John Bruce Moxon from Down Under explores his UK roots

John Bruce Moxon from Northmead, NSW writes:
It sounded innocuous enough when my wife, Margaret, suggested – “Let’s go to England and visit the places where our ancestors lived, and, if possible, meet some distant relatives”. “Okay” I said.

That was early 2007. The planning almost caused divorce several times – when to go, where to visit, whom to meet, how to travel, where to stay, how long can we afford to be away?

Not much of a problem for most people – fly cheaply on Discount Airlines, hire a cheap car, stay in B&Bs or with friends. But I use a wheelchair (I have quadriplegia due to a spinal cord injury sustained some 38 years ago when I was young and fearless). So what? I hear you say. Isn’t every thing required to be accessible now? Well, yes (it’s required) and no (it isn’t actually).

The El Cheapo airlines in Australia place all sorts of restrictions on air travel with a power wheelchair, B&Bs throughout the world rarely offer truly accessible bedrooms and bathrooms (and nor do most hotels and motels in the UK, we discovered), cheap cars are a no go (how do you get an 85Kg wheelchair into the boot of a little Renault?), and how many friends have wheelchair accessible homes?

We finally settled on a supposedly wheelchair accessible motor home (car and motel all in one) – the only one in the UK, as it happens. Then we planned an itinerary that would take us to London and the south (Wiltshire, Hampshire and Kent for Margaret), Yorkshire, Cheshire, Scotland and Ireland for me. Three months should do it.

We made contact with John Moxon Hill who was incredibly helpful. And we emailed Ed Moxon and John and Jacqui Moxon (Southampton) with a view to meeting up.

We flew out on the 15th of April. The flight over was not too bad – although we arrived 5 hours late. And then Heathrow ground staff managed to be unable to find a wheelchair to get me off the plane for two hours – we almost found ourselves on our way to Hong Kong! And then the Hammersmith hotel where we had booked six months previously, greeted us with “Sorry, your room is broken and we don’t have a vacant disabled room”. I would have thought a broken room would qualify as disabled, but not so on this occasion. Eventually, they enticed someone else out of their accessible room (they only wanted the extra space for convenience) and gave us a free night to boot.

Then we discovered that the Tube has access to (many of) the platforms but not onto the trains. Fortunately we could catch the bus to St Pancras for our train journey to Derby to pick up the motor home.

I won’t bore you with all the features of our “accessible” motor home that made it almost impossible for me, and a veritable nightmare for Margaret. Suffice to say that, although huge on the outside, it was extremely cramped on the inside – to the point where Margaret had to help me with many tasks that, at home, I do unaided. The morning routine took up to three hours (instead on one).

Anyway, off we went. We knew, of course, about narrow streets in villages and narrow lanes. What we weren’t prepared for was the width of the motor home – about a lane and a half. And we weren’t prepared for people parking where ever they feel like.

The day after we picked up the motor home we were in Coventry to meet John and Dymps and to park the motor home in their driveway. Such splendid hospitality. Dinner with John, Dymps, their daughter, Fiona, and Graham and Angela Jagger was a treat. It really got our adventure off to a great start. I’m not sure what they thought of we heathens from the antipodes though.

A few days later we were in Banbury to catch up with Margaret’s cousin and I fell ill and ended up in hospital for a couple of days with a kidney infection. I can report that the NHS worked a treat. I found myself in a ward with none other than Lord Tweedsmuir – one William Buchan, son of John Buchan who wrote the spy thriller The 39 Steps. Unfortunately, a few days before we left the UK we read of his passing. Perhaps the NHS had used all its available resources on me.

The trip to hospital and my subsequent convalescence had us reassessing our itinerary – out went Scotland, maybe Cheshire too – oh well, and slow down the rest.

But we managed to visit Southampton to meet one of Margaret’s distant cousins (whose husband also has quadriplegia) and Salisbury (where Dot Gurd, yet another wheelchair user, showed us around – we just loved the cathedral) before heading for Horsham to catch up with another of Margaret’s distant cousins.

From Horsham we caught the train to London and did all the usual touristy bits – our guides being a lass who stayed with us in Sydney when she was a back packer some years ago.

Finally, I was able to find some family connections in Hoddesdon. My great grandfather, Joshua Middleton Moxon married Louisa Mary Wilkinson who was a descendant of a George Cheffins (1739 – 1821) of Hoddesdon. Other names in that line are Martha Vears (m Geoge Cheffins 1766), Anthony Thorpe (m Martha Cheffins 1799), Louisa Thorpe (m Joseph Wilkinson 1843) – the last being Louisa Mary Wilkinson’s parents. Many of the men in this line were builders.

Louisa Mary Wilkinson was a dressmaker and family folk lore has it that she worked for the Royal Household – yet to be verified.

Next we headed for real Moxon territory – Yorkshire. We camped on a farm at Ingbirchworth, with wonderful views of the countryside around Penistone, including a large wind farm.

We ventured into Penistone by bus – yes wheelchair accessible buses in the wilds of Yorkshire. We tried to venture further by bus – all the way to Grenoside to attend a Family History Expo but got stuck in Chapeltown where the accessible buses went to everywhere but Grenoside and no accessible taxis were operating on that Saturday. Next day we drove the motor home there and spend hours trying to find evidence of Isaac Moxon’s inn keeping, as claimed on his son’s birth certificate (1840). Alas, no luck. We took photos of the three extant inns, so if we ever do find he truly was an inn keeper, we’ll have the photo.

Of course we visited Silkstone and Hoylandswaine. Both very nice but no real evidence of any of my forebears actually living or dying there. Birth certificates state “Silkstone” for several people, but perhaps that is the parish, not the town.

We tried to visit Barnsley but made the mistake of taking the motor home instead of the bus and could not find a parking spot. And we’d run out of time and energy, so gave it a miss. Pity really, as we have addresses for Isaac Moxon in Barnsley and it would have been nice to see if the houses are still there. Maybe next time.

So we packed up, said goodbye to Gordon, our farm host and his sheep, and headed north to Harden near Bingley in northern Yorkshire for lunch with John and Betty Moxon. John is a descendant of the George Moxon who was an architect and was featured in the last issue of this august journal. John and I share a great great great grandfather Joshua Moxon (b1751 d?). Again we were hosted by experts – lunch was delightful, the house one to kill for, and the view simply stunning.

Next stop was Kirkby Wharfe (near Tadcaster) where Isaac Moxon supposedly married Sarah Middleton in 1836. In fact that we have since found out, is the wrong Issac Moxon and Sarah Middleton. We now know that there is no record of our Isaac and Sarah’s marriage – but our Sarah came from near Grenoside, where we’d been a few days earlir but with no idea that we should have been looking for Middletons. Oh well, the trials of genealogy.) We camped at Ulleskelf where the nearest caravan park was located. Sarah’s family we thought had lived around the Tadcaster/Kirkby Wharfe/Ryther area but the only possible sign we found was a row of terrace houses in Ulleskelf which apparently used to be known as “Middleton Terrace”.

We took the opportunity to catch the train from Ulleskelf to York for market day and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. So the trip was anything but wasted.

And that, unfortunately, is almost all the Moxon research we had time for.

After Yorkshire we headed for Holyhead in Wales to catch the ferry to Dublin where we spent two glorious weeks chasing my Fitzpatrick and Quaine ancestors – with some success. We really loved Ireland – the people were unbelievably friendly and “laid back” (where we Aussies get it from, I guess) and the country quite beautiful.

We returned via Pembroke and spent a few days in Cardiff catching up with a good friend who is there working for the Assembly.

As we headed back to Horsham we spent a few days in Lacock and spent a day touring the Abbey – again a lovely place and a great day. Caught the train to Bath – yet another wonderful day! While in the area we caught up with Ed Moxon who is related to me (and we have the DNA results to prove it!!).

We just had to visit Stonehenge, so we did. I wheeled around three times but it didn’t work – I still can’t walk. Maybe I went the wrong way.

In Southampton we finally met John and Jacqui Moxon. We are not related but share a passion for VWs – which is how we first found each other on the net. We had dinner in a nice pub and John kindly fixed a strap on my wheelchair so I could go home.

From Horsham we drove to Derby to return the motor home and caught the train back to London a few days before we were due to fly out. In London we went to the National Archives in Kew and I found out that my great great grandfather Fitzpatrick had not been a Superintendant in the Irish Constabulary but rather a Constable and what’s more he had been dismissed. So much for what’s on death certificates.

So we flew home on the 5th of July (3 months from leaving) and then I spent two weeks in bed recovering from broken skin on my bottom caused by being left in airport wheelchairs for two hours instead of 10 minutes as promised. And Margaret got a gastric virus and had to be taken off the plane in Sydney in a wheelchair. We were quite a sight!

So. Was it worth it? You bet! Would we do it again? Maybe – but not in a motor home!!

Overall impressions of the UK and Ireland? Lovely people – great countryside –awful roads (apart form the motorways) – too much to see and do – inter city trains are great – buses very usable – terrible weather (I had to say it!).