11 August 1995

How she tracked her

ancestors back 600 years

ELEANOR Porter has achieved something that most of us, at one time or another, have wanted to do. She has traced her family tree.

Beginning with the latest generation, and with the help of historian Mary Abbott, she tracks a "chain of evidence" back over 600 years.

But this book* is not merely a personal journey of discovery. Centuries on, the details – drawn from diaries, memorial cards, wills and other published works – assume wider significance. Eleanor Porter comes from a family of Cotswold yeomen, and changes in the farming way of life are also chronicled.

The result is fascinating and, at times, funny. There is the tale of Bob, the family dog over 100 years ago, who, upon hearing mention of hymn books, would immediately leave the room.

"Temperance and modesty", Eleanor Porter tells us, were the virtues of yeomen. A letter written in 1919 to one Edith Porter from her grandfather seems to confirm this.

"I thank you very much for the waistcoat and letter," it says. "The vest fits me nicely over a wool knitted one which I had in the year 1852."

This is no rose-tinted, nostalgic account. It is an honest portrayal of social and economic change, of the hard life shepherds and labourers lived, and of the churchs role, the coming of mechanisation, and the onset of war.

One moment we are in the late 19th century, with children who "roam along the hedgerows in wet evenings collecting snails in a pail for the pigs supper". Before long we are back – albeit via slightly tenuous links – in the early 17th century with Endymion Porter, a man "beloved by two kings".

This is, perhaps, the most enjoyable history lesson you will ever read. TR

*Yeomen of the Cotswolds by Eleanor Porter and Mary Abbott, Images Publishing (£18).