This picture is from about 1890/1900, taken from Wales, and looking into England – the bridge marks the boundary. The first house on the right is ours. You can see that the track in front of our house leads down to a ford, at that time still in use, parallel to the Lugg Bridge. There was also a second parallel ford on the other side, where the wagon is parked.

Not much has changed. The shutters on the end of the house have been replaced by a window. The houses have TV aerials. Cars are parked on the street. Other than that, the scene could have been taken at anytime over the last 100 years.

A few years back, Duncan James, a local architectural historian, asked if he could look round, and we trailed around after him as he explained the difference between adze marks and pit-saw marks on the beams, and as he examined the wattle and daub wall in the attic. There were a few rafters in the attic which especially caught his eye.

‘This is medieval work’, he said. ‘You see it sometimes in the oldest houses. When Glendower came through, he burned Presteigne down, and when it was being rebuilt, they used timbers from the old houses.’

‘So how old?’ I asked.

‘Let’s say early 16th century. Could be a bit older. But no later than, say, 1520. It’s one of the oldest houses in the town, no doubt.’

Yesterday, the 1st of May, the housemartins came back. On the day of the first sighting, it’s usually just a few scouts – the main body turns up two or three days later. The male martins who colonize our house, and this end of the town generally, were pretty much all born here, though their brides can come from colonies several kilometres away. I wonder how long this colony has been here? On the High Street, you see swifts. There are swallows in Presteigne too, but the housemartins only come to this bit of town; perhaps a dozen or so houses. I saw nests on Chuch Close last year, the little cul-de-sac of new build houses a few hundred metres up the road, so they clearly don’t just use old houses. Is it a fair assumption, therefore, that the colony has been coming here for hundreds of years? And that when this place was new, they quickly built nests under the gables?

Also yesterday, I got an email from a family historian with whom I share a great great grandfather, the splendidly named Elkanah Marchant, asking me for any information. Amongst other things, I sent him this, my ‘line of descent’ from my earliest traceable ancestor, William Marchant, who was born and died in Preston Village, now a suburb of North Brighton.

Ian Marchant, born Guildford 14 Mar 1958

Alan Marchant, born Farnham, 13/12/1931, died 6/05/2010, Waterford, Ireland

Charles Jesse Marchant, born Bramley, Surrey, 29/03/1904 died 20/09/1984

Thomas David Marchant, born 1871, Hurstpierpoint, died 1928.

Elkanah Marchant, born Hurstpierpoint 9 Feb 1841, died Dec 1931

Thomas Marchant, born Hurstpierpoint 1 Jan1807, died 2 Sep 1872 Bridge Farm Cuckfield

John Marchant, born 1786, died Brighton Workhouse 22 Apr 1848, buried in Hurstpierpoint

William Marchant, Surgeon to His Majesty’s Powder Mills,born 1759, died Waltham Cross 13 Dec 1790

Thomas Marchant, born 1731, died Hurstpierpoint 17 Aug 1802

William Marchant, born Hurstpierpoint 26 Oct 1701, died Hurstpierpoint 16 Dec 1776

Thomas Marchant, diarist, born 23 Mar 1676, died Hurstpierpoint 14 Sep 1728

William Marchant, born 1648, buried Hurstpierpoint 17 Aug 1706

Thomas Marchant, born 1615, buried Albourne 4 Aug 1686

Richard Marchant, born 1584, buried 14 Nov 1625, Horsham, West Sussex

Miles Marchant, born 1545, Preston, Brighton, buried 13 Dec 1605, Edburton, West Sussex

William Marchant, born 1520, died 18 Dec 1558, Preston, Brighton

It struck me that old William was born in 1520, ie, the latest date that this house was built.

I can’t say for sure how long housemartins have been coming to nest in our gables, but I like to imagine that it is 500 years,  roughly since my ancestor was born; and that the nest-builders are descendants of an ancient colony.

We live in the house now, and on several rather important levels, we own it. But it is the martins place too; I see them as co-owners, with just as much right to be here as us; if not more.

1 Response

  1. John says:

    What-ho, Ian. Just found this from 2017. I note your ancestors are as restrained as mine in baptism names. I like Elkanah too, sounds like a dodgy wish list from a Canadian trapper. But I was struck by Miles also, so far back and so Pete Toownsend. I note you were born in Guildford. Mount Alvernia? One of my sons was born there. This is all a bit random but there’s nothing much going on at this end of St. David’s Street. The gramophone disc jockey Tony Blackhead was born at the Mt. Al convent too. There’s the sixties for you. Love n peace, John.

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