Monday, 12 September 2011

An ancestral town remembered: Holt

The first time I visited Holt in Norfolk, was during a holiday in 1993. My father took me there for the day and I vividly remember feeling an unexplained strange sensation about the place. At that moment in time, I had absolutely no idea why I felt that way. Dismissing the feeling, I forgot about Holt until years later when my research into my Preston ancestry was well under way. One day, whilst browsing the 1901 census, I located my great-grandfather and his parents living in Bungay. My 2 x great-grandfather was born in Holt. The hairs on my neck prickled!

When I visited Holt again, in 2007, it was a miserable misty day and I remember being annoyed because the rain never let up the entire time I was there.
Holt was home to my ancestors and I wanted to see the place properly! My 3 x great-grandfather William Preston had moved to Holt, from Fakenham, when he was in his early twenties. This would have been in the 1840s. He married a local girl by the name of Eliza Bunnett and they had five children; three sons and two daughters. The first-born was my 2 x great-grandfather William Gowen Preston.

William Gowen Preston lived in Holt up until he was 17, when mysteriously, he left Holt with his girlfriend and moved to Norwich. The day I came back to Holt, I hoped that somebody could help me understand why this had happened. Was he cast out of the family? Out of the town? If so, why? I wanted to find the answer to that and more, in the streets and the shops, the houses and the people of Holt. Irrationally, I hoped that somebody would spot me, know who I was and why I was there, and tell me everything I needed to know. This never happened of course but the rain and mist almost prevented me from discovering anything about my ancestors life there.

High Street, Holt circa 1905
Arthur Preston's Printing Works on the right
After a few hours of walking the streets, meeting up with a local historian and writer, the late Keith Entwistle, and taking photographs and video footage, I went to the local church. I did not know, or fully comprehend even at that time, the strong connections that my ancestors had had with this church. Years later, with more research, I have a better understanding and a deeper sense of their devoted years to St Andrews. Standing on the footpath leading up to the church, gravestones to my left and to my right, I looked feverishly for any ancestral graves. I walked right past my 3 x great-grandparents' grave and didn't realise that I had until I had come full circle around the entire churchyard. I followed the track around to the right hand side of the church, to the back. There were many gravestones there, surrounded by mushy and muddy grass mounds, unkempt in the harsh winter months.

After a short while I found the grave of my 2 x Great Uncle and Aunt (with her parents) and I stood talking to them, cleaning the stone, taking video footage and photographs, and then asked them to guide me to my 3 x great-grandparents' grave. However, as I pressed on, the rain worsened and the muddy sludge underfoot was beginning to depress me. The graves led to nothing and nobody. I was growing heavily down-trodden and yet I was still determined to find something. My stubborness kept me searching.
I walked around again, becoming tired, hungry and cranky. I felt as though I was going to burst. Then came a breakthrough...
At long last I recognised the name: Eliza Preston. And right there, in front of me, at the very spot I had started out from! I could have kissed the stone, I was so relieved. The video footage I have is proof of my emotional rollercoaster in that moment. I wept tears of sadness and relief. It was rather sad to see the stone is in such a poor state, the bottom of which is barely readable.

Here in Holt I found a connection to my heritage, in particular to my maternal grandfather who I never knew. I felt a strong connection deep in my soul that day.

One day I will return again to Holt, and the weather will be perfect. There will be clear blue skies and sunshine, and I will discover even more about my Preston ancestors and the glorious market town of Holt.


  1. It must have been quite a poignant day for you visiting the little picturesque town of Holt.

  2. Thank you for your comment Ann. Yes, it was a very poignant moment for me despite the weather bringing me down! I sincerely hope to return there someday. I feel a deeper connection with Holt now that I know my ancestry better. x

  3. Hi there we are currently doing a family tree on prestons and have come across your blogs wich are fantastic! I wonderd if you have any other prestons other than those mentioned in your blog? Thanks tara

  4. x