In Search of Fox Relations

One weekend in May of 1974, Bob Chu and I took off for Cornwall in search of Fox relations. Bob and I were stationed in London for a three-month assignment with Bechtel on an Algerian LNG project. Bob said that it was natural for him to go with me since the Chinese were inveterate ancestor hunters. I had done some research at the Friends Library in London and knew pretty well where to look. I had also found a fascinating book, called The Journals of Caroline Fox, which gave some additional background.

We first drove out past the ancient stone circles of Avebury to get into the right mood. A line of these enormous stones hunkered in the morning mist, sheltering flocks of black sheep along a mile of roadway, then turned in circular patterns around embankments. All this hinted at some hidden significance and when we got out and stood by the stones we were completely awed by their size and antiquity.

As we drove out to the M-4, the sun came out and Bob offered to share the driving with me. When I agreed, I didn’t know that he had never driven a car with a gearshift before. It always took me a little time to get used to driving the British Mini with my left hand on the gearshift but, with Bob, it was ridiculous. He was able to get the car going with some difficulty and rolling down the highway was easy but then the real problem became apparent. He couldn’t stop! After one near miss, I put him in neutral and we let it roll to a stop so I could take over again.

By this time we were approaching Devon and the high-speed roads gave out but at least we could see the towns we were passing through: Taunton, Wellington, Exeter and the Dartmoor forest. I began to plan how we should go about our business.

Justinian Fox, my ancestor, had come to Philadelphia in 1686, at the age of thirteen, on the ship Desire, out of Plymouth with a group of Quakers led by James Fox and Francis Rawle. Justinian was one of three Fox youths classed as servants to the other passengers. His relationship to James Fox has never been ascertained but it is almost certain that they were related. [His father, Edward Fox of Plymouth, is known to have associated with members of James Fox’ family and Justinian was present at the marriage of James’ son George in 1686 and to have witnessed George’s will as well as deeds made by other members of the family.]

Though he associated with Quakers all his life, Justinian was not one himself. Baptised in the Church of England, he married the daughter of Philadelphia’s foremost stonemason, a Presbyterian, and they raised a large family. Apprenticed to James Portues, a wealthy Quaker carpenter, his son Joseph became a Quaker when he married Elizabeth Mickle. He helped found the Carpenters’ Company and was active in politics in Philadelphia just before and the Revolutionary War. Joseph Fox was my great, great, great grandfather.

While little more is known about Justinian, the background on James Fox is extensive. He was one of the three sons of Francis Fox of St. Germans, from whom numerous families of English Foxes trace their descent. Francis Fox is said to have come in 1645 from Wiltshire, from the parish of Farley or Pitton, during the period of the English Civil Wars and the purges of Oliver Cromwell. Arriving in Cornwall, he married Dorothy Kekewich of Exeter and they moved into the Kekewich house in St. Germans which was then vacant.

The tradition on Francis Fox is interesting. He is believed to be of the same family as Sir Stephen Fox, ancestor of Charles James Fox, the Earls of Ilchester and the Lords Holland. Tradition says that he was one of seven or eight sons and that others of the same family came into Devonshire and Cornwall but left no surviving sons. Clearly, there is room for Justinian to have been a relative.

Crossing the River Tamar, near Plymouth, we entered onto the rolling hills of Cornwall and began to watch for the turnoff to St., Germans. What we found at St. Germans was a handsome church being prepared for a concert of Beethoven’s music. Across the road were a few shops and there we inquired the whereabouts of Catchfrench, the Kekewich house previously mentioned. Encouragingly, the name was familiar to the shopgirl but only in a vague way. "Over there somewhere, I believe," she said, pointing westward.

Our next destination was Falmouth where the headquarters of G. C. Fox & Co., shipping agents, was located and near which were the estates and gardens of a number of this family. Penjerrick had been the home of the diarist, Caroline Fox in the 1850’s and her father, Robert Were Fox, was a Fellow of the Royal Society and American Consul at Falmouth. Other nearby Fox estates were Glendurgan, now listed in the National Trust for its famous gardens, Grove Hill, Trebah, Rose Hill and Tregedna. Somewhere in all of this I should be able to locate a Fox, or so I thought.

We drove out to the ocean front and located a room for the night, visited Henry VIII’s Pendennis Castle and then decided to drive out to the west of Falmouth to the area around Mawnan Smith. This was typical British countryside. large open fields lined with hedgerows, occasionally a group of cottages We located Penjerrick and Glendurgan. The latter could hardly be mistaken because of the pair of white plaster foxes on the entrance gate. No one seemed to be in evidence.

We stopped at a group of newer houses, down the road a quarter of a mile. One fellow I approached said "Oh, those people are Friends, you know, and very retiring in their manners."

Finally, at Bob’s insistence, I drove into the Glendurgan grounds where we found a smaller house on the estate and a lawnmower busily turning over in the garage. But still no one in sight. I left a note on the door and we drove back to Falmouth, where we did find and walk through the Rosehill gardens. It was almost dark so we ate at a hotel on the bluff by the ocean and relaxed at a local beer garden.

The next morning, after a jog, a dip in the ocean, breakfast with our hosts, church and a tour of downtown Falmouth - where we located the offices of G. C. Fox and Sons - we packed to return to London. Bob insisted that we detour through Mawnan Smith and try one more time to make a contact. It seemed like a good idea.

This was England’s summer of the drought but to us at the time it was just delightful spring weather. The countryside was a lush green, despite the "drought," and the hedgerows were alive with birds. It was not difficult to imagine a horse drawn carriage on the narrow road carrying a load of Fox children over to visit their cousins nearby.

We drove into the Glendurgan grounds and found Rona, Mrs. Philip Hamilton Fox, at home alone in the smaller house where we had found the lawnmower the night before. She had read my note about Justinian Fox and was intrigued. She explained that her husband was off on a sailing trip to France but invited us in for a cup of coffee. I explained what I knew about our possible connections and she showed me a family tree and an original copy of Caroline Fox’s Journal. This was very impressive to me, having only seen commentaries on the book previously.

Caroline Fox was the daughter of Robert Were Fox, a man of diverse interests who entertained many well known visitors who used the Packet Services out of Falmouth during the middle of the nineteenth century. Caroline was of an inquiring nature and an excellent conversationalist who met and maintained correspondence with such notables as John Stuart Mill, Thomas Carlyle, William Wordsworth and Alfred Tennyson. Her journal was assembled from her diaries and published in 1882, eleven years after her death. It received considerable attention at the time and is still of interest because of the insight it provides into the lives of these famous visitors.

Mrs. Fox gave me the address of her son Charles, in London, and asked me to get in touch with him. She also told of her oldest son, Robert, who was marrying an American girl from New York State and planned to move to the United States. Apparently, the sailing trip to France was intended to prepare for the wedding. I began to feel as if I had known these people for a long time and was a welcome guest but we had to move on if we were to get back to London that evening. Besides, I had some further ideas for the trip home.

Rona, that was her name, told us that Glendurgan was the home of her mother-in-law, Mrs. Cuthbert L. Fox, who was off on a trip at that time. She suggested that we visit the famous Glendurgan gardens and assured us that there would be no problem. She also mentioned the Quaker burial grounds at Budock, nearby, and wondered if we would like the key to visit it. This was a tempting offer but, given the time limitations, we opted for the gardens.

We drove over to the main house and parked our little orange Mini in the driveway. The house was truly a mansion. Somewhat dilapidated, perhaps, but I wish we could have gone inside. Instead, we wandered around the large stone patio and gazed across the lawn towards a wooded knoll fronted with rhododendrons thirty feet tall and, next to this, an opening leading down to the Helford Water, perhaps a half mile away. The rhododendrons were all in full bloom at that time and a profusion of other colors lined the valley leading down to the river. A trail down the left side of the valley lead into an evergreen and hardwood forest and on down to some cottages by the water. We could see sailboats and a small harbor. Back up the other side, the trail was paved with stone and more open, leading through azalea bushes of all colors and was lined with meadow flowers, including lupine and blue columbine.

From this trail, the house, Glendurgan, stood out at the top of a long slope, framed with red maples and elms. The upper story was white clapboard but the lower was made of fieldstone and was covered with ivy. Four large casement windows faced down the valley. Near the top of the valley, we found the boxwood maze so typical of English gardens.

Reluctantly leaving Glendurgan, we gassed up in Mawnan Smith and started our drive back to London. As we neared Plymouth, I asked Bob if he’d be willing to try once more to find "Catchfrench." As usual, he was enthusiastic. Entering the region around St. Germans, we turned off the A38 at Trerule Foot and soon found ourselves once again on back roads with few signposts. I was in a quandary, when Bob spotted a milk truck headed our way and we hailed it down.

If you are ever in a similar situation, try a milkman, they do seem to get around. This fellow was a genial Cornishman with a rather clipped manner of speech. He knew we were having a little difficulty so he repeated everything at least four times. The gist of his message was this. We were to proceed back to the turnoff we had just taken but, before we got there a road would tail off to the west. This we should take.

"Noow this ‘ere road yer on crosses a number of foine roads tha’ ye’ll be tempted ta take but ye moost na take ‘em. Ye moost follow the road yer on. E’en when the road narrows doon and becaimes a dirt road ye moost folla it straight on. Don’t turn no matter how temptin’ the road ye cross and then this’ll lead ye to Catchfrench."

Following directions precisely we finally found ourselves on a dirt trail leading between a barn, a pigsty and a junkyard. Persevering, we came our on a paved driveway and a broad expanse of lawn, covered with yellow dandelions. Across a fence, horses were grazing and, in the distance rolled the green fields and hedgerows on Cornwall. Behind our backs was a mansion of fairly recent construction in faded red brick and, next to it on the right, were the ruins of a much earlier building. This was constructed of fieldstone laid to form a foot thick wall, apparently one story high. It was in imposing structure but also long since abandoned and overgrown with ivy. It appeared to be sunken several feet below the surrounding ground line.

I rang the bell to the main house and a man in his mid-forties came to the door, I told him my mission and he said I was welcome to look around. He introduced himself as Austin Edwards and said that, while people named Fox occasionally came by to see Catchfrench, I was the first one from America. He gave me the following story as if he was speaking from personal knowledge.

"Catchfrench was built by a man named Talvern, whose daughter married George Kekewich and the house passed to the Kekewich family. George’s daughter Dorothy married Francis Fox and it’s possible they may have lived there for a while. Lord Glanville then bought it and held it for many years until after World War II. It was bought by a Colonel Thompson who sold it to me in 1966."

Checking all this out later in Burke’s "Landed Gentry", I found that George Kekewich, son of John Kekewich of Lenley, had settled in Cornwall and married Joan Talkerne, daughter and heir of Edward Talkerne of Catchfrench. Their son John died in 1541, At the latest, therefore, Catchfrench must have been built prior to the year 1500. Several generations of George Kekewiches then lived at Catchfrench, each serving as High Sheriff of Cornwall. Dorothy Kekewich was not the daughter of George, coming from Peamore in Exeter, but was of the same family.

The last George Kekewich married the widow of George Granville of Penheale, Cornwall, in 1601 and the family appears to have moved out of Catchfrench at that time. The house was probably lying empty when Francis Fox moved to Cornwall and married in 1646.

Catchfrench is not located in St. Germans but about halfway between that town and Menheniot. It is interesting to note that George Fox, founder of the Quakers, first traveled to Cornwall by way of Plymouth and held his first meetings in that county in the Parish of Menheniot in 1655. It seems likely that Francis Fox may have been present at these meetings.

Knowing some of this history, I turned to investigate the ruins of the original "Catchfrench." I was able to open a gate and walk into the overgrown ruins where well-worn concrete steps led down into what appeared to be a sitting room. The roof was gone and the sun poured down while I sat on the steps and gazed across the room, thinking long thoughts of what must have gone on there long ago. Visions of a small group of Quakers planning their trip to America swam before my eyes.

It is interesting to speculate on the name "Catchfrench." Is it an alliteration on the name Kekewich or does it refer to some actual incident? What were all those High Sheriffs up to? I could imagine a refugee from France being hidden here and a conference with High Sheriff Kekewich on what to do with him. Shades of Poldark! For an instant, a chill ran down my spine.

The town of Plymouth was an aftershock. We toured the city briefly and found it the most modern city we had seen in England, the downtown area having been rebuilt after being wiped out in the bombings of World War II. This area of England is certainly full of contrasts and surprises. We headed on back to London, stopping only for a brief tour and dinner in the old university town of Oxford.

A week after this adventure, I got in touch with Charles Lloyd Fox, then living in Chelsea and working at Spinks, the antique shop on King Street. He was expecting my call and asked me to come around to his flat at #8 Colebrook Court off Sloane Avenue. I found my way there after work and was introduced to an assortment of young people. One young man was enrolled at the Temple Bar and was trying to study but found my presence too interesting. Charles’ older brother, Robert, came round with his bride to be, Alexandra Saunders of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. They were to be married in Paris on June 11th and would then move to the United States. Robert considered himself to be an expert on food and hoped to find employment in the United States writing about food and restaurants. I told him what little I knew on the subject, and hoped I hadn’t misled him too much.

Later, Charles and I went to a wine bar for dinner and then strolled over to the home of Pemberton Piggott, who turned out to be an attractive young lady of Charles’ age and a cousin. We met Mrs. Piggott and a schoolteacher friend who was fascinated to meet a real live engineer. She pumped me on developments in Chemistry. These were "real" people, the house was informal and friendly and I felt very much at home. Miss Piggott got out on old volume containing the genealogy of Isaac Wilson, an ancestor, but it obviously did not have any bearing on the question of Justinian’s relationship to James Fox.

I found Charles to be a charming young man, not quite sure of how far he wanted to break with family tradition. I have since learned from Rona that both he and William were going to (different) technical schools to learn management and maritime affairs.

It was through Charles that I came upon "Marianna’s Diary - A Record of a Holiday at Falmouth." This was a monograph put together by Hubert Fox of Devon. Marianna was Marianna Tuckett from Frenchay, near Bristol. She and her two sisters visited their cousins at Penjerrick, Tregedna and Glendurgan in September of 1868. Marianna kept a diary and one of her sisters, Lizzie, drew some sketches. By writing to Mr. Fox, I was able to get several copies.

After Words #1

I kept in touch with Rona by mail and we exchanged Christmas Cards every year. Then in 1987 I received an invitation to speak at a conference sponsored by the Gas Research Institute in London. Betty came along and we arranged to spend a week with a rental car and a list of farmhouse bed and breakfasts. I told the Foxes beforehand that we’d be coming and Rona replied that they would love to see us even though Philip was recovering from the shingles and was not at his best. They invited us for tea. We drove over there one afternoon after a trip around Lands End and Betty was fascinated. We had tea and chocolate cake, which we ate with a knife. Rona gave us a personal tour of the gardens. The Foxes were just our age, we found, and we had a lot in common, really. Philip was a well traveled man and important in the shipping industry in England. Mrs. Cuthbert Fox had died and William had married and was living in the mansion - they preferred to stay at Stable Court.

Every year since then I have received a Christmas card from Philip and have sent one to them. In 1990 we learned that Rona had been hit by a car in the center of London near Picadilly Circus and was badly injured. In 1992, I told them of Betty’s death. Last year they told me that Robert was living in Dallas and I told them about marrying Shirley. I’m afraid I don’t know what has happened to Charles. They have a standing invitation come visit me but have never done it. Who knows, maybe I’ll take Shirley over to visit them.

After Words #2

In the summer of 1997, I gave Mary Anna Fox, my second cousin, information on Glendurgan for a trip she was making to England. In return, I got this letter from her, dated August 2, 1997 along with a large family tree and information on Trebah and Glendurgan Gardens.

"A long overdue note to tell you that I had a really wonderful time in Cornwall!

Philip Fox was in Barbados with his son Robert and family who live in Texas. His son Charles showed me Penjerrick gardens - where Caroline Fox lived, who wrote a fascinating book about Foxes and Falmouth in the 1800’s - and Glendurgan, which is so beautiful and the house where Charles and his family hope to live after they have restored it. I’m enclosing the writeup about the garden, which Charles wrote. He just adores the place! I did meet Rona with Charles, who spoke for her. She is a lovely person from what could tell. She has full-time help. Their house is charming - used to be the stable for Glendurgan. Charles also showed me various Fox houses in Falmouth - most no longer lived in by Foxes. I also met Charles’ wife Caroline and their adorable 3 little girls. They are a delightful family and we got along very well. I hope they will come visit me someday when the girls are older. Oh - I did visit Trebah, which is no longer owned by a Fox - a really lovely, wild garden also going down to the Helford River, with incredible ferns, large trees and water gardens. Many thanks for all the help. I went down to Lizard and explored there too - loved it all! I can’t wait to go back!

"Through Charles, I stayed at Catchfrench Manor - which is next to the ruins. It is now a Christian retreat run by Judy and John Wilks. Charles used to be on the board. The Wilks hope to get grant money to restore the ruin. It was very exciting to stay there and I really enjoyed the Wilks. It is an incredibly peaceful place - perfect for a Christian retreat. Charles is a very committed Christian, which is one reason we got along.

"I could go on and on about Cornwall - loved every bit. Oh I also met Rebecca Fox and two of her children. They live in an old house in Constantine. Her husband James was at work, in London. She was great fun and her house and garden were beautiful. James is a first cousin of Charles - I think. Hope you enjoy the Fox (family) tree Charles gave me."

Charles Fox visited San Francisco in the year 2000, giving a talk on the Glendurgan Gardens at the Olympic Club before the English Speaking Union. Shirely and I were there and a brief chat with Charels and ate dinner with his friends Shane and Sally Weare, who live in the Bay Area, He is writing a book about the Gardens and I have now sent him some preliminary chapters of my Fox Family History. He nad his wife have now renovated and moved into Glendurgan, which he manages for the National Trust.. Apparently, William has become an actor.

Joe Fox – Revised, January 2002