Since starting to walk the High Weald Landscape Trail last weekend I have been thinking about where my ancestors came from, not on a village or parish level or even a county level but on a much broader geographical level.
A large chunk of the South-East of England is described as the Weald, broadly speaking it is the area of land that lies between the North Downs and the South Downs. It stretches from the edge Hampshire in the west, through West and East Sussex, and into Kent in the east.
A relatively large percentage of my ancestors were inhabitants of the Weald. Broadly speaking the two other types of terrain in Sussex are downland and coastal, neither of which seemed to be favoured by my ancestors, until more recent years when larger towns grew up on the coast offering employment and other opportunities.
For the genealogist there are no specific records for the Weald and no official boundaries. It seems to have been more defined by the landscape and this in turn defined the type of industry/employment that was possible.
I have often laughingly remarked that the South Downs have formed a boundary that stopped my ancestors falling into the sea, but now I wonder if there is some truth to this. Have the South Downs, and for that matter the North Downs, provided boundaries to the migration of my ancestors?
Perhaps not physical boundaries, the South Downs have several valleys running through them and tracks passing over them, but maybe psychological boundaries. Was it too bold a step to swap the clay of the Weald for the chalk of the Downs? I think it would be interesting to look closer at the movement of some of my ancestors and see if there are any patterns in their movement.
It is also interesting to consider the cases of my ancestors that slipped across the border from Kent to Sussex and vice versa. For them there probably was no border, it was all part of the Weald. The landscape and way of life would have been familiar to them and their ancestors regardless of which side of the border they were on.
I certainly need to do some more research on the Weald. Perhaps it is not going to directly affect my family history, but it is where my personal roots belong as well as those of many of my ancestors. I certainly owe it to them to find out more about where they lived in a much broader sense.
Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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