The Whittington Roots Tour 2016, completed in September, was an unparalleled success. Unparalled because we had never done one before. We made the journey ostensibly to find our ancient ancestors, many of whom were involved in the governance of the realm that has come to be known as Great Britain. There are so many royal names in the Whittington tree that I finally told Grandma Betty that if she saw a castle she could rest assured one of her great grandparents slept there at some point in the past one thousand years.
Once flights were booked and lodgings reserved for WRT16 there was little left to do but pack. We were ready to spend two weeks of our life in the mosh pits of Welsh history and English lore. The itinerary received approval and was sanctioned by appropriate agencies and sanctified by several anonymous donors at a food pantry to the east of the Severn River in Shropshire, England.
Day 1 found us in Dublin, Ireland and Birmingham, England. A brief layover in Dublin allowed me to grab a pint of Guinness, a necessary ingredient in the jet lag recovery program. With a short layover in Dublin there was no time to set foot in a legitimate pub anywhere near Temple Bar. But I was able to rest assured that anyone drinking a draft beer at an airport bar within ten miles of the Guinness brewery could be certain the barrel rolled off the lorry within the past 12 hours. From Dublin we were back in the air for a brief commute over the Irish Sea to Birmingham.
After much pain and suffering at an airport Europcar kiosk we were able to secure the keys to an SUV and headed immediately into the pastoral countryside, as opposed to the urban sprawl of England’s second largest city. I was hoping my previous experience of driving in Ireland, years ago, had prepared me for driving a car with a steering wheel on the wrong side of the car, a brake pedal where it shouldn’t be, heading down the highway on the wrong side of the road into roundabouts, one after the other. I was thrown from the cramped quarters of an airplane seat into a pinball machine. Maybe I should have avoided that pint of Guinness. Regardless, I had to rely on my keen faculties, my trusted navigator and a much beloved back seat driver.
From Birmingham we endured the immediate impact of jet lag and suffered through the two hour drive to Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England. The term ‘shire’ is the English equivalent of our county. So it would become redundant for me to say Shropshire County. We had hoped to stop along the way to stare at sheep, chapels, castles, cafes and more sheep. But a steady downpour of rain reminded us that we were in dreay England with little hope, or desire to see anything other than a warm cup of tea and a bed.
The long long traumatic struggle (90 minutes) to secure a Europcar had stolen precious minutes from an intended drive through the Cotswolds and kept us from killing time in Ironbridge. The time we thought we would have to kill prior to our checkin time of 3 pm at 53 Queen Street was killed by Robert, Gwen and Peter at Europcar. Once our rental car was plunked down onto the racetrack that is the M6 we understood immediately that despite the high speeds of autos all about us, we were not going to be in a hurry to go anywhere. One wrong turn on a roundabout could easily cast a sojourn car into a maze of hedgerows and sidewalks that passed themselves off as highways.
Shropshire is the ancestral home county of many of our Whittington ancestors and sheep. It is the heart of a sheep country that is the island of Britain. I am told that sheep are maintained in the basements of London rowhouses. I verified this when watching the movie, Rams. Wool was the salvation of the local economy back in the 1500s, when Smiths and Whittingtons were surviving in a some times hostile environment.
To kill time we had hoped to visit Ironbridge Gorge, the actual birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and the death knell for the environment. There are over 50 places in England that claim to be the actual birthplace of the industrial revolution. Thirteen of those sites are museums in Ironbridge. The gods intervened and we were not permitted to stop at Ironbridge. The rain was falling so heavily that seeing beyond the windshield was a seldom luxury.
We survived a myriad of interchanges and roudabouts and located downtown Shrewsbury and the Loopy Shrew in time to enjoy a combined heavy breakfast, morning tea and early lunch. Checkin time at 53 was 3 pm. With time to kill we reconfigured our brains and legs, checked our watches and cell service and looked for the loo. As I stared into my addled brain I realized that the weather and reality of driving in Britain had already stripped us of four ‘Must See’ sites on our itinerary: Cotswolds, Pauntley Court, Clee Hill and Ironbridge.
Lamenting what I missed robs me of the moment in which I could discover the unexpected. So we enjoyed our tea, the Scotch eggs, crepes and jams that occupied our taste buds and disappeared quickly as hungry immigrants, who had plummeted 36,000 feet onto the tarmac of Birmingham, devoured what we could and left the rest for the busboy.
Day 1 was only beginning as the last spot of tea warmed the stomach. Tanked up on Guiness, coffee and tea I had a compelling need to find another loo. My problem was compounded by the fact that we had left the cafe to search for 53 Queen Street and a woman named Rhiann. Matters were made worse by a woman found sitting on our dashboard as we returned to the rental car.
“Who are you?” I asked politely.
“I am Nuvi. I can help you.”
“You don’t say!”
“Go ahead. I am listening. Ask me something. You can say ‘Open my email.’ ‘How high is Mt. Whitney?’ ‘Text Brian.'”
“Find 53 Queen Street.”
“Searching for 53 Queens who eat. Searching. Searching….”
“Turn that thing off!” I ordered Nancy.
After searching through our handy manila travel folder for a paper map of Shrewsbury we discovered that we did not have the map I had carefully packed. My urge to use a bathroom increased as I began to put miles between “Dumb Shit” and 53 Queen Street. “Dumb Shit” was my newly created term of endearment for the Garmin.
“I am not sure what you said there Doc,” Nuvi interjected into the conversation.
“I thought you turned that thing off?” My anger was beginning to project onto Nancy.
“I thought I did too.”
“Sorry, Doc. I did not understand.”
“Please! Turn that off.”
Twice we managed to head down an alley that dead ended in the parking lot of the St. Bartholomew and Peter Cathedral, Frankwell Park and Football Field. Somehow, I had managed to put the Severn River between myself and my destination. Somehow I had found a dead end spot twice and unwittingly placed my car in a position alongside a river with few bridges, in an urban sprawl where the streets wonder aimlessly like a knot of Christmas tree lights. And added another half hour to the travel time that would be consumed before I could find a bathroom that would allow me to eliminate all that I had consumed! Long story short. I mowed Rhiann over as she keyed the door to 53 open.
“He has to use the bathroom…” my wife whispered to Rhiann.
“Straight ahead. Beyond the kitchen.”
Rhiann gave us a polite and quick tour of her rental property. The keys were in our hands and Nancy was falling asleep in a fetal position on a loveseat no more than 30 inches long. As the day turned into night the one thing that became apparent was that Rhiann had failed to instruct us on the matter of turning the furnace on as the Autumn temperature dropped toward 40 degrees.
Fortunately, the cell service in England kicked in nicely, Rhiann picked up our call and our problem identified. A quick lesson in British vocabulary and we had heat.
“The controls for the furnace are in the bedroom closet. You’ll need the torch to see the thermostat.”
My mind stalled and was helped by the sight of a flashlight on the floor near the thermostat. “Got it,” I whispered before the words “What is a torch?” could escape my lips. We had heat.
Two doors down, the laughter of the Cork University Rugby team filled the air. In town for the weekend their rendition of Irish ballads floated through our walls as welcome to a new world put me to sleep. This son of an Irishman was home again, not far from the ports that last saw his ancestors.
Day 2 Sunday, September 4
Why get out of bed when you have jet lag? Why go anywhere other than downtown if downtown has plenty to offer? Why drive when everything about driving is the opposite of what you know, feel and think? Wake up late. Have coffee. Putz about the row house. When we finally decided to venture out the door we walked down Queen Street and took a left hand turn onto the approach to the Severn River Walk. It would become our preferred path into the city. Shrewsbury is old. Way old. So old that it should be dead. But they don’t live like that in Europe. They like old buildings. They don’t mow them over and put up bigger boxes. They keep their narrow streets and old brick, their bombed out cathedrals and the remains of past warfare. I would hate their narrow streets if I had to drive on them everyday. But I can walk along them and pretend everything is 1000 years old. In many cases the remains of castle walls are exactly that.
Day 3 Monday, September 5 Whittington Castle, Caernarfon Wales
Day 4 Tuesday, September 6 Ludlow, Shropshire
Day 5 Wednesday, September 7 Ironbridge
Day 6 Thursday, September 8 Tarvin and Sedbergh, Yorkshire
Day 7 Friday, September 9 Wensleydale Cheese, Hardraw Falls
Day 8 Saturday, September 10 Catley Spout,
Day 9 Sunday, September 11 Ingleton Falls Park, Dentdale Drive
Day 10 Sunday, September 12 Train to Edinburgh, Scotland
Day 11 Monday, September 13 Climb Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle, Whisky Experience
Day 12 Tuesday, September 14 National Museum of Scotland
Day 13 Wednesday, September 15 Train to Birmingham, Casino Night
Day 14 Thursday, September 16 Flight to Chicago!
Shrewsbury lies between the village of Whittington in Shropshire and Whittington of Gloucestershire. There are seven villages in England named Whittington located in Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Northumberland, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. We saw one of them twice, sort of. The Whittington family owned large amounts of land, castles and manors, and exercised considerable power. The Lord Mayor Whittington (1400) was the wealthiest man in England and loaned money to the king when the king needed to fight a war or buy another country. But the Whittingtons never owned Whittington Castle. Never slept there.
We visited the Whittington Castle in Shropshire but never ventured the long seventy miles south to see Pauntley Court, the Gloucestershire manor home of generations of Whittingtons, including our own Sir William Whittington, his wife Joan Maunsell, and three of their sons: Great Uncles Richard and Guy and Great Grandfather Robert Whittington. William and his sons roamed the earth from 1300 to 1425. For those of you who like to put a number on a great grandparent we will stipulate that William and Joan Maunsell were Betty’s 16th great grandparents. And if you are wondering about the authenticity of claiming these folks as grandparents, it is all found in peerage records of British nobility and parliamentary history. The Whittington family tree only becomes confusing when the ancestors leave Virginia and the life of an aristocrat for the hills and moonshine of Kentucky.
If you clicked on Whittington Castle you have already discovered other names in the family tree besides Whittington. There are many surnames that have created the DNA path to those of you who share Betty’s family tree. Among those surnames are several that are famous in early Colonial American history: Littleton, Southey, Bowman and Walters. The Littleton family was politically active over the centuries in England and in the colonies. In Great Britain they were especially famed as jurists (lawyers who rose to the level of judges in the highest courts of England and Wales).
Nathaniel Littleton was the immigrant ancestor who brought one of Betty’s royal bloodlines to new world Virginia c. 1636. Betty has several branches linked to the thrones of Europe. Nathaniel was born at Hopton Castle, a 10 mile jaunt through the family forest to the west of Ludlow. He married Ann Southey. Her father Henry and her siblings all died at the hands of the Native population in the Jamestown Massacre of 1622.*
Nathaniel was the son of Edward Littleton and Maria Walter. Edward was the Supreme Court Chief Justice of South Wales. Maria’s father was the Supreme Court Chief Justice of North Wales. The Walter family held vast amounts of land in and around Ludlow, Shropshire, England. We visited several of their properties including Ludlow Castle.
We never did ‘climb’ ( an uphill walk) the High Vinnals, a Walter property that has become a national preserve and International Dirt Bike Raceway. The preserve is named after the Mortimer family, grandparents and significant players in British history. Sir Edward Walter operated among other things, a classy vinyard on the High Vinnals. Other family properties on the list include Stokesay Castle (our de Say family) and The Moors (Littletons). Ludlow Castle occupied briefly by the Edward Walters family, played a significant role in the armed conflicts that found the British defending their turf from others of our ancestors on the Welsh side of the border. The castle was constructed by Roger de Mortgomery. Roger is a great grandfather in the Smith and Whittington family tree.
We ventured into Wales and visited Caernarfon castle held by various members of family clans and royal families over the centuries. Grampa Slaymaker also had a few famous great grandfathers come out of the Celtic hills of Scotland and Wales, before they did all that intermingling with Germanic stock. Heroic warriors Robert the Bruce of Scotland and Llewellyn the Great of Wales were the Brit’s worst nightmare and we will search the hills for their favorite lairs. This line of Celtic DNA found its’ way into the Slaymaker family when John Slaymaker married Elizabeth White, the descendant of the Celts via a Campbell lineage.
Along the roads traveled we passed several battlefields that were significant in family and British history. We found ancestral members of the Plantagenet royal courts, kings and queens who littered the countryside with the remnants of their public squabbles and affairs. We will get to that. The royals and commoners already mentioned are very interesting characters living amid the pages of family history.
Pedigree charts reveal the position of these ancestors in the family tree.
*For a complete listing of the survivors and the murdered at Jamestown click the link. Then scroll down that page to the section identifying the deceased. “Mr. Sothey” is at the top of the list for ‘James Cittie’. His family is listed shortly below that.