top of page

The Turvey Connection  2.

Grandma's Story.

Like most old women, my Grandma Nelly Duffin was fond of relating tales of her youth and stories about family members now long dead. After breaking her hip at age 90 Nel was never again able to walk but spent har last couple of years in a rather grim “Long-stay geriatric ward” as they were tactlessly termed in the 1970’s, whilst she was there, she was comfortable enough and her basic needs were catered for. Intellectual stimulation was however, a bit thin on the ground and some of her stories did tend to get a bit more fanciful, so when she told us about the  stately home and vast fortune that should have been ours we listened politely (as you do ! ) but did not give it much credence.  Or perhaps I should say that we gave it little credence at first. Let me relate the tale to you.

To summarise it, a few centuries ago a London Merchant called Higgins got filthy rich, was appointed High Sheriff of London and set himself up with a flash new country house to reflect his new status. This was Turvey House in the Bedfordshire village of Turvey.

At some point in the 19th Century one of his daughters fell in love with one of the grooms and eloped with him. She was disowned and dis-inherited by her outraged family.

Pregnant and near destitute she tied to get home to plead mercy but went into labour on the way, having her baby in some road  rail -side cottage. We are descended from this ditch - born child.

For the full detailed story click here.

Could it be true ?

In all probability no, I mean does it sound likely ? However this must be approached with caution. Grandma told us a number of seemingly tall-tales but all except this have in fact turned out to be true.


So things to be considered for and against.


  • 1. The early bit about the rich Spice merchant becoming Sheriff of London and building a house in Turvey is easily verifiable and bang on the money. She had a few of the details wrong, principally that Turvey was bought by the Spice-merchant and two other partners, and that it was Turvey Abbey not the house that he acquired. However for a purely oral family story she had it pretty well right.


  • 2. Elopements and such things certainly did happen at the time and would have been deeply shaming to the rest of the family. They would have to be seen to not  condone it in any way at all. To publicly disown & dis-inherit  her would be the only way to mitigate this, and would have been expected.

  • 3. The past family may have chosen to forget her and expunged her from the family tree.

  • 4  We have not looked at the Longuet-Higgins family at Turvey Abbey in any detail.

    Since writing this I have had a good look at the Longuet Higgins and there is still no obvious candidate, but once again see 3 .

Screen Shot 2020-08-19 at 15.24.20.png



  • 6. There is no obvious person in the family tree that this could relate to, I have pretty well nailed down the birth and family details of all of our direct line to at least 1800. However see  number 3

  • 7. Years ago Dad contacted the then Mr Hanbury. He was interested and helpful providing a detailed family tree of the Higgins / Hanbury line. Once again there is no obvious candidate for the disinherited daughter, and he knew of no such family story.  Again see number 3.                                                                         

  • 8. There are inconsistencies, it is supposed to have happened around the time of Waterloo, daughter being said to have fallen for his red coat, implying he was an ex-soldier. She is supposed to have gone into labour on a train and been taken off it. However there were no railways until around 20  years after Waterloo.  It could always have been a road coach not a railway one, or even a passenger carrying canal boat.  This was the thick end of 200 years ago of purely oral tradition within the family.  We can not expect every last detail to be correct.

  • 9.  The argument that the past family may have chosen to forget her is quite compelling but is also a convenient excuse for a total absence of any evidence. Someone has gone to considerable trouble to record a detailed family tree of the Higgins families and it would be hard to totally expunge a daughter from all records especially parish records of BMD all of which got copied to the local Bishop and are available to be inspected.


Bear in mind that absence of evidence

is not  evidence of absence.

I strongly suspect that there will turn out to be a germ of truth under a much embellished story.  However just which bit is the true bit ?..... Hard to say.

Personally my money is on a member of the household staff who eloped with a groom, not a wayward member of the family. In those days an illicit pregnancy in one of the maids would certainly have resulted in dismissal when it became obvious.

There is not enough information to be able to say with any certainty that this could be either true or a load of total rubbish. To coin a cliche "more research is needed".  So I will keep looking, in particular I need to examine the Longuet-Higgins line.  Watch this space.

bottom of page