PICTURE the scene. It is 1974 and Ann Eliza Priest is trying to pass the time while she recovers from a broken hip.
Her family encourage her to write down her memories of her life – and she took their advice.
What she wrote was an epic tale which kept her grandchildren, June Wild and Norma Ball, engrossed.
Now, 40 years later, June is using the letter’s details for her own family tree research. She said: “When you read it, it turns out to be a lot like Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
“She used to write all sorts of stories and we wondered whether it was true.
“But when we looked into it, a lot of the details matched up with the names we researched.”
Ann’s writings were all about her own grandmother, Anne Horton, who was born into gentry.
She described Anne as “the heiress that should have been”.
Mrs Priest claimed Anne was the child of a couple who were believed to be a baron and baroness in the Midlands.
Her letter said: “They lived on a very wealthy estate and were very happy, especially when their baby daughter was born.”
But the baroness took ill and died leaving father and daughter to live on their own.
Ann’s letter said: “They lived for each other. If he went away, the baron would leave instructions that his daughter must never be let out of the grounds, only to be escorted by the housekeeper or her governess.”
But on her 18th birthday, Anne wandered off alone into the gardens. The letter added: “She met the head gardener, she fell in love with him. While her father was away, they eloped and got married.
“When he returned, he was so heartbroken, he said he would never forgive her. He said he’d never forgive her, disinherited her, would not have anything to do with her and she was lost from him forever.”
June presumes that the head gardener was a man called Horton. He and Anne had two children – John, born in Hints, in Staffordshire, in 1806, and Ann, who was born in Waterhouses, Staffordshire.
Ann’s letter added: “My grandma would sit in her dear little cottage and tell me about her life, poor little love. She was only very small and dainty and always wore black satin.”
June, 71, nee Shears, is a former Binns window dresser and worked for many a year in quality control at Cerebos.
She is married to Syd Wild, 75, a former steelworker and the couple live in Westerdale Road, Seaton Carew.
It is about two years since June began her interest in family tree research, although she already had a great start thanks to her grandmother.
But there are questions and June said: “I can’t get further back than Ann and John.”
The whereabouts of the barony are in doubt, as is the name of the baron and baroness that that Ann Horton descended from. What was her maiden name, is the barony story true, and if so, where was that barony.
We are hoping someone out there may have the answers.
If so, contact Chris Cordner by writing to him at New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (01429) 239377.
Meanwhile, we’ll have more of Ann’s epic tale next week.