Stumbling over Ghosts

Stumbling over Ghosts: The Baron, having donned his metaphorical deerstalker and set out on the trail to investigate the history of his home at 20 The Barons, has found himself increasingly obsessed with the thrill of the chase. There is something almost compulsive about finding and following the threads into the past that sprout into family trees, weave themselves into the stories of forgotten lives, and tug from the mists of time the faces and facades of people and buildings that have existed previously only in half-remembered family tales.

Pursuing tangled trails, intriguing clues and the most scarlet of red herrings ever further into the past, stumbling over ghosts The Baron found some intriguing names and wonderful coincidences that elevated the experience to something akin to a séance, making him note with a flourish of his quill pen that ghosts may be summoned in many and various ways. The Baron is not a superstitious man, but there were moments when even his sturdy back felt the tingle of grey hairs rising upon it.

Of course, with the coming of the Internet, this type of local history investigation involves far less footwork than it used to. The Baron tends to favour a ride in a London growler to the local record office, but also discovered at ancestry.com an irresistible digital library of searchable records alongside excellent templates for cataloguing his discoveries. The historical documents on offer include indexes of births, marriages and deaths; wills and probates; military service rolls; criminal registers; and trade directories.

For The Baron, however, it was the searchable Census records, recorded every decade between 1841 and 1911, that most effectively summoned his ghosts. While the website is, as its name suggests, designed for those planting family trees and searching among their branches for ancestors, the Census also proved a worthy accomplice in tracing the history of a street and a specific building. There was something magical about seeing the street named The Barons appear for the first time on a Census in 1881, when only numbers 10 to 14 had been completed; and then turning to the 1891 Census to find all 24 houses complete with a list of their occupants. Reading their names and occupations was like opening a time capsule: John Hawes, assistant, Indian Mainland Railway Co.; Montague Hawes, assistant, Sheffield Tramway Co.; Charles Hereford, Major-General, infantry, retired; Mary L. Blackmore, dramatic agent… The Baron felt an overwhelming urge to know more about each and every one of them.

So, what did The Baron discover about 20 The Barons that gave him goosebumps? Well, the most eerie coincidence was that the first residents of the house in 1891 were the Brooke family. Without knowing this, the current owners had given their daughter the middle name of Brooke, and named one of the luxury serviced apartments The Brooke. Hence, The Baron’s thought that ghosts come in many shapes and guises.

To be continued on 20 The Barons history page…..

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