The Benford Family of Leicestershire and Beyond….

24 Jul
Across the field from the curve in the road on the way to Claybrooke Magna

St. Peter’s Church, Claybrooke Parva, Leicestershire

Clara Benford, born 1836, was one of 10 children born to Nathaniel and Ann Benford of Claybrooke Magna, Leicestershire over a span of 21 years. She was my Great Grandmother and married John Perkins in St. Peter’s Church June 6, 1859. I have spent the past 10 years researching this family and have traced many of the lines into the 21st Century.

At the same time, I was working backwards  to discover the origins of this family in Leicestershire. There appeared to be no Benford’s in the Claybrooke/Ullesthorpe Parish records in the early 1700’s and I had decided, it was possible that a Benford had married into the villages from elsewhere. Warwickshire and Northamptonshire were good possibilities. There were Benford’s in earlier Parish Records in both these counties.

On my visit in 2013, I was able to visit the County Records Office in Leicester and discovered a document  known as a Settlement Certificate. These were documents issued by Church Wardens and Overseers of the Poor in a given Parish, to prove in which Parish a Family was  legally settled and to indicate, that should Poor Relief be needed, the family could be returned to that Parish. These certificates weren’t only provided to paupers. Regular Families often obtained them if they were moving to a new parish, and subsequently, if they fell on hard times, that Parish would know where to return them to obtain Poor Relief. This document helped me break through one of the many Brick Walls I had encountered in my research. 2013-09-26 07.02.38

In 1745, one such Certificate was issued to Benjamin Benford and Sarah (Page) Benford of Kettering, Northamptionshire and was addressed to the Church Wardens of the Parish of Ullesthorpe in Leicestershire. Benjamin had been born in Kettering in 1714 to Thomas and Sarah (Stanley?) Benford. On January 3, 1745 he married Sarah Page of Ullesthorpe. In order to settle in Ullesthorpe, the family would need a Settlement Certificate.  This Certificate answered my question….Was Benjamin was from eleswhere? It seems this was the case… And just like like in the Bible…Benjamin begat Nathaniel in 1748, Nathaniel begat Nathaniel in 1774, and Nathaniel begat Nathaniel in 1804 who begat the 10 children I am going to tell you about.

I will begin with William Benford. He was christened April 3,1833 at St. Peter’s in Claybrooke Parva. His life was short and he died in August 1847.

Anne Marie Benford, the first daughter,  was christened September 28, 1834. She married John Malliband in 1855 and on the 1861 census,  she is living with husband John (27) and daughter  Ann Eliza (10 months) in Walworth, Southwark, London. John is a leather dresser and next door is Thomas Malliband (24) a skinner and a brother. By 1871, the family has moved to Kingston on Hull in Yorkshire and John is still working in the Wool and Leather trade. They remain there for the remainder of their lives and Anne Marie dies in 1898. They had 6 children but not all survived to adulthood.  (Anne Eliza 1861, John Thomas 1863, Charles W 1865, George Henry 1868, Herbert 1870, Eliza Jane 1874)

My Great Grandmother Clara Benford was born in October 27,1836. She married John Perkins in St Peter’s Church June 6, 1859. Her two sons, John Thomas (2Jun1863) and Walter Joseph (4th Qt 1864) were born in Claybrooke Magna, where John was the village Blacksmith. On the 1891 Census she and her husband have taken in 3 children of her brother Thomas Benford who died in a railway accident in Cheshire. They are Ellen (13), Alfred (7) and Annie (5). Ellen, later known as Nellie, remained a spinster and stayed with the family her entire life. Clara died in 1910.

Wedding was at St. Peter's Claybrooke Parva. Think Walter Joseph Perkins is standing above his brother John's right shoulder

Wedding of John Thomas Perkins and Sarah Jane Sleath… June 5, 1901. Clara Benford Perkins (front row), Nellie Benford, John Thomas Perkins, (Clara’s Son), Sarah Jane Sleath and Bessie Tyres. Walter Perkins (Clara’s second son) standing just left of Nellie.

John Thomas Perkins Blacksmith Shop on Main Road Claybrooke Magna c. 1898

John Thomas Perkins Blacksmith Shop on Main Road Claybrooke Magna c. 1898

Next came Edwin Benford. He was christened 14 February 1841. He married Ann Hollier of Sharnford in 1865 in Hinckley. On the 1871 census he is in Claybrooke Magna listed as a Publican and  Carpenter. By 1891, he is a farmer and Carpenter at High Cross and is living with his 5 children and niece Mary, 11 year old daughter of his brother Thomas who has recently died. At age 70 on the 1911 Census , he is still at High Cross and living with his 2 children Clara (36) and Leonard (33). When he dies in June of 1912, these two inherit the Farm. (Katie 1866, Lucy M 1869, Ada Florence 1873, Clara Jane 1875, Leonard 1878, Ernest Ernel 1880)

Field's once owned by Edwin Benford at HighCross along Fosse Way

Field’s once owned by Edwin Benford at HighCross along Fosse Way

   Caroline Benford is the 5th child to be born in 1843. She has a daughter by Michael Spawnton in 1862, but they don’t marry until May 1866. On the 1881 Census they are in Brinklow running the White Lion Inn. By 1901 Caroline is a widow and is living with her sister Clara Perkins in Claybrooke. On March 29,1902 she marries Thomas Brooks, a widower and a tailor from Ullesthorpe, in St. Peter’s Church, Coventry. One of the witnesses is Tom Ashmore, her daughter’s Ellen’s husband. (Ellen 1862, Joseph 1867)

Fields at House Cross

Fields at High Cross

Eliza Benford is christened September 14, 1845. On the 1871 Census, following the death of both her parents, 26 year old Elizabeth (Eliza) is living with her brother George. William Bird, a Blacksmith, is a lodger next door. In 1875 she and William marry. Their first child Annie was born in 1877. William was from Brinklow, Warwickshire and was apprenticed to John Perkins, the village Blacksmith. S0metime after 1881, the family moves to the Plough Inn, Willey where they remain for the rest of their lives. They have 5 children…Ann 1877, John 1881, Charles 1883, William 1887 and Ethel 1889.

Clara Blockley and children

Clara Blockley Benford (wife of George) outside the Royal Oak with some of her children…Lizzie, Amy and Fred in back, Mabel Herbert, Ethel, Tom and Harry

George Benford, was christened August 20, 1848. On the 1871 Census he is an Innkeeper and has taken in his 3 siblings, Eliza (25),  Frederick (18) and Elizabeth (Betsey) (16) following the death of their parents. In 1873 he marries Clara Blockley (Parish of Markfield) and they have 10 children. He owned the Royal Oak and worked as a carpenter. He dies 17 Oct 1912. (George 1877, Amy 1879, Frederick 1880, Lizzie 1882, Thomas Blockley 1884, Harry 1886, Mabel 1887, Herbert Lewis 1889, Ethel 1891, Harrold 1893)

royal oak 2

Royal Oak owned by George Benford.

Thomas Benford was the 4th son. He was christened September 29,1850. He had moved to Witton, Cheshire and was working as a Railway Clerk. On September 22, 1875 he married Elizabeth Chadwick at St. Nicholas Church in Halewood, Cheshire. He had been promoted to a Station Master. On the 1881, the family was living in Northenden. There were 3 young children along with Elizabeth’s widowed mother Mary. The family would be struck by a double tragedy in 1890. In April as he was walking beside the Cheshire Railway Lines, Thomas was struck and killed by an express train from Manchester. He was 40 years old and left a widow and 5 children. Tragedy struck again in June when Elizabeth died leaving the children orphans. Mary Hannah went to live with Edwin Benford, Nellie, Alfred and Annie  go to live with Clara Benford Perkins and Elizabeth , the eldest Elizabeth, was adopted by the Station Master from Northenden, Thomas Senior and Emily, his wife.  She was 14.

Alfred Frederick Benford was christened in 1852. Following the death of his parents, he went to live with his brother George. On the 1871 Census he was working as a carpenter. He died at age 22 in 1874.

Elizabeth (Betsey) Benford was born in 1854. Following the death of her parents she went to live with her brother George. On the 1871 Census age 16, she is working as a dressmaker. In June of 1878, she marries Arthur Edwin Richards. By the 1881 Census the family is living in Leicester. Arthur is an Ironfounder, son of William Richards, owner of W. Richards and Co which was founded in 1844. They eventually have 5 children. There were a number of Iron Foundries in Leicester and Richards, in later years, the company specialized in steel roofing, railway and road bridges, and engine and wagon turntables. They eventually have 5 children…Elizabeth 1880, France M 1886, Grace Hilda 1888, Ellen A 1891, William Benjamin 1892 and ida Doris 1899.

2012-08-08 10.38.51

Clara Benford Perkins’ son John Thomas, His wife Sarah and son Tertius at their home in Canada in 1929.

This is the story of a large family that grew even larger in the next generation. These 10 siblings born during the mid 1800’s went on to have 41 children. They and their children would grow up in an England very different from that of their parents. Many of the young men would go off to fight in the Battlefields of France during WW1 and some would not return. Others would come back scarred by what they had seen. Increasingly they would move from the villages to the bigger centres…Leicester, Coventry, Birmingham, London and beyond…to find new opportunities.  Their story is one for another time……

There is also the story of the first Benford’s back in the 1600 and 1700’s…this one is more difficult to research and tell, but it is not impossible.  Were the Leicestershire Benford’s connected to the Benford’s in the Parish Records for the Silver Street Baptist Church in Kettering in the 1700’s as I believe? There was a Thomas born c. 1710, a Benjamin born c. 1716 and a John born c. 1719. There is also a Nathaniell Bendford? christened at Theddingworth in 1714….were they all Children of the same parents…Thomas and Sarah Benford?

If anyone reading this blog notices mistakes in dates, names or other details or can add to my information, please let me know. I would als0 like to thank those that had posted pictures on the Old Pictures of Claybrooke Facebook page. I have included a couple to put faces to names.

Islington, London…..Then and Now….

14 Jul

DSCF7253 I first discovered Islington in 2010 when I went to London with the London Trippers, a group of diehard Family Historians, who think spending the day in the depths of the Archives is the only way to go. We were staying at Rosebery Hall, one of the Residences belonging to the London School of Economics. Many of the archives were within walking distance, which was why earlier groups recommended this as the place to stay.

London Metropolitan Archives

London Metropolitan Archives


Room at Rosebery Hall

Also, even though it was not always clean and things didn’t always work, it was cheap and offered a Full English Breakfast and if you took a baggie, you would have enough food for lunch.

Food at Rosebery

Breakfast in the Cafeteria at Rosebery Hall

This spring was my 5th visit since 2010 and I think of the Hall as my London home away from home. The price was up to 45 Pounds a night, but it is still a steal in London. Until my visit in 2013, I wasn’t aware that Islington had been home to some of my Ancestors who, I thought, lived and died in Warwickshire. Since then I have learned otherwise…people MOVE…they have always MOVED and in 1776, they were no different. In 1965, the Borough of Islington was created by incorporating some of the old parishes where my Mason Family once lived. It now takes in Clerkenwell, St. Luke’s, Canonbury and Pentonville as well as others.


St. Luke’s today

2013-09-16 05.13.43

St Luke’s Parish Church

If you begin your walk on Old Street, just a few steps from the SOG..Society of Genealogists, one of the other spots I hang out, you come across St. Luke’s Church. It has been decommissioned…and is used by the London Symphony Orchestra for their community and music education programs. In the late 1700’s,  Spencer and Martha Mason from Warwickshire had 10 children baptised there between 1777 and 1795.  The first was John,  christened in 1777 and the last Eliza, christened in 1795. The child that I have been able to trace is Daniel Spencer Mason, christened in 1793. Spencer Mason was a Baker, and as such was a member of the Mercer’s Guild. It was this organization that provided the funds for his youngest son, Daniel Spencer Mason, to attend St. Paul’s School.

Full text of “Admission registers of St. Paul’s school, from 1748 to 1876”……Daniel Spencer Mason, aged 11, son of the late Spencer M., baker, Old Street ….18o4] SCHOLARS OF ST. PAUL’S SCHOOL. 229

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Old Street today where Spencer Mason once had his bakery.

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Spencer Mason (1802) and his son Daniel Spencer Mason (1846) are buried here

Bunhill Fields Cemetery

Spencer died when Daniel was only 9.  He was  buried in the Bunhill Fields Cemetery on Dec 16, 1802…Piece 3989: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, City Road. Bunhill was in use as a burial ground from 1665 until 1854, by which date approximately 123,000 interments were estimated to have taken place. Over 2,000 monuments remain. It was particularly favoured by Nonconformists and contains the graves of such notables as John Bunyan, Daniel Dafoe, William Blake  and Isaac Watts. Just across the street is John Wesley’s Chapel.


John Wesley’s Chapel

St Mary's church

Rebuilt St. Mary’s Church

Daniel Spencer Mason went on to become a Draper and had a shop at #107 Shoreditch High Street. According to the 1841 Census he had a house he shared with his sisters Mary Ann Finch (widow) and Ann Mason at New Norfolk Street not far from St. Mary’s Parish Church in Islington. This area was destroyed by bombs in WW2 and the house is no longer standing. Islington is mentioned in an early Anglo-Saxon charter and was originally named Giseldone, then Gislandune. The name means ‘Gisla’s hill’ from an old Saxon personal name Gisla and dun meaning ‘hill’. According to one early writer, it was a savage place, a forest “full of the lairs of wild beasts”, where bears and wild bulls roamed. On the edges of the forest was a pasture for hogs. In The Domesday Book of 1086 the name had mutated to Isendone, and then Iseldone, which remained in use until the 17th century when it was replaced by the modern form.


Poster is in St. Mary’s Church

In the Middle Ages, most of the land belonged to religious institutions. After the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1540), much of it was given to aristocratic families, often the friends of the Tudor monarchs. By the 17th century, Islington had grown from a hamlet into a village, spreading along Upper Street and Lower Road, which later became Essex Road; by the 18th century, the area had become became famous for its dairy herds, which supplied London with butter, cream and milk.


Canonbury Square

London grew rapidly in the 19th century and brick terraced houses began to take over the agricultural land. Local farmers turned to manufacturing bricks and developing property. Canonbury Square  is an attractive square, developed between 1805 and 1830 and included a variety of distinct styles. In 1812, when few properties had been built, the New North Road turnpike, now known as Canonbury Road, was constructed and bisects the square. Many significant figures from the arts and literary worlds have lived on the square, including George Orwell (1944) and  Evelyn Waugh (1928). The Mason Family lived at New Norfolk Terrace, not from here.

Islington map

Mason House on Norfolk Street/New Norfolk Street near New North Road


Finsbury Estate

With the advent of the railways came industrial development and corresponding social decline. Eventually, many big houses and once elegant squares fell into disrepair. For much of the 20th century, Islington was a poor, down-at-heel area. However, post-Second World War rebuilding and later gentrification improved both housing standards and the appearance of local streets. In recent decades, although some significant social problems remain, Islington has become a desirable residential area, as well as a place to head for leisure and entertainment. Run-down establishments have given way to smart restaurants, local theatres, galleries and shops, whilst new shopping centres have grown up at Angel and Nag’s Head. Properties now range in the 700,000 to 5.5 million pounds if they have been restored.

Finsbury Estate, one of a number of  large Public Housing Estates,  is next door to Rosebery Hall. When I first visited in 2010, I was kept up at night with noise made by the local teenage residents, gathered on the street corner under my window. Drug deals and fights went on all night. The area has been cleaned up in recent years with surveillance cameras and police patrols.  The development includes a library and the Islington Museum which opened in 2008 below the library.

Bob...The Street Cat who along with his owner James, Busked outside the Angel Station.

Bob…The Street Cat who along with his owner James, Busked outside the Angel Station.

Islington has had a host of noteworthy characters over the years. Bob and James, a man and his cat are only some of the latest. They became famous worldwide after their books “A Street Cat named Bob” and “The World  According to Bob” were published. Instead of keeping warm in Waterstone’s Book Store at the north end of Islington Green, they came to sign their books.  If you are not familiar with their story…it is one of love and how one stray cat helped a man who had spent 10 years on the London streets as an addict, begin a new life. James in  turn, had rescued Bob after he wandered into his flat, sick and worn.

The Sadler Wells Theatre is also a neighbour of Rosebery Hall. It is a performing arts venue and the 6th on the site since 1683. Patrons were gathered outside one April evening as I returned home, enjoying their drinks in the warm spring London weather. I laughed when I saw some patrons arriving on their bikes which they locked up against the lamp poles. This is not something that happens at such venues back home.

Exmouth Market with outside seating for nearly every pub and restaurant

Exmouth Market with outside seating for nearly every pub and restaurant

Not far from Rosebery Hall is Exmouth Market..a pedestrian friendly street with Shops, Cafes, Restaurants and Pubs. On a Friday night it gets very busy as the young people come out to celebrate the end of another work week.  My favorite Cafe is Cafe Nero at the end of the street. It is here I usually have my final coffee as I head to catch the #63 bus which will take me to Kings Cross to begin my long journey back to Canada. I keep the Coffee Card in my wallet as I know it will be only a matter of time before I am there once again. 2013-09-09 16.52.55

Leicester: The King in the Cathedral

28 May


Five hundred and thirty years after he was hurriedly buried in the Grey Friars Priory, Richard III was buried with full honor and dignity on March 26, 2015.

When I heard about the discovery of his remains under the car park in Leicester back in 2012, and the subsequent decision to have him reburied in Leicester Cathedral, I knew I had to be present. After all, my ancestors were living in Claybrooke Magna in the late 1500’s, according to Parish Records. If they were there then, it is likely that they were there in 1485 when Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth…… and the battle field was only a mere 9 miles up the road. I thought, “were they aware of what was going on at the time?”


My picture taken in 2010.

Also, like Philippa Langley, the woman who lead the Looking for Richard Project, I too felt a connection to the car park. While visiting Leicester back in 2010 and wandering the backstreets of Leicester late one afternoon, I came across a gated site with brick buildings and interesting chamber pots silhouetted against a darkening sky. The place had a haunted feel to it, so I took a picture.

It was the same site !

It was the same site……August 2012.

Two years past and it wasn’t until August 2012, when I heard about the discovery of the remains of Richard III in the Car Park, that I took a look at my old pictures. I had a feeling that it was the same site I had photographed… was!

Once the date of the Reburial was announced, I made my reservations so as not to be left out. I even entered the lottery for seats at the cathedral…some 600 were going to be made available to the public.  I wasn’t successful, but wasn’t too upset as they had 14,000 applications for the draw.


Friars outside Leicester Cathedral


Aitone Concert at Holy Cross Priory

I arrived in Leicester on March 23, checked into my hotel at 3:30PM and hurried off to the Cathedral for the 5:00PM Vespers Service that was to be sung by the Dominican Friars. Later that evening, I attended a concert at their church, the Holy Ghost Priory on the New Walk, to hear Aitone, a choir based in the east Midlands town of Long Eaton. They were formed in the autumn of 2005 with the goal of exposing new audiences to Early Music. They are a mixed a capella group singing a range of music from the 11th to the 18th centuries, including Anglo-Saxon chant, West Gallery psalmody, medieval English discant and Renaissance music. They were simply amazing, especially in that venue.

Next day was all about attending Workshops on “Writing About Richard and His Times” sponsored by  Leicester Adult Education Centre and the Leicester Public Library. Shakespeare has portrayed Richard III as the archetypal villain, while others see him as a much maligned monarch. What are the facts and how have they been presented? The Historical Novel Society brought together authors from differing perspectives. They included Alison Weir, renowned author of many factual and fiction books on the period; Joanna Hickson, broadcaster, author of Red Rose, White Rose and writer on the genesis of Tudor England; Toby Clements, author of Kingmaker and writer on the Wars of the Roses; and Jenny Barden, Tudor era author and creative writing tutor. The English love their history and can be very vocal when defending their point of view. I was afraid a war might break out at one point in the afternoon when a member of the audience took one of the panelists to task!

In the evening there was a lively discussion at Leicester Central Library: Richard III in Fact and Fiction – Who should we believe? chaired by the Richard III Society chairman, Dr Phil Stone and panelists David Baldwin, adviser to the Richard III Visitor Centre; Peter Hammond, historian, author of Richard III and the Bosworth Campaign, broadcaster and historical novelist Joanna Hickson, and Toby Clements. Never knew the distinctions between History, Historical Non-Fiction and Historical Fiction. WOW…was I educated that night.

Dean Monteith and the Bishop of Leicester

Dean Monteith and the Bishop of Leicester


My new Leicester friend, Diana (rear) watch the service on the Big Screen


Philippa Langley and Dr. John Ashdown Hill

Thursday,March 26 was cold and wet. It did not deter hundreds of people from  coming out to line the streets around the cathedral and the 2 squares where BIG SCREENS had been set up. The Reburial Service took place in the cathedral before guests which included Sophie, Countess of Wessex, The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Benedict Cumberbatch, religious leaders  and 200 members of the public. The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev Justin Welby, presided over the service during which, The Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, said: “People have come in their thousands from around the world to this place of honour, not to judge or condemn but to stand humble and reverent.  From car park to cathedral…Today we come to give this King, and these mortal remains the dignity and honour denied to them in death.”


Dr. Jo Appleby (Osteologist) and Dr. Turi King, (Genetic Analysis) from Leicester University


Cumberbatch going for TV interview

I watched the arrivals of the guests outside the cathedral and then saw the service broadcast on the Big Screen in Jubilee Square.


Church of st James the Greater

Later that evening the Richard III Society sponsored The Middleham Requiem by Geoff Davidson, a “dramatic cantata which tells the story of Richard’s life using a narrator, three vocal soloists depicting Richard, Queen Anne, and King Edward IV, two choirs (adults and children), a twenty-piece orchestral ensemble and pipe organ”. Performed in St James the Greater Church, it was an appropriate closing to a “one of a kind day in history”.


Clergy Procession after the Service of Reveal

On Friday there was a Service of Reveal to bless the new tomb. It was a warm spring day in contrast to the cold, wind and rain the day prior. In the evening Leicester was aglow with fires and fireworks. Over 8,000 flames were lit around Jubilee Square and Cathedral Gardens, illuminating the area  with a trail of fire sculptures lighting the sky to mark the reinterment of King Richard III.


Richard’s Horse

Fireworks were lit from the cathedral area to end the day.


Jubilee Square and the Fire Pots


Fireworks from the cathedral roof


Leicester Cathedral lit up

Sunday was Palm Sunday and in the morning I had returned to St James Church for the morning service.

In the afternoon, I decided that as I was leaving the next day, I would walk down to the cathedral for the Evensong Service at 3:00.

Our Private Service with Richard III

Our Private Service with Richard III

Either the Luck of the Irish or my “Guardian Ancestors” were with me….I had no expectations other than to hear the Choristers. The church was closed to visitors until the next day and I knew that if I wanted to view the tomb, I would have to return early in the morning and line up with the crowd.

At the end, Dean Monteith, who had taken the services all week, invited the 20 of us to visit Richard’s Tomb!!! Even those that had INVITATIONS to the THREE SERVICES this past week, would not have had such a moment….something I won’t soon forget….an English Cathedral with the afternoon sun streaming through the stained glass windows, the choir with wonderful voices  and a Private Evensong Service with Richard !!! now buried in his tomb! Pete’s Blog last week made the following comment about the work of a cathedral “the special just highlights the importance of the ordinary” referencing the Richard III Reburial events of the past week and the ongoing work of a cathedral…well today was just an ordinary Sunday Service and I was just an ordinary person….but somehow the ordinary became very special….. Farewell Leicester….until next time!


Banner with the Boar


Handmade Pall






Rest easy……Richard III……..The King in the     Cathedral!          DSCF7122                  

The Inhabitants of Claybrooke Hall, Claybrooke Parva, Leicestershire….Upstairs and Downstairs!

13 Jan

claybrooke hall from the roadIt was the  advertisement on the internet that caught my eye………

“7 bedroom House for sale in Lutterworth  950000£……..Approached via a private gated driveway, this magnificent Georgian hall benefits from an abundance of period features. Claybrooke Hall is a magnificent Grade II listed hall and offers the opportunity to reside in a truly unique historic home, with the benefit of a central village location and an ample plot …  Claybrooke Hall was where my Grandmother Sarah Jane Sleath worked prior to her marriage to John Thomas Perkins in 1901.

The pictures showing the interior are wonderful….and I could see the Parlor where my grandmother worked as a Parlor Maid and the kitchen where her friend worked as a cook. Bet these rooms  didn’t look like that back in 1901.




And look at the gorgeous bedroom….a few too many flowers but all that could be changed.

Now 114 years since my Grandmother worked there, this Old Hall is once again up for sale. I would wager it has many stories to tell about the occupants, if only it could talk. Well it can’t, but perhaps I could fill in the few details I have discovered about the place.

Claybrooke Hall was built in 1718 by Thomas Byrd, a local landowner and Justice of the Peace and in 1765 it was sold to Cluer Dicey as a “gentleman’s house”. The conveyance of Claybrooke Hall and lands from George Byrd to Cluer Dicey is dated 11 Oct 1767…(From Humphry’s Family Tree Page).  When he died in 1775, his will described him as of “Little Claybrooke in the county of Leicester, Esq.” He also had two farms in Little Claybrooke and property in Stoke Newington, London.

“A George Fitzwilliam Hodgson also lived at Claybrooke Hall. He was a Lieutenant in the Queen’s regiment of Foot. He died Feb 1799 aged 45. He  married his wife Sarah Brotherton in Boston Lincolnshire in 1787 and had a number of children both there and at the Hall. A son Thomas Brotherton Hodgson born 12 Feb 1794 and christened at St. Peter’s Claybrooke Parva died in East Indies 1816 aged 22. I’ve not found anything on him & why he was in East Indies. Family tablet is in East wall of South aisle, the Lady Chapel, in church. St Mary’s Church in Withern Lincolnshire has a number of monuments to the Fitzwilliam and Hodgson families.  Information provided by Nicholas Jenkins….August 2015….

On the 1841 Census,  Thomas Edward and Anne Mary Dicey were living there with their 4 sons including  Albert Venn Dicey who was born 4 February 1835 at Claybrook Hall in Leicestershire, England. He was the third son of Thomas Edward Dicey, a leading journalist of his time, by his wife Anne Mary, younger daughter of James Stephen, master in chancery. Albert was a British jurist and constitutional theorist. He is most widely known as the author of An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885). The principles it expounds are considered part of the uncodified British Constitution.  He was a graduate of Balliol College, Oxford and became Vinerian Professor of Law and a leading constitutional scholar of his day. Dicey popularised the phrase “Rule of law”, although its use goes back to the 17th century.” (from Wikipedia)

On the 1861  Census,  Mary Douglas, wife of  H. Sholto Douglas, captain in Her Majesty’s 42nd Regimen and their 8 children were living in the Hall. The Captain was away on Military duties, however he obviously returned home frequently as he had 6 children born at the Hall between 1854 and 1859. At this time a number of Domestic Servants were required to keep things running….Butler, Groom, Cook, Kitchen Maid, Parlor Maid and 3 Nurses to care for all the young children.

On the 1881 Census, Mary Emily Simpson formerly of Oswaldkirk, Yorkshire and her sisters Emma and Louisa had taken over the hall. Mary had worked with her father , the Reverend Francis Simpson, to improve the lot of the farm lads of Boynton and Carnaby. She gave us an account of her labours in a book, “Ploughing and Sowing: or the Annals of an Evening School in a Yorkshire Village and the work that grew out of it- By a Clergyman’s Daughter”. According to her Obituary, she carried on her charitable work once she moved to Claybrooke Hall  where she opened a Convalescent Home in connection with the Leicester Infirmary. Her twin sister Emma, who was ill at the time of Mary’s death, died not long after. At this time, the Hall had 4 general Female Domestic Servants and a Cook. Louisa, the remaining sister continued to live in the Hall, and on the 1891 Census only the Housekeeper, Sarah Robinson and the Parlor Maid Bessie Tyres were listed. It is likely that Louisa was away visiting friends when the census took place.

DSCF2688 - Copy

Louisa Simpson and her companion Charlotte Hillyer


Sarah Jane on her Bicycle

My Grandmother Sarah Jane Sleath had taken up the position of Parlor Maid, by the time the 1901 Census was taken. Louisa had a companion Charlotte Hillyer and a full staff in residence. These included Bessie Tyres, now the nurse attendant, Sarah Haywood, a housemaid, Ethel Crisp, a kitchen maid, Janet Taylor, a nurse and Hetty Williams, the cook.

Bessie Tyres and Sarah Jane Sleath

In the late 19th Century, British families were in the world of “Upstairs Downstairs”. Each family either had a member that was in service or the household included at least one maid. By the end of the Victorian era, likely one third of all women had been a domestic worker at some point in their lives. In 1881, there were over 1.2 million females in Domestic Service and at least 50% were under the age of 20. Interesting to note that when my Grandmother was at the Hall, the younger Housemaid and Kitchen Maid were from the local area, whereas the nurse, nurse attendant and the parlor maid were from neighbouring counties. It would be interesting to discover how they came to be employed at the Hall. Had they responded to an advertisement, attended a Hiring Fair or heard of the vacancy from a friend or other relative? Claybrooke Hall was no Downton Abbey, but likely the same things occurred just on a smaller scale. These young women may have been kept busy with all the household chores, but they must have had the odd day off…how else were they to meet prospective husbands. Sarah Jane may have met John Thomas Perkins, the village Blacksmith, when he came to the Hall to carry out some work. Tradespeople and craftsmen would have used the back door and it would have been answered by one of the maids who would have supervised them in their duties.

1891 Perkins & Nixon stables (1)

J Perkins Claybrook his handiwork as Village Blacksmith

The following is an extract from correspondence between myself and a resident of Claybrooke Parva today. It provides some light on the duties of a Blacksmith.  Mr. Jenkins wrote “My home has a stable block that was erected in 1891 and the ironwork was made by J Perkins of Claybrooke Magna – see attached photo & note that the village had no ‘e’ on end. The number 1 under the crown indicates the quality of the iron as there were different qualities used for things like hinges to pots & pans etc. 1 is the lowest quality. I have a sheet on this somewhere but can’t find it. It would seem that this would have been John Perkins.  I have not studied the family tree but your photo would seem to be early 20th Century. This would make me think that the John Thomas shown would probably be son of the John who died in 1896. The Tom Perkins I knew – but only in passing – did tell me a bit of history when I showed him our stable block iron work.

Tom Perkins told me that he was named after his uncle, the Claybrooke Magna Blacksmith. His uncle emigrated to Canada  to make a better life for himself & family. Would our Tom have been named after John Thomas?(Possibly) Is John Thomas the man who emigrated & Tertius (3rd son?) would have gone too? Yes along with his wife Sarah Jane Sleath) Hence I ask if you are in Canada. Tom did tell me that the Perkins smithy also made most of the ironwork in the cemetery & around the churchyard. Sadly a lot of that was used for military purposes in WW2.”

Watts family2 - Ullesthorpe

Fanny Haywood Cook, (black belt) Sarah Haywood Maid (back row) with their husbands and mother Emma.

Fanny Haywood, a friend of Sarah Jane,  must have gone to Claybrooke Hall just after the 1891 census. Her descendant Ann who now lives in Wales, has several books inscribed by her dated that year (1891) when she was still at Great Longstone,  Derbyshire as Cook for Captain Legge the Chief Constable of Derbyshire.  She wrote “Fanny downgraded going to Claybrooke to be nearer home when her mother became ill and after Fanny married, her mother lived permanently at Ullesthorpe”.


Nellie Benford, niece of John Thomas Perkins, Sarah Jane Sleath, Bessie Tyres on Wedding Day May 5, 1901.

Sarah Jane left the Hall when she married John Thomas Perkins at St. Peter’s Church on May 5, 1901. That was, as I said earlier,  114 years ago.


St. Peter’s Church at Claybrooke Parva LEI

The hall has had other residents since then, but as yet I haven’t done any research to determine who they were. If anyone has information, I would be delighted to hear from you and add your story to mine. I also hope that the information in my Blog is correct, but if anyone notes errors, again, please let me know so the story can be amended. Also a reminder to those doing their own family history, also fully check the Census to see who lives with or near by to your ancestor. Often relatives live nearby or a widowed parent moves in with a married daughter or a relative isn’t where you think they should be but may be listed as a Visitor at another relatives place. Often over time, you find young people marrying others who live down the road.

It is amazing who you are able to locate in the manner. I did research for someone and it turned out that the ancestors they were looking for had once been neighbours. She was the daughter of the grocer and he was the married man living next door with his wife and family and for whom she did housework. Turns out she became pregnant, he left his family and they emigrated to Canada from England where they established a complete new family. Lost all contact with their English families!

Claybrooke Hall

Will of Nathaniel Mason Grasier of Withybrook Warwickshire….. 1724

1 Jan

Nathaniel's will


It begins….”I Nathaniel Mason of Withybrook in the County of Warwick Grasior being of sound and perfect mind memory and understanding God be praised to make and ordain this to be my last will and testament in manner and form following and first and principally command my soul in the hands of God Almighty and my body I commit to the earth to be reverently buryed  at the discretion of my executor herein after named and as for and concerning such worldly estate as it hath pleased God to bestow upon me I give and dispose as followeth”

WOW…didn’t know that there was no punctuation in those days and that it would go on for three pages in a script and wording  with which I was not all that familiar. It soon became clear that Nathaniel had died childless and that his brother JOHN MASON and his brother-in-law JOHN BLOCKLEY, husband to his sister ELIZABETH,  would be his executors and that JOHN MASON would get the largest part of the estate. Guess this is why the John’s in my direct line farmed the land in Withybrook. John Mason born in 1748 is my 3X Great Grandfather and it is his daughter Ann Mason that marries into the Perkins Family.

John Perkins…Grandson of John Mason, Son of Ann Mason


Why would I want to spend so much time on the will of someone who died almost 300 years ago? The answer is “I’m  crazy..well yes… but I am also curious and a Family Historian” and this Will gives me a great deal of information about my Mason family. They appear to have lived in Warwickshire for a very long time…..Sarah,  daughter of Thomas Mason was born March 4, 1653 in Withybrook and a Thomas Mason was buried there in the church cemetery age 91 in 1691… meaning he was born around 1600. Good possibility that he was the father of Thomas Jr. who was born in 1633… there we are, almost 400 years on the farm, so to speak. This information is found in the online scanned Parish Church Records….no more transcriptions with their many errors. I can turn the pages and see the names for myself!



Farm at Withybrook, Warwickashire

Farm at Withybrook, Warwickshire some 8 miles from Coventry

Right at the start, I had to access a dictionary. What is a Grasior or Grasier?….my guess would be farmer of some sort. Oxford says ” someone who feeds cattle for market or a large scale sheep or cattle farmer”.  After the preliminaries of the will, Nathaniel begins his bequests. He takes care of his wife Elizabeth for the remainder of her life by a trust  of 240 pounds managed by the TWO JOHN’s. He gives her “my BED in the parlor with all the bedding thereunto belonging in my chest standing at the said bed foot all my linen except for what is used with my other beds all my pewter which was my wife’s at the time of our marriage.” Nice of him to return it to her.

He then goes on to make specific monetary bequests to his siblings, kinsmen, kinswomen and nieces and nephews.  “How I give and bequeath unto my nephew JOHN MASON, son of my said brother John  Mason the sum of 100£ . To my nieces ELIZABETH DALTON and SARAH MASON daughters of my said brother John Mason and to each of them 40£ apiece. To MARY MASON another daughter of my said brother John Mason” …..and so on and so on as the money is doled out. Hard to equate the value of this money in today’s terms, but I would guess that he was a reasonably wealthy gentleman. (In 1720 an ounce of gold in London cost about £4.31  and today it costs £768 and a midling type of family could live on 40 to 60 pounds a year.)

He takes care of John’s younger children.. “How I give to my nephew DANIEL MASON another of the sons of my said brother John Mason the sum of 10£ to be paid at age 13 in order to put him into an apprenticeship.”  Apprenticeships were commonly arranged for the younger children in large families so they would be able to earn a living.

Next he disposes of  his possessions many of which go to his nieces “. How I give and bequeath to my niece ELIZABETH DALTON my bed in the chamber over the hall with all the bedding thereunto belonging and my best brass pot. How I give unto my niece SARAH MASON my bed standing at the stair head with all the bedding thereunto belonging. How I give to my niece MARY MASON my great table with the joynt stools thereto belonging. And the other chest in my said parlor and also my best cupboard in the said hall.

The next part of his will is very useful as it names men that his kinswomen married, where they lived and what they did…..a big help in family history research. “How I give to my nephew JOHN BLOCKLEY son of  SISTER BLOCKLEY the sum of 100£ and to my niece ELIZABETH daughter of SISTER BLOCKLEY 40£ and to MARY BLOCKLEY daughter of  SISTER BLOCKLEY 20£. How I give to my kinswomen ELIZABETH AND MARY ROBINSON daughters of LUKE ROBINSON of ANSTEY in the CITY OF COVENTRY GRASIER and to each the sum of 20£ at the ages of 21 years. So this clues me in to the fact that the  Robinson’s and the Blockley’s are extended family and I know where they are living in Warwickshire relative to where Nathaniel was living in Withybrook. Since land is passed only to the eldest son, it is important to determine what happened to the rest of the sons and daughters. These women are likely his cousins/aunts which mean I have more help to trace backwards to the common ancestors…Thomas Jr (1633) and/or Thomas Sr. (1600).

This item I found interesting “How I give unto Mr. almighty SMITH of Leire in the county of Leicester and Mr. THOMAS SMITH his brother each of them 5£.” I wonder what his relationship was with the 2 brothers? Perhaps they had done him wrong in some business transaction….I don’t believe almighty is a christian name…but rather in the vain of “so who does he think he is”.

In a codicil to the will he makes some changes….How I make and appoint my Kinsman JOHN MASON of Rynton aforesaid YEOMAN Sole Executor of this my last will and testament and do give unto him all the rest of my GOODS CHATTELS and PERSONAL ESTATE…..a very lucky man I would say as he always would be reasonably well off.  The  Concise Oxford Dictionary  states that a yeoman was “a person qualified by possessing free land of 40/- (shillings) annual [feudal] value, and who can serve on juries and vote for a Knight of the Shire. He is sometimes described as a small landowner, a farmer of the middle classes.”  Owning land was the main form of wealth in the 18th century. Political power and influence was in the hands of rich landowners. At the top were the nobility. Below them were a class of nearly rich landowners called the gentry. In the early 18th century there was another class of landowners called yeomen between the rich and the poor.

So..there you have it…the information that can be gleaned from a Will. The class system was alive and well in England but it would appear that this part of my family was doing OK!

Reburying Richard III….The King in the Car Park!……..A Leicester Story

12 Sep

King Richard III

The remains of Richard III will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, 2015. Now why would I be interested in such an event? The story begins in 2010, when I first visited Leicester. The London Trippers, part of the England/Wales Group at the Alberta Genealogy Society, had spent 2 weeks in London researching their ancestors in  various archives. Following that, everyone went their separate ways and I decided to visit Leicestershire, home to my Perkins/Benford ancestors.    



My home away from home in the Belmont Hotel. Made The Bar my office.

I wanted to visit Claybrooke Magna, a small village 12 miles from Leicester on the Leicestershire/Warwickshire border, where my Dad had been born in 1904. His father and grandfather had been the Village Blacksmiths since 1860. The Benford branch of my family had been the Village Carpenters for an even longer period of time.  I made the Belmont Hotel in Leicester my home base and would often head out along the New Walk, a delightful pedestrian walkway which took me to the city centre, where I  would  take photos. 


My picture taken in 2010 of the Car Park where Richard was discovered behind the wall on the right.

One day, late in the afternoon, as I was heading home, I came upon a property with an iron fence and gate and behind it some Brick Buildings  with chimney pots and a long Brick Wall which made a great picture against the darkening sky. This was one of hundreds of photos I took on the trip, and I never gave it another thought until August 2012  when I learned that the  remains of King Richard III had been discovered in a car park in Leicester. 

Richard III Dig: Bones Found Under Leicestershire Car Park

Richard III: ‘When I saw the skull, the hair on the back of my neck stood up’

As archaeologists leave the Leicester site where they believe they have found royal remains, locals are already convinced………

Richard III car park

Trench 1 was dug on the other side of the wall and that is where Richard’s remains were eventually discovered. (From The Guardian Newspaper Sept 23, 2012)

I  thought, “Could this be  in the same area that I had taken the photo 2 years earlier. The place looks familiar.” I got out my pictures and sure enough it was the very same site.    I joked with friends that the archaelogists should have asked me as I knew where Richard was…. I had taken that picture in 2010 because Richard III had been trying to  get someone’s attention to have him removed from the car park site to somewhere more befitting a grave for a king.

It was the same site !

It was the same site ! The wall behind which he was discovered has been taken down.


Greyfriars Friary

The actual search began on August 25, 2012, the 527th Anniversary of his burial. In  2010, Dr. Ashbrown-Hill had published compelling evidence building on the work of David Baldwin, that Richard was buried in the choir of the Greyfriars and his remains had not been disturbed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He also traced Richard’s family tree to the Ibsen family, descendents of Richard’s sister. Their mitochondrial DNA sequence could be helpful in proving the remains were Richard’s if they were ever located. Phillipa Langley had approached the Leicester City Council with a proposal that part of the Car Park where part of Alderman Herrick’s garden and the Greyfriars Friary had stood, be investigated. A team of archaeologists undertook an assessment of the site and developed an excavation strategy. The dig was eventually funded by the City Council, The University of Leicester and the The Richard III Society. By a strange quirk of fate, the bones that were discovered on the first day of the dig in the first trench dug, ultimately turned out to be those of Richard III.

Richard III reigned for only two years and two months…1482 – 1485. He was born during the reign of King Henry VI and his childhood was lived during the War of the Roses. Richard’s first recorded visit to Leicester was on May 10, 1464 at the age of 11. He was also in Leicester on a Post Coronation Progress and stayed at the castle from August 17-20, 1483. On August 7, 1485 Richard learned that Henry Tudor had landed in Wales and intended to claim the throne. Richard sent out letters to his followers ordering them to gather at Nottingham and Leicester. On August 20, 1485 rode into Leicester for the final time. He stayed overnight at the White (Blue) Boar Inn and the following morning rode out over the old Bow Bridge. He was on his way to fight in what would become known as the Battle of Bosworth. During a gallant fight, he was killed in battle and his body was brought back to Leicester over the same bridge he had crossed that morning. He was 32 years old. His body was eventually buried in the Greyfriars Friary, a site that runs parallel to St. Martin’s Cathedral. His remains were to languish in this grave till August 2012. He was 32 years old.


Greyfriars with St. Martin’s in top left corner


Richard’s remains were found in Trench 1 beside the wall


I took my photo from the iron fence on the street looking towards the wall.

King Richard III to remain in Leicester

May 23, 2014

 Follow Dean Monteith’s Blog on the St. Martin’s website.

A statement from The Very Revd David Monteith, Dean of Leicester Cathedral:

“The delays are over.  The law is clear and unequivocally set forth in today’s judgement.  Richard III fought here, fell here, died here, has lain here and was rediscovered here.  He will now be finally led to rest with the prayers of God’s people in a manner fitting to his story and with dignity as befits a child of God and an anointed King of England. This historic place marked the end of one dynasty and the start of the next.

This community, which has changed so much since then, then symbolises the best of modern Britain – respectful of the past, diverse in character and generous in welcome.  Our community are humbled to be entrusted with this next task on behalf of the people of England as the eyes of the world watch on.

Everyone now knows about the ‘King in the Car Park’, championed by the Looking for Richard project and achieved with the partnership of the City of Leicester and the expertise of the University of Leicester.”

Richard’s remains will be buried in St Martin’s Cathedral March 24, 2015.   At present there is a Memorial Stone to Richard. This will be removed and a new tombstone created.


St. Martin’s Cathedral showing Choir and Altar.


Memorial to Richard in front of Altar.


Plans for the new memorial.

David Monteith’s Blog continued…

“We now will continue to work together to complete the task in Spring 2015. The past weeks of waiting have been trying for all our staff and volunteers and this entire process has been costly financially and emotionally.  But I want to say to everyone, whatever viewpoint you take that everyone is welcome here.  Bosworth was a bitter battle with different branches of the same family at war.  Five hundred years on we can learn a little and my prayer is that we might travel now together to finally lay King Richard to rest. The final paragraph of the ruling summed up: ‘Since Richard III’s exhumation on 5 September 2012, passions have been roused and much ink has been spilt.  Issues relating to his life and death and place of re-interment have been exhaustively examined and debated.”

The Very Reverend David Monteith, the Dean of Leicester Cathedral, has explained the considerable efforts and expenditure invested by the Cathedral in order to create a lasting burial place “as befits an anointed King”.  “We agree that it is time for Richard III to be given a dignified reburial, and finally laid to rest.”

Recent announcements indicate that The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster (Roman Catholic) and The Archbishop of Canterbury (Church of England) will both be taking part in services in Leicester Cathedral to mark the reinterment of King Richard III. Remember there was no Church of England in the time of Richard III. It hadn’t yet come into being, so Richard would have been a devout Catholic.

Both Dioceses are working together with other stakeholders to organise various acts of worship during the week in which Richard III’s mortal remains will be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral. 

  • On Sunday March 22 the remains of Richard III will be received into Leicester Cathedral. 
  • On Monday March 23, Cardinal Nichols will celebrate Mass for the repose of the soul (a ‘Requiem Mass’) of Richard III in Holy Cross Church. 
  • On Thursday March 26, the mortal remains of Richard III will be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral, with an invited congregation and in the presence of the Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • On Friday March 27, invited people from across the city of Leicester and the county of Leicestershire will gather in the Cathedral to mark the end of King Richard’s journey and the sealed tomb will be revealed to the public.
  • In addition, the Cathedral will be open for people to visit, to pay their respects and to pray from 23-25th March, and from Saturday 28th March the area around Richard III’s tomb will be open to the public.

 It is not only Richard who has a connection to Leicester. In 1913, it was from here that John Thomas and Sarah Perkins, my grandparents and Tertius Perkins, my father, left for Liverpool and ultimately their new home in Canada. They had been living in the city for several years since leaving Claybrooke Village.    See the 1911 Census Form completed by my Grandfather.

Perkins 1911 England census

The 1911 Census Form completed by my Grandfather.

Leicester Train Station

Leicester Train Station

 My roots go deep in the English soil. I have discovered Perkins, Benford, Mason and Sleath names in the Parish Records of Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire going back to the late 1500’s.  My immediate family was from Claybrooke Magna, LEI and Withybrook, War, while my Benford family, was at one point in time in Leicester.…perhaps some of them were actually there when Richard was buried.
I have a Burial Record from Ancestry…Scanned Parish Records from Withybrook Church showing that Thomas Mason would have been born around 1600, 115 years after Richard’s Burial. Thomas’ Great Great Grandfather could then  have been alive during Richard’s Reign. Gives one something to think about!
Thomas Mason
Death Age: 90
Birth Date: abt 1601
Burial Date: 13 Jan 1691
Burial Place: Withybrook, Warwickshire, England
Father: Mason
Mother: Mason
John Mason
Death Age: 85
Birth Date: abt 1656
Burial Date: 15 Dec 1741
Burial Place: Withybrook, Warwickshire, England
Father: Mason
Mother: Mason
My plan is to be in Leicester in March 2015 for the Reinternment of the Remains of Richard III. I may not have a seat in the cathedral, but I will certainly be outside! Perhaps some spirits from the past will be there with me!
UPDATE: March 18, 2015
Only 4 days and I will be flying over to London and then on to Leicester for the Reburial Activities. It is a solemn occasion indeed, as is any burial, or in this case a reburial of remains. That does not mean that there can’t be any celebrations… is for the living and they are the ones left to remember and celebrate the life of the one who has died. This can be done with words, pictures and music and in this instance FIREWORKS from the Cathedral roof. Let us all remember this King who ruled for such a short time and died too young. Let us try for greater understanding of him and his accomplishments…..a man of the late Middle Ages.

Time Stands Still on Inle Lake, Myanmar!

20 Jul
Intha Fishermen on Inle Lake

Intha Fishermen on Inle Lake

My Stlit Cabin Deck

My Stilt Cabin Deck

Time stands still on Inle Lake in the Shan State in Myanmar. This is the type of place you want to visit at the end of a very wearying tour. Here you need not move from the verandah of your stilt cabin. Just sit, in the evening it is quiet except for the birds on the water, and soon the sun drops  behind the mountains on the other side of the lake, showering you with a variety of colors!  Dinner will be served in the Main Dining Room, but before then, there will be time for a drink on the Outside Deck.

Shan State borders China to the north, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the south, and five administrative divisions of Burma in the west. Largest of the 14 divisions by land area, the Shan State covers  almost a quarter of the total area of Burma. The Shan are descendents of the Tai-Shan people who are believed to have migrated from Yunnan in China and who have inhabited the Plateau and other parts of modern-day Burma as far back as the 10th century. Most of the Shan State is a hilly plateau, which together with the higher mountains in the north and south,  form the Shan Hills System. The Gorge of the Salween River cuts across the state. The famous Inle Lake, where the leg-rowing Intha people live in floating villages, is the second largest natural expanse of water in Burma.


Heho Airport near Inle Lake


We  landed at Heho Airport early in the morning, after a short flight from Mandalay and were going to take the back roads to the Resort so we could get an overview of the area. This would be a 6 hour, spine breaking ride in a MiniBus, over roads that could do with a little maintenance, but in the  long run, well worth the agony!


After leaving the airport, we climbed the hills and were soon in a place that reminded me very much of ranch country in Canada. We stopped to talk with women working in the fields. We asked why there were no men around and were told that they were working in places like Dubai leaving the fieldwork for the women and older men.


Countryside reminded me of Alberta Ranch Land


Women Workers



Oxen used for Field Work







Bumping and bouncing along the road, we saw a road maintenance crew working and realized why the roads were in the condition they were. Most tasks were done with a pick and shovel.

Road Workers






Pindaya Caves




We continued our drive to Pindaya, where we visited the 11th century Shwe U Min Cave Temple,  a huge complex of limestone grottos with around 9000 images of the Buddha. The caves honeycomb  the hillside above the  Botoloke Lake.  Most of the statutes have been painted gold. In March of each year, Pindaya hosts the Pindaya Cave Festival, a five-day festival of music, dance, food and fun for the entire family. Even the army attends and just look at the footwear!!! It must be Watermelon Season as I have never seen so many large, luscious watermelon!


Delicious pastries


Watermelon everywhere in huge piles



Check the Footwear










Outdoor Shower with a view


Myanmar Treasure Resort



We arrived at  Nyaung Shwe oldest of the Intha settlements around the lake, late in the afternoon and boarded our boat for the 30 minute ride to the resort. This was the little piece of heaven I was talking about. We each had an individual cabin on stilts that overlooked the lake. A unique feature was the outside shower  where you could watch the sunset as you refreshed yourself. One thing I would highly recommend is, that even if you are on a tour, try to arrange to stay in the area for several days, to fully explore the area and all it has to offer.




One Legged Rower






The Intha People are likely the first ethnic group that you will come across. They are members of a Tibeto-Burman group and are believed to have come from Dawei area farther south. They support themselves through agriculture and fishing. You will encounter their one-legged rowers on the way to your hotel. This distinctive rowing style, which involves standing at the stern and wrapping the other leg around the oar, evolved as the lake is covered by floating plant material and it is impossible to see ahead  if seated. There are about 70,000 Intha in towns and villages around the lake. There are also a mix of other Shan, Pa-O and Palaung, Danu and Barmar groups. Transportation on the lake is traditionally by small boats, or by somewhat larger boats fitted with ‘long-tail’ motors that are necessary because of the usual shallowness of the lake. We travelled  in one of these larger boats that sat 5 people quite comfortably.


Pa-O Women

During your stay in the western part of the Shan State, you will also come across the ubiquitous Pa-O people, who are the second largest ethnic group, after, of course, the Shan themselves. Their homeland tends to correspond with the most visited parts of Shan State, the Kalaw, Pindaya and Inle lake region. Highland Pa-O traditional dress is highly distinctive, with the women wearing plain black or indigo tunics with narrow blue and/or red trim and brightly coloured turbans wrapped around their heads, mostly in orange and red. The Palaung who are of Mon-Khmer stock, and the Akha and Lisu groups are of Sino-Tibetan origins. As such, they are likely to have inhabited these regions for longer than Tai groups such as the Shan themselves, with ethnologists estimating their migration to date from some 1,000 years ago.


Palaung Women wearing coils




A day on Inle Lake is like  no other that you have experienced. From the time you board your boat at 8:00AM, till the time you return around 6:00, it is an array of amazing sights.

Our first stop was the market, where upon our arrival in the area we were bombarded with sellers in boats offering us an array of merchandise. I of course succumbed and bought some jewellery.


Tourist Boats at the Market



We went into the shop to meet the Palaung women who wear brass coils around their necks. There was a 40 something woman, an older woman of indiscernible age and 2 young teenage girls. We learned that the neck stretching process starts at age 9 and the number of coils is increased at set intervals.  A symbol of wealth, position and beauty according to tradition, the coils can stretch their necks over a foot and weigh over 20 pounds According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world record for longest neck—15¾ inches. These women are obviously being used to get the tourists into the shop but they do receive  money to have their pictures taken. I felt conflicted as I stood there in the shop, wanting to take a picture while at the same time feeling that I was in a human zoo….. I didn’t like the feeling.



Bought Red/Blue scarf on the rack


The women told us she had not put the coils on her daughters. It is common for the younger generation not to follow this tradition. It is however a way for these people to earn money for their families. I bought the red scarf on the rack made by the lady in the picture,  as well as a number of other well made items from the shop. By now, my MADE IN BURMA wardrobe had grown so large, I would have to buy another suitcase or chuck some of the clothes I had brought with me, if I was to get it all home.



Canals on Inle Lake

We continued on our journey to Indein village, where there is a collection of restored and ruined stupas begun in the 12th century and added to by Shan princes up until the 18th century. The small creek took us away from the lake past sights not changed for hundreds of years…women bathing their babies, women washing clothes….life happens on the banks of the creek.


Bathing by the Creek



Washing Clothes







Older stupas



We docked in the main village and climbed a steep hill to see the restored section of stupas— this forest of shining spires on a low hill creates a spectacular effect, while the still-ruined brick stupas on the lower slopes are superb. Restoration practices would likely make any archaeologist cringe.


Refinished Stupas or “STUPA WORLD” as I called it





Back on the lake we continue our tour. Fish caught from the lake – the most abundant kind, is called Inle Carp and are a staple of the local diet.





In addition to fishing, locals grow fruit and vegetables in large gardens that float on the surface of the lake. The floating garden beds are formed by extensive manual labor. The farmers gather up lake-bottom weeds from the deeper parts of the lake, bring them back in boats and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, anchored by bamboo poles. These gardens rise and fall with changes in the water level, and so resistant to flooding. The constant availability of nutrient-laden water results in these gardens being incredibly fertile. Rice cultivation is also significant.

Environmentalists are concerned about the changes that are happening in and on the lake. There was an article in The Irrawaddy Magazine in 2010 about a documentary made by Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi. This documentary shows that the livelihood of these fisherman is now in jeopardy, partly due to the impact of farming practices used in the floating gardens and partly as a result of drought and deforestation in Shan State. The 30-minute documentary, titled The Floating Tomatoes, includes interviews with Inle Lake tomato farmers who have experienced health problems after years of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  More than 100,000 people earn their livelihood by growing tomatoes in Inle Lake’s floating gardens. They use fertilizers and pesticides to produce higher yields, but most are unaware of the negative effect these chemicals have on their health and on the lake. They do know, however, that the water from the lake is no longer safe for drinking and cooking. Deforestation of the slopes surrounding the lake are also a cause of Inle Lake’s environmental decline. Both drought and deforestation—which increases the impact of drought by causing silt to build up in the lake—have also played a large role. Burmese environmentalists have found that the climate and biodiversity in the lake have changed to the point that this unique floating world may vanish forever.


Working his FLOATING GARDEN from his boat



Tomatoes are a major crop



Going Home after work




Hillsides are being deforested as hotels are opting to build for a lake view














One of the many Buddhist Statues



Retired Jumping Cat



Our last stop of the day was at “The Jumping Cat Monastery” or The Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery.  Alas, the monk who trained the cats to jump is gone, so they now just laze around and look cute.  This is likely much better for them as throngs of tourists used to visit this place just to see the cats perform. Now the few people who visit can take in the 19th century monastery on stilts with their collection of Buddha statues  from different parts of Myanmar and Tibet, set on wooden and mosaic pedestals that are hundreds of years old.


Boat Parade

Boat Parade


As we returned to our little cabins on stilts, the sun was once again saying Good-Night, but this time it was also bidding us farewell to Burma….. The Golden Land.

Burma/Myanmar is an amazing place and I am so grateful that I was able to visit before it was discovered by the rest of the world….change is inevitable…but it will not remain the same place. As Rudyard Kipling said over one hundred years ago “This is Burma….it is quite unlike any place you know about.” How right he was…..Burma remains a world apart from other countries in Southeast Asia.


Sunset on Inle Lake

Sunset on Inle Lake




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