John and Ann in 1618

Welcome to the Allred Family Time Machine! With it we will take trips back in time to visit our Allred ancestors. We will be unseen visitors as we eavesdrop on what our ancestors are doing, what they see and how they are living.

In today’s trip, we visit Ann and John Allred 400 years ago in the year 1618. These members of our ancestral family are important because they were the great grandparents of Solomon Allred, the first of our family to immigrate to the Colonies a hundred years later.

Imagine that you are a time traveler. You have set your machine to 400 years in the past and your destination is a specific medieval English village named Pendleton.  It is March, 1618. England is ruled by King James I, famous for the “King James version” of the Bible. You chose this village because it is very important to our family. Pendleton is the ancestral home of all, or almost all, of the Allreds in America!

Upon arrival, the first thing that you notice is the houses – most of which do not have windows. Glass was far too expensive for common people. If there were windows, they were covered with linen made from flax soaked in a plant oil, usually linseed, to make them somewhat transparent. And often there was no fireplace. Instead, fires for cooking and heating were in the middle of the floor with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. Except for the summer months, the doors would have linen hung over them to keep out the cold. The houses were, of course, greyed by the sun but were even darker from the soot of the heating and cooking fires.

The second thing that you notice is the smell. While the roof was thatched, the walls were made of rough lumber and caulked with straw, mud and animal manure. As the picture shows, these houses did not stand alone – they were clustered in villages. And nearby was a manor house where the landlord lived.

As you slip unseen past the linen hanging in front of the door, you escape the cold March winds and notice that the small house is crowded. There were seven people, besides you, crammed into a small space. There was John Allred, his wife Ann, and their five children. John, 47, and Ann, 46, have been married for 29 years. Their oldest son, William, is 24, followed by Anna, 20, Catherine, 16, Elizabeth, 14 and John who is only 11. None of the children were married and all still lived at home. William fathered an illegitimate child in 1617 that died within a few months. John and Ann also had two children that died as infants. Early death was not unusual and, in fact, statistically about half of the children born in that period died before their fifth birthday.

The floor of the home is dirt and there are only a few pieces of furniture, mostly tables and chairs. Their dress is typical of that of poor people of the time with wool as the most common fabric. While rich people wore refined white or dyed wool, the poor wore homespun, unbleached wool. Women wore long dresses and men wore knee-length britches. When in public, they had to be careful about what they wore because wearing clothing that was above your station was illegal and could result in prison.

Food was plain and monotonous. Breakfast consisted of bread, cheese and onions. The one cooked meal a day, called pottage, was made by cooking grain mixed with water and, if available, vegetables and, if you were really lucky, meats. But in March, vegetables left over from the previous year were depleted and lamb or beef, killed during the colder months, was likely also used up. All classes ate bread but differed in quality, depending upon what you could afford. Rich people ate bread made of fine, white flour while the Allred family ate course bread made of barley or rye. But the Allreds did have something that most others did not have – milk and other dairy products because they owned cows.

Like all families in the village, the Allreds were assigned a specific plot of tillable land to grow food and were allowed to pasture their cattle on grasslands. In return, the family gave a part of the crop to the landlord as rent. Although you did not see them, the cattle owned by the family probably included oxen, used for plowing. If so, they had a real advantage over neighbors who could not afford work animals because they had to till the soil manually using a “foot plow”, a device resembling a modern spade.

Understanding the family’s conversation was difficult because of their dialect but, from what you could comprehend, it was clear that church was very important to them for several reasons, not the least of which was they were required to attend Church of England religious services. The penalty could be a fine, loss of property or even imprisonment. But more than that, they were devout Christians and the church represented long term stability. It was true that their church was sometimes Catholic and sometimes Protestant, depending upon the religion of the king or queen. But the common people stayed with it. The church was so often the subject of conversation, you decided to visit the family’s church located a short distance away.

The first thing that you notice about the church is the building. At the time of your visit in 1618, the church building was an impressive edifice for the time. This was St. Mary the Virgin Church. It was the only church in Eccles Parish, Lancashire in 1618. There had been a church on this spot for over 500 years and parts of this building date from the 13th century.

The inside of the church is equally impressive. For the first several centuries this was a Catholic Church but in 1534, when parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, King Henry VIII became head of the Church in England and St. Mary the Virgin Church became Protestant. (Catholicism returned briefly from 1553 to 1558 when Mary I “Bloody Mary” became queen.).  Inside, there is a plaque on the wall listing the names of Vicars from 1180 to 1610. Note that the plaque says that “the names of the Vicars before 1180 have not been discovered”. A baptismal font, no doubt used by our Allred ancestors, dates to the 13th century.

As impressive as the church is, of even greater importance to the Allred family are the church records. After King Henry VIII took over the Church in England, churches were ordered to keep records of births, christenings and burials. St. Mary the Virgin Church duly followed orders and those records were preserved. And of even more importance to the Allred family, any time a member of the family was recorded to have any of those events, the words “of Pendleton” were added after their name. Those words forever tie our family to that small village in the heart of England.

After the visit to the church, it is time to leave Pendleton and return home. Upon arrival, it is easy to imagine that the whole trip was a dream. For confirmation that what you saw is real, you quickly check the internet for St. Mary the Virgin Church at http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Salford/Eccles/stmary/index.html and there it is, St. Mary the Virgin Church, Eccles Parish, Lancashire, England, still today as you saw it 400 years ago.