what a bargain!  Yes, I do know what Pajero means in colloquial South American Spanish.

On the way home that night, some reasons for the price became apparent.

The big one is that the heater doesn’t work.  It looks very much as though the heater coil has leaked, so they have bypassed the heater.  This could cost a bit to fix, and we probably can’t hand the car over to repair until we can get the Camry back.

I had to travel around a bit on the weekend, and froze.  Now we are driving with a doona wrapped around us.

Also on Thursday night, I discovered that one of the windscreen wipers wasn’t working, and was jamming the other.  I replaced it from the local wrecking yard for $15, so that was OK.

The radio doesn’t work, which I knew about.  It doesn’t seem to be a fuse problem, so I’ll have that looked at by some experts too.

But it did mean we could all go out to see “Prince of Persia” at the movies, so things weren’t all bad.  Great film, and I especially love the obnoxious princess.