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From Tyneside to Candleford

Chris Jackson | 17:00 UK time, Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Pratts store in Lark Rise to CandlefordOver the Summer I've been spending any spare time on rainy weekends researching my family tree. I've discovered a rather disturbing parallel with the BBC costume drama 'Lark Rise to Candleford'.

In this case Lark Rise is a hamlet called Grassenfield and Candleford is Otterburn in Northumberland. The real communities are about the same distance apart as the fictional ones - but it's much weirder than that.

Novellist Flora Thompson created characters who are the spit of my real 19th Century Northumberland forbears, the Davidsons.

My great-great-great-great-uncle William was a stonemason in the tiny community of Grassenfield. His daughter Jane left to live in nearby Otterburn where she became the postmistress.

Ruby and Pearl Pratt played by Victoria Hamilton and Matilda Ziegler She never married but was joined in the town by her two spinster sisters who were both dressmakers.

Anyone who watched the popular series can readily spot the similarities. It means I can't now see my ancestors as anything other than those fictional characters.

Elizabeth and Isabella Davidson are easily substituted for Ruby and Pearl Pratt - the gossipy local drapers with no husbands to call their own.

Dorcas Lane played by Julia SawalhaThe 1871 Census places Jane Davidson, as mistress of the Post & Telegraphic Office, squarely in the fictional shoes of Dorcas Lane.

As I have no pictures to go by I can only visualise her as Julia Sawalha swishing down Otterburn High Street.

I'm relieved to say I can't find any flesh and blood to match up to the quirky bible-bashing Thomas Brown.

I suspect real life was a lot tougher than the author's vision of Victorian country society. The Davidsons were eventually drawn to Tyneside and into the employ of the railways.

Strangely the other branch of my family from whom I get my surname also worked as drapers and postmasters. You could argue those trades really are in my blood but funnily enough, just like the novels, I ended up on TV.


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