Genial genealogy

Genealogy is often fun for yourself, but dull for others. For instance, knowing that I am a direct descendent of Robert Devereux might make me feel somewhat superior, that I was destined for greater things and that I shall soon be shot of all of you cretins. Yet knowing this adds nothing to your day, it barely even crosses the threshold of anecdote. Recently however, I got to enjoy genealogical work  at its very best. A little over two weeks ago the National Institute of Agricultural Botany hosted ‘Founders Day’, which sought to celebrate the Institute’s origins with an eye to its future. Aside from the current employees and council members that were invited, no fewer than  four descendants of Sir Lawrence Weaver (who did the most to establish the Institute) and three relatives of Sir Frederick ‘Fred’ Hiam (one of the first of the Institute’s private donors) also attended. Here they all are.

I wish to share with you some of the juicy things that I found out. First off, Lawrence Weaver was not massively rich when he entered this world. This had always been somewhat of a puzzle considering that he went to Clifton school (though never attended university) and at the outbreak of the war was given a pretty senior position within the Food Production Department (despite having no agricultural background). The connections he made while travelling the country as a merchant were therefore of exceptional importance. Moreover, when Lawrence reached the age of four his father left England and scuttled off to Australia. The extent to which this hung over his life is an interesting question to keep in mind, and makes great material for the crappy novel I will one day try and carve out of my thesis, before giving up and admitting to being a talentless talentless hack. As for Fred Hiam, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of an unpublished biography of him written by Robert Trow-Smith, whose publications historians of agriculture are very familiar with. For now this biography is to remain unpublished (apparently some other relatives weren’t too happy with the result!). However, I can tell you that he was an exceptional fens skater and used to visit his farms in Suffolk by bicycle – a fairly unique way to manage ones land! Getting to meet all of these people, each with their own connections to agriculture and science, was great fun and informative. We did not aim to bring Lawrence Weaver ‘back to life’ as the old cliché goes (though his grandson is named after him). What really dominated our discussions was our ignorance; we’d follow a line of conversation in one direction and then have to stop and pull back because we didn’t know the answer. This in turn made us all hungry to find out more and, as I understand it, this is precisely what some are now planning on doing. In a sense I got a taste of producing my own little ‘Who Do you Think You Are?’ and bloody loved it (although I was only working with two other members of NIAB staff and a much smaller budget, as you can see from my somewhat overcrowded display).

That pretty much rounds off my account of the day. I am going to try and include as much of this detail as is relevant into my thesis, and of course keep these potential readers in mind. Lastly I must thank Professor Lawrence Weaver for the the gift of NIAB’s original seal which had remained in his family since the Institute’s foundation, and which he presented to the archive. It is an excellent object, and one that pulled together so many of the days themes. Many thanks!


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