The Basingstoke Canal navigates its way through the area of Surrey and Hampshire that I call home. Never a real commercial success after its completion in 1794, it was brought back to life in the last forty years through volunteer restoration. The waterway does however provide the picturesque backdrop to the early life of my 3x great-grandmother Sarah Halfacre (1842-1904) – my Mum’s Dad’s Mum’s Dad’s Mum. She was baptised in Dogmersfield, Hampshire on 11th September, 1842.
What was ‘Out of Place’ (this week’s theme) about Sarah’s story was that after spending the first 24 years of her life in this rural idyll; rolling Hampshire fields backing on to the tranquil setting of the waters of the Basingstoke Canal, Sarah finds herself uprooted, fleetingly in Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland, where she not only gives birth to a son, she loses her soldier husband just five months later, and returns to Hampshire a widow and single parent after the very briefest of periods away.
There is also a modern day development about the patch on which this all plays out which also has a sense of the ‘Out of Place’ about it to which I will return.
Sarah spent her formative years growing up in a family home called “Stacey’s Cottage”, which is in Sprat’s Hatch Lane, Dogmersfield. It must have been close to Stacey’s Bridge which spans the Basingstoke Canal, leading to a footpath to St. Mary’s Church, Winchfield.
Her Mum, Ann Wooldridge (1813-1893, from Crookham Village), and Father, John Halfacre (1811-1886, a Carpenter from Hartley Row, Hampshire) created that canal-side home for Sarah and her five siblings – Elizabeth (1840-1912); John (1847-1917); Ann (1849-1884); William (1851-1917) and Eliza (1856-1886).
First marriage – Sawyer (1864)
Aldershot looms large in my family tree for the first, but not the last time. Sarah met a soldier called Thomas Sawyer (1837-1867, from Hull, Yorkshire) serving in the 6th Dragoon Guards, stationed in the nearby garrison town, and was soon to marry him on 2nd August 1864, at the Wesleyan Chapel on Cambridge Road. Thomas will feature in future weeks.
The couple were soon on the move, and it is clear that wherever Thomas was stationed, Sarah followed. They had their first son (Thomas William Sawyer – 1864-1896) in Brighton, where Sarah’s husband was next stationed at the Pavilion Barracks. Thomas William was baptised on 19 March 1865.
To Ireland and back
It was not long before Sarah was uprooted, following her husband later in 1865 to Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland, where it would appear he was serving in the 6th Dragoon Guards. She left her first son Thomas with her mother Ann, who was to bring him up as his grandmother. He would remain with her.
Despite being away from home, Sarah and Thomas (Senior) had a second child, Charles Sawyer (1866-1941), my 2x great grandfather. He was born on 5th November 1866, in Clonmel. Just five months later, his father, Sarah’s husband Thomas was killed in action on 10th April 1867, most likely part of the British contingent seeking to smother the Fenian Rising of 1867, a rebellion organised against British rule. I will deal with that in greater detail in a future week about him, suffice to say it has led to a great deal of reflection on my part about imperialist and colonial tendencies I had not expected to find in my tree.
Second marriage – Holdaway (1868)
Sarah returned to England a widow with two young boys. Her first son never returned to her family home (staying instead with his grandmother by the canal), and her second, Irish born son Charles had left the new family home before he was 14 years old, making a life for himself under his own steam.
Sarah began a new family. Her second marriage was to Charles Holdaway (1829-1903), an agricultural labourer also from Dogmersfield, Hampshire. They married in the Spring of 1868. With Charles, she had a further ten children between 1868 and 1888 – half-siblings to Thomas, and my 2x great grandfather Charles Sawyer.
The family remained living in Dogmersfield until the couple died. Sarah died aged 61 in 1904; her second husband Charles Holdaway died a year earlier aged 73 years old.
Out of place – the modern day Shapley Heath ‘new town’ proposals
Another reason that Sarah Halfacre seemed a perfect choice of ancestor for the theme of ‘Out of Place’ was more contemporary. Her childhood home of ‘Stacey’s Cottage’ was on the edge of a proposed modern day new town – or as it was titled, ‘Shapley Heath Garden Community,’ in the Hart District area of Hampshire. Indeed, in the 1841 Census, Sarah’s parents Ann and John’s address was given as ‘Shapley Heath Farm’, before they lived at ‘Stacey’s Cottage’ in subsequent census returns.
I was opposed to the building of such a new town because it was on a greenfield location, with no real supporting infrastructure in place before development, As a recent landslip on the nearby South Western mainline railway has demonstrated, there are no alternative pre-existing local public transport options in place to connect the area to Basingstoke, Reading or Farnborough as it stands, let alone with a major new town development. So much for genuine sustainable transport! But the proposed development also felt ‘out of place’ on a more personal level because it was concreting over so many picturesque areas of Hampshire landscape that were so important to generations of my ancestors – like my 3x great grandmother, Sarah Halfacre – and I felt called to oppose it. There are better brownfield options – and infrastructure has to come first regardless.
See you for another #52ancestors theme next week. Again, if you feel you can correct me on anything, or you just want to discuss anything, please get in touch. Thank you for reading.