Thursday 19 February 2015

A day in the past

Yesterday, I escaped on a journey to the past with my sisters. The three of us took the ferrry to France and drove to the tourist town of Le Touquet Paris Plage with the goal of finding where both my grandparents and great grandparents lived at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Not only did we delight in finding the homes of both generations, we also went on to visit my great grandparents' grave at the local cemetry. It took us ages to locate it, only to be somewhat taken aback to discover it speared with a sign post bearing a tattered and disintergrating scrap of laminated paper (apparently weathering there since 2013) that said they were to exume and move the bodies since the grave was neglected.
We'd only found out about grave a couple of weeks ago!
After taking lots of photos, we continued on to discover the location of Hôtel du Golf, the hotel my grandfather managed until 1940 when it was bombed by the Germans. Our dad had told us how it was such a grand place, and that many members of royalty stayed there to play golf and relax. Apparently, my grandfather once chastised the young Prince Rainier with a clip round the ear for talking out of turn. We were eager to learn more!
Nobody around town seemed to know where the hotel was. We were directed to the local library by Tourist Information, where we discovered a local history book that said this sumptious hotel, which was at one time also used as a Canadian wartime hospital, had actually not been bombed by the invading Germans, but had been bombed by the allies to prevent the Germans getting of valuable secret documents stored there! Très intéressant!
To finish that part of our tour, we visited the site of the enormous hotel, only to find it replaced by lots of private residences, but also the newer, and much smaller, Hôtel du Manoir. It didn't look much, so we drove on by.
Despite the disapointment, the anti-climax, that there was nothing left of the original hotel, we had an amazing day. I would definately recommend visiting a place you are doing family research on, not only for the extra information that might turn up, but also because it gives you a wonderful sense of belonging...walking the streets your ancestors might have walked, seeing the places your ancestor might have seen...simply being there!
On the return journey, as for a recent day trip with my kids to Bruges back in January, many of the road signs pointing to Calais also pointed the way to St Omer, a place that has particular interest to me, being where the youths that stayed with Elizabeth Cellier, The Popish Midwife, attended Jesuit college during the trials of the Popish Plot.
Mrs Cellier became host to these students, who gave testimony against Titus Oates (creator of the Popish Plot and responsible for the deaths of many innocent Catholics) at the request of no less than Mary of Modena, wife of the Duke of York (future king James II). None other could safely take them in, without appearing to support the Catholics on trial for treason, and risk their life for it. Not giving too much of the story away, the Jesuit Youths are vital to the trial of the five Jesuits accused of plotting to kill the king, and Omer is mentioned throughout the trial.
Seeing the name of St Omer on signs all the way back to the port, it was as if I was being called to go there! I have to visit the Jesuit college, and walk around the town, get a feel for those students, who had been sent there to study by Catholics because their religion (and any teaching of it) was outlawed in England - my trip yesterday showed how important it was in getting a feel for people of the past - definately my next trip to France!


  1. Oh that brought back a memory of a souvenir inscribed 'Le Touquet Paris Plage' that my Mum & Dad brought back from a visit to France in the 60's!

    Fascinating visit to the past for you.

    1. Sorry, Akelamalu, I missed your comment!
      Funny, we had lots of bits and pieces from the attic, and trying to work out the importance of each thing is intriguing, but frustrating. I do know my dad lived in Le Touquet, and my grandparents and great grandparents lived there, but it sure is fascinating working it all out, though sometimes you forget it's a real life you're investigating, and not just a puzzle/ detective work!