As a part of my manic trip through southern England, the initial leg of my month-long and still largely unplanned trip through Europe, I was intent on a detour into the countryside of Suffolk, just north of Ipswich. There, according to Google Maps, amidst winding roads through verdant hills and country paddocks lay the town of Bedingfield, supposed homestead of my ancestors from centuries ago. I’d found what I could about it on the internet, which frankly wasn’t much, and felt it was my duty as a Bedingfield to make a pilgrimage by whatever means, and perhaps let the villiagers worship me as their god.
The ways of getting there were few to start with, and very quickly narrowed to either renting a car in London or spending possibly days at the mercy of temperamental country bus schedules. I really therefore had little choice but to take my life in my hands and rent a car in the heart of London and hope the GPS didn’t try to kill me by sending me careening into a wall of the bright red siege machines they use for buses. So I hiked the short distance from Piccadilly Circus to the rental agency, picked up the car, and launched into the streets of downtown London.
A nerve-wracking half hour after taking the wheel, I broke free of the city with startling suddenness, car and temper relatively unscathed. I scanned through the numerous radio stations, all playing some combination of sports coverage, thumping house music, or staggeringly boring news and talk radio in an assortment of languages. After a half hour, I decided that for entertainment and appropriateness, the BBC production of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was called for. As I drove through landscapes as reserved and dry as the English themselves, I amused myself by imagining a man somewhere just out of sight lying down between his front garden and a large bulldozer.
As I continued along the freeways, the view remained distressingly drab, and while it was giving me an understanding of why the English can be so entertained by things such as new socks, I was also beginning to fear my ancestral hamlet would turn out to be a couple squat houses along the roadside and a gas station manned by a teenager picking his nose. However once off the main thoroughfare and onto the country lanes, I began to really understand the charm of the English countryside. Narrow un-marked roads played over rolling hills and carved through fields and hedgerows, occasionally interrupted by a cluster of neatly kept tudor-style cottages with immaculate lawns. It suddenly all seemed much more appealing.
Thankfully the GPS had not steered me wrong, as I would have gotten hopelessly lost in the often unmarked turns, and around a corner I spotted a simple, white sign, bold lettering stating simply, “BEDINGFIELD”. I had arrived. I stepped out, snapped some photos of the hallmark moment, and drove on.
The town itself was a little ways away yet, and for a brief moment I worried that I’d driven right through it, until I drove into what appeared to be not just the main intersection of Bedingfield, but the only intersection. Surrounded by hedges, a miniature roundabout was decorated with an aging wooden signpost pointing to various other nearby villages with extremely English names such as Worlingworth and Debenham. Topping the post was a narrow ring, labeled again with the name “BEDINGFIELD”, making this traffic sign the great center of the town of Bedingfield. The very, very empty town of Bedingfield.
Parking my car and walking around, I noted several more well-kept houses, however there wasn’t a soul to be seen. Nothing much stirred apart from the trees, a few birds, and one very bored-looking cat. The village hall on the corner looked as though it hadn’t been used in years. It was something of a letdown that there wasn’t so much as a corner shop I could stride into and proclaim to the elderly shopkeeper that a Bedingfield had arrived. Nonetheless, it was a nice, quiet, leafy spot, and I decided to poke around. Spotting a gate across the road and a signboard, I walked through the gap in the hedge and found exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. Behind the gate in a clearing was a decidedly ancient-looking church, surrounded by extremely weathered headstones. Walking into the vestibule of the church, I was thrilled to find that not only was it dedicated to a Bedingfield, but a Bedingfield who had been a pastor there in the 14th century. I’d found the genealogical motherlode.
I really can’t say how long I spent wandering through the empty church, reading the inscriptions in the stained glass windows all dedicated to my ancestors, looking over lists of past pastors and their families, and eyeballing incredibly old, dusty trunks that I wanted so badly to open in the expectation of finding family treasures. More likely than not I would’ve simply found moth-eaten choirboy robes dating only back to the 60s, but the mystery was worth entertaining. I simply took my time, faced with the rare opportunity to peruse my own family museum. A landmark built by their hands that had stood for over six hundred years, that had remained largely unchanged, especially judging by the piles of dust and dead flies in the corners. Of all the history I had seen and was going to see, this would be the most significant to me.
I eventually left the church and the town to find a late lunch in a nearby village. The only trace I left was my name in the guest registry, satisfied that while I hadn’t had a chance to declare myself godking of Bedingfield to the residents, I could at least leave them wondering about the unwitnessed appearance, among the names from people as far away as Essex, of a Bedingfield from Australia.