The birds and the Belchamp boys.

Belchamp Walter is in Essex. Not that you would consider it an Essex parish, there are none of the tired old stereotypes here. Belchamps inhabitants are used to stepping over the border into Suffolk as Sudbury is only a three mile trip northwards.
Christ arriving at Jerusalem on a donkey (top left)
The church is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and is stunning. Not in a blowsy, showy sort of a way though. When I visited it had been raining heavily and I had driven through quite a lot of flood water with fingers crossed and small prayers not to stall. I reached the church down a lane that was awash and it was worth every damp second as soon as I saw the medieval wall paintings which pull you up short the second you walk through the door.
Christ attended by the three Maries
  In 1330 the Nave was rebuilt and a tomb-recess added on the north side. I assume that this tomb doubled up as an Easter Sepulchre where the host was taken for ritual entombment on Good Friday; guarded until Easter Sunday and then "resurrected". Above it there is a passion cycle, and the medieval morality tale of the "Three living and the three dead" It is unusual to see a woman in the hunting party challenged by the animated corpses  but not unknown.
 There is also an impressive depiction of the Virgin feeding the Christ child with a supplicant at her feet.  A breastfeeding woman would have been a common sight in the 1350's and it is a perfect way to illustrate how the divine; although conceived immaculately, was made flesh and had to be sustained just like every other human child.
Walking around it struck me how there is a bird theme in this church. One bird perches upon the top of the Madonna's canopy, and possibly another on her chair. There is the Pelican in it's piety (the pelican sustaining and sometimes reviving its brood from death with its own blood) and a hawk in the hunting party of the "Three living/three dead".
There is also a graffiti bird, on the Southern pillar of the tower which I was pleased to find. Birds have become one of my favourite graffiti motifs. The tower was added in the middle of the 15th century so this bird can be no earlier - late to roost in comparison to its plaster painted cousins. 
Belchamp Walter is one of the churches mentioned by Violet Pritchard in her book "English Medieval Graffiti", so I had an idea about what I might expect to find.  However, if it wasn't for an  incredibly generous churchwarden who trusted me with a key, I would never have found any of the Pritchard graffiti at all, due to the fact that most of it was behind closed doors.
Happily the names Pritchard mentioned in her book were there, crumbling, but still there, and the flower still bloomed over the tower door. I couldn't place the scale by all of the graffiti as some of the surfaces were just too friable. The point of taking photos is to preserve, not to disturb. 
One of the names detailed by Pritchard belongs to a John Gyllet, vicar of Belchamp from 1528-1560 for whom I found the following entry 'nuper vicarius manet ibi cum concubina' Roughly translated I think this means "In our time, this priest kept there a mistress". He sounds like quite a character does John Gyllet! It was a shame that I couldn't make out his inscription with any surety. 

I had to climb the tower, if I get the chance I always climb the tower. I didn't go all the way up to the top, because it just became too dangerous, too gritty under foot, too dusty, the stair treads too worn.
Graffiti found in tower staircases is frequently attributed to the bell ringers, and often this is quite accurate. Sometimes the bell ringers will even be so good as to tell you which bell they did duty with, but sometimes people mark out their place in history independently of any chimes.
It would be nice to think that some of these family names were still living nearby.

Not all were cut into the underside of the treads, some were written in pencil ...
...and when some were dated to the period of WWI ...
 I thought I would look a couple of them up. 

F.H. Scrivener, is keen to tell us that he is the sexton and clerk. In a very agrarian parish like Belchamp finding him in the records ought to be easy. When I looked at the graffiti in Troston it was hard work just to find a match, but in Belchamp the opposite proved true. There were just too many F. Scrivener's around and about. 
Same is true for Harry here. Who would have through that there were two sets of Scrivener brothers, both with the initials FS and HS? Not to mention the rest of the Scriveners who lived in the adjoining parishes, one Frank Scrivener who helped to run a pub, another Frank Scrivener who came to a very sad end in a chaff cutter!

One possible Frank Scrivener is 16 years old in 1914 and his brother Harry 11 years old living with their father Harry and mother Sarah at Rookery farm. I think that they are just a shade to young, so I  discounted them.
Fortunately for me Frank H Scrivener (the H stands for Herbert) sexton and clerk distinguishes himself by his middle initial and I find him in the 1901 census and again in the 1911 census. He is about 20 years old in 1914, his brother Harry C Scrivener 18 years. They are both still living with their parents James and Jane in North Waver Belchamp. Their older brother Frederick had already entered the army, enlisting in the Royal Tank Corps on the 5th of November 1909. 
When both boys were at school they won a prize for good attendance (Suffolk Free press news clipping May 25th 1904)  and when they left school they both found jobs in agriculture.

I find Harry again on March 1st 1916 at a Belchamp district tribunal (courtesy of the Suffolk Free press again).  Mr Wilson of Fisher's farm (120 acres) gains an exemption for his employee H.C. Scrivener. Younger brother Harry who is working as a stockman is considered too vital to the war effort at home and is exempted from joining up.
I can't definitively identify Frank, but he may have had an application heard at the same tribunal (RTB Payne of Borley applies for an exemption for Frank Scrivener a ploughman - refused).
Exemptions were granted for 3 or 6 months in most cases; so on the 12th of July 1916 Harry is back  with Mr Wison sponsoring him again. This time his age is mentioned (20 years old), his occupation (stallion leader, ploughman) and his application is refused. The chairman notes "We told you last time that when the stallion season is over this man will have to go".

So I don't know for sure why the boys scratched their names on that Dec 22nd in Belchamp Walter. But I suspect that they had an idea of what was coming and they certainly felt that they were more valuable at home.

Then I decided not to go any further. I had researched all the Scrivener lines in Belchamp Walter back to 1841 and had seen them though farm changes, deaths, marriages and misadventures. When I didn't find their names on the war memorial I allowed myself  a little hope that perhaps they came back to their church and their graffiti safe and sound.




Finding a cohort in Troston

photo courtesy of the Norfolk/Suffollk medieval graffiti survey
....or the attempt to make something out of nothing very much.

After success in locating the Woolryches and the Scarlets from pieces of graffiti left on church buildings I decided to see if I could do anything with the initials at Troston.

All the information I have is TC 1698 and TG 1597 scratched on a pillar in Troston church.

I found myself thinking... "This is a fools errand; what am I doing even trying to match a plausible person to a piece of graffiti?" After all, there must have been hundreds of people with those initials pass through the doors of this church.

I look online to see if the parish records have been transcribed by FreeREG but sadly not. The records in Troston start in 1558 (information courtesy of Phillimore), so that at least is promising. If I find someone online, I can check them against the primary source of the parish records later.

I have also assumed that the date is significant to the person leaving it behind -  and that it is not someone just passing thorough. The three obvious choices are birth, marriage and death but I need to find a group of people whose surnames start with the appropriate letters before I can even start searching BMD records - in other words I have to construct a likely cohort.

A wills index provides me with a few names, but nothing that I can usefully employ. It confirms that first name / surname is the standard format for recording names and I comfort myself by saying that only those people with anything worth giving away would need to have their wills proved. TC / TG may still be found, just not leaving substantial goods or property.

 A charity bequest in 1666 mentions two men with the surnames of Greengrass and Gilly. I make a note as they may be local families from whom the "TG" graffiti some 70 years earlier may be taken.

The Hearth tax assessments make interesting reading. Introduced as a kind of luxury tax, each hearth triggered a charge of 2 shillings, to be paid in instalments. One payment was made on Lady Day, the other at Michaelmas. The initial assessments (including those who were exempt because of their poverty) were made in June/July 1662.  Beautifully anachronistically spelt, the hearth tax assessments are a snapshot of every household, and the status which each enjoyed.

I am pleased to see the Greengrass(e) name again - holding the office of Constable this time. This return also throws up the family names of Cranmour and Coumer. Now I have some family names to move forward with.
 I've ascertained that the given name followed by family name is standard (from the wills) and that the first initial probably stands for Thomas(in), or maybe Tobias. I do this by looking at the incidence of popular names during the period.

I pick the later of the two dates and decide to focus on "TC". Is it too much to hope that this might be a Thomas Coumer or Cranmour? According to "A Suffolk hundred 1283" there 23 inhabited houses in 1674. The search is looking positive.

I attempt to put this information into a free genealogical search engine and worryingly don't get any  result that matches with the date. Mildly bemused I lose the initial letter T. I search on variant surnames - nothing.
This is a worry, because I know that there are two householders living in Troston with solid "C" second names; the Hearth tax return proves that, and it's fairly unlikely both the Coumer and Cranmour families have moved away lock stock and barrel before 1698. This means that the search engines either don't have this parish record fully transcribed.... their algorithm needs tweaking (some of the suggested hits are wildly out), or I'm just rubbish at searching.
I widen out and get a mash of suggestions. I read and read through thousands of people (no exaggeration). I try the variants, including other surnames that crop up in the parish. I factor in the double dates issue, and search a year either way. I shift to from births, to marriages, to deaths, but nothing concrete.
Cadge, Carter, Carpenter, Carpinder, Carvil, Catton, Chambers, Cook, Cancellour, Costin, Coe, Coo and my favourite Chris(t)mas: all of them have lived in Troston (this list is not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination). All of them searched through and not one of them has an initial T within the correct 2 year time window. I find a Thomas Coe born 1672 died 1748 but he has no reason to graffiti on the church.
I read through some happy events, like the marriages that took place. I find a book on marriage banns/licences that cover the area and scour that, but to no avail.
There are also sad entries. Thomas and Sarah Paske b 1697/8 who were probably twins, and who died before they were a year old; at the end of what was a severe winter (and it really was severe in 1698, the ice built up to 8 inches at some parts of the Suffolk coast). I almost expect more people to expire with the bad weather conditions.
No "TC" died. The closest I can get is two  deaths, those of  Sarah and Elizabeth Carpenter, which warrant further investigation.
Sarah is born and dies in the same year of 1699 - so as a child she must have had parents, a Mr and Mrs Carpenter somewhere. Elizabeth Carpenter (age unknown) dies in 1698 and another Elizabeth Carpenter dies 11 years later. There is in fact a Thomas Carpenter, but he dies and is buried in Troston on the 24th of April 1732.
This is like chasing ghosts... frustrated I turn to the geographical history for a break.
Troston lies in the Blackbourne hundred, some six miles north east of Bury St Edmunds. Bury has a grammar school founded in 1550 (they might have useful records).  Troston Hall was the seat of Capel Lofft, and Shakespeare's editor was born in the parish in 1713.  Troston's church is dedicated to St Mary and parish wise Troston  borders Ixworth, Colford, Ingham, Fakenham... rather a lot actually, as shown on the map below.

This is not good news. I have been searching and searching speculatively trying to identify matches using the parish name and date. I've looked at things like wills and hearth tax returns and charity bequests, all in an attempt to generate a cohort. But I didn't take into account  the movement of those people, especially through  and around these parishes with their odd vanishing point (which incidentally is a mere) and which means I now have another nine parishes to search through.

Do you know how many hits that is? It is a lot......

...I start chasing again and turn up the following
1) Thomas Carpenter who is buried on the 24th of April 1699 but at Great Barton (4 miles away from Troston).
2) Thomas Carpenter died 1704, again at Great Barton
2) Thomas Coe - born 1616 and buried on the 28th of May 1697 at Wattisfield (8 miles away). He would have been in his 80's when the graffiti was scratched
3) Thomas Cuttin, buried on the 18th of March 1696 in Thornham Magna (15 miles away)
That's it - I can't find any others in the area. My morale is in my boots.
In utter desperation I give in and purchase a months subscription to a genealogical website. With the Carpenter deaths in the right year they are my strongest name.
I allow myself a purely speculative fit of pique whereby I pull together all the Carpenters  that were living in Troston give or take 40 years and for whom the records are available and searchable. I plot them in, date and distance from the main date, and it falls out quite interestingly... 
There are no Carpenters in Troston in 1662 (according to the hearth tax assessment) and although the Carpenters could have been lodging with another family, there are quite a lot of them, probably enough to found their own household?
Which gives me some ground to argue that this group of Carpenters all belong to the same familial cohort. Now it is true that not all the births marriages and deaths can be neatly joined up. In fact, this supposition is built on deaths alone, which I accept, is weaker than birth or baptism records.
But having a male / female pair at +34 and +35 years away from the initial date of the graffiti and being the only people of that surname recorded in the parish, is (to my mind) suggestive of a married couple.

Which would mean that Thomas Carpenter who died and was buried on the 24th of April 1732 in Troston, (+34 years after the graffiti date) could be the husband of Jane Carpenter who dies a year later and is buried on the 21/2/1733  (+35)

If that is so, then the other Carpenters fall out like this (in chronological order).

Elizabeth buried 16/3/1698 (initial date of the graffiti)
 Sarah buried 24/3/1699 (+1)
 Elizabeth buried 6/4/1709 (+11)
Thomas 3/11/1710 (+12)
Mary buried 6/2/1713 (+15)
Mary buried15/1/1716 (+17)
They look like a sibling group, albeit a rather tragic and short lived one (that hard winter comes to mind again). You have the doubling up of names after the first recipient of that name dies, and the male child being called Thomas after his father.
Now time for the Maths bit...
If these children are siblings, then they are born within an 18 year spread; with the maternal death (Jane Carpenter) being 35 years from the birth of the first recorded child and 17 years from the birth of the last. 
If Jane's last pregnancy was at age 45 then Jane would have had her first child 18 years earlier, when she was 27. If she was 27 in 1698 then she would have died in her 62nd year (+35).
This now looks like a plausible family group and is it just possible that Thomas the father had the opportunity and motivation to scratch his initials, as head of the Carpenter family in the parish church on the interment of his first child in Troston's graveyard?
It's just a theory - and I feel like it's as sketchily scratched as some of the graffiti I look at  (I would still like it to be true though).
As for TG 1597... well that can wait for another day!


two sets of initials from Troston

Two sets of initials, enclosed in an house style memorial. In fact there are three sets of initials, there is another "TC 1770" hiding in the background, but that one is free ranging and doesn't have it's own little flag flying place of abode.
For a bit of a challenge, I thought why not see if I can fit initials to people? I have the luxury of time at the moment after all. Wouldn't it be nice to find a potential TG / TC and maybe work out why s/he spent a not insignificant amount of time scratching this particular design on the church. To this end  I'm going to work from the assumption that these are death dates (well you have to start from somewhere don't you?) 
Although I'm describing this graffiti form as "house"  It occurs to me that the initial's dwelling places could just as easily be tented pavilions with their little flags flying; and I do love those flags, despite them being still, they give an atmosphere of jollity to graffiti. I take a quick on line search through a selection of 17th c gravestones to see if there are any similar depictions  -  but there aren't. The existing 17th c graves are dominated design wise by the ubiquitous skull , sometimes with accompanying bones, but no little houses - which is a pity.
Back to the task at hand. Can I put a name to "TG 1597" and "TC 1698".
That should be fairly easy shouldn't it? Yet I have a niggle - possibly because there is a gap of nigh on 100 years between the two sets of initials? If the house cartouche is a regular graffiti memorial (and this is suggested by the almost identical design form) then wouldn't there be a few more cropping up on the churches? Quite a few more? Wouldn't there be little clusters of houses like family vault villages?  Or perhaps I'm worrying unnecessarily?
In some respects this is an easy, if totally speculative investigation . All I need to do is rock up at a county record office with a CARN ticket and start reading (in this instance) Troston parish records. Oh how I would love to do this, but I can't drive for another few weeks so I can forget that obvious line of enquiry.  
Most of the parish records on line require a subscription and a name that is more than just two letters. Therefore it would be better if I could generate a names list. I don't have to find exact individuals to start off with, but probable individuals would give me something to put into those on line genealogical search engines.
My notebook contains the following tasks...
1) Find a cohort of known family names from Troston in this 100 year period.
2) Determine alternative spellings for Troston and parish details
3) Research the popular Christian names in 17th century England starting with T G and C
4) Find out what educational establishments were nearby and see if their records are available on line.
5) Locate Hearth tax returns? This result should provide evidence of ways in which the local population were recording names as well as the names themselves (is are names recorded Christian name first or the other way around? 
6) Window tax returns?
7) Determine which families were be geographically mobile (such as merchants). This might give provide acquaintances'  and those people passing through.
8) Wills?
Which is all well and good .... I predict I will either turn up everything, or nothing, and being new to this kind of researching I hope it isn't too much of a humbling experience.