Nigel finds family link to Godiva

Nigel Ratcliffe, reflecting on his interesting ancestry while caring for rescue horses. Photo (MIKE DAVISON): SG240512-11MD
Nigel Ratcliffe, reflecting on his interesting ancestry while caring for rescue horses. Photo (MIKE DAVISON): SG240512-11MD
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There has been an enormous interest in family history in recent years, something that didn’t excite Nigel Ratcliffe... until his brother started unearthing some fascinating ancestry.

FOR someone who comes from a broken family and who has lost all contact with his father, Lutton man Nigel Ratcliffe knows more than most about his ancestors.

And in fact the history that has been unearthed thanks to his brother Graham’s curiosity has proved fascinating, with a family tree that links them to Heweward the Wake and to Lady Godiva, the 11th century Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants.

The discovery has come as an immense surprise to Nigel (59), whose parents divorced when he was 13 and who has had nothing to do with his father for the past decade.

He moved to this area from Colchester in 1980, first living in Sutton Bridge before moving to Lutton Bank, where he and his wife Karen look after five rescue horses on four acres of land.

He worked on the construction of both Sutton Bridge and Spalding power stations before travelling around the country involved in the maintenance of gas turbines. The couple’s son, Andrew, also works on power stations around the country. Nigel had a spell of unemployment before getting work supervising the new A46 near Newark, but that finished in December and he hasn’t worked since.

Some time ago, Graham’s researches on their mother’s line uncovered the fact that one of her ancestors, James Cranfield, became Chancellor to James I, and was made the Earl of Middlesex.

“That got my brother interested and he has done all the research,” said Nigel. “We have been a family apart in a sense, although we have always been close at heart. My mother is 88 and still living in Essex and we found all this out about her ancestors and once we knew about that Graham decided to research my father’s tree.”

That was when the really interesting family links emerged, with Graham able to trace the line through his grandmother Ellen Martin across to the Wisemans, and such worthies as Sir William Wiseman, 1st Baronet of Cranfield Hall and High Sheriff of Essex.

Nigel adds: “That’s not the most important thing. Graham has found a direct link with the dukes of Norfolk – there’s lots of them – and we have Plantagenet kings and queens in the tree. He has researched back to Hereward the Wake, to famous Saxon kings and even back to Caesar Augustus and Boudicca.”

Graham’s researches have not finished and he is trying to get Nigel involved in his latest quest to trace another family line – back to a Norwegian queen so far – although Nigel has plans of his own for his future involving trying his hand at growing flowers in a poly tunnel.

What is rather sad is that the brothers’ father knows nothing about their discoveries because there is no communication with his family. He too is living in Essex and in fact Nigel only recently discovered he has a half sister, aged 50, as a result of his father’s subsequent relationship.

Nigel says: “I found out about a year ago and she came up to see us and we hugged and cried. She traced me through Facebook.”

Interestingly, Nigel has inadvertently been doing some less formal research of his own, having been told his home is associated in some way with Celtic history. He claims that photographs taken during a visit from Graham and his girlfriend, once uploaded on to the computer, revealed strange, unearthly shapes. This is one line of research that may not be so easy to pursue though...