The Hunts of East Hendred

East Hendred and the Hunt Family

Some time in 1902, Arthur Hunt seized the hand of his lady friend Evaline Blanche Kingston Carter and helped her aboard a London-bound train in the small village of Steventon in rural Berkshire, some 50 miles west of the capital. Like so many before and after them, they were abandoning the countryside of their ancestors for the city life that beckoned to the future.

Steventon was the nearest Great Western Railway station to Milton Manor in nearby Milton, where Arthur and Evaline had met as servants. At 21, Arthur was a groom. He helped care for the horses at Milton Manor, pictured right, whose owners were members of the prominent local family named Eyston. Evaline, who became his bride after they arrived in London, was 10 years older. She, too, had worked for the Eystons, as a senior maid in the household. Apart from its role as a manor house in a number of movies, Milton Manor also played a distinguished, if peripheral, role in English history. In 1688, the Dutch prince William of Orange was staying there in 1688 when he learned that the Glorious Revolution had toppled his father-in-law James II. That Glorious Revolution made William joint sovereign with his wife Mary Stuart, James's daughter. After her death he was to become king in his own right as William III.

A local girl

You could say Evaline was a local girl and you would not be wrong exactly. She was born in the village of East Ilsley, about four miles from Milton, but she lived at least some of her childhood in the horseracing community of Findon, East Sussex. Her father, Alfred Carter, was a groom at the racing stables there of Albert, Prince of Wales. Alfred was born in the Suffolk town of Newmarket, the center of England's equine industry since the days of Charles II, brother to the unfortunate James II. But Alfred wandered the country working at stables, at some point meeting and marrying Evaline's mother, Mary Anne Walters, nee Allen, in East Ilsley. The village remains horse country to this day. Mary Anne, widowed, and mother of a daughter, Ruth Wilhelmina Dench Walters, was the child of John Allen, an East Ilsley schoolteacher and former parish clerk of the nearby village of Compton, and his wife Ruth, whose maiden surname was Kingston. Ruth Kingston was from far afield, too. She came from the village of Middleton Cheney in Northamptonshire, near the Oxfordshire border and the town of Banbury. Ruth and John appear to have met in that area as trainee schoolteachers at what was then called a normal school.

Son of the soil

Arthur was descended from generations upon untold generations of sons and daughters of the Berkshire/Oxfordshire soil. He was born in East Hendred, the seat of his patron family the Eystons. So was his father. And his father's father before him. He and  Evaline were to become parents of seven after they married and established a home in London.

The picturesque village of East Hendred stands in the heart of Anglo-Saxon England in an even-older area called the Vale of the White Horse. The name comes from the enormous white horse carved from a chalk hillside in nearby Uffingham by long-forgotten Iron Age people. The area has been inhabited for a long time. Scholars say East Hendred may be one of the oldest communities in Britain. Early settlement has been detected on the nearby Downs and archaeologists have found traces of pre-Roman farms in the area. The village is barely a spear's toss from the Ridgeway, the ancient chalk track that echoes the 1,500-year-old tread of conquering Saxon tribesmen and the Romans before them. Just beside the intersection of the Ridgeway with the lane leading to East Hendred is Scutchamer's Knob, which legend says was the burial place of the Saxon chieftain Cwichelm. In Anglo-Saxon documents from 956, East Hendred is called Hennerithe.The name comes from the rill of the wild hens, what in America would be called a small creek. By 1080, the village is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Esthenrithe. The entry makes it clear that the village of West Hendred, across the rill of the wild hens, was in place by then. In the Tudor age East Hendred was known as a prosperous market town whose riches were based on cloth manufacturing. A century later, after the Glorious Revolution, the Dutch troops of William III marched up the Ridgeway and did considerable damage in the village.

Today the companion villages of East and West Hendred are connected by a footpath that crosses the rill of the wild hens, who frolic there still. A prominent East Hendred resident until his death was Lord Roy Jenkins, who held several major British cabinet posts. Jenkins was a founder of the Social Democratic Party and was author of a recent bestselling life of Sir Winston Churchill. The photograph at right, a postcard sold in the East Hendred village shop, shows the shop and the village high street in 1904. The small boys intently watching the photographer at work could well be members of the Hunt family.

Big wheels in those parts

For centuries, East Hendred has been the seat of the Eyston family of landed gentry. In the female line, the Eystons can be traced back in the village to the 13th century. Memorials to the family's worthies populate the graveyards and walls of both village churches, and modern members cast big local shadows still. But for a family with such a lengthy pedigree, the Eystons are relatively anonymous in English history. Even so, the Eyston feudal sway over the village lasted perhaps longer than that of other similar families in other places, well into the 20th century. The reason for both circumstances is not hard to discern in the history of East Hendred. The place was a hotbed for generations of recusant Catholicism -- the secret practice of Catholic ritual and loyalty to Rome in Protestant ascendancy times when popery sometimes brought a death sentence. The Eystons always have been bravely Catholic and the family remains so today in these more enlightened times. The family has a line of descent from Sir (and Saint) Thomas More, a female descendant of whom married an Eyston in the early 19th century. In the bad old days, a Catholic stood a good chance of having his head lopped off if he became too obvious. For that reason, the Eystons slumbered in relative anonymity while other, originally less illustrious, English families, the Cecils, the Spencers, etc., were winning their spurs and their peerages. Over the same period and for the same reason, East Hendred, the prosperous cloth-making town that was mentioned in the Domesday Book, took in the welcome mat and turned out the enlightenment. The age of the common man was aborning elsewhere in England; but in East Hendred the Catholic Eystons continued to lord it over everyone and no one elsewhere much cared.

Keeping their heads down

Amid all of this were the loyal peasants who worked on the Eyston land and served them as retainers at Hendred House, their ancient manor. Like their masters, the villagers, too, secretly professed Catholicism in an Anglican world. But where the Eyston family undoubtedly felt a spiritual calling, the Catholicism of the peasantry probably was due more likely to loyalty to the squire than to the pope. Tony Hadland's excellent book, "Thames Valley Papists," shows clearly that peasant Catholics adopted the Anglicanism of their neighbors when Catholic gentry families died out. The Eyston family thrives to this day. So, as a consequence, does Catholicism in East Hendred. It remains the center of a Catholic community, an oddity, indeed, in an English country village. It is an historic irony that so Catholic an area played a pivotal role in the Glorious Revolution that ousted James II. One of the charges levied against James was that he may have been a closet Catholic.

Anyone researching family history in East Hendred and surrounding villages is likely to find that unless the name Eyston occurs in the genealogy, all signs will point to ancestors being tenants and servants of the Eyston family. Even so, some village families are of clear antiquity. A distant Hunt cousin, who was one of the last of that name to be associated with the village, remembers as a rebellious girl in the 1960s refusing to curtsey to a now-deceased Eyston grande dame. She was called in to Hendred House for a frosty dressing down and a reminder of the kind of manners the gentry expected from the peasantry.

"Your family has been in this village as long as mine," Miss Hunt was told with all the weight of generations of noblesse oblige.

There can never be proof, of course, but at least a fanciful case could be argued that the Hunts -- under whatever name -- may have lived in and around East Hendred much longer than the patrician Eystons. The name Hunt is of Germanic origin. It bespeaks roots in the Anglo-Saxon folk who conquered the native Romano-Celtic population in the fifth and sixth centuries as the Roman Empire was coming unstitched. It doesn't take much for the mind's eye to picture some long-ago Saxon warrior marching up the Ridgeway, roughly wooing a local girl and giving birth to a family that would make its living from hunting.

The Eystons arrived in the village centuries later, after the conquest of 1066 when William of Normandy handed out fiefdoms and manors to his favorites. The family name is of Norman origin and ancient documents testify to the Eyston inheritance through marriage of the East Hendred manor of Arches and Turberville.

The story of Eyston hegemony over the families of East Hendred and environs is the story of England in microcosm. It is the story of Saxon subservience to Norman overlords that gradually over the last 1,000 years has seen the two peoples merge their languages, their customs and their blood into a single English tradition divided between an aristocratic upper class and everybody else. It is only in the proto-egalitarian days since World War II -- and certainly since Margaret Thatcher's iconoclasm -- that English classism has been delivered a lethal injection. In the early days of the 20th century, only the Eystons had a telephone in East Hendred and only two families in the village -- the Eystons being one, of course -- owned cars. Nowadays you can phone anybody in East Hendred and parked cars line all streets in the village.

Treading lightly

One of the oldest buildings in East Hendred is what is now known as Champs Chapel. The name comes from the family Champ (relatives, of course, of the Eystons), which owned the 15th century building after Henry VIII's mischief-making dissolution of the monasteries. The building is now the home of the East Hendred museum. It opens one Sunday afternoon a month under the loving care of a small band of village residents who tend to its history. A staunch member of this splendid cadre is the redoubtable John Stevenson, who was on duty when the writer of this piece visited the Champs Chapel museum in the late summer of 2001.

"When you think of it," Stevenson said, "most of us tread lightly through life and leave nothing behind us." He was answering a question about why the Hunt family could exist in East Hendred for untold generations but leave few traces.

And yet there are traces of traces.

Hunt's Barn

A few miles west of East Hendred is the market town of Wantage. The place is renowned as the birthplace of Alfred, who forged the English nation from a collection of Anglo-Saxon tribes and who is the only king honored as "the Great." In the town stands the Vale and Downland Museum, which tells the story of the folk of the Vale of White Horse. Prominent among the museum's exhibits is part of a 17th century timber-framed structure marked Hunt's Barn: East Hendred.

Thomas More Eyston gave the barn to the museum as a monument to the farming heritage of the area. It had stood derelict, left, for some years. It was in a part of East Hendred where the Eyston family erected St. Amand's Catholic School in the 1860s, after Catholic emancipation ended the days of discrimination.

That area is marked on old maps as Hunt's Farm or Hunt's End. Indeed, across from the modern school building stands a 300-year-old black-and-white-timbered house known as Hunt's Cottage, pictured  right. Nowadays the house is the home of a teacher at the school.

Next door is a more modern house bearing a sign that says it is Hunt's Orchard, left. None of these properties ever belonged in a legal sense to the Hunts who farmed there. They were, of course, the property of the Eystons as lords of the manor.

A Hunt descendant looking for family tombstones in the three graveyards in East Hendred will seek mostly in vain amid the Eystons and yet more Eystons. In the Catholic churchyard of St. Mary's can be seen the graves of Henry Hunt and his family, of whom more later. A splendid stained glass window in the church pays respects to other Hunts. But there is little else. The remains of most Hunt forebears have fallen victim to a poverty that could not afford memorials and to a religious determinism.

Adelaide Joan Hunt Batley, who was alive in the village well into her 80s, was the sole person in the village who was born a Hunt in East Hendred. Around the corner from her lived her equally elderly first cousin Gwendoline Charlton, whose mother was Mildred Mary Hunt, the sister of Joan's father. They were the last immediate family members in the village.

A bloody great stone

Joan tells why no tombstones exist for Hunt family members slumbering in the churchyards, particularly her father Alphonso Hunt, who is still well remembered in the village. He died in 1965.

"I didn't put a stone over my father and mother," she says. "I was thinking, come the resurrection, how are they going to get out if they've got a bloody great stone above them?"

Joan Batley lived out her life in a cottage on Church Street in East Hendred, a living connection to the lives of her ancestors. It was that short street, pictured right, that several Hunt family members gave as their address in the 1881 census.

Tracking them down

The name Hunt -- or rather its Anglo-Norman precurser Le Hunt -- occurs early in records of East Hendred. It pops up in several old wills and dozens upon dozens of children born in the village bore it as a surname. But over the centuries, male Hunts moved from the village, taking the name far and wide. Females married into many local families, making Hunts part of a vast cousinage in Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

The first truly identifiable ancestor of the modern Hunt family in the village was Thomas Hunt. He died in East Hendred and was buried on Oct. 6, 1776. Thomas Hunt's wife is named in records only as Anne Hunt. Her death is recorded in 1771. We can never be sure, but Thomas and Anne probably lived in the area of East Hendred shown in this modern picture, left. It is the area of the village marked on old maps as Hunt's End. The barn in the Vale and Downland Museum came from this area and both Joan Batley and Gwen Charlton lived in cottages within a stone's throw. They were living testaments to their ancestry in the village.

Thomas was born clearly early in the 18th century, or perhaps even in the 17th, because his son William Hunt was born in East Hendred on Sept. 7, 1729. A brother Thomas was born on May 31, 1731.

William married Ann Lawrence in East Hendred on April 3, 1769 and the couple had four children, William, Ann, Joseph and Thomas.

William Hunt died and was buried in East Hendred on Nov. 4, 1814.

The family trade

His son Joseph Hunt, born in East Hendred in 1771, was the first of several generations of the family to be noted in village records as a carpenter. It is a trade that Hunts practiced in the village almost up to the present day, turning out wagon wheels and coffins among other useful wooden items.

Joseph married Sarah Smith of the relatively distant village of Goosey, Berks., on June 14, 1801 in the village of Stanford in the Vale. The couple were to have six children, all born in East Hendred:

Joseph, born in 1802; Charles, born in 1804; John, born in 1808; Ann, born in 1811; Francis, born in 1819; and Mary, born in 1820.

Joseph followed his father's trade of carpenter and also was described as a master builder working on Eyston properties in the village. He was a life-long bachelor, but after the death in 1860 of his brother John, he helped his sister-in-law Isabella nee Clarkson care for her three children. When her youngest son John Jr. died at the age of 12 in 1868, Isabella moved to London with her surviving children Joseph and Agnes.The younger Joseph Hunt became the progenitor of a Hunt line that has descendants today in England, Australia and New Zealand. He died in 1911, aged 58. His uncle, the elder Joseph Hunt, died in East Hendred on Nov. 6, 1887, at the age of 85. .

Ann Hunt remained unmarried and lived her entire life in East Hendred.

Our cousin George Washington

It is the marriage of Mary Hunt that comes closest of anyone in the Hunt family tree, possibly, to relating the family to a significant person famous or infamous in human history. On Nov. 23, 1836, apparently at age 16, Mary married an East Hendred man named Daniel Dandridge, whose family's roots were in nearby Oxfordshire. Just over a century before Mary and Daniel wed, a daughter was born to a branch of the Oxfordshire Dandridges that had transplanted itself to the colony of Virginia. That daughter, as the widow Martha Dandridge Custis, was to marry George Washington, the first president of the United States. For the full story click on The connection to Martha Washington. Mary and Daniel Dandridge had six children, spawning a Dandridge line that exists in England to this day, along with branches from female lines in Britain and South Africa.

Charles Hunt married Sarah Wyatt in East Hendred at a date uncertain. Sarah kept a diary about life in East Hendred that is now in the Museum of Oxfordshire Life in Oxford city. She was one of seven children of William Wyatt, born East Hendred, and Sophia Spriggs, who was buried in the village in January, 1854.

Charles died in 1836 at the early age of 32, leaving his widow Sarah with four youngsters to raise, Charles Edward, born Nov. 18, 1825; Teresa, born Dec. 10, 1823; Sarah, born May 1835, the year before her father's death; and Peter, birthdate unknown.

The younger Charles Edward lived his entire life in East Hendred, dying at the age of 76 on April 28, 1902. Like his immediate Hunt relatives in the village, he worked as a carpenter. He married Hannah Lawrence, who was born in 1834 in the fairly distant Oxfordshire village of Garford. They were the parents of 10 children, including the Henry Hunt whose tombstone is one of the few to be found in St. Mary's Churchyard.

The 10 children were:

Charles Edward Jr., born Nov. 26,1855; George, born Oct. 28,1857; William, born March 12, 1860; Henry, born Sept.5, 1862; James, born in 1867; Mary Elizabeth, born Aug.28,1868; John, born in 1872; Thomas, born May 6, 1873; Joseph Lawrence, born Aug.12, 1876; and Ann, born date uncertain.

Despite the large family and six boys to pass on the family name, only George bequeathed family by the name of Hunt to today's East Hendred. He was the grandfather of the earlier mentioned Adelaide Joan Hunt Batley, the last member of the family in the village.

Henry Hunt lived long enough in the village, and his widow Maria Agnes Harle, 20 years after him, that they are well remembered by East Hendred old-timers. Maria Agnes is spoken of as Old Mother Hunt, and their home -- rented, of course from the Eyston Estate -- is pointed out to visitors. Until her death at 95 on Dec, 23, 1965, Old Mother Hunt lived with her spinster daughter Elizabeth Mary at the thatched and timbered Mill Cottage on Mill Lane in East Hendred, pictured right. Nowadays the property, inevitably, is the bijou residence of yuppie refugees from London. Unlike her niece, Adelaide Joan Hunt Batley, Elizabeth Mary had no qualms in erecting a tombstone over the graves of her parents in St. Mary's Churchyard. Henry, the tombstone tells us, died on Oct. 31, 1946.

When Elizabeth Mary died at the age of 57 on Nov. 7, 1967, just a year after her mother, she was buried with her parents. It is tempting to see her early death as arising from twin blows: the death of her mother, to whom she was devoted, in December 1965, and to her unseemly summary dismissal in February 1967 from her post as a teacher at St. Amand's Catholic School, which she had served for 32 years.

Miss Hunt did not return to school

Many older Catholic residents of East Hendred remember "Miss Hunt" fondly as a guiding light in their youths. The old school logbook, still kept by teachers in the modern St. Amand's School building, outlines her entire career there. The first entry that refers to her, on Sept. 9, 1935, is succinct: "Miss Hunt appointed supplementary teacher." Thereafter her name appears frequently in the logbook, with references to her taking classes on trips to Oxford and to Wantage, and with occasional medical absences. On Feb. 24, 1955, Miss Hunt is noted as "absent with a tooth abscess." On March 8, it is written that she is back on duty. On March 6, 1945, Miss Hunt was excused for the day to attend the funeral of a brother-in-law. (That brother-in-law likely was Ernest Rivers of East Hendred, who had married her sister Dorothy.) She is absent several times in late 1965 because of the illness of her mother.

The last St. Amand's School logbook entry about her comes on Feb. 13, 1967: "Miss Hunt did not return to school." That is the sole reference to the end of her career at the school. Details of exactly how and why she left are sketchy. But today's teachers -- including some who remember being taught by her as St. Amand's pupils themselves -- say it stemmed from the then-Labor government's campaign to tighten educational structures. Miss Hunt had no degree, and despite her 32 years of experience, had never gained any formal qualifications as a teacher. She was invited to resign. She asked for a few days off and never returned to school. Within the year she was dead.

Elizabeth Mary was one of eight children, including the previously mentioned sister Dorothy. Her brother Francis Hunt, the only boy, married Isabella Stibbs of another old East Hendred family and moved to Oxford for a career with the police force. Henry's Hunt descendants, then, no longer live in the village. One East Hendred legend says the Stibbs family is descended from the Dutch soldiers of William III who passed through the village in 1688. One of Elizabeth Mary and Frank's sisters, Cecilia, served as a nun for more than 50 years, perhaps a fitting tribute to the family's history of loyal recusant Catholicism. She is the Cecilia Hunt commemorated on a stained glass widow in St. Mary's Church, pictured left.

While Henry's brother, Charles Edward Jr. had a large family, including five sons, all his Hunt descendants also have moved from the village. His line now extends to the United States, Canada and Australia, among other places.

Charles Edward Jr. married Harriet Goodenough of the nearby village of Milton. She was the daughter of Jesse Goodenough and Mary Holmes, who had married in Milton on Dec. 17, 1850. The 1881 census gives Charles and Harriet's dwelling place as Church Street in East Hendred. It is perhaps unsurprising, given some of the family's attachment to East Hendred and to the Eystons, that Adelaide Joan Hunt Batley lived out her life in a Church Street cottage owned by the Eyston Estate.

Charles Edward lived in East Hendred until he died at age 76 on Dec. 14, 1931. Like his grandfather, father and uncles before him, he was a carpenter, owing loyalty to the Eyston family for the workshops in what is now Cuzzens Farm and on Church Street. His wife Harriet died on Aug. 22, 1922.

The Arthur Hunt with whom this story began, was the son of Charles Edward Hunt Jr. and Harriet Hunt nee Goodenough. He was born in 1880, the second son and child of what was to be eight offspring of the couple. George W. was the first, born in 1879. He was followed by Arthur in 1880; Edward in 1881; Albert in 1884; Charles Joseph in 1886; Maria Agnes in 1888; Emily Elizabeth in 1893; and Theresa, birthdate uncertain.. All three of the girls married relatively local men and became mothers, but research continues into the fates of the boys other than Arthur. One persistent story says Edward went to Australia. Another says he died in the trenches of World War I.

The North American connections

After Arthur and Evaline Blanche Carter caught their train from Steventon, they married in London and settled in the district of Walthamstow. Arthur worked at first as manager of a tobacco shop, but later he operated a small cafe in the west London district of Kilburn. Those grandchildren who knew him best say he was unemployed for much of his life; he seems to have spent 14 years without a job. Arthur and Evaline had seven children in Walthamstow, but two, girls Cissie and Annette Joyce, died before the age of five. The five others, four boys and a daughter, moved with them to a later family home in tenements on Canonbury Avenue, near Highbury Corner in London.

Evaline Blanche died on March 5, 1954. She was 83. Her husband Arthur lived on until 1961 and died at the age of 80. They are buried in London's Chingford Mount Cemetery with their two daughters who died in childhood.

The children of Arthur and Evaline Blanche left their small apartment on Canonbury Avenue to meet and marry their spouses. The family was never again close and most of the grandchildren have never met their cousins.

Many members of the next generations have remained based in and around the London area. But most of the family of Arthur Edward Hunt, Arthur and Evaline's eldest son, moved to Canada in 1955. Some members of his family have spread on to the United States, where one of the youngest members of the latest generation was born in California in 2004.

One of the American branches has recently replanted itself to England. A child of this family, a girl born in Hertfordshire in March 2004, is the latest descendant of the East Hendred Hunts.

Many members of the modern Hunt family have retained their Roman Catholic faith from the days of recusancy in East Hendred, although at least one branch took on a Protestant complexion.

One of the Protestant Hunts, addressing a Catholic cousin, said his relatives' Roman practice came into the family because of marriages to Irish women. He is wrong. Catholicism was the ancient rite of the Hunt family. It is Protestantism that has come into the family through marriage.