Take a look at this hunting party. It's a family portrait of sorts, even though it dates from the early 1900s. The gentleman in the back row, with beard and light suit, second in from the left, is my great grandfather, James Day. Who the others are, I do not know. Family, friends and a morose looking farm worker in the cart at the back.
It's taken in the farmland around the village of Roxton. The following photograph is of the village church, St Mary Magdalene. No doubt my grandfather and family attended services there.
Except this photograph and the others that follow do not date from the early 1900s. They date from last Friday, August 14, 2015, and I stood in the village gazing over the gravestones. My great grandfather is not among them, he is buried at the village of Harrold in Bedfordshire. Not that far from Roxton.
The thing is - when that group photograph was taken, my grandfather owned Roxton village. And the local estate known as Roxton Park. Plus many, many acres of farmland.
I drove out to the gate of Roxton Park. It's been held for several generations by a different farming family, sold when my great grandfather decided he needed a larger house and moved to the Mansion in Harrold not that long after the photograph of the hunting party.
The Mansion in Harrold was the end. Through misfortune and what I suspect was poor management, that estate was sold at rock bottom prices as the Great Depression took hold in England. The family fortune was eaten up by debt. No longer landed gentry, my grandfather and great uncles and great aunts were thrown upon a rougher and poorer world. Some prospered, some did not. But none recaptured what was lost.
I wanted to see these lost lands.
I looked out over the fences and fields. As far as I could gather, little had changed. The curious round thatched gatehouse was as it was in James Day's time. The main house itself was hidden behind trees and the gate was closed to me. No National Trust house this, it remains private and inaccessible.
Did my great grandfather, photographed for all I know by a gate in the very fence I was looking towards, ever foresee such a change in his world? Before World War One, before the social upheavals of the 1930s, before the Second World War and the years of austerity that followed. A country that moved towards socialism and then away again, paradoxically to a state today where such disparities of wealth and ownership have become reestablished.
Strange it was to look over these lands. My life and its expectations are so far removed, yet a niggling yearning for that wealth and status tickled my thoughts. Dismissed with a little thought - that long abandoned way of life would never have accommodated the way I like to live - yet I let myself dream for a little while.
Enough, that was. What was is long gone. But I'm glad I went there. It cemented in place a cornerstone of my past.
Thank you, Tom Batty, for the photograph of the hunting party.