Thursday, June 10:  The Leighton’s of Alberbury

Got out of Keswick, just as the loo (with shredder) in Room #1 got jammed and began to leak through the ceiling and down into the lobby. We retraced our way out to the motorway and traveled smoothly south. Along the way, David learned about different number bases and got as far as multiplying several digit numbers in binary. Around noon, there were notices of an accident about 50 miles ahead, so we pulled over at a service area to consult the map. The McDonald’s at the service area attracted Pat’s attention for a toilet stop, and soon we were having lunch. Not too bad -- I had yogurt and the boys got semi-fresh fruit (packaged in a plastic bag). Route Plan B took us over to an “A” road, but with limited opportunities to pass, so we progressed through roundabout after roundabout and piled in behind slow trucks. We finally reached Shrewsbury, and side-stepped to the other side of town and out a minor “B” road. A few miles later we were in the small town of Alberbury for some genealogical research.

We located the church OK, but all the doors were locked. (Photo 207) We inquired at the cottage attached, presuming it might be the vicar or caretaker. The owner was polite, but had no connections with the church, or suggestions on how to proceed. Back up to the main road where I’d seen a phone box earlier. Located that, and it was right next to the village hall. A door was open, for its use as a polling station, but I proceeded in anyway. Not a soul was voting, but one of the two women working the station was very interested in helping. She said the church was likely still part of the estate, Loton Estate, and thus owned by Sir Michael Leighton. She had “seen him about this morning,” why didn’t I just walk down the road to the manor house and inquire? I guess because I’d been warned about the reception I might get.

I went and tried the phone, since I had come prepared with the phone number for the church and it matched the number listed for the Vicar out front of the church itself. However, the phone wouldn’t cooperate since after pressing a few numbers, subsequent presses elicited no tones. Back to the parking lot, and the election steward introduced us to another woman who suggested that Sir Michael Leighton’s sister, Mrs. Bonmorris (sp?) might have a key and sent us to her house back down by the church.

Arriving there, I wasn’t sure just which was the third house down, and a car was coming out of a nearby driveway, so I flagged it down as it came up to the road. The driver directed us to the house next door. I explained what I was up to and he told me that the sister had been “ill” lately. Two attempts at her door, envisioning it disrupting the rest of a sick woman, yielded no answer. We’d come this far, so off to the manor house at the estate it would be.

We made one pass on the road, it was indeed grand and imposing. But there was also a tour bus parked right out front, emboldening me slightly. A U-turn and back we went. We drove through the gates, up the driveway, and onto the gravel driveway right by the house. We parked, got out, and saw an elderly couple sitting on the front porch. “Good afternoon! Would you be Sir Leighton?” “Nah, we just got tired and came outside,” was the response. Refugees from the historical society tour we were to learn later.

We stepped inside the lobby, complete with a fireplace, coats of arms and stained glass with family names and inscriptions. Two women inquired about us and invited us to take photos. “Would Sir Leighton be home?,” I had asked. “Sir Michael, you mean.” One went to get Sir Michael’s sister for us. Sir Michael himself then came through the lobby with part of the tour group. I introduced myself and our purpose and it didn’t take him long. “Another one of you?,” as if we kept coming in waves like a landing at Normandy. I had mentioned we were descendants of Basil Wood and Robert Leighton and he asked if we knew somebody, whose name I can’t remember, somebody with a connection to the Jamaican part of the line. I began to pull out the article from The Genealogist by my mother’s genealogical buddy Brice Clagett since I recalled a Jamaican connection listed there and all twenty generations are listed very clearly. He wouldn’t let me even get it unfolded and dismissed it with, “I know all about it.” He seemed to be aware of my mother’s name, too. He suggested we might like to see White Abbey, since Basil Wood “came” from there. And then he was back to the tour group.

His sister arrived and apologized that the church was locked since she usually liked to leave it open. Would we like to come with her and she’d open it up? Of course! We followed her in our car and she unlocked the church, showed us the light switches as she turned them on, and pointed out a few things. We’d come in search of a memorial on the wall, to honor Basil Wood, who had died in 1714. It then mentions that Abigal (sic), his wife, and daughter of Robert Leighton is buried there. (Photo 208) This piece of evidence and other records made it possible for Brice (a noted medieval scholar) to trace our family back to illustrious English ancestors, such as King Edward III. Brice had found a very precise description of this marker in a book that frequently cites sources from the British Museum, and which contains a very accurate sketch of the detail on the decoration above the marker. It didn’t take us long to find it and we took several photos. The sister left us, and we explored the church, especially the side chapel devoted to the Leighton family. (Photo 209)

We left the church and backtracked to Abbey Lane in search of White Abbey. Went a few miles down a very narrow road to its end, never finding anything that resembled an abbey. Back onto the “B” road, we headed back north, towards our next stop in North Wales. Withing about a mile, the street signs became bilingual, with English second, our only clue that we’d entered Wales. For the nest half-hour, we were in and out of Wales and England several times, much to the boys’ mock dismay. an hour or so later, we arrived at Conwy, along the northern coast of Wales. Approaching the town, one suddenly sees the castle and three bridges leading toward it. The enclosed rail bridge takes the tracks around the outside of the walled city, a suspension bridge is now just for pedestrian use, and the road uses a more modern bridge. The main road now bypasses the town in a tunnel under the river.

Good directions and a location just inside the town meant we had no problem locating the Townhouse B&B. On the top floor again, but in two rooms. City walls are just across the street, and we can see the castle out our windows. The town is really quite compact, and seems an ideal tourist town -- just the right size, most of the needed services, a rational street layout and decent places to eat. (Photo 210) We chose Italian at Alfredo’s, where I was obliged to continue my string of sampling spaghetti carbonara from all the countries of Europe. Pat went with a plate of local seafood, sea bass. The boys wolfed down adult portions of pasta, and after his pizza-eating feat the night before we now suspect Robert is having a growth spurt.