You know, I manage to make friends wherever I go in the world. Sometimes, serendipity happens, and I am ever so grateful and always somewhat amazed when it does. That’s how I met Said, in London, on a very bad day. Grab yourself “a spot of creamed tea,” because I’m going to tell you a story and we’re going on an adventure….so come right along!!!
When Jim, my husband, and I arrived in London, we had flown all night and attempted to sleep on the plane. The infamous red-eye flight. Now just doing that is enough to make one a bit grouchy. Of course, it’s substantially cheaper, which is why we booked that flight. And first class….we only know about that section because it holds the restrooms we can see (without the line) and can’t use.
After we arrived in London, we eventually found the right train station at the airport and drug our suitcases onto the train, and off the train, and on, and off. That little sign that says “mind the gap” means that there is a space between the train and the platform and it’s the perfect size for suitcase wheels. Need I say more??? I’m sure there’s a candid camera someplace filming unsuspecting tourists. I quickly learned how to swear in Brit:) – Bloody Hell.
Yes, Bloody Hell….I love it. I just sounds so British, especially with that nice Cockney accent thrown in….and it’s just so much NICER than what I used to say. Nothing to do with bodily functions, or body parts, or any deity, and, well, Bloody Hell is just cute. You could say it in front of your grandkids and no one would get offended. I mean, even Ron Weasley said it, repeatedly, in Harry Potter. Listen for yourself.
In any case, we arrived outside Paddington Station relatively unscathed and ready for our adventure to begin.
However, we didn’t exactly have what happened next in mind. We had been told that our hotel was “just a couple blocks straight down the street” from the station, an easy walk. Never believe what the Brits tell you in the way of distance – they are the ancestors of many of the people in Appalachia that tell you that whatever destination you are looking for is “just over yonder” too, and believe me, yonder can mean a wide variety of things.
And did I mention that London was having a heat wave? Bloody Hell.
So off we went, with only a phone map that was, shall we say, less than helpful. We walked and asked and walked and asked (well, I asked, Jim didn’t) and drug our luggage along behind, which got progressively heavier. We did eventually find our hotel, several blocks away and nothing resembling a “straight shot” only to discover that the travel agent, or so she calls herself, had not booked us in to the hotel. Well, she had…just 2 days later. And no, they did not have a vacancy. Ahhhhh….Bloody Hell.
Did you know that British English and American English are only distant cousins, much as we are to them? You can only understand about half of what they are saying. So here we are in London, now about noon, hot and sweaty, sleep deprived, in a place with no reservation and no place to go. We were trying to understand the hotel clerk to whom neither English, nor British, was a first language which means we could understand maybe 25% of what she said. However, “no” was unmistakable.
Thankfully, the hotel did help us find another location, just down the street a couple blocks. Does this sound familiar? Everything in London is either “just a couple blocks” or “far away.” So off we went again dragging our luggage. By the time we found the hotel and got settled, we had missed the tours for the day that we had planned to take, all of which left before noon. BLOODY HELL!
One minor hiccup was that the hotel we found did not have air conditioning. They passed out electric fans at the front desk when you checked in. Seriously. And there was literally about 18 inches clearance around the bed between the walls. No chair, no nothing, except the “water closet” which was about 3X5 and explains vividly why they called it a “water closet” in the first place.
When you say you have to go to the bathroom in England, you say you are going to the “loo.” I wrote an entire article about the “loo” for my family Sunday Story, but since there is absolutely no DNA connection to it, I can’t really find a way to work it in Just suffice it to say that in one location, in order to make the shower work, you had to turn on a switch on the wall, turn a knob on a box in the shower and then pull a red string attached to the ceiling over the toilet….but I digress.
By now, I was in a seriously bad mood – otherwise known as an unhappy camper – but I was unwilling to sacrifice the entire rest of the day because we only had two additional days in London and this is one of those trip of a lifetime experiences, it turns out, in more ways than one. In other words, I don’t ever expect to be back in London, except to leave at the end of this trip. And by now, I had already backslid from cute-as-a-duck Bloody Hell to something decidedly less cute and way more American.
So, we decided to call a cab and have them take us to a quilt shop. I’m a quilter and while quilt shops aren’t quite the same as a heritage tour, they are certainly interesting in any country. My husband was game for anything as long as it was in a cool location (read had working AC) and made me happy.
The hotel called us a taxi and not two minutes later, a man in a business suit and tie shows up in the lobby and announced he is here for us. We walked outside to see a beautiful black Mercedes – not a taxi, per se – with both air conditioning and chilled bottled water waiting for us. Things are definitely looking up!
Talk about our lucky day. We had managed to be fortunate enough, luck of the draw, to get a private driver, a chauffeur, for our taxi. And before you choke on the thought of the cost, when they aren’t doing chauffeur service, they do taxi runs for the local hotels, at taxi prices.
We managed to get even luckier. Our driver’s name was Said Zahouani. He took us to the quilt shop, and then he said he would wait for half an hour, no charge. Well, one thing led to another, and he knew some other quilt shop locations too, and off we went for a wonderful afternoon, one shop after another – plus a bakery and coffee.
But that wasn’t all. When he discovered what had happened. He drove and narrated the “tour” that we missed, between quilt shops. He’s specially licensed for that – part of the 3 year process of becoming a licensed “cab driver” in London. Guaranteed, you’ll never look at London cabbies the same way again. They’re amazing!
But it gets better yet – my ancestors – the 1709 “Poor Palatines” lived at a location in London called St. Katherine’s, today known as “St. Katherine’s by the Tower.” I’ll do a future article about the Palatines. Theirs is an amazing story of both resilience and stubbornness. You can see St. Katherine’s to the right of the Tower of London, below, on this 1746 map. In 1825, the area where the church was located was “redeveloped” into a much larger dock area. The church and houses on 23 acres were all demolished.
In 1709, St. Katherine’s was the poorest dock section and the Palatines lived in tents there for nearly a year, waiting for a way to America. The Londoners would come down to view the “Poor Palatines” who were living in a pathetic state. The document below shows a woodcut of the Palatines living in tents, nearly 30,000 of them in a very small area, about 23 acres, plus another 11,000 of the poorest English residents as well. I shudder to think of how it must have smelled in that area and the conditions under which these people lived.Today, as irony would have it, this area is very upscale condos on the River Thames.
Here I am, at St. Katherine’s, standing by one of the rope ties from when the ships used to unload there. Behind me are some of the condos, where the tents that the 1709ers lived in were located. That small circular building to the left of my head – it’s a Starbucks. My, how things have changed!
Said, of course, knew all the back ways everyplace and he took me to where my ancestors lived. This location was on NO TOUR of course. By now, I’ve decided that this isn’t a bad day after all, but my lucky day indeed. He took me to where I could get this wonderful view of the Thames River and Tower Bridge, located very close to the Tower of London.
It’s a moving experience to stand where your ancestors stood, to see what they saw, even if they were living in desperate straits. The plight of the 1709ers was one of poverty, stubbornness and resilience. It’s hard not to at once admire them and shake your head about their overt stubbornness too. I have to wonder, is that genetic??
I had more than one family among these refugees seeking land and resettlement in the American colonies.
When I was planning this trip, I looked to see if any of these lines had DNA tested, and I wasn’t able to find any…..so I’m officially looking for the surnames Kobel, Egli, Schaeffer and Suder from these families and there’s a DNA scholarship for a Y-line descendant of any of these families!
- Jacob Kobel born 1682 Hoffensheim, Germany, died 1733 Philadelphia, married Anna Maria Egli who was born in Germany in 1684 and died in Tulpehocken, PA in 1774.
- Their daughter Maria Barbara Kobel married Johann Jacob Schaeffer who was born in 1709 in Relsburg, Germany, just before leaving Germany for London, and who died in 1789 in Schuylkill Co., PA.
- Jacob Schaeffer’s parents were Johann Nicholas Schaeffer born 1670, Relsburg, Germany, died 1745 Tulpehocken, Berks Co., PA, married Maria Catherine Suder, born 1670 in Relsburg and died in Tulpehocken.
The 1709ers aren’t my only connection to these docks in London.
I have another ancestor, Henry Bolton, born about 1759, who is alleged, along with his brother Conrad Bolton, to have been abducted on the London docks as lads and sold into indentured servitude in the colonies, an unscrupulous practice not terribly uncommon at that time.
Henry Bolton is reported by the family to have arrived on the ship Calvert in 1775 which did, indeed, depart from London. If this is true, then it’s likely that Henry was abducted from this dock area as well. I can just see two teen-age boys messing around, getting themselves into trouble and making a nuisance of themselves – just before they were nabbed. And I can hear their mother warning them against doing just that….can’t you? In fact, maybe they were enticed onto the boat with the promise of a treat, food or payment for some odd job. Maybe this is the same place that they lived and unwillingly departed for America. The tenements, the poor area, were adjacent the docks and everyone left the stench of the overcrowded quarters in the day. I’d love to find any records for Henry and Conrad, anyplace in England.
We spent several hours in and out of the car with Said, and we discovered even more. Said’s parents moved to London when he was a small child, so he was raised a Londoner. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and worked overseas in Brazil for a British firm for several years before meeting his wife and returning to London to start a business of his own.
He owns the Mayfair Chauffeurs – a self-made man – and he drives one day a week to stay in touch with his clients. He is the most courteous, genuine, gracious person you would ever want to meet – and his business is built on exceptional customer service, referrals and repeat business.
Being a history, culture, genealogy and DNA junkie, I of course had to ask him a lot of questions about his family, which he was gracious enough to answer and give me permission to repeat here. His family story is quite amazing, so much so that it really deserves its own article, so, join me soon for an amazing story about his ancestor’s 36 wives……
36 Wives….Bloody Hell!!!