Monday, September 23, 2013

Email Serendipity

Recently, I have had a series of emails from two very different people who have never met, but who live quite close to each other – at least compared to me. Etienne lives in Belgium, while young Finn lives with her parents in Holland after spending her earlier years with her family in South Africa. Finn is fourteen years old, and fascinated with Jackson family history. The two of them are connected by more than just geography, and the serendipity of emailing me.

Etienne recently unearthed– and I do mean that literally - the tombstone of Anne Day Woodville in Bekegem, Belgium. She was the widow of Sir George Jackson (1776-1840), her second husband. Sir George was born in Coleraine, Co. Londonderry and later also lived at Forkhill, Co. Armagh. In later life he lived and died in Belgium. This latter part was total news to me. Perhaps the silence about his later life is because he died without legitimate issue, which meant that his baronetcy died with him, and it seems that no one in the family kept his papers.

My second correspondent, Finn, is a descendant of the Jacksons of Urker, Co. Armagh, and hence is related, as am I, to Sir Thomas Jackson (1841-1915) of Urker and later of Hong Kong and England. The connection between Sir Thomas and Sir George is based on the likelihood that Sir Thomas was also descended from the Jacksons of Coleraine and Forkhill, albeit distantly. One clue is that the family crests of both of them include a shoveller, a relatively rare bird in heraldry. There are lots of other clues, but I don’t want to over burden the reader of this particular story.

When Anne Woodville’s grave marker was discovered, it was lying upside down in front of a door to the church. As Etienne said: We’ve made a hole under the tomb. So we took a lot of photos. This was no easy feat. The stone weighs about 600 pounds.

Photo credit: Etienne Sierens.

 Etienne sent me a transcription of what he could see:

To the memory
Of lady
Anne Jackson
daughter of W Woodville eso [sic esq]
of Edge Hill Liverpool first
married to John Day eso [sic esq] of
Norwich Norfolk after his death
to col sir George Jackson
bar [sic bart] of Fork Hill Ireland
ob 18 aug VE? 82

Etienne and others are unearthing more than just a grave marker. They are also digging up a story. Apparently, Anne Woodville arrived in Bekegem on October 22nd, 1836 from Gistel, Belgium. Going from Google maps, and recognizing that I am geographically challenged when it comes to Belgium, I am guessing that Gistel was either inside the city of Brugge, or at least was nearby. Brugge is where Sir George died in 1840. He was the final member of the Jackson clan to hold the original lease that Captain William Jackson had obtained on the Clothworker’s Lands in Coleraine in 1663. It had been in the family for four generations.

Unfortunately, Sir George was not a financially prudent man. Before he married Anne Woodville, he was spending money faster than he was earning it. This may be why in their married life they kept separate accounts. It wasn’t that Sir George was poor. There were significant incomes from the various family properties that he had inherited, but by 1801 when he was a bachelor living in Beach Hill, Surrey, England, he was short £30,000, and had to borrow from friends in order to pay the interest on his debts.

In 1838, the original Coleraine lease was still connected to him by a slender thread. Leases in Ireland were often given for the term of three lives, which meant that they could be renewed until the last of three named lives died. In the instance of Jackson Hall, which was the main Jackson family residence in Coleraine, George’s was the last life on the lease, the final legal toehold. When he died, all connection of the Jacksons to this land was broken. As a result, it was subsequently leased by someone who then went bankrupt, and then by Leslie Alexander, son of Jacob Alexander and Margaret (or Jane) Oliver – both of Limavady. In the small social and familial circle that is the Ireland of this class of people, Leslie Alexander was a 2nd cousin once removed of the Nathaniel Alexander who married Sir George’s sister, Anne Jackson.

Leslie Alexander wasn’t terribly interested in Jackson Hall itself, and it became dilapidated until it was taken over by a Mrs. Maxwell. Unlike Sir George, Mrs. Maxwell had a robust fortune, and chose to repair Jackson Hall. After this, it went through various hands, until it was acquired by Coleraine Borough Council. No doubt, the cost of its upkeep was too much for the public purse, and it was demolished in 1984. As the Joni Mitchell song would have it: They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. The parking lot, which was paved overtop the demolished Jackson Hall, is behind the current County Hall. The best that one can do is to stand in that place in order to imagine what the Hall might have looked like, and what the view might have been from the various diamond-cut windows: 
Judging from the pixilation, this jpg was originally a newspaper article, . It is on a site by "Lord Belmont". On my next trip to Ireland, I hope to find a better image at a local museum or such. If anyone knows of one, please let me know.
Long before he lost Jackson Hall, Sir George already had cut his ties with both Ireland and England and decamped to the Continent, presumably after his 1814 marriage to Anne Woodville. On August 16, 1817, a deed connected to leases in Ireland recorded him residing in Paris. Later, in 1825, he is on record for asking permission to build a factory in Antwerp to manufacture glazed pottery. At this time, he lived in Oostende, Belgium. Eleven years later, in 1836 his wife Anne is recorded as living in Bekegem where she died in 1848. Sir George pre-deceased her, and died in Brugge, at 9:00 in the evening, January 14, 1840 at his home in Ezelstraat. This is about 20 km away from Bekegem. Today, the trip would take about half an hour.

Etienne surmises that George and Anne lived in Bekegem some months of the year, using the place as une mansion de plaisance.  When George died, all the furniture at Bekegem was sold. This was unusual in this time and place, but I am guessing that it was because of his debts. After his death, Anne then lived full time at Bekegem with her daughter (whose name I do not know).  

They lived here on a little farm with some properties around it, a cafĂ© in the village and another property on the other side of the village. They had one cow and two pigs.  

None of this is the usual lifestyle that that one associates with the landed gentry, but it was not unknown, and amongst the Irish gentry of this time, it was all too common. Their traditional historic advantage was eroding. That being said, Anne was also known to be generous, and loaned money to poor people in Bekegem.

Etienne and others have got the permission of the mayor of the village to excavate the stone and reinstall it against the wall of the churchyard.

The revelation of the stone will happen during a two-days happening on 26 and 27 october 2013. In the same time we will reopen our church. The festival will start with “The Laurentius-Fire” on Saturday evening. On Sunday we will reopen the church and have the honoring of Anna Woodville and her tombstone. In the evening we will have the “Laurentius concert” with classic Gregorian music.

Apparently, Anne Woodville and her husband are probably the most famous citizens of Bekegem. Everyone talks about them. The local newspapers are writing about it.

I have been invited to join them at this event, and would dearly love to, but not only do I live on the other side of the world, but am already committed to another event that weekend. My hope is that some Jacksons who live closer to Belgium might be able to attend. I am also hoping that Finn and Etienne can connect. If they do, and also if any other Jacksons can make their way there, I would love to see some photos.

Monday, September 2, 2013

What I did on my Summer Vacation – Take Two.

Jenny & Keetah describing some of the processes of the building to me.

This dragon lives, breathes and bakes pizza. Bread too. Working together over the past two months, my niece Jenny, and her friend Keetah envisioned, designed, and then actually built this amazing cob clay oven. You can see pictures of the evolution of it at Canadian Coastal Clayworks. They designed it so that the fire is in the belly of the dragon, and the smoke comes out through his nose.

My brother Struan told me that he had ordered every book he could find on cob building, but that Jennie and Keetah had taken the art form one step further than anything envisioned in all those books. The freestanding wings are fortified by a piece of rebar, bent into the shape of the wing. The benches on either side can support the full weight of a substantial adult. Struan’s contribution to the project, other than the rebar, was to feed the two of them as they worked. All of us should be so lucky. He is one helluva cook, and working with cob is one helluva of a lot of work, so good food was essential.

The dragon’s hands are cupping the belly of the flaming oven. Can we ask: Is this how indigestion looks – for a dragon? Note how the sun shines through the embedded wine bottles in the wings. My photos barely do it justice.

Back in the kitchen, Keetah & I were on duty making pizza skins. Our choice. The reason that she looks so serious is that neither of knew what we were doing – producing pizza skins in that kind of quantity. The dough kept springing back on us and retreating from the edges of the pizza pans. I thought that the two of us demonstrated how spiritually evolved we were by the fact that we weren’t cursing out loud. I mean, really.

Once the fire was ready, then the fully dressed pizza’s started going in, and coming out, going in and coming out – dozens and dozens of them. I missed getting pictures of the pizzas. After all, they had to eaten with two hands. Getting home-made sauce on the camera would have been dumb. It is hard to look classy when you are licking your camera.

One more thing. I am supposed to keep Kinga in my pocket when she can't be at such events, which means staying well into the night for all the musical jamming in the barn that usually accompanies parties at Sarah and Struan’s. I fell far short on my responsibilities, so sorry Kinga. Not only are there no pictures of the guys jamming in the barn with all sorts of instruments, but there are also no memories of it that I can share. Maybe next time. Me, I went home early, and for some unexplained reason seemed to be in need of ten hours of sleep.

The chickens have the last word – they got to eat any leftover bits, likely wishing there were more.

The Gathering of the Tribe

In the early days of the Writers’ Union, Pierre and Janet Berton used to host a gathering of the tribe of writers after the annual AGM. Tribe was the word that Margaret Laurence coined for the community of writers. We are a tribe, god damn it. Back then, it was possible to know just about every published writer in Canada, and not only that, it was also possible for a single enthusiastic reader to be able to read just about all their published works.

Berton’s home at Kleinberg was a perfect place to host about a hundred writers. Janet had a crew of paid staff who served up glazed ham, baked beans, purple cabbage cole slaw, and much, much more. Most of the recipes for the food that they served can be found in their 1966 cookbook: Pierre & Janet’s Canadian Food Guide. It’s a book that has stood the test of time. I still use their baked beans recipe; their Caesar Salad dressing makes a great sandwich spread; and my usual  Christmas turkey stuffing is an homage to their celebrated Morton Thompson turkey.

At one of their gatherings, I recall that there were at least three or four men kitted out in white shirts, black slacks, and bow ties, gliding around the room with silver trays holding bottles of Pimms. I was about thirty years old at the time, totally blown away by the fact that I could even be there. Waiters in someone’s home – and me being part of it all. Who’d have thunk it? One minute I would be absorbed in conversation, notice that I had nearly drained my glass, and then all of a sudden, it was full again. I should have paid more attention.

I hadn’t realized how far gone I was, until after I had excused myself to go to the bathroom. It turned out that the reason that I was unable to flush was because my thumb had been pressing down on the top of the toilet tank, not on the lever. With this insight into the state of my inebriation, I walked back to Andreas, tugged at his sleeve a few times until he turned away from some engaging conversation, and then whispered in his ear, I’m drunk. I think we should leave.

Not that he was drunk, he told me. Not at all.  Even so, we said our goodbyes, and the door closed behind us. Between us and our car, there was a large expanse of mowed lawn. We didn’t get far before the two of went ass over tea kettle. Blame a slight decline, in the lawn that is. The two of us, giggling like fools, sat in my Volkswagen Rabbit out on the road for the next several hours until we were sober enough to make the drive back home to Toronto.

Today, it is a sheer impossibility to know, let alone read, all the works of Canada’s current writers, and the notion of tribe is more elusive. Many of the mentors and custodians of those early years, Pierre, and Janet, along with June Callwood, Carol Shields, Margaret Laurence and so many others, are long gone. Still, it is in that spirit of them, and their traditions, that Andreas and I usually try to host a much more humble gathering during the Sechelt Festival of the Written Arts.

All of which is a very long winded introduction to some recipes which various writers asked for after our most recent event:

The morning after - I took no pictures at the event.