Day 4: Billington and Leighton Buzzard

Father John Fenn

We visited Billington in search of the home of an ancestor, John Fenn, (called “Father” John Fenn, perhaps to distinguish him from a great-grandson, also named John).

The story of Father John Fenn is amusing and worth your acquaintance:

Quite late in life, he converted from Methodism to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (That was January 1847; he was 70 years old!) Father John was, in fact, the first in Eaton Bray (where he then lived) to open his house to the LDS missionaries.

Now, the Church of England was rather bound up with the law of the land, and even if a person appertained to a different church, he was still obliged to leave a tithe (one tenth of his produce) in his fields for the church to collect. Some time after his conversion to the LDS church, John Fenn determined that he had done with paying tithes to the Anglican Church and of a consequence, was arrested for non-payment. It was indignation at this incident that resolved aged Father John to emigrate to America.

Little Hill, Billington

The house that John Fenn quitted for America was called Little Hill and received a reservation order from the National Trust in 1966. We didn’t find the house, though we used the address (a street named Little Hill) and photo from the National Trust as a guide. We don’t know what to make of it; here’s how it played out.

The Little Hill we encountered was not a house but a single, short road in a very sparsely-populated place. We found no house to match the photograph from the National Trust and so inquired at a house near the dead end of said road.

A pleasant, grey-haired woman in a sweater informed us that she had lived in present house all her life and that all the houses there had been in place at least as long as she, with the exception of two which were torn down but fifteen years earlier. Two other houses yet remained which dated to the 1500s, or so she said. Perhaps Father John Fenn’s house was one of those demolished and built over.

That’s right, she was wearing a sweater in July! Just about everywhere north of London, it was more common than not to see people in long trousers and sweaters or long-sleeves. Even down in London it was not unusual. I imagined that the people would think their July weather was hot and dress accordingly.

Alas that something less pretty and of much less character went up in its place, but at least the newer constructions are probably more efficient to heat and maintain.

Churchyards and graves

Just across the way and down the street from Little Hill was a churchyard, about which we poked, looking for graves naming persons from our genealogy. We peeled vines and moss away from gravestones which could not have been more occluded if they had been props in a film. Although they were, most of them, quite legible underneath the growth, Alas, we made no finds.

Here Lyeth ye Body of Ioan Higton ... March 172 2/4

Later in the day, a country stroll took us through another churchyard, where we admired headstones and monuments, the oldest of which was marked 1648 (but must have been built 1649 or after). It was remarkable to us that, through the several graveyards we visited while in Britain, that some markers less than 100 years old were far more dilapidated than some over 3 centuries old (including said stone casket marked 1648).

George Fenn and Leighton Buzzard

Sounds like a terrible name for a village, doesn’t it? “Leighton Buzzard.” Why so? It happens that there were two Leightons within a single diocese, so in the 12th century, the dean of Lincoln differentiated the two by appending the name of each’s prebendary (a canon who receives a stipend called a ‘prebend’). The prebendary of this Leighton at this time was Theobald de Busar.

Just three miles north of Billington stands Leighton Buzzard, where Father John Fenn worshipped in his days as a Wesleyian Methodist. But that’s not where the oddly-named town drops out of our history. Recall that Father John emigrated to America. With him went his wife, two of their children, and grandson George (aged 21).

A year after settling down in Manti, UT, George was commissioned by the LDS church to return to England to preach the restoration of Jesus’ church. (Oh, the irony!) He travelled back to Bedfordshire, specifically, to Leighton Buzzard. While a missionary there, George married Eliza Ann Dyer of Eaton Bray, and they had a son, John (born on English soil just two days before they re-emigrated to America). (This is the other John, perhaps the reason why the elder is called “Father” John.)

Our stop in Leighton Buzzard

Tuesdays are market days in Leighton Buzzard. Cait, Mum, and I visited a chocolatier and tried some horrid basil-flavoured white chocolates. That’s right—basil! Horrid! Cait and Brad donned chocolate moustaches, as you can see in the photo.

chocolate moustaches

More history

The foregoing details about Father John Fenn and his family come from this text, assembled by my mother prior to our trip. For interesting details about Bedfordshire, Leighton Buzzard, Father John, et al., read on.

Something doesn’t add up in Joseph’s visions

The writer no longer holds the following position (having been disabused of it by Luther). The post remains in place due to pack-rat compulsions.

What’s wrong with this prophecy?: “The sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.”

You might recognize this as one of the two visions that Joseph had prior to being sold to a party of Ishmeelites. To help you piece together what’s awry, here’s a redaction of the story:

At age 17 [1], Joseph had a pair of visions, which he described to his family: in the dreams,  inanimate objects make obeisance to him, sheaves of grain in the earlier and heavenly bodies in the latter. He was sold into Egypt, presumably before his next birthday. [2] His mother, Rachel, was still alive at that time, for her death was occasioned by the birth of Benjamin [3], whom Joseph never knew until his family reunion in Egypt. (The assertion that Rachel was still alive at the time supposes that Gen 35 and 37 are not given in chronological order. For a discussion of that see “Genesis 35 and 37 are out of order.”)

Evidence of Rachel’s earthly presence when Joseph was 17 comes in Jacob’s response to the latter of Joseph’s two visions. Joseph said:

Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

Jacob rebuked:

What is this dream that thou has dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

It’s remarkable that Joseph’s family had the same interpretation of his dreams that we have: that the elements of his dreams represented his family members, who should make obeisance to him. After all, if a son of yours shared such a dream with you, would you personalize it in this way? What if the number of items in his dream didn’t coincide with the number of members in your family?

You’ve already caught the first inconsistency: the dream alludes to Joseph’s mother (even Jacob reded it so). And we have no obeisance by Joseph’s family to him (even in any figurative sense) until their reunion with him in Egypt [4], and by that time, Rachel had been dead several years (Joseph was between 37 and 39 years old).

You might suggest that Rachel’s inclusion in the vision was not literal but was only intended for the sake of a holistic view of the family. But why, then, are there eleven stars? Benjamin was not born yet. Not counting Joseph, there were only ten sons of Jacob at the time of the dream. (Count ‘em: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, & Asher.)

It makes better sense for the vision to have {a sun, a moon, and ten stars} or {a sun and eleven stars}, but {a sun and a moon and twelve stars} is like trying to pick up a single end of two different sticks. Anyone have an explanation?

[1] Gen 37:2. Okay, so it’s not absolutely evident that the first three episodes in this chapter (evil report & coat of colours, Joesph’s visions, and sold into slavery) all took place at age 17, but it seems the intended message.

[2] Gen 37:25–28, 36. Okay, he was actually sold to Ishmeelites, who sold him to Midianites, who sold him to Potiphar of Egypt. Who knows how long all this arbitrage took?

[3] Gen 35:17–19

[4] Gen 42:6, 43:26,28. Okay, so we never have record of Jacob bowing to Joseph.

Image credit Lawrence OP

Day 4: Leaving London

King’s Cross station and Platform 9 3/4

Our depature from London took us through King’s Cross station.  Some one or other of us had heard that the city had installed a false “Platform 9 3/4” in tribute to the Harry Potter books, so we sought out the photo opportunity, but be warned, it was a disappointment.

Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station

It’s only a print of a brick wall with the latter end of a bifurcated luggage cart bolted against it.  To enhance the indignity, there’s a sign overhead reading “Platform 9 3/4″… I guess that’s for the benefit of people who have read lots of books in which characters push luggage carts through red brick walls.

Unfortunately, the print is not very broad or tall, so there is no angle from which you can take a snapshot for a legitimate-looking photograph. What’s more, the lustre of the glossy print, coupled with the light from different angles, means that you’ll see glare on your snap, no matter where you stand to take the photo.

The nicest thing about the photo experience for me was that it’s outside of the station, so people who go out of their way to get the photo don’t have to pay for a train ticket to reach the site.

Leaving London

It turned out that King’s Cross station was not the station closest to the Hertz car rental, so we were obliged to do some walking, but on our way, we passed a house which had served as residence to Charles Dickens, so we stopped for a photo.

The car

We knew the car would be smaller than our habit; we’ve driven in other countries before. Still, our expectations were surpassed.

The car was to hold 6 of us and our (minimal) luggage, but to our unhappy surprise, the car would only accommodate 6 of us by folding a seat up in the very trunk (boot) of the car. Gah! So Mum had her knees tucked up to her chest, and our luggage space was but half of the minimal capacity we had expected.

After London

…we didn’t spend very long in any one place. From here on, we explored mostly family history sites and LDS church history sites in England.  Look forward to reading about our experiences in the following (and others):

  • Leighton-Buzzard
  • Chatsworth
  • Preston, Lancashire (start of LDS work outside of US)
  • Liverpool
  • castles in North Wales
  • Hulton Park, Lancashire
  • Housesteads (Roman Fort)
  • Hadrian’s Wall
  • Vindolanda (Roman Fort currently under excavation)
  • Hylton Castle
  • Alnwick Castle (of Harry Potter fame)
  • Lindisfarne
  • Bamburgh Castle
And then on to Scotland.

Day 3: The Orangery

At Kensington Palace stands a well-reputed tea house called the Orangery. My mother and I share afternoon tea once a week, so it seemed natural that we must visit such a place while we had the opportunity.

Confections at The Orangery

The fare

Although we six enjoyed taking tea together and though the atmosphere was good, the fare was really not up to our norm. Admittedly, our standards for afternoon tea are delightfully lofty:

Mum makes excellent scones[1]. And we’re so fond of our favourite tea[2] that we send away for it because we can’t find it here. And we typically have green salads to outshine the rank and file. And dishes run a broad gummut from sweet to savoury: pastries, seed cakes, salmon and cucumber sandwiches, croissants, Glamorgen sausages, cookies, quiche, and so forth.

Well, even laying aside high standards, the food wasn’t something you’d go out of your way for. Go for the beauty and the atmosphere and the excuse to impose refined behaviour on your friends and family for an hour.

Tea at the Orangery, Kensington Palace

The Orangery at Kensington Palace

statue at the Orangery, Kensington Gardens

The Orangery was a stately, white building, whose décor suggested a pointed but not predominating neo-classical influence. (I speak of the columns and Romanesque busts.) The interior felt very open to the air, with many windows served for the only source of lighting I discerned. Each table bore a tiny orange tree, in honour of the eponym.

The grounds hold a long, beautiful lawn with manicured trees along the lane. At the lawn’s opposite termination lies a busy garden.

(—Oh, yes—all of the service people at the Orangery were expatriots. Recall that we’re still in London at this point.)

The Garden at the Orangery
The Garden at the Orangery

What’s ‘high tea’?

During all my growing-up, I held a vague notion that ‘high tea’ might be a very fancy afternoon meal, a white-gloves affair, with the daintiest tea service and petits fours. When I became an adult, my mother educated me otherwise:

High tea originated in the days of the industrial revolution and is so named because the participants would not sit to take it, but eat standing at a high table. Why stand? High tea was rather a working-class meal, and the participants who came in from work were hardly clean enough to sit down and, what’s more, would likely have to resume labours after partaking, not retiring until supper (which would be a lighter meal). So rather than being a more dainty affair, high tea was coarser than afternoon teas.

As you might imagine, then, high tea offers more substantial fare than afternoon tea’s light refreshment. Think meat, fish, and baked goods instead of pastries.  Whereas afternoon tea is generally taken at 4 PM, high tea (also termed ‘evening tea’ or ‘meat tea’) falls later, generally around 5–7 PM.

My advice for a visit to the Orangery

Make a reservation, and you won’t have to wait in line. For our party, having just come from a long tour of the Tower of London, being spared the line was a blessing.

As I suggested before, the confections and scones were no great attraction, though they were pretty to behold and the menu made them seem appealing.

[1] You might call them crumpets—I don’t mean the fried bread which we sometimes call ‘scones’ here in the US.

[2] Saveur du Soir: Réglisse et Menthe. It’s actually an infusion, not containing tea leaves—in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we don’t drink tea or coffee.