THE SECOND STURGE PILGRIMAGE, 1980
For those who had gathered in Bristol the previous evening, the view from the hotel window on Saturday, 19th July, was one of a particularly grey and damp morning. Undaunted, by ten o'clock the first groups of cousins were arriving at the Friends' Meeting House at Frenchay, which was to be our starting point. Many carried items for the exhibition of family heirlooms but, first, all stopped at the door to collect their label, which would help to "put names to faces" and identify the branch from which they were descended.
Namesakes met over coffee, new cousins were introduced and, well before those conversations were exhausted, passed into the adjoining room where family treasures covered every available surface. This display would, in itself, have offered a full and fascinating day.
At eleven o'clock one hundred and forty-eight members of the Sturge Family and its descendants, with strong support from the Clarks of Street and other related families with whom a valued bond continues, assembled in the old meeting room. In addition there were nine others present, guests, special friends of the family, including several of the name of Sturge who could not show descent from the known family tree.
We filled the benches of that historic room and, for a few moments, sat in silence. The silence was broken as Grace Sturge, who had recently celebrated her ninetieth birthday, gave thanks for the privilege of a heritage of nearly four centuries. Exactly fifty years before she had been amongst those who attended in 1930. Eight other companions from that event were also present. For so many of us, those quiet minutes have remained a focal point of the day.
Instead of the fourteen cars used on the first occasion, we were now conveyed by three, fifty-three seat coaches. Travelling along the lanes to reach Gaunts Earthcott we passed the site of old Caleb Sturge's now vanished home. On arrival the company viewed the earliest know homesite, an evocative building dear to our hearts. In the grounds, close to the pond, stands a young copper beach tree - out lasting "thank you" for the great hospitality we received.
There were times when the carefully made plans for the day failed us. We found that the rain had seeped under the sides of the marquee and it became necessary to alter the programme. The talks were switched to a later point in the day and Michael Sturge was faced with the task of producing our group photograph in near to impossible conditions of wind and drizzle. Fortunately, although the weather was dull, the spirit of those present was sufficient compensation.
After lunch we boarded our coaches again to visit some of the other homesites which are crowded into just a few square miles. The itinerary was much the same as that of fifty years before, passing Woodhouse - the former home of the Harwood Family - to reach the ancient gatehouse and crumbling walls of Olveston Court. We then saw the much altered New Leaze, the last home of Joseph V, from which his family were to spread across this country and around the world.
Then on to Elberton, the dignified building where Joseph VI and Thomas Marshall Sturge were born. Shipcombe, no longer a farmhouse, looked forlorn and dust gathered in the empty rooms our ancestors had used; but the birthplace of Charles Sturge, the founder of the Birmingham Branch, is to be restored to become a home once more. At the old Olveston Meeting House we saw a room which had witnessed numerous family occasions, including the union between the Clark and Sturge families.
Prior to our visit the little used Lower Hazel Burial Ground had been cleared of undergrowth by the kind efforts of volunteers from neighbouring Quaker meetings. We learned where to find the key that would open the lock upon the ancient gate and admit us to this ancient and special place, which needs to be revisited on a quieter day for its tranquility to be fully appreciated.
Retracing our route, we returned to Frenchay where the hospitality of Friends ensured that tea awaited the weary pilgrims. Sadly, it was now time for those with long journeys ahead to leave for home. For those able to remain there was an enlightening talk entitled "Quaker Sturges" By Roger Sturge. Time did not permit our gaining the full extent of his knowledge of the subject (that talk was recorded and an edited transcript is published after this account.)
Two light-hearted items concluded the evening. Sylvia Lewin gave a potted history of the two bears her grandfather, Wilson Sturge, had sent home from Russia, producing a label from a jar of bears grease, which had been one creatures end. (Published as "Bear Facts" on this web site.) Then Joyce Cook wittily tackled the topic of our ancestors last testaments and the curiosities these contain (see "Sturge Wills.")
At seven o'clock the remaining cousins made their farewells and departed for home. Much had changed in the passing of fifty years, even more since the days of our forebears. The "high road to Gloucester" has been superceded by the motorways which criss-cross the fields our ancestors knew well. The Severn Bridge leaps from the riverside where Joseph Sturge grazed his sheep and had them confiscated for that which his adherence to Quaker principles would not permit.
Like a bridge, we pilgrims have attempted to span the years, one foot in our time and the other in the footsteps of our ancestors. The success of a most enjoyable day was due to the generosity and patience of those who own the homes we visited and to the contributions of so many of those who attended that it is impossible to individually acknowledge their efforts in this account. We are grateful for a day which will long be remembered.
Peter Marshall Sturge, Dorking, 1980.