The Baber Family Reunion, Chew Magna 2000.
A Report by Nick Balmer
(If anyone else that attended would write us a note it would be appreciated.)


Over the weekend of 23rd and 24th of September 2000, many of the members of the extended Baber family were able to gather at Chew Magna for a re-union.

During the re-union many of us found ourselves thinking of those other Baber's scattered around the globe who were unable to make the long journey to Chew Magna. We thought that you might find it interesting if we posted an account of events over the weekend.

Julie Baber started the re-union with a bus tour, ably driven by her father who displayed considerable courage in taking the minibus into the infamous "Nempnett Trubwell Triangle", as anybody who is familiar with driving a car in the narrow winding twisting muddy lanes that are such a feature of our ancestral homeland will appreciate.

This meticulously planned tour took in most of the villages in the surrounding area with Baber connections. Starting with Stanton Drew, it's stone circle and Maes Knoll hillfort, remnants of the ancient Neolithic and Iron Age peoples from whom it is quite possible that we are in part descended.

Reaching Sutton Court, home of Edward Baber from 1625 to 1640, we learnt how the house was bought by Elizabeth Baber in 1644, and from whom it passed to her son John Strachey. The house remained in the possession of the Stracey family until 1987 when it was converted into 16 luxury apartments.

The route then took in the village of Bishop's Sutton, once known as Baber Sutton, passing by the Chew Valley Lake, which was flooded in 1956. Forcing Henry Baber to leave his farm, his orchards being reduced to pit props for the nearby coalfield.

Chew Stoke home of some of the earliest known Baber's in 1527 was next. Many Baber graves are to be found in the churchyard. From Chew the bus made the steep narrow climb to Nempnett, whose church probably served the family when it lived at Regilbury.

By the courtesy of Mr Lansbury and Mrs Alvis the party was able to visit the two houses in Regilbury. Ether or possibly both, of which could have been the site of the ancient family home, with its seven gabled roof.

Aldwick Manor another Baber home in the Butcombe valley was next, again the difficulty in deciding the exact location of original Aldwick manor house was explained. Passing though Winsford the bus returned to Chew Magna and to the grounds of Chew Court, which by kind permission of the owner Sam Davidson, the party was able to visit.

In the evening a social event was held at the Old School House adjacent to the churchyard gate. This ancient building with its two floors and medieval origin must have witnessed the passage of many Baber's over the centuries.

Approximately 50 people attended, including a large number of the American Baber family. Indeed when I arrived it looked as if more had made the long journey across the Atlantic than from nearby. Many of us from England really enjoyed what has been often the first occasion on which we could meet our trans Atlantic cousins.

For most of us I think the first overall impression was, "I hadn't realised that there were so many Baber's!"

Many of us were also surprised by how strongly certain Baber's are to each other in facial appearance, across the different branches of the family whose last common ancestral lines separated at least 400 years ago.

For instance Julie Baber's father looks very much like the drawings and photographs of my Nineteenth Century forebears, Henry Hervey Baber and also George Baber. Herbert Baber reminded my wife and I instantly of my late cousin John Baber.

There seem to be two or three really strong facial types which have reoccurred over the years.

During the evening which was taken up with animated conversation, many members of the family ether played pieces on the piano, guitar and harmonica, or recited poetry.

Events were brought right up to date, with a very amusing and thoroughly politically correct, re-citation of the Red Riding Hood tale.

Several of the children made especially welcome contributions including dancing and music.

Indeed throughout the event it was very pleasant to see how the children from the widest reaches of the family, who had never previously met, soon formed close bonds. Indeed by Sunday, a much more lively parallel event was going outside in the Schoolroom grounds, while the parents got on with all the "boring stuff" (to quote one of my offspring!). My children's pockets were full of scraps of paper with new phone numbers last night.

Many of us took great pleasure in putting faces to names. In my case it was a special pleasure to meet Vera and her family for the first time after several years of correspondence. All to soon the evening was over. For with so many people and so many interesting tales to tell, time was always going to be to short. After all to catch up on 350 years of family gossip in a few hours is quite a task.

On Sunday morning, after a general discussion and coffee, Herbert Baber, from the Gloucestershire Baber's gave a most interesting talk on his side of the family. Starting with Francis Baber who was Chancellor of Gloucester Cathedral from the 1620's until the 1660's, throughout the Civil War and all the political changes. He must have been a man of outstanding abilities to have remained in his position throughout it all.

I was very pleased to hear where his memorial plaque is located in the Cathedral, and where the family graves are in the Lady Chapel. For despite reading about them, we had been unable to locate them on a visit some years ago.

A great sense of continuity was felt when we learnt that both Herbert and his son Kevin had also attended the same Cathedral when schoolboys.

Captain Arthur Baber, a Captain of a steamer in the Bay of Bengal for the British India Line was remembered with obvious affection. This memory was reinforced when a member of the audience recounted the story of how Arthur had sort him out in a crowded Rangoon hospital ward in 1945. Easily picking out from across a crowded ward as obviously the "Baber" in the ward.

Uncle Austin, sounds quite a character, his attitude to authority seems to bear a certain familiarity to that of least one particular Baber that I used to know well, and whose common ancestor must have been alive at least 500 years ago. Funny how certain traits seem to keep re-emerging.

After an excellent lunch, an appeal was made on behalf of the Friends of Chew Magna Church to the members of the family to give donations towards the repairing the fabric of the building. On the occasion of a previous appeal five years ago the family raised 3500, which was spent on the Baber Chapel. It was noticed at the service that the chapel and monument appears to be in considerably better condition than in previous years.

Roy Baber however pointed out that members of the family were unhappy at the attitude which it was felt had existed in the preceding 60 to 80 years, over the naming of the chapel as the Lady Chapel, rather than the Baber Chapel.

Several members of the family from the various branches of the family supported this view and recounted how over the years since the 1920's they had been approached in a rather ungracious way by some previous vicars to provide funds for the chapel repairs.

It is hoped that consideration would be given to renaming the chapel.

We then had a most interesting talk from Robert Baber on the arrival of the first Baber's in America who went to settle in the 1670's. How they travelled inland from the mouth of the James River, and up to the Appalachian Mountain barrier.

Eventually following the American War of Independence the mountains were crossed to the fringes of the Kentucky Bluegrass area. The new farms were some of the earliest in the area.

Land had to be found within the range of protection afforded by nearby forts, against the Indian's who were being displaced. This land was not particularly fertile, as it was often rocky.

However this need for protection had probably outweighed the longer term advantages that might of occurred for later generations, had they but travelled twenty miles further into the Blue Grass, the home of the famous racing horse studs of today.

The families lead a very hard existence, with frequent moves from farm to farm. However throughout these times they had retained a strict allegiance to their faith. Many Baber's belonged to the Baptist Church.

The steady but unrelenting pressures of tenant farming and poor prices for crops early in the Twentieth Century, eventually forced the men to change to working on the railroads and in heavy industry.

I could sense the feeling from within the many English farmers in the audience, that it all sounded only to familiar given the present day farming conditions here.

This had caused the further movement to the north and west of America by so many Baber's in the last hundred years.

A service was held in the church by the Reverend Charles Roberts, at which approximately 70 attended. The organ was played by Herbert Baber. Angus Baber and Patricia Dickmann read the lessons. An address was given by the Reverend Charles Roberts in which he recalled his predecessor John Baber the Vicar from 1589 to 1628, and drew our attention to aspects of Saint Paul's teachings.

The Intercession followed read by Roy Baber. During which time the previously dark and overcast sky outside divided, to allow a strong beam of sunlight to come into the church through to chapel windows.

All too soon it was time for farewells to be said and for all to depart. I could not help but to think of how hard it must have been for so many of our forebears, when they had to set out, all those years ago.

Francis for Gloucestershire, over the River Severn in the 1620's, Robert for America in 1670, and all those many others over the years.

How hard it must also have been over the years for all those Mrs Baber's seeing their off spring depart. How fortunate we are today to be able to communicate so easily. How surprised they would have been, if they could have known how many descendants were to come back all those years later.

Isn't curious how there are those fortunate members of the family who have obviously found quite the right spot, and whose families have remained in the same localities for centuries, whilst the other half of us still pace the globe in a seemingly endless quest for just that "right" place to settle. Perhaps they can never quite match up to Somerset and the Severn valley.

We all wish to thank all those who worked so hard to make the event such a success. Especially we thank Julie Baber and her family for all the hard work in making such excellent arrangements.

We also wish to thank Vera Baber, her family and all those who have so carefully put together the strands of our various family trees so that we can now all have such a clear understanding of our origins.

We must also not forget, and thank all those long suffering members of our familes who attended with us, and who may not be quite so interested in the obscurer points of Baber history.

Contributed by Nick Balmer
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