by Pat Dodd Racher
Some 600 years and 18 generations separate my birth from that of Owain Glyndŵr, Prnce of Wales. He is one of my theoretically possible 262,144 ancestors in the 18th generation, although probably many fewer in reality because the same names are likely to recur in different sections of the family tree. In 1400 the whole population of England and Wales is reckoned to have been no more than 2.5 to 3 million.
The ancestral trail leading back to Owain Glyndŵr is through four families: de Croft, Blount, Clarke and Dodd, the Dodds accounting for the last nine of the 18 generations. I was born in England, but know that some ancestors came from Llandeilo, others from Derbyshire, from Essex, and many other places in the British Isles and Europe. We have wandered about a great deal, and in our wanderings I don’t suppose we are much different from most other families. Recorded ancestry gives a sense of belonging to counteract the rootlessness of migration, but in the absence of DNA proof the written record has definite limitations, because what is written is not always true!
Janet, one of Owain’s several daughters, married John de Croft of Croft, which is north of Leominster in Herefordshire, so we have left Wales very quickly. The de Crofts, who soon lost the ‘de’, occupied Croft Castle, which today is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.
Janet and John’s son William, born about 1398, and his wife Margaret Walwyn had a warrior son, Richard, married to Eleanor Cornwall. In the Wars of the Roses, Richard fought for the Yorkists against the Lancastrian King Henry VI at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461. Richard then changed sides and was knighted in 1487 after the Battle of Stoke, which cemented Henry VII’s position as the first Welsh Tudor king, two years after the defeat of the Yorkist King Richard III at Bosworth Field.
Richard Croft’s daughter Anne married Sir Thomas Blount, who was also knighted by Henry VII after the Battle of Stoke. Their fourth son, Robert, married first Elizabeth Columbel, and nearly 50 years later, Goodeth Newson. Robert’s son and heir George Blount had a daughter, Frances, who became the wife of Ralph Clarke in about 1615. Ralph lived in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and had a house in Holborn, London, as well. He and Francis had seven children, two boys and five girls. The boys, Samuel and Cornelius, survived into middle and old age respectively, but had no recorded children. Cornelius was Sheriff of Derbyshire during Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate in the 1660s, and so was firmly linked to the side of Parliament against the executed king, Charles I.
Frances Clarke was the fourth of five daughters, and she married William Dod, whose family lived next-door-but-one in the same street in Holborn. William was a vintner who kept a dozen taverns all over Westminster, but he died in 1675 when all three of his children, John, Anne and Ferdinand, were minors. They had evidently enjoyed a high standard of living – the annual rent for the family home in Kingsbrooke, Westminster, was £100, and William left property (excluding land, which was not recorded on the inventory) worth £884.14s.1d, and had debtors owing him £1,118.10s.9d. He owed money too, £556.16s.6d, mainly to George Toriano, wine merchant, and to Mr Clarke, probably his brother-in-law as by this time his father-in-law was dead. The assets were placed for safe keeping in the hands of the Court of Orphans, which was unfortunately sliding into insolvency, as the City fathers were in the habit of using the assets to fund commercial expansion, a reminder that financial scandals are as old as finance.
William’s son John died young, too. John’s two sons, William and Cornelius, were just toddlers when he died in 1692 aged 24. His widow, Mary, and her sons lived quietly in Willingale Doe, Essex, where the family stayed for seven generations, acquiring a double ‘d’ at the end of their name along the way. They were farmers until the late 19th century. My great-grandfather Charles Dodd was a carpenter married to a school teacher, Frances, and my grandfather Cyril, one of their three sons who survived infancy, was apprenticed to a grocer in Retford, Nottinghamshire. He fought throughout the First World War as a cavalryman, and so in the 1920s life in quiet Ongar, Essex, with his wife Emily and three small children, must have seemed a big improvement. It didn’t last: their daughter Joanna, born in 1921, died of diphtheria aged six. After that the family travelled from place to place, in 1932 arriving in Isleworth, Middlesex, where Cyril bought a dairy business, and two years later made a profit selling it to Job’s Dairies. The family moved to a smallholding in Chertsey, Surrey, and all was well until 1942 when Joanna’s twin brother John, a flight sergeant in the RAF, was shot down over Heligoland in the North Sea. His body was never recovered.
My own father Lionel, born in April 1918 and the oldest and only surviving child of Cyril and Emily, spent seven years in the Army, from 1939 until autumn 1946. His war memories are on tape at the Imperial War Museum. After the war Lionel and my mother Winifred farmed just outside Chertsey, until 2003 when they joined my family in Wales.
The story is one of social mobility, sometimes up but often down, a story in which chance events have great significance. Two early deaths and the collapse of the Court of Orphans at the end of the 17th century turned a fairly prosperous family into one of limited means, its affluence rising and falling in line with the work ethic and business acumen of the main income-earner in each generation. From Owain as Prince of Wales, to the Prince Regent pub in which Cyril spent a good many hours, the line of ancestry meanders along the pathways of British society, collecting a plethora of complex identities along the way. Owain’s legacy to me is a message of complexity, of the complicated multiple identities that we inherit.
It’s not simple nationalism at all.