Gilbert's Journey

From London to Wilkshire
a pilgrimage to the town of our Ancestors

By Gilbert Mortimer

The climax of my tour of Europe and England came the day before our tour group was to sail back to New York. It was Aug. 11, 1956; the only day we were given to do or go where ever we wanted.

While we were making our way up the Peninsula of Italy, I spent much thought on what I would do when I got to London and how I would spend my free day. Before I left home I put in my suitcase some letters, pictures and addresses I thought might help me locate some of my cousins in Western England.

When I arrived in London, as I could, I bought a complete map of the British Isles and began to look up towns around Melksham which is part of the address I have with me. The man at the desk in the hotel Mandeville was so helpful to advise me on the depot to go to, the time of the trains, and the streets to walk on form the hotel to the depot. (I decided to walk instead of taking a Taxi.).

Early next morning I left the hotel and went up James St. to Oxford which is a main street lined with big department stores much like owes in any large American city. Most of the buildings seemed to be brand new, and in empty spaces made by the bombings of the last war were signs that other buildings would soon go in to fill up the empty places. (Our guide said there were so many new buildings that she hardly recognized, familiar places this time.)

I walked several blocks down Oxford and when reaching the Hyde Park corner where there is located an arch and pillars that have an ancient look, I turned on to Edgewaire Road, after several blocks on this street I turned left on Sussex Gardens, from this turn it wasn't far till I was in sight of the Paddington Railroad Station on my right. Once in side I could see many tracks, and loading platforms a few people walking about, and signs around openings that indicated various concessions. I had time to look around but some of it was spent in trying to locate the ticket window. I finally found it in a very unexpected place, but there wasn't much to find. The round trip cost two pounds, eight shillings for First class. (In our money that would be $6.76). I choose Second class fare which came to $4.50.

I didn't get but a glimpse of First class. But the Second class coach was very interesting. On one side of the coach was a hallway right next to the windows where one could lean out and take in more of the view.

The compartments took up the other side of the coach the full length. Each compartment had a door to slide open and shut. Inside the compartment their was room for six or eight people. The two leather upholstered seats faced each other with plenty of room between for an aisle. My traveling companions were as much as I can remember. A mother and her little daughter, and a stiff appearing business man who bore the air of a typical Englishmen. After many miles through crowed towns and cities, then flat English countryside dotted with shocks of grain, and past a very quiet stream of water which I guess must have been a canal. I finally found myself alone in the compartment with a middle aged lady. Some way we struck up a conversation. I told her where I was going. She returned the favor and told me she was going to stop at the next place beyond Melksham. After we changed trains and were standing on the platform. I noticed the name Mortimore over a coal and lumber yard. I told her that was my name, except that the last three letters weren't the same.

This one experience with British Railroads tempts me to write some about the difference between there systems and the American way. My general impression was that they were trying to use much older coaches and locomotives, and they are not reliable either. The next train consisting of an old locomotive and two or three ancient coaches had to stop for repairs. I was delayed fifteen minutes before I could find another train that would take me to the next point of transfer (I had to make two transfers before getting to the last place.)

The freight cars were also very old and different. They looked like toys compared to the long freight cars in America. On the front and back end of the car was an arm that stuck out which was meant to absorb the shock when two cars would come together in switching cars.

The railway stations weren't kept in very good shape either. The roof in the waiting room leaked in several places when it rained.

I got a glimpse of this on my way back to London that night when it was raining.

Well, I finally reached Melksham after spending most of the afternoon on the way. The ticket agent didn't ask for my ticket so I was still carrying it when I walked into the little station on the edge of Melksham. Soon the local ticket agent came around the corner and asked to see my ticket, I surrendered it to him. Then I began to look around for a way to get up town. No sooner was my wish made than a taxi came up and the driver got out. He ask me what he could do for me. So I told him where to go he told me that where I wanted to go was three miles out in the country. His charge would be five shillings or $.70. He said he had to run a errand before he could take me, so he left for a few minutes, then he came back and picked me up. I was wondering how I would pay him the five shillings because I didn't have that much English money. He wasn't willing to take my American dollar bill. He solved the problem by driving past the bank. He waited outside in the taxi while I went in to get my dollar bill changed. He had to wait some time because there were two others ahead of me at the window.

I wish I could have had more time to take in the county scenes that I saw on the way to the rural community of Broughton-Gifford. I asked the taxi driver to let me off at some store where they would be more apt to know how to direct me to the right address. I had the address of the house my grandfather Mortimer was born in and I was sure that it must still be there because a cousin of our had visited the place in 1951 coming from Milwaukee in Wisconsin.

The driver let me out in front of a grocery store which they call a shop. When I went in, the clerk was gone and no customers were there either, but the owner soon appeared from the back room, their living quarters. I told the lady I was looking for the Mortimers and I showed her the address: of James Bull: 159 Church Green. First she told me that she was a Mortimer before marriage then she gave me directions to go to Church Green. I should go down to the corner where there was a garage, turn tight, finally come to a church, then cross a bridge and I would be at Church Green. I was able to follow the directions part way but instead of locating the church, I found myself going out of town again. Then I decided I would have to walk back to the shop to get clearer directions. After walking several blocks, I became aware of some one coming up from behind me. Just as I turned around there was a woman on a bike right behind me. She asked if I was looking for the Mortimers. She said her sister-in-law had called her by telephone and asked her to send the American over to see her.

When the lady on the bike gave me directions for reaching her sister-in-law's place I realized that I had passed that way on my jaunt from the little shop. I lost no time in getting back. When I drew near the house, I saw an elderly lady outside her door watching for me. I waved to her to let her know I was coming. Most of the houses in the village were behind stone walls and hers was too. I was invited into her house and sat down in the parlor. She told me that her mother was a Mortimer and that she thought she was related to my Grandfather's family. I told her that Simeon Mortimer had married my great-aunt Sarah. She remembered that her mother had mentioned Simeon. But he had come to America when he was a young man.

When lunch time came she ask if I had any provisions for lunch, when I said no, they said they didn't have much but I could eat with them if I wished. I was very glad to have an excuse to stay there longer because I was having such a wonderful visit. The lady's husband was nice to talk to also. They served something at the meal that I had never eaten before, it was called apple custard. It was a yellow sauce poured over stewed apples.

After lunch this lady volunteered to walk with me across town to make sure I found my way this time. She let her husband stay home because he wasn't able to walk that far (he was almost a invalid with a bad heart condition.)

Just as we got out of the yard, I was shown the wide open area called the common with houses coming up to its edges. It was against the town ordinance to build on the common. It seemed to be used mostly as a cow pasture without a fence. Perhaps that is the reason why so many people built stone walls around their yards. Across the common I saw a church that my new acquaintance had attended all her life. It was called the strict and particular church. She also told me the Mortimers and Bulls had occupied other houses around the common at one time or another when we got to the First Tavern, She encouraged me to take a look inside so I did. The door was ajar but no one was inside. I was told that this tavern contained the second biggest copper bar in England. After we passes the small post office. The woman suddenly stopped and pointed to a spot in the road. "There was the place George Bull dropped dead while riding his bicycle." She said. "He was on his way to pick up his mail." Then we went by the stone and brick public grade school. I was told that my ancestors had attended that school. Farther on I saw another tavern called the Fox and Hounds. Jim Bull, George's brother dropped dead while sitting in this place. Jim had been famous around this town as a good singer and sang every Sunday in their stone church.

Finally we reached the church yard filled with very old graves, some of which seemed to be on top of the ground and boxed in by slabs of moss covered stone tangled with vines. At the entrance of the church were low sections of thin stone that seemed to be more or less a protection. Set in these slab were some thick panes of glass known to then as Leper Peepers. The Lepers would hide behind these stones and look through the glass to see the people pass into the church. At the door was also a heavy iron foot scraper that the farmers must have used often before going in.

I found that our ancestors had the last seat in the back of the church as their family pew. Of course I sat in that pew a few moments. Then I went up to the choir and sat in the seat James Bull used to occupy. I was told by my father that a relative of ours died here while sitting or singing in the same choir. Between the pews and the alter was a stand or pedestal on which was placed an old Bible. It used to belong to great-aunt Elizabeth who married a Buckingham. Her son Tom gave it to our cousin Margery Bull, and Margery presented it to the church. Some of the Buckingham's were listed in the family records in that Bible.

We then went out of the church to look at the gravestones. The cemetery around the church was the oldest and had been closed to burials for perhaps around one hundreds years. The newest tombstone was right near the entrance gate. Here is the complete epitaph that I copied from it "Robert Bull baptized Sept.21, 1778- married Sarah in 1802. Robert Bull buried in 1868 in 91st year. Sang in choir 60 years. Was blind 40 years. Sarah Bull- died 1867 in the 87th year. Born, lived and died in this parish.

The new cemetery was just across the road where George and James Bull are buried. I saw stones with the name Mortimer on them. I rather think that this community must contain mostly relatives of a few families so that most of them are related in some way.

Below the cemetery flows a small stream called a Brook. It flows into the Avon, the same stream that comes through Stratford farther North. Beyond the creek is the house with the address I had started out to find just before lunch hour. I had already taken colored pictures movies of the common of Broughton-Gifford, the grade school, the old church and the cemeteries--new and old. Now as I came up to the old stone house the birthplace of my Grandfather Mortimer, I was doubtful I could get any kind of a picture because a rain was threatening. Also my film was all used up except for two or three feet. The lady with me, Mrs. W. E. Chivers, went up to the doorway of this house with me where the occupant stood waiting. After the introduction Mrs. Chivers started back home on foot and Marjory Bull, my third cousin invited me into her home. Marjory is the last member of the family having the family name. Jim Bull lived in the same house till he died. I think she called him Uncle Jim. I showed her a letter one of the Bull brothers once wrote my dad in 1920. Marjory took the letter and copied some of the information she wanted to remember about her family.

While her friend Emily went about getting afternoon tea. Marjory got out her family pictures to show me. I brought along some pictures that Tom Buckingham Jr. had sent my dad Marjory brought out one picture that was almost identical with one I had. It was takes of the Golden wedding anniversary of Tom Jr. and his wife they lived a few miles away at Bristol.

I surly was tempted to over stay my time because there was so much we would like to have asked about our families. I was surly royal treated as if I was their millionaire relative. The tea started with a huge glass of lemonade or orangeade. Then they brought on sandwiched, cakes and cookies. When tea was served, they started to pack a lunch for me to eat on the train that night. There were two apples in the lunch sack that they had picked from their own tree. They called it the Bullnose apple. It looked somewhat like a pear. Before I left Marjory took me up stairs to show me their two bedrooms. I noticed that even the upstairs windows in this stone house had no wood on the frames, just carved stone. The boards in the floor were quite wide as in the old fashioned houses. On the outside of the house was a shed built of cement blocks. This has been a recent addition, the roof was red tile.

Toward time for the bus that would take me back to Melksham, we went back to the church and had another look. I went past the interesting grave stone and stood by the road to wait for the bus. When it came I reluctantly bade good-bye and boarded the bus. The big bus was a two Decker very much like those you see in London only it was green ink keeping with the color of rural buses. I still have the ticket that the conductor sold me for eleven pence. just as I found a seat a lady turned around and asked me if I was from American. She had heard I was in town. She said their was a man in town that would just loved to see me . I told her I had to go right back to London because I was leaving in the morning for America anyway I took the name and address if the man. His name was Gerrish. (Since that time I have written several time to Mr. Gerrish, a retired farmer.) He had given me some very interesting facts about my great uncle's and aunts who remained in England. He also told me that the woman I first met in the shop was his daughter or granddaughter. He told me that he and his folks lived next to one of my great aunts for many years. I found the conductor friendly after the lady, just mentioned had to get off at the near the commons. he must have heard what I had told her about being an American. He took out his watch and showed me a souvenir coin that was made in America many years ago. But I had never seen any quite like it. It must have been one of the first coins made after the first mint was established.

When I got off the bus at Melksham I had almost and hour to look around before train time. I walked the full length of the town to get to the depot. On the way I stopped in a book store, then a candy store. In the latter I mentioned to the clerk that I had been to Broughton-Gifford to see the Mortimers and the Bulls. She told me that she was related to one or the other of those people in that town. Then another clerk stepped up and told me that she was also related to my relatives. When passing a factory, I got there just as the men were pouring out of the buildings, some of them looked rather dirty, but the predominant color of their clothing was a dark gray or black. Most of them were getting on bicycles.

Going back to London I think I had only one transfer to make. It was a rather busy station but not many seemed to be waiting in the waiting room. It wasn't too pleasant a place to wait. As I mentioned before the rain was falling and little streams of water was coming through the ceiling in two or three places. I went out to look at a long passenger train that was just pulling in, (it was my train, but I didn't know it then). One coach had the door for entering right in the middle of the coach, not at each end. The drain spout from the roof was pouring a flood of water down right in front of the open door so that some of the water was forming a puddle inside of the coach. Two of three men stood there waiting to get out and perhaps waiting to see of the conductor would move the train up a few feet so they could get out without getting soaked.. While they waited, they carried on a conversation with a man on the station platform.

When the train pulled into Paddington that night it was still raining. I walked over to a long lie of taxi and took the haled one. I had heard so much about taxi drivers being so reckless, but this man was so careful and brought me safely at last to the Manville Hotel where I had been only a few short hours before.

Some of our tour members were waiting in the lobby. They were ready with questions regarding how I had spent my day, and for about a half hour I gave them a full account of my doings. I think they were thrilled and I hope you have been thrilled too. I can remember it almost as well as the day I had this most wonderful experience.

*Note* We believe the gentalman in the picture is Uncle Jim.

Mortimer Home Page.
Broughton-Gifford photo Page.
The Bell on the Common.