As a younger man, actor Nigel Havers lived in the moment, but now he’s “gone beyond the halfway point” he’s become much more reflective and looking forward to tracing his family tree. In particular, for all his reputation as a “posh guy”, he hopes to find humbler roots…
It’s a search hampered by his own parents’ lack of interest in looking back beyond grandfather Sir Cecil Havers, the judge who presided over the trial of Ruth Ellis, the last woman in the UK to be executed.
However, Tony Havers, the nonagenarian brother of Nigel’s late father Michael (a distinguished lawyer who rose to become Lord Chancellor) has compiled a partial family tree that goes back to Nigel’s great great grandmother, Elizabeth Buckingham (née Hamblion), who had 17 children.
A picture of Elizabeth reveals a formidable-looking woman, which chimes with Tony’s childhood memories. Nigel’s keen to learn more and he orders up Elizabeth’s birth certificate, which reveals that she was born in Essex, the son of a hackney master called Henry. This doesn’t sound as grand as Elizabeth’s photograph suggests, which calls to mind Queen Victoria.
It’s time to head to Colchester to hear the story of a self-made man. Far from being just a cab driver as the birth certificate seems to indicate, Henry owned his own business, in partnership with his brother, Jeremiah. At a time when Colchester was newly connected to the wider world by rail and business was good, Henry owned Clarence and Brougham carriages, the stretch limos of their day.
After severing professional ties with Jeremiah, who seems to have been something of a boy racer when he got behind the reins if newspaper reports are anything to go by, Henry also became an innkeeper and expanded into ferrying goods around. However, his good fortune didn’t last and he was forced to declare bankruptcy, a revelation that leaves Nigel “shattered”. Fortunately, Henry had taken out private insurance against this possibility.
Although he died of a heart attack at the age of 56 in 1871, his widow, also named Elizabeth, seems to have been provided for. As for Elizabeth junior, she married a well-to-do shoe manufacturer, George Buckingham. Nigel next turns his attention to his maternal line. It’s research that centres on David Couch, who lived at Couch’s Mill on the Boconnoc estate, near Lostwithiel, Cornwall. This reveals a scandal, as Nigel learns how his great great grandfather, David, had to acknowledge an illegitimate baby by a servant girl. Sadly, the child died young.
It was tragedy that would be echoed years later when David had married a widow, Maria Collins, and the couple’s third child together, Georgina, died after being seriously scalded. David died in his forties before his children were old enough to take over the family milling business, which passed to his twin brother, Jonathan. Maria left Cornwall for good. David and his daughter Georgina rest together in the local churchyard.
Nigel is delighted by what he’s found. He may often have played upper class cads but, “As it turns out, I am no posher than anybody else, which is fantastic.”