Family Reunion in Sussex 2002

One year after our first visit to England there was another family reunion, this one in the town where our family came from, Billingshurst.  Marcie and I decided we couldn’t miss it so we planned a short trip of one week.  We would be staying with our cousin Linda and her husband Richard, but did fly into London for a night or two at Fox Hill B&B to renew our friendship with the Haigh’s.

It is really great to get to know our family of 5th generation cousins.  We’ve been talking via internet and letters for the past year and here we are visiting in person.   The only way to learn about another culture is to stay in homes and B&Bs rather than big chain hotels.  This was going to be great!

Linda and Richard are amazing hosts and couldn’t do enough to welcome us.  They gave us a lovely tea with lots of little cakes, in fact this is where the previous story of Marcie and I expectantly waiting while Linda made tea, so we could learn how to make an “authentic cuppa”.  So funny how you get these notions from TV and movies.

Linda’s daughter Claire planned the entire reunion.  Claire is the one that has really done the family research.  She is the one that posted on all of the genealogy sites, looking for ancestors.  She really did a terrific job and found from the parish records, the internet and good old fashioned sleuthing many of our families homes, farms, work places and graves.  And so “The First Gravett Tour”, as this reunion was called, was born.

But for the first day Linda had acquired a hall close to her home in Billingshurst for all of us to meet.  Claire had made up a family tree that wrapped around the room and it was fun and interesting to follow the lines and meet the others that connected a few hundred years ago.  Claire and Linda made masses of food and Claire even did a cooking demonstration of some of the old English food that our people would have eaten way back when.  She actually made mead, a beer made from honey, a bit sweet for me, but I’m sure it’s an acquired taste!

If I kept a journal of this trip I can not find it.  However, I do have the itinerary and it was a lofty plan.  So for the second day we loaded ourselves into cars and hit the road in search of family haunts.   In Billingshurst we visited no less than 9 places where Gravetts lived, a plaque in St Mary’s church with our name on it, and 13 graves in the church yard.  We then moved on to Adversane to see a few houses and a granary that were once owned by the family.  We visited Wisborough Green, Petworth, Chiddingfold, Dunsfold, Cranleigh, Ewhurst, and Rudwick each containing homes, businesses, graves, and places where our ancestors walked, lived, loved and died, fascinating! 

There were over 20 of us in all and we had a grand lunch at The Blacksmith’s Arms pub, talking and laughing and uniting in our quest for the past. There are so many mysteries in my tree that I have yet to find the answers to.  When I retire I plan to put in the time to find them out and leave that knowledge with my children.  I am so grateful for the things I have found out about the people that came before me and indeed gave me the life that I have now.  It’s the stories that have come down through generations.  I love it when I find a connection and I think “yes, this is why I feel about this the way I do, it makes sense now”.  So many parts of your life you think are just random and then you find out another clue and it becomes clearer.  Gotta love that!

I’m so grateful to Claire for doing the research and to have the opportunity to go back to the land where part of my family originated.  Just to be where they were and to be able to visualize how they lived.  You can never know really how their life was and I know that.  There is enough story teller in me though to be able to imagine their lives in a fanciful way, not reality I know, but endearing to me just the same.  In this way they are remembered and maybe they go on and are not forgotten.  I sincerely hope that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will keep me alive in the same way:)


Wrapping up this trip

September 29, 2001

Our last day here and we’re so sad to leave, but happy to go home to our families.  Our hosts are heading out for a weekend away, so we say goodbye to them this morning.   It was so good to meet and learn about them.  The entire family is so generous and welcoming and we all totally enjoyed our time with them.

Marci and I decide to go into the city for our last day, see one last play, ride the train and tube one more time.  Jean has decided to hang out at Fox Hill for a day of rest and re-packing.  At first I didn’t understand why she would come all the way over and then sit in the car or stay here.  After spending some time here though, I get it.  Just to be here, to see the history, the gardens, the country.  To sit in an English garden with a cup of tea is really heaven. You don’t have to be constantly running, you just have to be there, breathing the air,  listening to people speak, eating the food.  It’s England!

The city is even busier on Saturday than during the week if that’s possible.  The trains as well, so much humanity packed into one place.  It’s astounding!  Marci and I climbed the 193 stairs at Leister Station from the tube to the street.  Not bad for a couple of middle aged women!!

We decide to see “Private Lives” with Alan Rickman, a Noel Coward play from the 30s.  It’s very funny and the sets and costumes are great.  I love that you can go to Leister Square any time and get excellent tickets to almost any play you are interested in seeing.  In a couple of hours you are swept away for a fraction of what you’d pay on Broadway.


After we arrive back at Crystal Palace Station we climb the hill to Church Street and stop to get a bottle of Bailey’s as a thank you for the Haighs.  They really did the most extraordinary favors for us from the very first day.  I don’t know what we would have done without them.

We walk up to the “Tales of the Sea” for our last fish and chips dinner in London.  We decide to get take away and have our dinner together at Fox Hill, and talk about all of the wonderful places we’ve been and then to bed early to catch a 9am plane.

September 30, 2001

We had to get to the airport three hours early because of the extra security.  I’m anxious to get home.   I can’t sleep on the flight home, thinking about all of the things we’ve experienced and people we’ve met and thinking about the people I love at home.

The Cotswolds and back to London

September 28th, 2001

We’re headed back to London and Fox Hill today.  We’ve seen so many wonderful things in spite of the cloud hanging over us back home.  First, we stop at a quaint little town with a river running through it.  The town is Bourton on the Water and the river is River Windrush.  Such a descriptive, beautiful name! I read that this city is called the “Venice of England”.  There are beautiful walking paths all around the town and many activities listed in our tour book.

We found a fun Christmas shop here and I got a couple of ornaments that are still favorites today.  We also came across a Scottish wool store.  I bought a lovely red plaid blanket (which one of my dogs has chewed up since)  I think I need to go back and get another, don’t you?  I got my husband a traditional wool cap that he still wears.

The drive is long, but the roads are good and the country is gorgeous!  Our car looks like we are living in it, piled high with our luggage and purchases!  We arrive back in London and drive straight to Fox Hill, now that we are old hands at driving, we even managed to find this place in London.  Quite a feat if you’ve ever been there as a foreign driver!

We arrived back around 2:30 to discover that although Sue and Tim have plans to go away for the weekend, they have decided to stay this last night with us and make us dinner.  Their German student Ann is also leaving so it’s is a double bon voyage celebration!

It’s nice to visit with Sue again.  We have come to England to see the sites and meet our cousins after my family search revealed them.  We feel that we’ve also made lifelong friends in the Haighs!

They both prepare us an exquisite dinner; a fine Merlot, sliced roast beef, marinated mushrooms, roasted potatoes, peas with zucchini and mint that are a surprise meshing of flavors.  Then comes the pièce de résistance, Lemon pudding with clotted cream!  OMG, decadent, lucky we can’t get clotted cream easily here, I’d be in trouble.

Driving in England

September 15, 2001

The day is finally here for us to leave the security of Fox Hill B&B to drive down to Sussex.  After hanging out in London these past 5 days, we were terrified.  Sue and Tim were also worried about us and offered to drive over near Victoria Station to pick up the rental car and then drive us out to the A23 so we don’t get lost in London.  Having never driven the opposite way before, this was a tremendous gift to us!  Marcie gamely took the first turn!

Driving in London seemed very hairy.  Most everything was built long before cars were thought of.  The streets are already narrow and yet cars are parked on both sides of them.  Street signs are either non-existent, they are up on the side of a building, or the street name changes right in the middle.  It moves pretty fast.  Then there are the roundabouts.  If you’ve never negotiated one, it’s a bit confusing.  Somehow people have learned how and when to yield and it all works for them.

Being from Southern California, we are used to very efficient freeways and almost any busy part of a city is four lanes.  We would not blink an eye if, say, we wanted to go shopping or to a restaurant 60 miles away.  You jump on a freeway and you’re there in less than an hour.  We soon discovered that you absolutely cannot gauge the time by the distance you are from something.

We left from the outskirts of London and it was nice getting out on a more open road. It is such beautiful country there.  It really didn’t take us too long before we got to Billingshurst where our ancestors left to go to America in the 1850s.  It is so beautiful and quaint and we both wondered why anyone would leave there.  Me, being the dork that I am made tentative arrangements to meet our cousin Claire.  We had been emailing back and forth for months, but never did we set a place or exchange phone numbers! I guess it runs in the family because she didn’t think of it either!

We went to a pub to try to find the number in a phone book and I couldn’t for the life of me remember anyone’s last name; except her Grandmother’s maiden name, and that only because it was my father’s Granny’s maiden name as well.  We finally gave up and headed down to Little Hampton, which is where Claire and her husband lived at the time.  Unfortunately, they weren’t listed in the phone book.   We then, as only a typical American would,  drove over to Chichester where the actual family reunion would be the next day.  Now this to me was almost as bad as driving in London.  It is a one way system, so all the traffic goes one way and once you get in that loop, it’s hard to get out.  We must have spent a couple of hours trying to find the Bedford Hotel where the reunion was planned.  We passed it once, but couldn’t figure out how to get back to it!  It would have been nice to stay the night there and then relax a bit before the reunion.

By this time it was close to 5 o’clock and we hadn’t had any real food all day.  We were starting to get a little nervous.   It had been really stressful driving all day, not being able to find anyone, in a foreign country and there was no room at the inn.  Apparently there was an old car rally of some kind and everything was full up.  We stopped at a hotel and they kindly called and got us a room in Brighton!  We didn’t know the difference, so we headed over to Brighton.  It was dark and we were tired and we drove around that city for at least 45 minutes before we gave up.

Now it’s around 8 pm, Marcie is exhausted from driving all day but we didn’t dare switch.  I haven’t yet had the pleasure of driving here and now it’s dark with lots of traffic. We thought we would just start driving west and stay away from the coastal towns,  looking  for anything at all.  We halfway joked about having to sleep in the car.  We came to this really cute town called Lewes, pronounced “Lewis”.  Narrow streets, quaint buildings and lots of tourists, but also no vacancies.  They tell us to go to a place called Hayward’s Heath.  It’s pitch black outside, nearly 9 0’clock and we still haven’t eaten anything.  We finally spot a hotel and turn in. It has two singles left, it’s kind of pricey, but at this point we are happy to take it.  Marcie ordered room service, but for once in my life, I’m too tired to care anymore.  A hot bath and sleep are all that’s needed.

Tomorrow is the reunion and I just want to sleep so we don’t look like zombies!

9/11 in London

After a very restful night, we came downstairs to a full English breakfast.  Now bear with me while I try to describe this traditional British meal which is their take on bacon and eggs; and since I love food so much,  hope I don’t get carried away!

Being American, obviously we do things as fast as possible: instant oatmeal, sliced bread, instant tea, numerous other quick alternatives. Not here, The bread was a good rustic loaf that Sue cut into perfect slices, about the same size. Very impressive and I loved that it actually went in the little toast rack!  Tim cooked up some bacon that I would describe as a cross between American bacon and Canadian bacon, meaty, smokey and flavorful.  He sauteed some whole mushrooms and tomatoes that we’re halved, the eggs were perfectly cooked and the plate was gorgeous.  There was blood orange juice, homemade jams and hot tea.  They also offered yogurt that is in vastly different flavors than what we’re used to here in the states:  Champagne rhubarb, red current, lemon curd, honey & ginger, banofee, and Valencia orange to name a few.  They are excellent and luscious, love them.

There is one common British breakfast food, however,  that I don’t understand, but to each his own.

  In a word, Marmite. To the American taste buds, well at least to this American’s taste buds, it’s like spreading a bouillon cube on toast.  Ugh, I tried it, but really, why?  Here is the definition from the dictionary:

(Cookery)™ Brit a yeast and vegetable extract used as a spread, flavoring, etc

Like I said, bouillon cube!



After breakfast Sue drove us to the Crystal Palace Train Station. It’s only a 7 minute walk, but she wanted to make sure that we found it.  We got on the train and headed for Victoria Station where the bus tours started.  I love Victoria Station, the bustle and excitement of people going places.  In 2001 they still had the departure boards that flipped. I had seen them in so many movies previously and Marcie and I just stood like a couple of idiots watching them constantly flip, it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen!

I went to the bathroom and it cost 20p !

We bought tickets for the double deck bus tour so we could get our bearings, as if!  I’ve been to London five times and I still can’t tell you where most things are in relation to anything else.  But it was fun and interesting as the docent pointed out famous buildings and statues, relating history with a bit of humor. We saw Saville Row, The Temple of Mithris (2000 years old), The Millennium Wheel, The Thames, Parliament, Big Ben, St James, churches, famous streets, and everywhere stunning architecture.

We got off at Trafalgar Square, chased the pigeons, had our picture taken in front of Nelson’s Statue, then headed into the National Gallery.  We were amazed to find out that most of the museums in London are free of charge!  We went in and saw original paintings by the likes of Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, and Pisarro.  We went especially to see the painting that Pisarro did of  the street where we were staying, Fox Hill.  Very cool.

We got back on the bus to head over by the Tower of London and a boat tour of the Thames.  We had bought a “British Heritage” pass and it was one of the tours we could take.

On the bus over as we were driving across London Bridge there were hundreds of business people vacating the financial district.  Leslie, the current docent on the bus, commented on it, wondering what’s going on.  We got onto the boat where there were 2 TV screens set up and saw the horrible scenes of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York.

Like the rest of the world, we were stunned.

I have a completely different perspective than most Americans because of this.  For one thing, we weren’t familiar with where to get information here.  At home I would have been glued to CNN.  The papers and television have an outsiders view so we felt distanced and not a part of what the nation was actually going through.  That first day, after hearing about it, we both decided that we were going to move forward and enjoy our trip.  There was nothing we could do and it wouldn’t do to mope around and change our plans.

What I do remember the most is being overwhelmed by the British people coming together to support the US.  Thousands of people leaving flowers and cards at the US Embassy. It was the only story on the news and in the papers and every venue is having some kind of memorial, prayer or moment of silence. There were special services at the churches and cathedrals.

That night we went to see “Les Miserables” and there aren’t words to describe how perfect this show was.  It was 18 pounds, which, at the time was about $27.00.  We were in the fourth row! Before the show started the actor that played Jean Val Jean asked for a moment of silence to honor the Americans killed that day.  To this day I tear up when I hear the music.

After such an emotional day it was good to have a calm place to go back to.  Tomorrow we are taking a tour of the Royal Mews and Buckingham Palace.

Confessions of a lifelong Anglophile

I have been enamored with England and its people ever since I can remember.  I think the reason is that I have always been interested in genealogy, even as a child.  Most of my ancestors were from England.  My Dad was raised by his maternal grandmother whose parents were both English.  Growing up in the 60s,  I was also in love with the British invasion, movies with Haley Mills and her Dad, English novels, etc.

Having said that, and being of an age when you really start to want to explore your family’s past, I went searching, via the internet for all things British. Thank God or Technology (whichever way you lean) for the internet! I started searching in earnest in 2000, using Family and Rootsweb where I found my cousin Claire from England searching as well.  I emailed her and she got right back to me with a photo of an envelope from her however-many-great- grandfather in England to my however-many-great-grandfather in the little town of Greyville, Illinois where my dad grew up.  She invited me to a family reunion in the south of England and voila, my obsession with all things English really kicked in!

My first trip over was in 2001, in fact, my first full day in England was 9/11!  I asked my cousin Marcie from San Diego to go with me to the family reunion.  She hadn’t been researching the family, but being a student of life she was more than happy to come along and meet the rellies.  I confess that I was naive on my first trip and I made my fair share of mistakes and assumptions.  My first being that I was from the big city of San Diego and wanting to show off a bit I took small films of our downtown, Lindburgh  Field, the traffic, the urban sprawl, etc. to show to my cousins there.

Wow, after a long overnight flight in which not much sleep was had because of the excitement, we landed in Heathrow at about 10 in the morning on 9/10, made our way through customs and to an awaiting car.  We had arranged this in advance with the people who ran the B&B that I booked in London.  They were amazing, but more about them later.  Riding through London to get to the suburb of Crystal Palace, we were both stunned at the size and population.  Seriously it was jaw dropping!

9 Million people in one place, the roads were built hundreds of years ago, so there is enough room for one car to pass in many places with cars parked on both sides of the road.  I was impressed with how it all worked so smoothly and politely. One car stops and lets the other by with a quick wave of the hand and then it weaves in and out like a choreographed dance, awesome.