My Favourite Sewell Ancestor

By Brenda Ord

This article was published in the April 2015 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

My favourite ancestor is my 3x great grandmother Honor Sewell whom my Grannie Honora Sewell was named after. My grandmother was an intelligent lady interested in life and the future. Her lack of interest in our family past was puzzling to me. Becoming a widow at 25 thanks to the Great War was perhaps a reason. All she told me was that her father was from Norfolk. One thing we all laughed about was her ‘posh’ name, mainly because her siblings all had standard names like Jane, William & Margaret. However her ‘posh’ name was the clue I needed to find her family history.

Honora Ethel Sewell, great granddaughter of Brenda Ord’s favourite relative Honor Sewell

My 3x great grandmother Honor born Honor Riches in Wrenningham, Norfolk in 1814 was a widow too by age 25. She had no children by husband James Browne but following her marriage to John Sewell at Ashwellthorpe she produced 9 children. They went on to produce at least 30 grandchildren for her and husband John Sewell. Through all this Honor was also a silk weaver, at a time when the weaving industry was suffering with cheap imports. The life was hard. Her children did branch out into different occupations though, including miner, brush japonicer, mineral drink maker, shoemaker and insurance agent. Their families moved to the North East, Suffolk, Lancashire and Canada.
Unfortunately my ‘branch’ of her children wasn’t so successful in her career as a servant and this is probably the reason why my Grandmother wouldn’t talk about the Sewell Norfolk connection. Honor’s daughter Sarah Ann, my great great grandmother, had an illegitimate child. That was unfortunate for the family but when she was pregnant again without a husband, it must have been too much to cope with. Sarah Ann went into the workhouse and my great grandfather was born there followed over the years by two siblings. Puts Downton Abbey’s little incidents in the shade! Honor having brought up her 9 children now brought up her daughter’s first born.
Sarah Ann did get out of the workhouse years later and made her living as a char lady. My grandmother Honora was a natural homemaker and carer – a skill inherited from her name sake I like to think. She also inherited good healthy genes living life in industrial Newcastle upon Tyne for 81 years, a record in my family at that time. As for Honor, she lived for 83 years coping with hard work and weaver’s lung no doubt, but aah! that wonderful Norfolk air when you get out of the house. I’m hoping to have ‘Honor’ genes too.