Back to the Myddle: Day Nine of an Ancestral Adventure
Sunday. Sudbury. Sunday in Sudbury? Why not?
“Yes, I there possibly is a cave”! advised the friendly shop manager in ‘At The Myddle’. “But I’m not entirely certain, because I’ve just moved in! I’ll ask around!”
“Yes, there is a cave near here somewhere!” proclaimed the friendly publican in The Red Lion, at Myddle. “But, I can’t tell you anything about it. I’ve just moved in and I’ve never been there myself!”
“I believe you are going in the right direction?” the friendly farmer assured me. “But I’ve just moved in and I’ve never been there myself, so I hope you find it!”
But there it is – the cave – and there you are, right in the middle of it all in Myddle – and you’ve never even seen it?
But, of course, I didn’t say this out loud. How could I? Who, after all, was I to pass judgement? Newbies have a perfectly valid excuse. I, on the other hand ….
I, have no excuses. I’ve been living in Sudbury for ten years. Ten whole years. Ten years of unknowingly walking in the footsteps of my ancestors. Ten years in repeat mode, perusing the same old locations over and over again. Ten years of grabbing bargains from the sale racks of Dorothy Perkins and New Look. Ten years of book buying in Oxfam and The Sally Army. Ten years of fine paying in Sudbury Library. Ten whole wasted years, when in all of that time, if only I had known it, in all of that time, I could have been living the life of Riley, or to be more precise, the life of a Lady. A life more fitting to one such as myself – the First-Cousin-Numerous-Times-Removed-Niece of Lady Elizabeth de Burgh.
To be fair, then I’m not so sure that the title Lady Jackie Cooke, has quite the same prestige attached to it as Lady Elizabeth de Burgh. But, such is the lot of those of us born into the female sex, those of us subject to a constant changeover of surnames. Choices, such as those which would make us stand out from the crowd are simply not ours to make. It’s time, I decide. It’s time to step out and take back my rights. Time to take back – Sudbury.
I cross over my doorstep and I step out in style (My pillar-box red tights can be purchased from a posh shop in Sudbury called Wynch and Blatch! My hat, self-made, is available by negotiation!).
Within half an hour – it’s a long walk down into the valley – I’m standing in Market Square, with my back to Saint Peter’s Church, trying to imagine fourteenth-century market traders vying for customers, shouting out so-called knock-down prices for their woollen fleeces. Perhaps these fleeces were produced by members of Lady Elizabeth de Burgh’s industrious household in Clare, for I’ve read that the Lady herself dealt in fleeces, and that she was responsible for the development of Sudbury’s market place. Business woman aside, I’ve also found out that Elizabeth owned the Manor of Sudbury and my research on trusty Google, informs me that there was once a manor house near the Croft. I can’t really hear any market traders, but there are some young teenage girls shouting abuse across Market Square to each other. So I resist the magnetic pull of Dorothy Perkins (I’ve heard its on its way out!), and I resist the suction power of WHSmith and The Works, and I move on – closer to my destiny. I need to get to the Croft and find my Manor house.
I sprint (a necessity, even if an impossibility for one of my middle age, as I’ve told my children I’ll only be five minutes!) down New Street towards River Stour and the Croft and take in the view. I have no choice but to take in the view, because there’s a very long wait at the traffic lights, waiting for them to allow me (Allow me? A Lady?) across Gainsborough Road, which is heaving with heavy lorries, churning out noxious fumes at me.
More noxiousness greets me, when I finally make it to the Croft. There’s a statue on a podium, on the Green just in front of Saint Gregory’s Church burial ground – and I want to take a close look. Who does it depict? Is he one of my own? But a young man of Sudbury is using the podium as a base on which to construct a roll-up. Tobacco or cannabis? I have no wish to venture forth into the come-and-get-cancer here zone, so I go for the more-attractive option of a whistle-stop tour of the already dead. Perhaps some of my ancestors live here?
But I can’t find any familiar surnames. It matters not, because I rather like an image of a skeleton on one of the larger tombstones. It’s not so different to the skull and cross-bone symbols on my Jolly Roger headscarf. I love it! Enthused, I Motorola a few more gravestones and, as an afterthought, take a photo of the church itself. And I’m on my way. A Manor House awaits.
But, the smoking commoner has gone, so I stop to examine the statue. Aelfhun, Bishop of Norwich. He looks a trifle mardy (as one would be, when recovering from the forced inhalation of someone else’s smoke fumes). He’s a long way from home, all disconnected and he’s no-one I’ve ever heard of! I decide to look him up on Ancestry.com. That’ll perk him up! He must be related somehow – to someone, somewhere!
The Manor House? It’s nowhere to be seen, so I phone a friend and ask them to Google it for me. In the meantime, I take a look at my pastures. But, my status as a peer means nothing. Because, even though this land belonged to my ancestor Richard de Clare, the Lady Elizabeth’s Grandfather, it seems that he gave it all away when he granted grazing rights to the residents of Sudbury. But, in order to take advantage of my entitlement to a mouthful of fresh grass, I need to have been born in Sudbury. I’ve been all the way to the Myddle, to my homeland, only to discover that I have vast meadowlands here in Sudbury. And that it’s all been given away! I can’t even put my issue out to pasture – I was foolish enough to give birth to them in a hospital ten miles away from here! (Will just have to continue feeding them myself! Which I can just about handle, as long as can get to Tesco at around 7pm, when they reduce all of their out-of-date goods to about 10p a pack!) Still, the view is pretty, and I find a swan that would be tasty in anyone’s homecoming banquet. So, all is not lost and my Motorola is calling me.
“You’re standing in the wrong place! Go to the traffic lights and cross over Gainsborough Road and you’ll see the Social Club right there in front of you. You must have walked right past it!” But I’m looking for a Manor House, for my Manor House, not for the Social Club – you moronic Motorola!
But it turns out that the Manor House has long since gone, and it’s not even certain that this is the location of the same Manor House that once came under the ownership of Elizabeth. But, there was once a Manor House that shared map coordinates with the Social Club, and it did once belong to someone, so I take a picture.
The Social Club’s quite cute – a converted corner terrace, painted a pretty pale cream. I’m guessing that – at the most – it has two rooms upstairs. Wonderful! But, it’s hardly on a scale big enough for a Social Club. I head around the corner – and there’s more. There’s more and it’s ugly – an eyesore of a brown-brick square box of a sixties’ style extension. It’s horrendous!
Shaken, I head back into town and pick up the children from WHSmiths (They’re really hacked off with me!). I avoid looking at the books. And I’m out of there! As we just happen to be going past Sworders, the Estate Agency, I check out the prices of Sudbury’s finest two-bedroom terraces. Completely out of my league. Start saving!
It’s all been for nothing. I’m bookless, and penniless. I spent all my savings on a trip to the Myddle last week, and, just to top it all off, my eldest child is so angry with me for leaving her in WHSmiths, in charge of her pesky siblings, that I have to fob her off with a £20 note to spend at New Look. My Manor House will just have to wait.
I’m penniless and I’m feeling deflated, so I’m more than agreeable when my youngest child spots some friends on the way home and forces me to sit down on a grassy slope to stay put, whilst she hangs out at the park. And, happy with her new spending power, my eldest agrees to continue on up the hill to our humble abode, with my middling child – the noisiest one – in tow. The scene is set.
It’s a bit on the chilly side, but it’s light and bright for reading, so I settle in and make a niche for myself on a gentle incline. Glasses on. Book out.
Thirteen! What? I can’t believe it. Lady Elizabeth de Burgh was only thirteen when her beastly Uncle, Edward II, arranged a marriage for her with John de Burgh! Thirteen! Just a child still. And it gets worse. He dies and she marries again. Marries again, at the grand old age of twenty-one. But at least, this time, she gets to choose her own man – the gorgeous Theobold de Verdoh. But, before she’s even given birth to Theo’s lookalike, her hubby goes and kicks the bucket – and he’s only been married for a year! What on this planet did our Liz do to him?
And there’s more. Six weeks after giving birth, Elizabeth is wedded for a third time. Uncle Edward II enforces this one – it’s one of his mates – Roger Damory! And I’m guessing that Liz is too knackered to give two hoots about what her new spouse looks like. In any case, it matters not, because Roger is dead within six years and, miraculously, she’s free. How convenient!
Elizabeth’s twenty-seven years old, still young and sprightly, and she’s free. Free to do what she wants. To top it all off, her only brother Gilbert’s long since dead, and she’s now a Lady with lands. Vast swathes of land. She owns Clare and Sudbury and she even goes and builds herself a luxury home in London. This Lady has power. She even has all the monks and nuns for hundreds of miles around praying for her soul, praying for free entry into Heaven. It makes my head dizzy even thinking about it.
But the temperature’s dropped. I need to shift myself. “It’s time to head back home now!” My daughter’s not convinced. She’s sleeveless and I’m wrapped up in her coat and my coat – and she’s enjoying herself. I’m preparing my case for home, when my thoughts are interrupted by a buzzing Motorola. It only buzzes three times. A text message.
‘I’ve got the all clear. I’m okay!’
My friend has just fought off the big one. She’s fought off cancer! Never mind the Manor House in Sudbury, the Castle in Clare, or the cave in Myddle. My friend’s back.
“Okay, Mum. I’m ready now! I’m hungry. You win. Let’s go!”
And, hand in hand (A lie, because there’s no way my last-born child wants her friends to see her holding my hand!), the two of us, my daughter and I, head back home.
It’s still Sunday. And I’m in Sudbury. I’m back. And I’m staying.
It’s still Sunday.
Copyright owned by Jay Cool
If you enjoyed this blog, in spite of it’s tenuous ancestral claims, please look out for Jay’s forthcoming book ‘From the Myddle, to Everywhere, and Back Again’.
Disclaimer: Please refer to the ‘Who is Jay Cool?’ post for details.