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Newbury author digs into her family’s 400-year history of living on the land

ANNABEL Bailey was one of some 30 local authors recently showcasing their latest work at Newbury library. She tells a fascinating family history tale in Leaves from the Tree – The Phizacklea Story – a clever title, with each ‘leaf’ from the family tree being an imagined episode about real people, their times and places, gathered over generations into one family.

The eight-year process dispelled many family myths.

Annabel Bailey at the Author Showcase at West Berks Library Pic: Roy Bailey
Annabel Bailey at the Author Showcase at West Berks Library Pic: Roy Bailey

You may have seen Annabel perform in the Boxford Masques or heard her read on the Talking Newspaper for the blind. She came to Great Shefford some 42 years ago, after her marriage to well-known local CAMRA stalwart Roy Bailey in 1982.

However, her mother was born in Staffordshire, at Clifton Hall, near Tamworth and her father in Rugby. He later moved to Exning near Newmarket, where his father was land agent to Lord Glanely. He went to Chadacre Agricultural College, where he came top in animal husbandry.

The couple met at Potterpury (Northants) where they worked for a couple who looked after sons who weren’t wanted by their families (like the historical remittance men).

This book is the result of several years of detailed research into her mother’s side; the Phizacklea, Postlethwaite, Bowley, Ward and Wilson families – from Cumberland and the Midlands – some emigrating to America for a while and almost drowning in the process. It tells of a history of 400 years of living on the land.

According to the Dictionary of Surnames, Phizacklea is based on an Anglo-Saxon placename; faes (border), acer (cultivated land, and leah (clearing).

“So we didn’t come over with the Polish retinue of the Young Pretender,” as originally thought. “But we were already well-established,” she discovered.

“We were never quite as grand as my grandmother would have wished, but were by no means muddy peasants either.

“We have always lived on the land, and this book is an attempt to explain some of the country ways that are fast being lost to urbanisation.”

Ways like hedging and ditching, cheese making, threshing and slate quarrying.

“I started thinking about writing in 2005, mostly for my 33 cousins on my mother’s side, not all of them still alive now,” Annabel explains.

The book details births, marriages and deaths at the end of each ‘leaf’, in order, she said, to help those cousins.

Annabel took herself off to the national archives, now in Kew but then in Islington, to discover more.

As she was rehearsing a production of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (with Carolyn von Stumm from Fawley) she stayed with her stepson and family in London. She caught a bus and spent the day researching, then went on to the play at the Royal College of Music behind the Albert Hall .

“As I was playing Major who died in the first act I could write up my notes and draw family trees.

“Later, I was much more on the ground and researching in Cumbria, etc.

“Another time I went to Hereford and was able to find the convent my grandmother’s aunts went to; and a lot of tombstones in Staffordshire.”

Then, her research done, she pulled the book together.

“When my brother had MS my sister-in-law used to escape to France each year for a couple of weeks, and I did some writing there.”

Eight years on, Leaves from the Tree was ready for publication. Her husband Roy had contacts through his membership of the John Hampden Society – which encourages wider knowledge of this great 17th-century Parliamentarian who came from an ancient Buckinghamshire family with a long tradition of service to the Crown, but became known as Patriae Pater – The Father of the People when he stood out against the imposition of the Ship Money tax.

The printer of The Patriot was the Sarsen Press in Winchester, who had a spare ISBN number, so she went through them to publish.

Digging into the family’s past can be a risky business – were there any surprises on the way?

“The aunts hadn’t told me about Grandpa fathering two more children,” said Annabel. “Only later.”

And was she pleased with the final book?

“I re-read it before I took it to the library... I think it’s OK,” she says modestly.

Visit Annabel’s website https://www.annabelbailey.me.uk/order.htmlf you would like to order a copy of Leaves from the Tree – The Phizacklea Story.

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