For most of us, the ancestral homes of our forebears are dotted around in many places. Sometimes they may even be located on a different side of the globe from where we live today. Even if you consider that you have a good grasp of geography, a place that you haven’t heard of before will appear on your radar that has some connection with an ancestor. How do you find out about it? I thought I would share my experiences of how I went about finding out more about a little English village in Hampshire.
Some years ago, 1993 to be exact, I ordered the birth certificate of my great grandmother, Elizabeth Jane Maton. She married my great grandfather, George Alfred Batchelor in the village of Cooling, Kent, but unlike him, she was not Kent born. Instead, she had been born in the small village of Amport in Hampshire:
Through further research, I have discovered that the Matons were living in Hampshire from at least 1760, when Robert Maton married Ann Elizabeth Annetts in Amport. The Annetts were residents there even earlier, from 1696. The purpose of this blog is to show you how you can find out about a place, its history, its records and the sources that are available to research your family history, focusing mainly on those that are are free to access or of minimal cost. This is not an exhaustive list of reference material but it will hopefully give you some useful ideas.
The first thing to do when confronted by an unfamiliar place is to look at a map. Google Maps is easy to use and will pinpoint Amport in the present day:
Google Maps reveals that the parish of Amport is irregular in shape, situated to the east of the town of Andover, and stretches to the county border of Wiltshire in its far north-west corner. Nowadays it is bounded by the A303 to the north. A tourist attraction, the Hawk Conservancy Trust, is in Amport, so you can view lots of photographs that visitors have uploaded to Google Maps. If you are a lover of birds of prey, you will find plenty to enjoy. The satellite image shows a patchwork of fields, indicating Amport’s rural character, even today.
I need little excuse to look at more maps. To find a map more contemporary to the time when the Maton family lived in Amport, the wonderful website of the National Library of Scotland is my first port of call:
There is a huge variety of maps available covering different time periods, to both view and purchase from the National Library of Scotland website. By looking at a whole series of maps, it is possible to see the changes that have taken place over time in a particular area.
Maps are a wonderful tool to see the local environment. Thomas Maton, the father of Elizabeth Jane Maton, was an agricultural labourer. Did he work on the estate of Amport Park or perhaps at Amport Farm or Fox Farm? I can see the names of the woods, the path of the old Roman Road, ‘Port Way”, which linked Old Sarum to Silchester, cutting through Amport Park, and Pillhill Brook, a chalk stream and tributary of the River Anton, that runs through the parish, powering Sarson’s Mill. Other features such as the church of St Mary, where Elizabeth Jane Maton was baptised, the school where she received her education, and the endowed almshouses that housed the poor are clearly marked on the map. On the village green, the site of stocks is marked. I wonder if my ancestors spent time in them, jeered by other villagers if they had been caught up to mischief. If a picture is worth a thousand words, maps are worth a million!
My next step is to look at trade directories. As well, as listing the principal inhabitants and members of the community who had trades, directories can provide a short potted history of a place. Leicester University (my alma mater), has digitised a huge collection of English and Welsh directories, which can be searched and viewed online for free at http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/ . The main genealogical websites also have good collections of directories which can be accessed if you have a membership. One should bear in mind that the information found in directories relates to when they were compiled, usually a few years before they were actually published. I chose to look at Harrod & Co.’s Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, because it was published in 1865, close to Elizabeth Jane Maton’s birth in 1862:
I love the picture it paints of a small farming community with its own grocer, post office and shop, the latter run by a John Meaton. He was no doubt a relation of Elizabeth Jane Maton, Meaton being a variant spelling of Maton. Amport is an example of an estate village, as most of the land was owned by the Marquis of Winchester, the lord of the manor, who had his seat at Amport House. In the 1861 census, there were 706 people in the parish: most of the wage earners would have worked in agriculture.
If looking for information on a small place, I indulge myself with a bit of Googling. A good general reference source is Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/. As well as providing a short history of the place in question, you can usually find some more recent information. For example, I learnt that Amport House, the former seat of the Marquis of Winchester, was until recently, the home of the Tri-Service Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre:
This beautiful house was built between 1857 and 1859, just a few years before my great grandmother’s birth, by John Paulet, the 14th Marquis of Winchester. It was described at the time as “an elegant building of Elizabethan style” and replaced two other houses that had been built on the spot previously. Fashions in country houses had changed! The stunning gardens were designed by Sir Edwin Luytens and planted by Gertrude Jekyll. Elsewhere, I discovered that the estate had been sold this year by the Ministry of Defence and there are plans for it to be turned into a hotel.
In the External Links section of Wikipedia, the current website of the village is listed: http://amportvillage.co.uk/. This website turned out to be a fantastic resource and it gives you a real feel for the village today. I get the impression that Amport, with its picturesque thatched cottages, is a vibrant community to live in today, with a lively pub and lots of events going on, such as the annual village fete. The village green is now notable for its cricket pitch and children’s playground, rather than the stocks. A number of interesting articles on the history of Amport can be viewed, as well as interesting photographs. Not all places will have such an informative website but many do.
The Internet Archive is also well worth exploring https://archive.org/. This is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music and websites. Using the “Search Text Content” field, I found all sorts of books and references to Amport. You will also find here the Wayback Machine, which searches historical pages of websites that are now defunct.
Take a look too at A Vision of Britain Through Time, which includes maps, statistical trends and historical descriptions: https://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/. You may well find something of interest here.
Another website that’s invaluable for English local history research is British History Online, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/search/series/vch. Here you can find digitised copies of the Victorian County Histories. The Victorian County Histories were begun as a project in 1899. The bold intention was to write down the history of every county in England and within each county, every historic parish. The work is still continuing and so far, 13 counties have been covered and 3250 parishes. Amport is included and its history, written in 1911, can be found here: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/hants/vol4/pp337-344
The entry for Amport has four main sections that cover the history of the parish: Manors, Church, Advowsons and Charities. The section on the manors mainly covers land ownership in the parish, describing the changing ownership of the manor from as early as 1086, when it was held by Hugh de Port. His name, combined with Anne, the Celtic name for Pillhill Brook that runs through the parish, is where the name Amport originates. The extensive footnotes enables one to follow up any sources that are of interest. The church dates from the 14th century and the Dean and Chapter of Chichester had the right of advowson, which means that they had the right to choose the vicar. There is a detailed description of the building and information on the parish registers that were extant at the time.
A school in Amport was established in 1815, no doubt attended by many of my Maton ancestors. It is still the village school today. Its benefactor was Sophia Sheppard, the widow of the Reverend Thomas Sheppard, who also established six almshouses for the maintenance of six poor widows.
It is worth investigating to see if there is a specific website dedicated to a particular county or the the history of the local area where your ancestors were living. A wonderful website for local history in Hampshire is Hampshire History: https://www.hampshire-history.com/. The aim of the website is to create a “one-stop shop” for Hampshire history. There is a gazetteer not just of place names, but also church names, street names and historic houses along with a database of Hampshire names that can be searched. A resources page provides links to other Hampshire groups. A search for Amport gives more information on the church of St Mary. Apparently, it once had a thatched roof! Of particular note in the church is an extremely rare, carved alabaster altar piece depicting St John the Baptist, dating from the Medieval period. Its history is uncertain but it was found in a blocked up chimney recess in a cottage in nearby East Cholderton. It could well have originally resided in St Mary’s but was probably hidden away for safety during the Reformation. Further information on this wonderful piece of art can be found here: https://www.hampshire-history.com/st-john-baptist-alabaster/
Facebook Groups that cover a particular area or topic can be well worth joining too. For example, for Hampshire, there are the Facebook Groups “Hampshire Genealogy” and “Hampshire & Isle of Wight Genealogy”. The aim of these groups is to bring people together who have common interests. Members often post information on specific places and it is a great way of seeing photographs and old postcards that are relevant to your research. Many members also have a lot of local knowledge so you can post a query if you need advice or help. You may also find others who share the same research interests.
Postcards And PRINTS
I find old postcards of places where my ancestors lived rather irresistible. There are many specialist old postcard sellers, some also selling maps and books such as Francis Frith: https://www.francisfrith.com/. This particular website has a special facility for people to leave their memories of the place on the website. These personal recollections give you a sense of what a place was like and the people who lived there in the past. Perhaps, you might find a long lost relative or someone who remembers them. Ebay is also a dependable source and a search under “Amport” reveals a good selection of postcards and historic prints of Amport House: https://www.ebay.co.uk/
Family History societies
Last year, at RootsTech, London, I joined the Hampshire Genealogical Society. Joining a local family history society is very worthwhile, even if you live some distance away. For only £15 a year, Hampshire Genealogical Society offers some online resources, such as monumental inscriptions for particular cemeteries, their journal, and a register of surname interests. They also have CDs for sale covering Hampshire parish registers that they have indexed. A useful booklet I picked up was a pamphlet on Amport, part of a series of booklets the Society produces:
Each booklet in their series includes the following useful information on the village:
- Details of location, hundred and registration district
- A brief history from pre-history to early modern times
- History of the parish church and incumbents
- Details of Non-conformist Meetings Houses and Certificates
- History of the parish school and head-teachers
- Information on Taxation and Enclosure
- Notable Estates, Farmers and Tradespeople
- History of Public Houses and Victuallers
Each booklet costs just £2 and a copy can be downloaded from the Hampshire Genealogical Society website: https://www.hgs-familyhistory.com/. A particularly useful feature is that each booklet provides the holding numbers of all relevant sources at the Hampshire Record Office, enabling you to quickly identify and locate sources relevant to your research. For example, I learnt that there is a list of tenants of Amport manor, along with values and rents, dated August 17th 1724 (ref. 3M54/5). This could well include my Annett ancestors and would form part of my research list when visiting Hampshire Record Office. Similarly, the Amport tithe apportionment and map, made in 1842, (ref. 21M65/F7/5/1) and the churchwardens’ accounts that date from 1837 to 1946 (ref. 43M67/PW3), would be on my list to view at the archives. Some of the Amport inhabitants are named so you might find one of your own ancestors mentioned. One Amport family has the charming name of Sweetapple. There is a reference to William Sweetapple, a churchwarden in Amport in 1662, just after the Restoration. Two new bells were placed in the bell tower to celebrate the Restoration of Charles II and the names of William Sweetapple and William Skeate, the other churchwarden, were inscribed on them.
To discover the range of family history sources on a county basis, there is no better website than Genuki. Genuki provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information (mainly for the U.K. and Ireland). You can explore all the resources for Hampshire by clicking on the links provided: https://www.genuki.org.uk/.
A brief guide, especially if you want to find out what indexes exist for the registers of a particular place is to look at the Family Search wiki pages: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/. A wiki can be edited by anyone so although it is a good starting point, bear in mind that the information and links may not be up to date. From this I learn that the parish registers of Amport have been indexed by Family Search so their website would be a good starting point for seeking baptisms and marriages. FindmyPast also have a great collection of Hampshire parish registers and Amport is included: https://www.findmypast.co.uk/. A few parish register entries for Amport have been transcribed for the Hampshire Online Parish Clerk (OPC) project: http://www.knightroots.co.uk/parishes.htm. Obviously, some parishes will have better coverage than others. You may also find some memorial inscriptions for family members on FindaGrave: https://www.findagrave.com/. I found some Annetts recorded but most memorials were of relatively recent date.
The majority of records, many of which cannot be found online, will be found at the county or local archives. Records for Amport will be found at the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester. Information on their collections can be found here: https://www.hants.gov.uk/librariesandarchives/archives.
Local History Books
We owe a lot to all the local and family historians who have written histories of parishes. Though they are often out of print, they can often be picked up quite cheaply second-hand. I usually find an out of print book second-hand at AbeBooks: http://www.abebooks.co.uk/ or on Ebay: https://www.ebay.co.uk/. I had found several references to a book entitled “Amport – The Story of a Hampshire Parish” by Marigold Routh, published in 1986:
This book turned out to be a treasure trove of information. Scholarly and erudite yet eminently readable, it gave me a real sense of what life in Amport was like through history, whether you were a Medieval peasant, a Tudor yeoman or a Victorian agricultural labourer. I also gained a real understanding of what effect events such as the Reformation, the English Civil War or enclosure had on the inhabitants of Amport. Of particular interest to family historians is the information on the wills and inventories of Amport residents that tell you so much about them and how they lived. You may be lucky and also find a gem of a book for a place where your ancestor lived. You may also find a relevant book that is out of print digitised on Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/ or Hathi Trust: https://www.hathitrust.org/
Of course, the more research you do, the more badly you want to visit the home of your ancestors. Back in 2002, I was able to make a brief visit. This is my photograph of the beautiful church of St Mary:
I didn’t really have the time to look around the churchyard but I remember noting that most of the older gravestones were illegible, the local stone having weathered badly. The church is unusual, as it is cruciform in shape and has knapped flint walls. Inside, looking down the chancel, there is a 14th century stained glass window with flowing tracery:
Whenever I am in a church, I always like to take a photograph of the font because it provides a tangible connection, as it was used for the baptisms of many of my ancestors. This one is beautifully carved and decorated, with a canopy above:
I also picked up a copy of a parish history. Most churches produce one, which can be yours for a small donation.
I have been to Amport on one another occasion, only a few years ago, but it was dark by the time we arrived. We were on our way back from a journey to the West Country and I suggested we stopped in the village for a bite to eat. If you are in the vicinity, I thoroughly recommend the Hawk Inn, the former home of the Marquis of Winchester’s coachman, if you are looking for a great meal.
I hope I have given you some suggestions of how you can discover more about a place, its history, and sources that will help you find information on your ancestors and put their lives into historical context. As my research into the parish of Amport illustrates, there is a lot of information available for free or at minimal cost if you look in the right places.
© Judith Batchelor 2020