Eleven questions.

Ariel, having been nominated as a Sunshine Blogger, had the task of answering several questions, and has responded by posting some of her own for her followers to answer if they feel so inspired. I thought I’d give it a go, and if you’d like to answer them too, feel free. Ariel’s blog is here:-

A Blog of Hours 

1. If you have a blog, what inspired you to start it? If you don’t have one, what put you off?

This is my blog part deux, as my first blog has disparu. But I started my first blog when we went to Australia on holiday, as a way to keep friends and family up to date on what we were doing without shouting it out on Facebook.

2. What is your greatest regret?

That I never saw The Beatles live. I was far too young, realistically, but whenever I meet someone who saw or met them I experience this pang.

3. Could you give up alcohol for, say, six months?

Possibly, but I would really miss it. I love wine, Katy cider and Disaronno!

4. Is there a painting or an artist that you have been particularly impressed by?

I saw The Candy Man by Alan Macdonald in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. I call it Christ on a Bike and it makes me smile. I love everything about it.

5. If time and money were no object what would you most like to do?

Go and live somewhere else and explore, not just stay for a holiday. I’m thinking Provence, or Canada, as long as it was sunny and warm.

6. Can you name five things that you are grateful for?

My health, my husband, my two daughters, the fact that I had a career in a profession I loved.

7. Do you believe there is a deity, a Supreme Being, a spiritual power, or some such?


8. What, for you, would be the perfect holiday?

Being driven around ( I say no to driving on the right), being cooked for, but otherwise being left alone to do my own thing. Not going to happen!

9. Who would you say has been most influential in your life?

My parents I reckon.

10. If you can drive, do you enjoy it?

Yes, I enjoy driving, as long as I know where I’m going. I get stressed driving places I don’t know, especially cities with strange junctions and poor signage (which lane should I be in now?) though the sat nav helps immensely. And see above regarding driving on the wrong side of the road. Turning right in France and finding myself on the left of the road gives me flashbacks (and I did it twice in the same place!)

11. Chocolate: yes or no? Dark, milk or white?

Yes, milk preferred. Cadburys especially. Dark chocolate can be too bitter and white chocolate is yucky, and actually isn’t chocolate.

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Illuminating Blackpool.


When I retired two years ago I joined the Red Hat society in order to meet new people and to be within a group to go on trips etc.
I had been impressed by the sight of the Raging Grannies in Victoria, BC, all dressed up in their finery and having a good time, and it turned out that my neighbour Lynn and another good friend of mine were already members of a similar group, and recommended the Red Hats to me.
We meet monthly at a garden centre cafe and I’ve joined the book group and quiz team. We’ve visited the Globe theatre, the National Memorial Arboretum and been out for meals and to the theatre.
Then the annual convention came up. It was held in Blackpool, a place I’d never been, and Lynn and I decided we needed a trip away so we booked a sea view room.
Five of us went from our local group, or chapter, one of whom was our ‘Queen’.
Now, I’m a plain and simple person who doesn’t go in for frills and embellishments on clothes, but I’m all for a bit of fun.
The title of the convention was ‘Illuminating Blackpool’ so sparkles and lights on costumes and hats were encouraged. I did wear some sequins and sparkle but some of the ladies’ costumes were beautifully flamboyant; they’d put so much thought into their get-ups.
Our hotel , The Imperial, was a very good one, as was our room.

We were well fed and we had dancing on the first two nights; those ladies had some moves!
Our transport was two vintage trams, but we weren’t far from the North pier and the Tower so Lynn and I walked along the prom on the times when it wasn’t raining.
En masse we caused quite a spectacle.
We had afternoon tea at the Tower ballroom, which was a mixed experience. We were squashed onto our reserved tables, unable to sit at adjacent vacant ones though they remained empty. I sat with some Bristol ladies; one of the joys of the convention was chatting to others from different parts of the country. The tea was cold by the time I was seated with them. I ate two sandwiches and a scone with jam, but something upset my tummy which made me feel unwell for the rest of the day. I did manage a dance with Lynn though; one she knew the steps to so I could soon catch on.
So I’ve danced at the Tower Ballroom!

Leaving the ballroom, it was warm and sunny and we spent some time reading the Comedy Carpet opposite the Tower. Such a fascinating piece of art that had us chuckling in recognition. At last I found a Victoria Wood sketch, my favourite comedian.
The gala dinner that night was spectacular, the room done up as for a wedding reception. Each chapter had their photo taken in a room which contained a framed photo of the Beatles (minus George) taken in that very room in July 1964.
Lynn and I swam in the hotel pool the next morning, Lynn trying a jacuzzi for the first time!
We had lunch in Harry Ramsden’s with our MK group celebrating our Queen Mary’s birthday. Delicious food but very filling.
That evening we went to a nightclub, Viva Blackpool for dinner, which we couldn’t do justice to as we were still full of fish and chips. The entertainment there was disappointing. The comic will never be featured on the aforementioned carpet. The Jersey Boys tribute was very loud, the lights were dazzling, and the ‘Frankie Valli’ was so off key a few times he had us squinting.


Lynn and I enjoyed walking back to the hotel rather than getting the tram, looking at the illuminations. There were even lights on the sea and the sky.
Before we left, one of the ladies who organised the convention read out her own poem which sums up the Red Hat ethos.
With her permission I reproduce it here:


Something strange can happen when you reach the age of fifty
You think that you’re still young at heart, you still feel rather nifty
But something has descended down upon your pretty head
And you find that you don’t like it, that much can be said.

It’s a cloak you cannot see and it makes you quite invisible
To all around, you’ve disappeared, no longer a desirable
When you were young, the boys would call and whistle from the scaffold
But it’s deadly silent now as you walk by when you are seen as “old”.

No-one opens doors or gives their seat up on the bus
You wonder if you’re really here or just a cloud of dust
No-one lends a hand as you struggle with your shopping
They strut right by, phones stuck in ears, it really is quite shocking.
Well, I know a little secret that will save you from obscurity
It never fails with certain ladies of let’s say, “maturity”
Dress yourself in purple, put a hat on your head
Add a pair of snazzy shoes and handbag, all in red

Get yourself together with some friends all dressed alike
And venture out , heads held high , it’s quite a powerful sight
You soon find people stopping in their tracks just to admire
This vision of such loveliness, you’ll find that you inspire.

They say “you all look wonderful” “you’ve brightened up our day”
“What is it that you represent, why do you dress this way?”
And youngsters stop, take out those wires that were plugged in their ears
And come to have a chat with these quite glamorous old dears.

You cross the road and find that you have caused a traffic jam
As people crane from car windows to witness all this glam
And tourists click their cameras and ask you all to pose
They want to wear your hat all trimmed with flowers and red bows.

It really is incredible to think you will be found
On a Japanese tourists Facebook page that’s seen the world around
No longer deemed invisible you are now a true celebrity
Bringing joy to people’s faces, a red and purple effigy.

So dump that beige old cardy that you used to hide behind
As you shuffled around Sainsbury’s with your trolley full of wine
Break open a bottle and celebrate your beauty
After all, it’s only keeping up your new found Red Hat duty.

The cloak of invisibility can stay with Harry Potter
Who can hide inside from Voldermort , who was an evil rotter
Our secret is quite simple and it’s sure easy enough
Red Hat ladies do not hide, they go out and strut their stuff.

© Amanda Lawrence – Queen Minx 2015

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The National Memorial Arboretum.

When a trip to the  National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire was suggested to our Red Hat group I was interested, having seen a Countryfile programme from there quite a while ago.
But even so, I had only vaguely understood the significance of this remarkable place.
Entry is free, and on arrival our coach was met by a volunteer member of staff who welcomed us and confirmed our reservation on the land train which tours the site.
It’s worth seeing the exhibition as you go in which gives an overview and information about the memorials. There are individual stories too, and a chance to record your own memory for others to hear. There’s a small charge for this, and here you also get a piece of audio equipment that you can use on your way round the Arboretum to hear information about particular memorials.

The train ride costs £5 and lasts 50 minutes. There’s a pre-recorded commentary and it stops twice on the route for anyone who wants to alight and visit adjacent memorials.
The site contains over 300 memorials of many different kinds. It doesn’t take long before a particular memorial gives your heart a jump of recognition and sorrow.
In addition to memorials for those who died while in the forces , for individual regiments and victims of battles, there are many other types, for example the Twin towers memorial , a road traffic accident memorial, a Stillbirth and Neonatal death charity (SANDS) memorial,and I was pleased to see a TOC H memorial TOC H  with its distinctive lamp as my Grandad Bill was a keen member.

There’s also a GCHQ memorial that, ironically, we couldn’t find. NB, do pick up a map as you enter; we didn’t!

The train continues slowly around the grounds, skirting the river Tame.
Of course there are the trees, over 40,000 of them of many different species. Individual trees have small plaques and there is an avenue of London plane and chestnuts dedicated to and funded by the police.
The War Widows wood was sponsored by those women who waited in vain for their men to return from conflict.
In the centre, and raised high on a mound, is the Armed Forces Memorial , dedicated to those who have been killed on duty or by terrorists since the end of World War 2.
To quote the guidebook ,”It is not just service men and women who have made sacrifices. Behind every name on the memorial there are the wives, husbands, partners, parents, children and colleagues who loved them and who live with the pain and consequences of their loss every day”.

After the train ride we had a couple of hours to look around, and I think I only saw a small proportion of the arboretum.
As it’s such lovely site with so many trees and flowers there were birds flying around; of particular note were the many pied wagtails.
Our Red Hat group attracted attention and questions about us as we wear our distinctive purple and red – we took in turns to answer!
There was also a visiting group of service veterans, dark jackets full of medals.
There’s a cafe, coffee shop, and also a chapel where a daily act of remembrance takes place, clean loos and a well stocked gift shop.
A heart warming and heart breaking place to visit. I would like to return and see what I missed on this visit.

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My Irish connection.


Dublin skyline.

I knew that my Mum’s family contained an Irish ancestor, but until I started doing family history research I didn’t know who it was.
It turned out to be Arthur Henry Conlan, who married my great great grandmother Annie Smith in 1875.
From censuses I found out that in 1881 Arthur, known as Harry, and Annie Conlan were living in Sudbury, Suffolk, not far from Annie’s parents Walter and Ann Smith. On the census it’s recorded that Harry was born in Ireland, but not where in Ireland.
All three of their children had already been born by 1881.They were Annie Emma Maud, my great grandmother, known as Maud, born in 1875, Walter Harold born 1876 and Ernest Arthur born 1880.
Harry was working for the Great Eastern Railway, and he had a set back in May 1882 according to the Bury and Norwich Post. The report says,
“Harry Conlan, a goods porter at Chappel station and formerly employed at Sudbury station, was shunting some trucks when we was knocked down and a wheel of a truck passed over his leg which was very much injured. He was removed to the Sudbury Hospital and the issue of this was his uncertain.”


Harry Conlan at Twyford.

Thankfully though injured he survived, and in 1891 he and Annie were living in Twyford, Norfolk. Harry is on the census as a ‘Railway Gate Man’. On this census his birthplace is stated as Ipswich, and 30 years have been added to their ages! His injury is noted in the last column, “( illegible in Railway Accident).”
Only Walter and Ernest were living at home; Maud was back in Sudbury living with her grandparents Walter and Ann, working as a drapers’ assistant.
In 1901 Harry and Annie were still in Twyford and Harry was still a Railway Gateman. On this census we have more information about his place of birth; County Dublin is specified.
No children were at home. Walter was boarding in a house in Sudbury, working as a commercial traveller.He worked for Slee & Co, vinegar brewers. Ernest was boarding in East Dereham, Norfolk, working as a railway porter.( He later became the chief inspector at Thorpe Railway station in Norwich.) Maud was also lodging, in Petersfield in Hampshire, still working as a draper’s assistant . She married Frederick Brett the following year.

Harry died in 1910, and is buried in Bury St Edmunds, (see previous blog post.) In 1911 Annie is living with Walter and his family in West Road, Bury, very close to the cemetery, in a house called Roscommon; a tantalising clue. Harry’s death certificate is in the name Henry Arthur Conlan.

So I found him through censuses and by his death certificate . I’ve been unable to find his birth certificate, and I doubt I will. In Ireland compulsory birth registration didn’t come in till after his birth. Even if he had had a certificate it could have burnt in the Public Record Office fire in 1922, which was housed in the Four Courts building by the Liffey,( more of that later.) I’ve been unable to find a baptismal record either.


Now, I had trouble finding Harry and Annie’s wedding record as well. I drew a blank until my cousin Evelyn came up with some helpful information.
A little more background so you know my relationship to Evelyn.

Frederick and Maud Brett had 5 children; Norah, my grandmother, Patricia, Bridget, Eileen, Evelyn’s mother, and Frederick Arthur, known as Arthur. So my mother Geraldine and Evelyn are cousins. Evelyn has family records and photographs passed on to her from her mother Eileen, which includes information about a judge from Dublin called Charles Harold Walker.
There is a photo of him – a serious elderly man, grey haired and wearing spectacles, a gown and an ornamental chain. On the back is written, presumably by Eileen, ,”Charles Harold Walker Q.C. of …Bray, Ireland…Great Grandfather.”



And tantalisingly, there is a letter to Maud (calling herself Mrs E. Walker Brett) from the secretary of the President of Ireland , written in December 1938. It reads, “I refer to your…proposed biography of your grandfather, the late Charles Harold Walker, Q.C., LL.D., and to express his Excellency’s opinion that you would get useful information from The National Library, Dublin…and the British Museum.” (No such biography has been found!)

So I looked for Harry and Annie’s marriage under the name Walker, and there they were. They married in London, at Christchurch, Greyfriars, Newgate. Arthur Henry Walker married Annie Smith on 9th January 1875; his father is named Charles Walker, profession not noted.

This is now my dilemma. Harry didn’t use the name Walker after his marriage as far as I can see. The family was known as Conlan, apart from in Maud’s letter quoted above.
Was Charles Walker Harry’s biological father, or was he unofficially adopted, or a ward?

Charles Harold Walker was born in Dublin between 1797 and 1807 according to censuses and Trinity college Dublin records. He achieved a BA then an MA then became LLB and LLD. He was a barrister at the Four Courts and I’ve found many references to him in local papers and in Griffith’s Valuation records.
In 1861 he was living in London with his wife Louisa (nee Moritz or Morris) and daughters Mary Ann, Emma and Frances Sophia. In 1871 Charles and Louisa were in Guernsey, but he died in Bray, near Dublin. While in Dublin I obtained a copy of his death certificate , which says he was born in 1804, and died in 1884 of ‘general decay’. Under this in the cause of death column it says ‘some years certified’ which I don’t understand. The death was registered by his daughter Emma, who still has the surname Walker.
I can find no official link between Arthur ‘Harry’ Conlan and Charles Harold Walker.
I will continue to search.

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Surprised by bricks!

While in Bury I spent a happy morning mooching in the Record Office.
I hadn’t ordered any documents and didn’t have any burning questions to answer.
So I just browsed the shelves and came across “Sudbury Survey – A history of the industries of Sudbury, Suffolk”, published in 1948. It comprised typewritten sheets clipped together, each section written by a different local person.

Having found my g x 3 grandparents on the censuses from 1851 to 1901 I knew that Walter was a brickworks foreman, then manager, in Sudbury.
So I was interested in the section in “Sudbury Survey” that covered the subject of bricks.
I learnt that in the mid 1800s there were 7 brickyards in that area, 2 where Walter lived in Ballingdon, the Victoria brickworks and Allen’s
Allen’s, the book told me, “…supplied the bricks for the Albert Hall and Kensington Museum, the bricks being transported by barge to Manningtree and transferred to London boats.”
Allen’s was in production from 1812 to 1939, employing 100 men. The local sand and brick earth produced 2 coloured bricks, the Red and the Brimstone or Suffolk White.


Several different coloured bricks on this house!

I really hoped that this was where Walter worked. This would have made an interesting section in my fictional Who Do You Think You Are programme!
So on to Sudbury from Bury St Edmunds, stopping off in the beautifully preserved village of Lavenham.

A bit of background:
Walter Smith was born in 1825, at midnight according to the wonderfully detailed information my cousin has passed on to me, the eldest son of Robert Valentine and Eleanor Smith of Clare, Suffolk. He had 6 sisters, though one died at 2 1/2 before he was born. His grandparents William and Mary lived I Dickleburgh, Norfolk.
Walter and Ann Smith married at All Saints church Sudbury on Christmas day 1849. Ann, nee Goody, had lived near the church. According to the 1841 census she lived in Church Street, All Saints parish with her parents Joseph and Harriatt Goody.
Walter and Ann had 12 children, two died as infants and one at 13. Annie, my 2 x g grandmother was the eldest of their children. Three other daughters married into the Toon family of Earl Shilton.



We stayed at the Mill Hotel in Sudbury, on the edge of town by the water meadows . We could see the tower of All Saints church from our room, and if the weather had been kinder we would have followed the riverside walk and over the bridge into Ballingdon.
As it was we explored the town, visiting the library, Heritage Centre, Gainsborough’s House and the Vanners silk factory shop before the heavens opened and we retreated to the comfort of the hotel.


I took the opportunity to search the newspaper archives on Find My Past to see what else I could find out about the brickworks and narrow down which one Walter worked at.
I was pleased to discover from the Bury and Norwich Post and Suffolk Standard June 5th 1888 that Walter was indeed the foreman at Allen’s brickworks, having worked there between 40 and 50 years at the time.
This information was in a report of the drowning of a young man who ferried workers across the river and Walter was a witness.

So we had an interesting time in Suffolk, finding out more about the family and exploring the countryside, and finding bricks much more interesting than I’d expected.

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Paying my respects to the Conlans.


Following a family wedding in Norfolk we extended our visit by returning to Suffolk.
We stayed at the Premier Inn in Bury again, conveniently located opposite the Record Office.
On the Sunday morning I attended the morning service at St Mary’s, a five minute walk from the hotel, a church where some of my Brett and Wade ancestors were married  and probably attended.

I had a very warm welcome. The vicar’s wife sat with me and chatted away, and the couple in the pew in front turned and spoke to me several times.
I enjoyed the service though I didn’t know any of the hymns.
Sunday afternoon I walked to the cemetery in order to find the graves of Arthur, Annie and Walter Conlan.
I had been unsure about how to find the grave locations, but an online enquiry to the Bury St Edmunds council started a friendly correspondence with Sue who gave me the information I needed.
Helpfully, she listed the names on the adjacent plots in addition to the grave and compartment numbers.

The map at the Kings Road entrance to the cemetery is ‘upside down’ as you look at it, i.e. You are standing at the top of the map. It took a passing visitor and a helpful ex cemetery employee who looked over his fence to orientate me . With this help I stated my search for the graves.
Arthur, listed as Henry (his middle name) and Annie share a common , or unpurchased plot, along the boundary wall of West Road.

As no family live in Bury now, it’s unsurprising that the plot is in poor repair. It’s surrounded by stone, which is inscribed with their names and dates they ‘fell asleep’, Arthur in 1910 and Annie in 1924. Arthur’s name here is Harry, the name the family called him. ( A man of many names; a different story!)
Walter, their son, lies very close to them, just the other side of a path. He died in 1936 and is in a double plot by himself, as his son Harold bought the plot for both parents but his mother Elizabeth moved away, to where I haven’t discovered.
Sue at the council suggested the council could purchase the vacant plot from us, but as Harold didn’t marry or have children as far as we know, and as I’m not directly descended from him, it’s an offer we can’t take up.
Walter’s plot is also surrounded by stone, and there is a vase within it.
I had taken a table decoration from the wedding reception which I divided into three and placed them on the graves.


It felt good to visit.
Having done this I walked up West Road and found number 40 where Walter and Elizabeth had lived with Harold and their two daughters. Annie and Harry/ Arthur also lived there towards the end of their lives.
They called their house Roscommon. I take this as a clue to our Conlan ancestry, though as yet I have no proof!

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96 tears.

It’s taken me a little while to find my 96, but at last I’ve found it.

Last weekend we visited the V&A museum to see the

You Say You Want a Revolution  Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 exhibition.

Headphones don’t guide you through verbally, but play relevant music for the section you are in. I was delighted to see a young boy really grooving to the Beatles’ track Revolution while immersed in the display. There were handwritten Beatles lyrics, stage costumes worn by Sandie Shaw, Mick Jagger, several of Mitch Mitchell’s costumes and many more. The brocade jacket worn by John Lennon while recording the All You Need is Love telecast is remarkably beautiful.

There were sections on politics, space travel, mind expanding drugs, literature and space travel including a piece of moon rock. Also a section on the Whole Earth catalogue , which Alan tells me he once owned a copy of.

The Woodstock festival room was a highlight, interrupted during our visit for the two minute silence of remembrance. Poignant.

We exited to the inevitable shop where we bought the book of the exhibition and a CD set called Records and Rebels which includes the track 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians, a noodly repetitive track that I love.

96 Tears

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94; Memorial garden.

I found 94 in this touching memorial garden in Bury St Edmunds Abbey gardens

Many US airmen were based in Suffolk in WW2, and in Norfolk too; my grandparents were active in welcoming them.

And they are still here; at Lakenheath for example.

The Abbey gardens themselves are spectacular, worth a look if you’re over that way.


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93; After the great fire of London.


Last week I visited the Fire, Fire exhibition at the Museum of London, which is where I found my 93.

It’s on the key to an illustration of the post fire waterfront showing buildings, mainly churches, that had been rebuilt.

The exhibition is well done and contains fascinating artefacts such as a Bible burnt in the fire and contemporary letters. It examines the possible causes, what happened to the people who fled the flames and what happened afterwards. It’s made fun for children too. I enjoyed watching a small boy wearing a reproduction fireman’s helmet wrestling with a hose shouting’Fire!’



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Suffolk family history.


My Grandad, Wilfred Gardiner, did me a big favour by doing some family research back in the 1940’s. Of course back then he did this by travelling to the villages where we came from and looking at the parish registers themselves.
When I started to look into my family history my first task was to check his research against the digitised information on Find My Past, and as far as it’s possible to be certain, it’s all correct.
The Clarke and Gardiner families he traced came from villages east of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, Walsham le Willows and Badwell Ash. I was brought up in Norfolk, not far away, and went to school in Thetford, but apart from a few trips to Bury in my teens, didn’t know this area.
Last week we checked into the new Premier Inn in Bury in order to explore the area and see where my ancestors lived.

Walsham le Willows turned out to be a very pretty, friendly village. With the help of information from the local history society I identified a house that at one time was owned by Richard Clarke, my ancestor from the late 1600’s. The current owner was happy for us to take photos and I explained my interest. (Clarke is a common name here; there’s an agricultural merchant on the high street.) In the Suffolk record office I examined and tried to read Richard’s will. I also read his wife Alice’s will and an inventory of their property, which included a warming pan, trundle bed, feather bolster and a joint of bacon!

In Badwell Ash we went into the church to find a memorial that includes two of my Grandad’s great uncles, Herbert and Arthur Gardiner, both of whom lost their lives as a result of the First World War.
The church is in a very poor state of repair and is currently fund raising. The wooden angels in the roof are beautiful; we found more later in the roof of St Mary’s in Bury.
Three other branches of the family have Bury connections.

Walter and Amelia Brett, my great great grandparents, lived in Raingate Street in the 1851 census. Their house is no longer standing, but was where Alan is in the photo. Their house may have been like these two which were built in the 1880s. Walter was a bricklayer and I wonder if he helped to build the nearby Greene King workers’ houses, an area like Bournville in Birmingham.
Another Walter, Conlan this time, my great uncle, with his wife and three children lived in West Road. He was a local councillor and chairman of the Bury Constitutional Club in the 1920s. On my next visit to Bury I’ll look for his house and for his grave in the adjacent cemetery.

His brother Ernest, a railwayman, lived in Risbygate Street before he moved to Norwich. His house has gone too, but stood where this Yamaha dealership is.
Several Smiths were born in Bury, this is the family of another great great grandmother. For obvious reasons I’m wary of researching the Smiths!
I’m grateful for the help of three ladies in Walsham church who were busy dismantling a recent flower festival and Jenny in Badwell Ash who turned out to have been a Princes Risborough library user, but before my time.
Also the very busy but patient member of staff in the Suffolk Record Offfice in Bury. I need to return there too, once I’ve gathered more information.



One of the flower displays in Walsham church. They had a TV theme ; this display is This is Your Life. You can spot the name of someone I like who featured on the programme!

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