Visiting my Webb ancestors in the quagmires of Dawley, yesterday, had to be done. But, although the old souls did their best to evoke a quality setting for a gothic novel (guard your spot on the shelf of Waterstones, closely, Stephanie Meyer!), the experience somehow lacked my No. 1 qualifying criteria as a genealogist’s hotspot.
Not a single book did I find in Dawley. All souls, even dead souls, if they are to be attached to my family tree, have to possess books. Where were all the books owned by the dead souls of Dawley? Matthew Webb’s cousin, Mary Webb the poet and novelist, would have been ashamed to be associated with the place. Not a single book in sight (the two for seven pound paperbacks in Telford’s Tesco stores don’t count!).
Today. Today, I, Jay Cool, an old soul, will hope for something better. Today, an old soul will hunt down the last of the old books of Shropshire.
I start out in one of my childhood haunts. At the grand old age of four, I had the good fortune to live in Wem.
Wem is special.
Wem is special because, it was whilst living in Wem, that I learnt how to finger-write the letter ‘h’ into the air, to the chant of ‘Down and up and over like a bridge.’ It was in Wem that I also learnt another one of the essential skills in life: how to twirl around, with lots of other crazy toddlers, waving colourful ribbons in swirling patterns above my head.
Wem was fun.
Kids and hubby loaded into the Dacia, we follow the Dacia’s nose, and land.
This is Wem:
It’s not exactly how I remember it. I don’t see any, or fellow forty-something-year old toddlers. Still, all hope is not yet lost. If I’m lucky, I might go trip-trapping over a bridge and find the foot of the letter ‘h’ on the other side – printed onto the pages of an ancient book.
With a spring in the arch of my ballerina’s arthritic foot, and feeling elevated, I keep on with the waddling.
I even waddle on past the local alehouse (don’t reckon they have mango cider!).
And I walk some more. A few assorted shops. A calming aquamarine front door and window frame. No books.
A corner shop. A signifier? A signifier of the end. The end of all hope. I’ve waddled the high street, and not an ancient book in sight.
Another ale house? Could be worse.
The end of all ends?
I don’t recall any of this. Do four-year olds really not remember anything, apart from their nursery school experiences? Surely, I, Jay Cool, at the age of four was already a true traveller. A child genius with a photographic memory of my surroundings. A keen critic of Salopian town architecture.
It seems not.
I don’t even recall this fine specimen of a mock Tudor roof-top!
The outlook starts to improve when I spot this noteworthy example of 60’s brickwork.
Noteworthy by name. Bailey. I have many Baileys in my family tree. This must be a family business. My family business? But it’s hardly Harrods. No inheritance to be had there. I move on.
A library? Books?
But books are no fun, unless I can own them. And even the sprogs have lost interest by this point (The sprogs? Where are they?). But, where there’s a library, there’s bound to be a stash of ‘unwanted’ rejects being knocked out at 20p a piece. I do a quick cost-benefit analysis; 40p for the purchase of one book is still a bargain. And, even better, now that the sprogs have drifted of somewhere, I won’t have to pay them any 20p fines!*
I proceed up the steps.
No list of opening hours on the door and no entry for the likes of me. l can’t get in and, if there are any books in this place, they can’t get out. The door is locked. Book prison. I consider breaking an entry, but I have the feeling of being watched. Further examination of the skies overhead, and a crook neck, reveals that the door is overlooked by a couple of cement-book-reading spies.
Reckon my brother and I must have been the muses for this wondrous relief sculpture of child geniuses.
But a quick search of Google (not that quick – I do have a Tesco’s Motorola phone after all), reveals the shocking truth.
These fine figures are both boys!
Seems that back in 1900, when this bank of books was constructed, girls were not expected to be readers! What a relief that I am not actually 128 years old. Even more shocking is the revelation that this sacred place is a library no longer!
I’ guessing that the old library’s been eplaced with its architectural superior:
Image of Wem Library, courtesy of geographic.org.uk
Perhaps not! No further comment (even from such an expert as myself) required!
But, books or not, I rather like this building with it’s ‘his and hers’ entrances. Separatist it might be, but, certainly, it’s less sexist than the entrance to Morgan Library. And let’s face it, why would the ladies amongst us want to mix with the riff-raff anyway?
The colour scheme is reminiscent of the clutter on my writing desk, back at home – back in Suffolk ..
Sniffle. Am I not a native of my home town in Suffolk? Do I really come from Shropshire? Did my four-year old self really live here in Wem?
More evidence is required.
Now, things are really looking up. My home town has a theatre. I have floated around on its stage wearing an elephant mask. (This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but I was well into my late thirties at the time, and having a second wind as a ballerina. Thirty-something-year olds (’tis true – I wasn’t the only one!), do not float around on stages. The wearing of an elephant mask, in my case, was, therefore, entirely appropriate for that occasion.)
But will I be permitted entrance through the stage door on this occasion, on this day, in my childhood haunt? Is this where the seeds were sown for my doomed (1) career as a prima ballerina?
Lost in reminiscences about my tutu-frocked days, it dawns on me that hubby and sprogs have long-since parted with my excellent company; more than likely indulging in lemonade and crisps back at one of those ale houses! This is all well and good, I think, as I’ve just spotted something interesting. Something very interesting. A church. Where there is a church, there is sure to be a graveyard. The explorations begin. Time for quality me-time.
Onwards and inwards I stride, as those beneath me rumble. ‘Mind where you step! they cry. ‘Our headstones may have been stolen, but our souls are still here. Don’t stomp your muddy elephant-foot boots on our rooftops!’ I hear them and I see the problem. This once-was graveyard is smooth and manicured – the ideal setting for a remake of The Lawnmower Man (If you are a Casting Director, then I’m happy to be a supporting actor, or even to take on a leading role – The Lawnmower Woman?):
|Labelled Creative Commons in Bing search|
With such talent lurking around within my mix-up of genetic material, then I’m alarmed to see that the burial ground of my ancestors (must be some of them here) has been turned into a walled garden. Closer examination of the peripheral reveals a wall constructed out of headstones. My ancestors’ headstones, yanked up from their rightful owners, and piled up like lollipop sticks in a lucky-dip sandbox.
To make matters worse, the headstone wall backs onto a row of red-brick lego homes (sorry residents). The sprogs who live there must be well and truly spooked out. But, looking back to identify the source of infectious laughter, I realise my mistake. This is no manicured lawn.
This is a football ground.
A group of sprogs are crashing into each other, in pursuit of their ball. Spooked out indeed. I should have realised that today’s sprogs, brought up on a diet of blood and guts in the form of Anthony Horowitz horror novels and the ‘Horrible Histories’ series, are hardly going to be phased by a few errant headstones.
Luckily, these intruders are not my sprogs, and momentarily feeling sympathy for their mother who, hindered by a tot in a buggy, is struggling to keep up, I make the most of my own free-time and snap away at the headstones with my Motorola. My efforts are worth it.
I find a ‘Cool’!
I little part of me, a little morsel of my past, is right here in Wem after all!
‘Mum? Mum! I should have know I’d find you here!’
I resign myself to the off, and bid my Dacia to come hither.
Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that my Dacia talks to me a lot (too much (keeps sending me the wrong way!)), it, like its owner, is a really bad listener. No Dacia arrives. And, complete with moaning sprogs and a stressed-out hubby, I have to waddle back the way I came.
Goodbye my special ‘she’ door. Goodbye mock Tudor rooftops. But don’t worry – it’s not for ever! I’ll be back!
Better still, I might not ever leave – I can’t seem to recall where I parked the Dacia! Hubby’s convinced it’s parked up near a churchyard somewhere, but I have no recollection of this whatsoever; probably because the Dacia has a mind of its own and has decided to re-situate itself (nothing to do with my brain’s incapacity for memory consolidation and navigational skills).
I’m not entirely with Hubby on this one, but decide to go with the flow and humour him. (This decision is not at all motivated by the fact that we have to walk through the said graveyard to hunt for the Dacia that is fictionally parked on the other side.) Hence, I send my entourage on ahead to do a recce and get busy with the Motorola.
The evidence of my famous DNA is all around and below me. I find several gravestones, and a war memorial, engraved with the surname Kynaston and plenty of Cools.
I feel happy. I’m not sure that this feeling of utter elation is entirely appropriate, when one is wandering around amidst the deceased. But, if it wasn’t for these old bones, my middle-aged bones wouldn’t be alive and aching in the here and now. So, in the circumstances, surely I’m allowed at least half a smile?
My smile takes a bit of a downturn when I embark upon an expedition into the church’s interior. It’s all rather dark and dreary, and I cannot help but imagine a congregation of ghost-like figures looking down upon me from the great heights of the balconies. I consider taking to the pulpit (I am a Vicar’s daughter after all) and performing an exorcism. But, then I remember that Anglican’s don’t believe in all that spooky stuff and neither do I. Angry voices fill up the empty spaces in my brain; the protests of a line of maternal ancestors who were Spiritualists and Mediums. Stepping
into a shadow, I shiver.
Time to get myself out of here!
Interesting. Before I exit, I spot a photograph of a past Rector. He has the surname Cool. Seems that the religious stuff has been in the family for some time past. Have I inherited a direct line of communication with the deities?
Please, dear Hespera, Goddess of the sunset glow. Please, bring a little sunshine into my life. It’s all very wet and depressing in Shropshire at the mo’!
On emerging into the dreary daylight and rain, I consider taking shelter from the storm. Hubby and sprogs are probably all snug inside my errant Dacia by now, and I think I’m just about slim enough to crawl into this space – aren’t I?
I decide against the idea and boldly go forth, through the narrow passages of old Wem.
Where is that Dacia?
Looks like a renovation project. Wonder whether I could get this three-storey palace cheap and paint it sunshine yellow? I could name it ‘Hespera House’.
I really do need to keep a hold of my sanity.
Ah, yes! A carpark! Yes, now I remember everything. I parked the Dacia up close to a pub. I spot the Dacia, and there’s no sign of the living inside the beast, which must mean that they are in …
The White Horse Hotel might not have mango cider, but it does sell Aspall’s.
“Hubby, don’t you dare order yourself another pint! You’re driving!”
“Aspalls, please! And lemonades for Hubby and the sprogs?”
Copyright of text and photographs owned by Jay Cool
*In a foolish moment, some days ago, I made a promise to pay the sprogs 20p per book purchase. Needless to say, this attempt to cure myself of my addiction is not working.
(1) Further research into the history of Wem’s theatre reveals an interesting ghost story. Details shortly to be posted on my associated blogsite ‘From the Myddle, to Everywhere and Back Again’.