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Family Gossip
By Mrs T. H. Delabere May - "Mary Anne" (1916)

My father, Walter May - born in 1810 - was a man of strong and pleasant personality with a tendency to be unconventional about which his sons often rallied (sic) him - for they were on most affectionate terms - without at all altering him. He had a fund of anecdotes and a terse and graphic knack of relating them which made us all well acquainted with the days of his youth as with our own. His first recollection was of the rejoicings after the battle of Waterloo, when he was five years' old, and he was unjustly carried off to bed for being afraid of fireworks, whereas really he was only afraid that his "dear father would burn his fingers". He used to tell many tales of his schooldays with his elder brother Thomas (my husband's Father) at what was then thought the excellent private school of Dr. Benson at Hounslow, of the hard fare and the ferocity of the masters. One of them, a former General of Napoleon's, who taught French had with him there a French boy whom they called ''Jock Teebow", because this master used to relate how when the boy's father was dying on the retreat from Moscow, he cried to him "General Thibaut, General Thibaut, take care of my son Jacques".

The happier recollections were of times when their father came and took them out to the old coaching inn at Hounslow, and told the waiter to go on making buttered toast till they stopped him; and he remembered pleasantly how their young Buckeridge cousin drove down from London to see them and tipped them each a guinea.

My father was a very brave man; he several times saved persons from drowning in the Thames. He would ride almost any vicious horse. When I was a schoolgirl he used to drive one in his own dogcart called in the stable "Runaway Tom" and much dreaded; but my Father simply stopped talking during its occasional dashes to escape control and after a few minutes vigorous pulling would resume his speech where he had left it off without any comment. He once galloped for two miles holding on to a pair of runaway horses, and when he found it impossible to stop them without pulling them on to his own horse, he turned them short into a park paling, which caught the pole at right angles and threw the horses down without damaging them, or the carriage, or its occupant, Mrs Cherry, the pretty young bride of the Rector of Burghfield. She had taken his advice not to scream and to sit down on the floor of the carriage; her companion would not do so but threw herself out and broke her leg. He was then about three and twenty, and the same courage when he was nearly eighty enabled him to sit calmly in his armchair and be operated on for cataract without any anaesthetic and without showing a sign of pain. He was quite boyishly pleased with his recovered sight, and the following autumn, when as usual they spent some weeks at Brighton he would say, "Let us walk along the Parade, my dear, and look at the girls' school. It is so long since I have seen all those fresh, pretty young faces."

All the Mays are obstinate but my father was more so than any other as his "jury" stories indicate. On one occasion when he met with dissent from his opinion he said, "I am not pressed for time, gentlemen and I have a packet of sandwiches which I shall be pleased to share with those who agree with me. I am prepared to wait until all do." This they promptly did. Another time, a tradesman was being sued for having broken into a yard and recovering his own valuable goods which he had not been paid for and with which, he had heard, the purchaser was intending to abscond the next day. The Judge said a grave breach of the law had been committed, no man had a right to take it into his own hands and they must give the plaintiff substantial damages. But my father was not accustomed to have the law laid down to him, and he was a just man, so he said, "Now, gentlemen, we have heard the judge's opinion and we will be guided by our own. I say give the knave a groat." So the plaintiff received a farthing damages, to the judge's disgust.

After his marriage, at one time, my father tried to increase his income by amateur farming and rented five or six farms at each of which he kept a Bailiff or foreman, and rode around to them in turns giving orders, but my Mother persuaded him that it was too risky a pursuit for a man with a large family. For the same unselfish reason he never bought any land, though he liked it and the interests it brings with it, and was greatly tempted to buy the Cro'Martin estate in Ireland when it came into the market soon after the death of his father. He said a man with seven sons to provide for could not afford to take the two per cent interest obtainable from land: in those days five or even six per cent was thought a sane and sober interest from Foreign and Colonial stocks and shares. He did provide for all his sons and in his lifetime and in his extreme old age would say that he could imagine nothing pleasanter than saving for those one loved; my Mother would gently remark that there was also such a pleasant thing as spending for those one loved - but they did both. Fortunately they were both well off, and I think it was because my Mother was the richer of the two that she would never spend anything personally on herself. My Father never called anything his own except his gun everything else, even when speaking to the smallest child - was always "ours". I recollect his remonstrating once with his latest friend, Mr. R.D. Blackmore, the novelist, for leaving a piece of building land waste, and the other excused himself by saying, "Well, I have not thirteen children". My father said, "Pray do not rob me of one, I have fourteen", and Mr Blackmore said "For that odd ‘one' I would give everything I have in the World."

On my father's golden wedding day all his fourteen children were alive. The seven sons sent a gold napkin ring to their Father and the seven daughters a similar one to their Mother.

It always amused us - considering Mr Blackmore's talent - to see how naturally my father took the lead in their intercourse. They were first drawn together by a common love of gardening, sufficiently near to discover affinities; but my Father did not care for novels and when we used to tell him that Mr Blackmore had published a new one, he would say tolerantly he was glad to hear that "poor Blackmore had written anything that people could read".

My father died at Whitley Grove near Reading in the year 1900, at the age of ninety. His eldest brother Thomas May (my husband's father) was a very different man.  We used to say that he had been born the Town Mouse and my Father the Country Mouse. He was to have entered the Diplomatic Service but the political party with whom his uncle had substantial interest, just when he needed it, went out of power and remained out for a great number of years. His youth was spent in waiting, and in travelling from one country to another learning languages. He was a remarkably handsome man and enjoyed it all thoroughly. For some years he was in Mecklemburg-Schweren, where he had introductions At first, being young and modest, he did not present himself at Court, till the Grand Duke sent him a message that if he did not come he should send a guard to fetch him. After that, there was always a cover laid for him there on festal occasions. Sometimes, he said, the Court went out in sleighing parties in the evening, sixty sleighs at a time, with a lady and a gentleman in each and he among them. He was a bad dancer and could not be induced to waltz with the German ladies till one day the Princess Helene, afterwards Duchess of Orleans, came after him into the card room and threw her cotillion ribbon over him when of course he was obliged to dance, but always remembered regretfully that he had touched her foot. The Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schweren was a Prussian princess, sister of the future William I of Germany and his elder brother were a good deal at Ludwigslust. They were not thought much of in those days but were universally known by two nicknames, "the bad one" and "the stupid one". William was the stupid one.

My father-in-law told me that in Russia, in the days of serfdom, he had stayed in houses where for two miles round every man, woman and child had been the property of his host. He was for some time too in Italy, where he once went to breakfast with Thorwaldsen, the sculptor, and knew Count Cavour, who at that time could not have been a very enlightened youth, as he was chiefly recollected by my father-in-law for having made a bet that he would drink two large carafes full of water, and for winning it. It was in the Holy Land, when he was past forty, that my father‑in‑law met his first wife, Ann Hughes-Hughes. She and Mrs Delabere Blaine, the friend with whom she was travelling in an unsettled part of the country were stopped and detained by a party of wild Arabs and he, hearing of their possible danger, pursued them with his caravan and rescued them. They travelled on together to Jerusalem where they became engaged. We have a small oil painting which Mrs Delabere Blaine -  the friend with whom she was travelling - made at that time of Damascus with camels in the foreground, which she gave them as a wedding present.

Anne Hughes-Hughes, a good and accomplished woman, was the eldest daughter of William Hughes-Hughes, MP for Oxford. She died when her only son (my husband) was born in 1852. We have a watercolour portrait of her, with the hair looped down over the ears. We have also a Lowestoft china covered jar which belonged to her father.

Thomas May married again five years later Charlotte Dunstan, the daughter of a naval officer. He died in 1886 at Weston-super-Mare, his own house Castle Hale, Painswick, Glos., being too cold for him.

Their third brother, Edmund, was for many years Rector of All-Cannings in Wiltshire. The youngest, Morgan, settled in Minnesota, USA, where he has left sons by his second wife Katherine Mackenzie, a Scotch Canadian. His first wife, Louise Polk, a niece of President Polk, was a French Creole from New Orleans. I remember how, when he first brought her to England, she came and played at battledore and shuttlecock in our nursery. Her dark eyes and pretty ways and French-English made a great impression on me though I was only six years old.

Two of my father's sisters died young, of the universal malady of those days - consumption as it was called. It was then thought quite incurable and the knowledge of its presence was a sentence of death. My father told us how when his favourite sister Elizabeth came back from a visit to a London doctor, she jumped out of the postchaise and caught hold of his arm, saying, "Oh Walter, I have come home to die." She was a pretty girl of 21 and had no notion that there was anything serious the matter with her. Her sister Fanny, the good angel of the family, died a few years later. The youngest sister Caroline died unmarried also in early middle life. The eldest, Mary, married the Rev. John A. Roberts, son of the Rector Sonning, and nephew of the Provost of Eton he gave up a fellowship of Kings to marry her. The provost's only daughter, Julia, married into the Wyndham (Leconfield) family, and it was Colonel Wyndham who left our uncle John Roberts the picture we have by Snyder of two foxes quarrelling over a cock. Another cousin of his was Mr Hallam, the historian, and father of Tennyson's Hallam; they had an aunt in common in Bath. I found an old letter of Mr Hallam's among Aunt Mary's papers alluding to the death of his son the previous year and asking her to announce the death of his sister to the other cousins. Also a funny schoolboy letter of Uncle John's from Eton mentioning his "Aunt Hallam" without any enthusiasm. Aunt Mary had also preserved, not unnaturally, some really charming verses of her husband's to his little sixteen year old lady love: his allusions to the "dark laughing eye" that had "glanced at" him recalled my Father's account of their courtship - that "she was a pretty arch little thing running about the lanes with the nursemaids and her little brothers and sisters and he picked her up". She and her husband were much in the circle of which Mr Brookfield (the "Old Brooks" of Tennyson's sonnet) wrote, for they lived in London where he had the sinecure city living of St. Alban's, Wood Street. She was an elderly woman when I first remembered her but she had not forgotten that she and been a beauty and her manners were still quite charming to men. We met her unexpectedly once, on the top of the Simplon. There was no tunnel through it then - we were going to the Italian Lakes and she was coming back from Italy, and she was seated at dejeuner between an Italian gentleman and a priest, and both appeared to be much interested in her. In her old age in Bath she often told me her recollections. One of them was how when she was sixteen and her future husband had just appeared above the horizon (unobserved, as she hoped) she stayed with some cousins who took her over to see the May brasses in Basing church, and all the way there kept on singing Balfe's "Love has eyes", altering the refrain each time to ''Oh yes, believe me, John has eyes" to her great discomfiture. The brasses were not long afterwards removed and sold by the Vicar. My Father‑in‑law and others were very indignant at this not then uncommon act of vandalism, and tried to get their Uncle Thomas (the head of the family and always called "Uncle May") to protest and get the brasses replaced, but he said that as they were of such early date he should find it difficult to prove that he had the nearest right to them and he did not wish to have a disagreement with the Vicar. Perhaps if he had had sons he might have been more concerned but he was an old bachelor. Sixty years later I knew those cousins (the daughters of our Great Uncle Charles May) living in Bath, old ladies well past eighty and still unmarried - it was difficult to imagine they had ever been frivolous. Cousin Jane, the elder, was a decided but clever  old woman with a wonderful memory. She told me a great deal of family history. Once I asked her if she remembered my father's grandmother, Mary May, and she said "I should think I did, why she did not die till 181911. The miniature we have of Aunt Mary Roberts was pronounced by all her contemporaries be a libel upon her. She died in 1881 in Bath.

My mother was I believe the wisest, sweetest and most saintly woman that ever lived. She had not the faintest idea of her own superiority but always saw the best in everyone else and had a genius for making everyone about her happy and comfortable. Perhaps some verses written by one of her daughters give some idea of what she appeared to those around her, so I copy them:

Breathing serenest air of higher spheres
With voice that ever soothes and smile that cheers,
Her presence makes the home, her love endears.
She walks uncumbered by earth's aims and greeds,
Her hands are filled with help for other's needs,
Her steadfast spirit upward looks and leads.
The rooms she dwells in sure from her have caught
Order and harmony and graceful thought
And look of welcome as from friend long sought.
Her garden blooms a green and cool retreat
On either side the flowers grow gay and sweet
Of paths she treads with gentle lingering feet.
Oh selfless soul, of Mother true and rare
Whose love makes heaven less far and earth more near
The thought of thee is peace and faith and prayer.

My Mother, Mary Anne May née Higgs, was born in 1816 and died at Whitley Grove, Nr. Reading, in August 1905, aged 89 years. My Mother's Father George Higgs, was a most indulgent grandfather and we were on quite confidential and equal terms with him, though he never remembered our names but called all the little girls Betty and all the boys Boxer. My Father, who disliked him, said he was a very stupid man and perhaps in some ways he was - he used to tell us with satisfaction that no master had ever been able to flog Latin or Greek into him, but he had a way of keeping everybody and everything about him in the perfection of order, his grandchildren excepted. His wife, née Marryanne Goddard, was a very beautiful and gracious woman but she was rather unapproachable and she liked children a little way off. We made our visits to our Grandfather when she was out for her morning drive, and when we heard her carriage returning he would say, "Now you had better be off" and we fled without further parley. After our Grandfather's death I stayed with her often as I was her goddaughter, and used to try and gain information from her about her young days, but not even the Napoleonic wars seemed to have made any impression on her, though she told me several times that skirts were worn so scanty in 1805 that it was impossible to step across a puddle you had to walk round it, and she once described how her parents sent a man with a pillion to fetch her from school when the holidays came and she used to ride home behind him. An elderly nephew of hers, who used to come and have lunch with her nearly every week, always addressed her as "Mrs Higgs" and she always called him "Mr Kirby", which to a later generation seemed funnily ceremonious. She died in 1867 when I was eighteen. My sister Constance has a portrait of my grandfather's father William Simonds Higgs, which we always believed as children to be of our own Grandfather, George, it was so like him, the same fresh complexion, merry blue eye and jovial look. My brother Arthur was just like them both it seems strange that the type should be so persistent and the race so weak the very ugly name has died out.

William Simonds Higgs, my great grandfather was an only child and the only grandson and heir of Robert Vaux of Rickmansworth (West Hyde) and Cumberland, a distant cousin of the 1st Lord Vaux of Harroden. When my great grandfather was eighteen he went with a pack of harriers to hunt at Arborfield in Berkshire and there fell in love with and married Jane Simonds, who was three months his senior. When they went to Brimpton to stay with her uncle Thomas May (her mother had been a May) with their eldest child, the combined ages of the three did not amount to forty years. She had a sad life for her sons one after another died of consumption just after they had left school or college. She used to say that if she could have kept her boys at home and fed them properly she would not have lost them, but Winchester College where they all went was such a hard school in those times of scarcity - when if you went out to dinner you had to take your own bread for only a small quantity was allowed to each person ‑that they could not stand it. Only my grandfather George and one daughter, Mrs Richards, lived to be middle‑aged. My great grandfather used to be held up to me as a pattern when I was a small girl. I was told that he would walk out on the muddiest day without getting a speck on his Hessian boots, and I must copy him. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries; his books and coins were sold when he died but much of his beautiful old china came to my mother. I have now a powder blue circular dish of his. My mother's property came from him and from his grandfather Robert Vaux, and when she died she left the settled part of it to be inherited by us under his Will, made before 1829 (when he died) without mentioning it in her own.

My mother told me that her grandfather used every Sunday afternoon to walk from the Lay Rectory at Caversham, where he lived, to a farm he and on the Oxford Road, and hold a service in a barn, as he said that otherwise the Gospel would not be preached in Tilehurst parish. It was a very unusual thing for a gentleman to do in the early days of the nineteenth century though many might have done it fifty or sixty years later. It may have been partly hit influence which made my Mother so different from her more mondaines parents, though he died when she was only fourteen.

My brother Morgan has an illustrated Charles the Second prayer book which belonged to my Mother's great great grandfather, Mr Robert Vaux. In the beginning is a portrait of the harsh featured but pleasant looking King Charles, and inside the cover is a printed inscription, as follows: "This book was given to Mr Robert Vaux by Mr Epley; at his death he desires that it may be preserved and given to his grandson William Simonds Higgs".

Our father's father, Daniel May, died before I can remember and I have not ever heard a great deal about him - probably he did not lend himself to anecdote. The only incident I recollect my father relating about him was that he went down to Southampton to see Nelson's ship, the Victory, towed in after the battle of Trafalgar, when the decks were still stained with blood. My father described him as a very silent and reserved man but adored by his family. He was devoted to his sons and a most kind and liberal father. I doubt if he did quite so much for his daughters, though I see from an old diary of theirs that he took them across to France several times - a trouble in post-chaise days. He used to say that he did not see what women could want money for. Perhaps he thought like my father: "Blessed are the old maids, they do good while they live and go to heaven when they die, and their money comes back to the family." When my father was dying he suddenly roused up and said in a tone of joyful surprise, "Is that my dear old father?".

Our grandfather was born at Brimpton where his father and grandfather lived and he died at Sonning in his eightieth year. He was born in 1771 and married in 1804. His wife Eleanor, née Barnard, was a more prononcée person. She was a plain woman, as her miniature shows, when she was about five and thirty, but interesting and clever. She was born in 1775 and died in 1858. We have a fine edition of Pope's works which was hers before she married, also one of Johnson's "Lives of the Poets" and other books. She had peculiarities, one of which was that she could never walk in a town, she had such a horror of passing a butcher's shop. Many of her descendants inherit this feeling. She had a close lifelong friendship with her cousin Catherine (Mrs Buckeridge, née Hotchkin) who when she was left a young widow, settled in Sonning to be near her, and who describes her in a little book of devotions which I have of hers, as "the sister of her life and heart, Eleanor May".

In a large family, one knows much of some cousins and little of others, and we were very lies with the Buckeridges. The families of the two cousins used to dine and play cards with one another once or twice every week. Mrs Buckeridge had been an heiress with large West Indian estates and she married well and happily, but hers was a life of misfortune. One day her husband quietly dressed for dinner, and then without reason that anyone could imagine, took his own life. Then her promising eldest son, who was in the Guards was, when only eighteen, killed in the Peninsular war at the Siege of Badajoz. (Bye-the-bye, when his Colonel came afterwards to stay with Mrs Buckeridge at Sonning and met our grandfather Daniel May, he said that he was the handsomest man all round he had ever seen). She lost the greater part of her fortune and I have heard that when she had to give up her carriage and four and use a hackney coach, she thought it such a degradation that she sat down on the floor of it. Poor woman, that was one of her minor troubles, and she lived to be wiser. Her second son married her own maid. Her favourite, Dalrymple, married even worse; when that blow came she cut his portrait out of its frame and threw it in the fire. They both of them died early, one of them from the kick of a horse. Another son, on the night before his wedding day, saw his fiancée wishing farewell to another man, as he thought too affectionately, and he went straight off and joined his regiment in Malta and shot himself. The mother might well write in that same book of devotions "all thy waves and billows have gone over me". Most people loved her. She was a warm-hearted and generous woman. Her second son Frank, and her youngest son Arthur, both long survived her but neither of them had children. It was the elder Frank who gave me my diamond bracelet, which had been a star of his Mother's, he also gave me most of the few ornaments I had as a girl. He was then a remarkably kind and unselfish old man; my brother Will and I often rode over to Sonning to have lunch with him and he would have every imaginable thing for lunch that a spoilt girl could like. The portraits of his own grandfather's grandfather and grandmother by Sir Godfrey Kneller used to hang opposite to my chair in his dining room - it was a long way for only four lives to reach back. He was a great friend of mine and a correspondent till he died at the age of 90 in 1886.

To return to my grandmother, Eleanor May, we have a charming miniature portrait of her in watercolour, painted about 1785 when she was about ten years old. It was done with a reed pen and washed in with colour, as the early water colours always were; the intelligent little face and erect head are very like our little Cynthia's at the same age. Her father, Francis Allen Barnard, died in 1788. He was a London physician and lived in Alderman Bury, at that time a fashionable part of the town. He must have been an accomplished man. We have a history in manuscript by him, of the Kings of England with a water colour portrait of each. Those of the Saxon Kings were copied from missals in the British Museum and elsewhere, and some from old stained glass windows. It ends when George III was a chubby looking young man. His grandson, Markland Barnard, was still living at Colney Hatch within my recollection, but I do not know if any of the family are still there. We have a Barnard christening bowl dated 1773 and my sister Constance has another date 1770, and our cousin George Peake, son of F. A. Barnard's granddaughter Bessie Barnard, has yet another. Also he has a "History of the Caliphs" by our great grandfather Barnard.

Our great grandmother, Sarah Barnard, née Markland, born 1749 died 1838, was always described by my father as a selfish worldly old woman who spoiled her two extravagant sons and neglected her excellent daughter, his mother. I suppose Aunt Mary Roberts thought better of her for she preserved several letters and a little packet of apparently white floss silk inscribed "Dear Granny Barnard's hair", also a sampler marked with her initials. It was not however worked by her but by Elizabeth Antrobus in 1742, who, I believe, was her mother, but of this I am not sure, though our cousin Sarah Lyne (aet. 80, daughter of Bessie Barnard) tells me the Antrobus' were still very intimate with her mother when she was a child and she believes they were cousins - as they would have been if descended from the same great grandmother. Great Granny Barnard was a clever old woman and after she left London and went to live at Southampton, used to correspond with Sheridan and others of the same set. I have a small mourning brooch of hers inscribed with the date of her husband's death, which previously I believe had been a diamond shoe buckle - the hair enclosed in it is not her husband's but her daughter Eleanor... May's, from whom it passed to Aunt Mary Roberts and from her to my husband. She survived her husband by more than fifty years.

Our great grandfather Thomas May of Brimpton had the large family once de rigeur with the Mays. He had not their usual longevity, however, for he died of gout at the age of 62 in the year 1800. My father told us that he used to go down in a pigtail to dance at the Bath balls, which we thought very funny, not realising that it was the ordinary coiffure of his dancing days ‑ so far do a few lives take one back! He also told us that he left £96,000 when he died, which was good fortune in those days, but I do not recollect anything else he died ten years before my father was born. None of his descendants of his own name survive, except those of his third son Daniel, our grandfather, and of his son John. The latter had one grandson Archdeacon Henry May of Jacaranda in Australia, who has left descendants who live in Australia. Thomas May's eldest son, Thomas, I have already mentioned as our Father's bachelor "Uncle May". He was for many years J.P. and Deputy Lieutenant for Hampshire. He was born in 1764 and died in 1843. The second son Charles had four daughters but only one son, another Charles, who has left no May descendants - at least none now living the daughters of Charles (the Elder - our great uncle) Mrs Wickham and Mrs Atwood have left many descendants. John May, who left the one Australian grandson and his family, had also a daughter Fanny, my Father's first cousin who married my Mother's first cousin John Richards, and was the mother of Father Walter Richards, from whom we had copies of many papers relating to the May family which had once belonged to his father. He was at Oxford in Tractarian times and was influenced by some of the leaders of the Oxford Movement to join the Roman Catholic Church. He gave up all his prospects and the favour of his family, and worked among the poor of London all the days of his life, first at the Brompton Oratory and afterwards at Bayswater. My husband and I went to see him there soon after we were married. RP was an excellent and interesting though not a clever man; his only amusement was astronomy. He had parted one by one with his father's collection of antique wedding rings in order to supply Door couples with them, who otherwise could not have afforded to get married, which was a characteristic of his kindly nature. He was fond of reminding us that I was doubly his second cousin, of our great grandfather May's daughters.

Elizabeth married Mr Martin of Moulsford and Mary married Mr Tull of Crookham. When my father-in-law and father were boys they were fond of going in their holidays to visit Uncle Tull. There were no railways then of course, and to that part of the world no stage coach, so they got there by a process which they called "ride and tie". One rode their common pony on ahead for a few miles, then dismounted and tied it to a convenient gate and walked on. The other followed on foot until he came to the pony, rode on past his brother for a few miles, and in his turn tied up the pony and walked on - the manoeuvre being repeated until they reached Crookham. I have a silver fruit knife now which belonged to our Great Aunt Tull.

Our Great grandfather May married his first cousin once removed, Mary May, born 1743 died 1819, only child of Charles May of Burghfield, who died in 1744. She was the granddaughter of his father's eldest brother John May of Sherfield Court.

Our great great grandfather James May, of Brimpton, died in 1771. The only personal thing I know about him is that was one of the earliest subscribers in that part to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel when it was started. When I was a girl, I went to see Brimpton, a solid old red brick house standing on a hill with a rookery behind it, about three or four miles from Newbury. I also visited the graves of our great grandfather and our great great grandfather and his wife in Brimpton churchyard, and piously scraped the moss from the lettering on the headstone of the latter with my penknife. Her maiden name was Rebecca Barber, and she was the daughter of a naval doctor who settled in or near Basing. She was born in 1704 and died in 1755.

Of James May's four sons, James, the eldest, died about the same time as his father and his children were ignored by the rest of the family because his widow married a dissenting Minister. Old Jane May told me that their indignation was theological as well as social, for the Brimpton Mays were very High Church, and their greatest friends, the Hydes, were Roman Catholics. Edwin May, the father-in-law of my brother Edmund, and George May of Caversham, are descended from that James May.

William, the second son, has left no May descendants, but from him the Coopers and Southbys are descended.

Daniel, the third son, left three daughters. One of them, Jane, married J.S. Breedon of Bere Court, and had a daughter Jane, who married Mr Hopkins of Tidmarsh House. The family was chiefly interesting in my young days for having some half‑bred white peacocks with coloured eyes in their tails. At Whitley Grove my brother Hubert's white peacocks would never fraternise with the coloured ones but hated and despised them.

Thomas, our great grandfather, was the fourth of James May's sons. Of his daughters, one married a Mr Shebbeare, and when my husband and I after our marriage, in 1878, came to live in Bath, an old lady of that name, of whom we had never heard, sent us a message that she would have liked to call upon her cousins but she was too old to pay visits. Exactly how far off a descendant she was of James May we did not know. She lived to make a scrapbook for our Claude when he was a baby, but not long afterwards.

Another daughter of James May, Jane, married Thomas Simonds of Arborfield and was mother of the youthful Elizabeth who married my youthful great grandfather, William Simonds Higgs.

Thomas May of Huish, our great-great-great had had (like my father) fourteen children - among them the usual Christopher and Daniel - but many of them died very young. His eldest son, John May of Sherfield Court, was so much older than his (Thomas May's) youngest surviving son James, our forebear, that the grandaughter of the eldest was of just a suitable age to marry the son of the youngest. Which she did, as I have previously mentioned. Through her our great grandmother Mary May, wife of Thomas May of Brimpton - John May of Sherfield was also our great-great-great as well as his father. I have seen a stone with his name engraved on it and the date 1706 over a door at Sherfield Court. One of the daughters of Thomas May of Huish married a Terry of Dummer, I was told by Mr John Terry of Bath; and old Jane May told me that the Mr Terry of Dummer of her youth used, more than a hundred years later, to call her uncle Thomas "Cousin May". The Terrys of Dummer were all called "Michael" and "Stephen" and were supposed to have been so ever since the first "Thierry" came over with William the Conqueror and all his set of rapscallions. Jane Austin writes of how she danced with those of her time in her amusing letters.

But of the rest of the family of Thomas May of Huish we have no knowledge with the exception of an old clergyman, another Thomas May, who lived in Kent at the time I married, and whose people had "kept up" with our great grandmother Mary May of Brimpton. He, with his father also a Thomas May, and my father-in-law, dined together once at our great uncle May's house - four plain Thomas Mays together. I wrote to him (Thomas May in Kent) once to ask if he could give me any particulars about his people, but he was much past eighty, too old to remember and too feeble to look up papers, though he told me he had once had some property at Basing from his father. He wrote me a kind letter and sent me a book he had published for his parishioners inscribed, "For my Cousin Minnie May with a shepherd's love". He has left descendants.

Thomas May of Huish died in 1718. One of his brothers, Daniel May of Burghfield, an old bachelor, long survived him, dying in 1740 and he was taken back to Basing, where their father had lived to be buried. Another brother, Charles May, of Basingstoke, bought the Manor of Sulhamstead, and was succeeded there by his son Daniel, who, having no children, left it to his nephew, Daniel May-Thoyts. The Thoyts family lived there till 1911, when they sold it. This Charles May of Basingstoke and Sulhamstead married Ann Noake of Southcote Manor. In his Will, he mentions his brothers Thomas and Daniel, also his "kinsman" John May of Worting. He died in 1714.

Jane May told me that when she was young there were memorial tablets in Basingstoke church to Charles May and several of his children but they were removed when the church was altered. She gave me a copy she had taken of the tablets and inscriptions. She also gave me a paper which her Uncle May had written to show the relationship between his Father and Mother, but this is a digression.

The father of Thomas May of Huish, Christopher May of Basing, our great-great-great-great, was the son of John May of Worting. The May family were at Worting from Queen Elizabeth's time till the reign of George I, when the daughter of the last (the fourth) John May of Worting (who had no sons) married Christopher Sclater. Canon Millard, who married the daughter of Mr Sclater of Hoddington House, sister of Mr Sclater‑Booth, afterwards Lord Basing, sent us his wife's genealogy on the May side. He said that the name of Christopher had passed from the May into the Sclater family and his wife's uncle had been called May Sclater. They quartered the May arms. Christopher May of Basing was twice married, and he died in the year 1693. His father, John May of Worting, left legacies, one by name to several of his children.

Before the first May of Worting, we know nothing for certain about our people and it is with him that the Sclater-Booth genealogy begins. The first two names on our list are probable but not provable, the chief evidence for them is that of their wills. It seems difficult to believe in the case of Thomas May of Farringdon that there could have been two other persons bearing the same names as his sons, and having sons with the same names as his sons, sons living in the sparsely populated neighbourhood - still, of course though improbable it is not absolutely impossible. There is a family tradition that it came originally from the Manor of Kennington in Kent. The coat of arms on the bookplates that came from Brimpton is the same as the Pashley Mays who also came originally from Kent.

A great nephew of Thomas May of Huish, the grandson of his brother Charles May of Sulhamstead, is buried at St. Mary's Reading, where his hatchment quartering the May arms still hung within my recollection in the church. His name is Thomas Buckeridge Noyes, and he quartered in right of his mother, Ann, the eldest daughter of Charles May of Basingstoke and Sulhamstead (who died in 1714) - Jane Thoyts being the younger daughter.


    © David Nash Ford 2001. All Rights Reserved.