The Titterton Family Gathering took place over the weekend of 25-26 May 2002. Planning had started about 18 months earlier when the date was set and the Memorial Hall in Alstonefield, Staffs, was booked. This is the village where the family originated over 600 years ago.
How many would turn up? That was the worrying question. Would I be on my own with just a handful of interested people? Very few people were prepared, apart from overseas visitors, to make a definite commitment until 4-5 weeks before the event. Bookings then started to come in and were still being received 3 days before the event. Some attended both days, which was the plan, but others could only make Saturday or Sunday. In the end about 70 attended each day with about 100 different people in total. There were three couples from the USA and a long lost cousin of my own from Australia. Sadly a couple of long term supporters who live across the Atlantic did not make it for health reasons.
The format was simple. Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon were spent in the Village Hall. People set up their own displays, looked at displays and heard short talks and explanations about various aspects of Titterton Family History by myself and other volunteers. Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning were billed as free time to explore Narrowdale Farm and to visit churches and villages where their own branches had lived. Narrowdale is a remote farmstead where the family had become established from about 1400. The hall was also open so that the less able and those who disliked rain could spend more time looking at displays. Sunday afternoon also included ‘Where do we go from here?’
I had produced basic family trees which were laid out on tables or stuck up on walls. All were encouraged to add their own updates to these. Several people brought along their own family trees into which they had incorporated photographs and other memorabilia. These put the flesh on the bare bones. We also provided ploughman’s lunches on both days. One problem was that someone searching for their family tree at lunchtime may have needed to look for it under someone else’s plate!
The trees provided a focus for discussion. It was quite an experience to see people find their own place on a tree and find relatives. One couple arrived on Saturday with only a general idea of which tree might be theirs. They returned the next day after ‘grilling’ mother who had remembered cousin Caleb Titterton. Finding Caleb on a tree enabled them to find the right George Titterton to add themselves to the tree. I left them talking to another Titterton who was adding himself to the same family tree about 4 feet away. He had lived near Caleb some years ago.
On Saturday morning one Mrs Titterton explained to me that her husband had identified, as a distant cousin on his tree, someone who almost certainly was the lad he had sat next to at school. (Did all schools seat people alphabetically by surname? I sat next to Michael Wooding.) Later that afternoon another Mrs Titterton told me that her husband had been delighted to meet the lad he had sat next to at school who had turned out to be a distant cousin! Yes, two halves of the same story.
Victor Meldrew (a character in an English TV sitcom) would have said ‘I don’t believe it’ at least twice. One of the displays related to George Titterton, a Birmingham safe maker. In the last few years I have been e-mailed pictures of two of his safes, and have a brass name plate recovered from a third. The venue of the gathering is currently the village hall but had been the parish school until it closed as such about 20 years ago. Our ‘kitchen staff’ decided to move the fridge to make it more accessible and pulled it away from the wall. Behind it was the old school safe made by, yes, the same George Titterton.
The other instance was even more personal. Gwenn Selvaggio came over from the USA with a friend and spent the previous week in the area. Her grandmother was a Titterton from Wales who emigrated to the USA. Our common ancestry is from two brothers who came from Grindon, John (c. 1710-1769), and William (1718-1781).
She called in to see me on the Friday just for a chat.
‘Where are you going to next?’ I asked.
‘To find out more about my family heirloom, a grandfather clock.’
I became rather excited at this. ‘Who was the maker?’
I was apoplectic. We both have family heirlooms of grandfather clocks made by James Bown of Matlock. Gwenn’s photograph shows that they have identical casings and very similar faces. A book on Derbyshire clockmakers dates them as about 1770. Did the two brothers go off and buy virtually identical grandfather clocks together?
It does pay to advertise. There were people arriving unannounced on the Sunday afternoon as late as 2:30 p.m. I had sent a press release to the Local newspapers and to towns further afield where Titterton families had lived in the early 20th century. This brought in visitors who travelled 30-40 miles to the venue. A small notice in the Journal of the BMSGH did pay off in an unexpected way. One visitor had seen this advert and came along. He had no Titterton family relationship. His connection was a miniature he had bought in an antique shop some years ago for a William Titterton, d.1859, a Birmingham varnish and paint maker who died aged 29. Members of this Titterton family were delighted to see this item.
I was presented with a number of records by the operatic singer Frank Titterton (?background music for the web site). One person volunteered to set up a PA system for me because he happened to have the equipment. The proceedings of the weekend were recorded on CD. One fund raiser to help cover expenses was the production of a T-shirt and Tea towel decorated with Titterton memorabilia.
The weekend was really amazing and rewarding. The size of the ‘Titterton family’ is not large and I think we had a very good attendance. In the UK 1881 Census there were 500 Tittertons. A trawl of UK sources (Info disks etc) produced 500 address for the year 2000. A similar Internet search for Canada, Australia, New Zealand and USA combined produced around a further 100 addresses. These 600 letters produced about 100 responses eventually. It was very rewarding and has taken research forward considerably. Thought must be given to the next one.
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