RESEARCH & TIME-TRAVELLING

by Ron Dale


The more I research into the history of our little corner of Hertfordshire, the more I realise how little we know about its past.  And the more I discover about its past, the more I discover how much more there is to discover.  It is like peeling an onion, only to find another layer underneath and then another layer and then another ad infinitum.

     And the more I delve into the past, the more enjoyable, the more exciting research becomes, for there are moments when you suddenly discover something unexpectedly interesting about the village.  Sitting at my laptop at the kitchen table which serves as my desk, It might just be a name or an event, but it is somehow like treasure hunting without leaving home; where you suddenly discover something precious, but the jewel or the treasure is not silver or gold, just some everyday piece of information you did not know, and nobody you know knows either. When you find this discovery to be exciting and pleasurable, you realise that you have become a time-traveller due to the magic of the internet and all that you ever wanted to know is there, somewhere in the land of nowhere, just waiting to be plucked out of the past.  You have become hooked on research and cannot wait to find those little gems of knowledge which mean so little to the average person, but so much to the searcher after knowledge.

      Finding the existence of William Rokesburgh and son, possibly early residents of Stanstead Bury for example, gave me such a buzz, such excitement because I knew that this knowledge was not known to anyone else in the village, was not written down in any Hertfordshire history book and that for the first time the story could be written down and told to those who wish to know for the rest of eternity, long after my demise. And so it was with the location of the Saxon site, Alwine’s Frith (See elsewhere on this site), home of Sir Simon de Stanstede (another character not previously recorded in history books), which he rented from our lord of the manor, Roger de Wanchy, the man who put the village into debt and into the hands of Waltham Abbey.  It was also possibly once the home of our Saxon lord Alwine and was certainly owned by him.  And then, after discovering the site at home, thanks to a kind friend with a car and an interest in Easneye (as I am no longer able to walk much), to stand next to a pond on this small 10-acre plot of land and to be there with my friend Ray ‘Dick’ Dixon at the spot where these early important people one stood 800 to 1,000 years ago gives an indescribable feeling.  Somehow to uncover this little story, merely a few boring facts to most people, gives me a thrill which makes all the eye-strain, all the searching worthwhile. To me it is like finding treasure, and hopefully if just one other person can appreciate this fact, then it will have been worth the effort. The search for knowledge about the past is a worthy one to those who can appreciate it. And the rewards it gives cannot be measured except subjectively and only by the discoverer. Probably nine out of ten people reading this mass of village facts on our web-site will skim over it with little thought or feeling, un-realising the pleasure it has given to someone else to find it. Of course I realise that for many readers, such discoveries mean little, but so it will always be. For every page printed online, you can guarantee I have read twenty others needlessly. But research has not been work for me. It has been a great pleasure and an experience I would not have missed. Naturally, there is still much more to learn in the future and I believe the answers will be found on early documents in local archives such as at HALS or the National Archives, as few documents are accessible online and the earlier ones will need to be translated from the Latin text, so brush up on your Latin. Wonderful as it is, a world of knowledge at our fingertips, there is a limit to what we can discover on the internet.

THE PAST IS A MUCH SMALLER PLACE THAN YOU MIGHT IMAGINE

In historical research, one interesting facet is that some of the characters we investigate would have known each other. Their paths would have crossed.  William Rokesburgh, citizen of Stanstead Abbotts in the early 1400s knew Sir Richard (Dick) Whittington and did business with him as both their names have appeared together on Feet of Fines documents regarding land purchases. (Oh yes he did!)     It is also just possible that in the early 15th century Sir Andrew Ogard might have met Rokesburgh when he was building Rye House with Stanstead Bury less than a mile away.  Rokesburgh is buried at St. James. And so it was with Izaak Walton, our ‘Brother of the Angle.’ He was fond of fishing at Rye House where he admitted to a favourite fishing spot there.  Although he would not have known Dr. Alexander Nowell, Dean of St. Pauls personally, Izaak mentions that he spoke to people who had known the good doctor of Much Hadham and he was told that he usually gave away his catch of fish to the poor of Stanstead or wherever he was fishing. And of course we have already encountered Dr. Nowell as the close friend of Jocosa Frankland, lady of the manor of Thele and Rye House who consoled her when her son William was killed by a horse. And being the clever fisherman that he was, Dr. Nowell was credited as being the first man to chill his beer on hot summer days by sinking a bottle in the river whilst fishing. (How could anyone possibly know this!). The past is a much smaller place than you can imagine; once you travel back there regularly you never know who you are going to meet!

R.D.