Monday 8 May 2017

Mystery Percivals

Some years ago our son stumbled upon a publication entitled The Percival Book in a junk shop. Wondering if it was connected with our side of the family, he bought it and presented it to us as a Christmas present.

Disappointingly, though, a summary glance at the book's contents suggested that we weren't part of this particular branch – ours being descended from "Ag Labs" and this one containing the occasional baronet and people with letters after their names – and so it was shelved and forgotten about.

Then, the other day I came across the book while searching for something else (why does it always happen that way?) and with a good deal more family history experience under my belt than first time around, I decided to take a closer look.

The blue fabric-bound hard-back book had been compiled in 1970 by Alicia Constance Percival and her cousin, Brigadier Edward Lewis Percival – the flysheet is signed by the authors. At 148 pages, plus old black and white photographs and a number of family tree diagrams at the back, it's a fabulous family record. An order form I found inside reveals that at the time of publication a copy cost 30/- (helpfully translated into "new" money – £1.50 – in readiness for decimalisation due to come in the following year).

The flysheet with authors' signatures

Family Reunion

It seems the book was put together for a family reunion held on 13th December 1970 at Kimsbury House, Gloucestershire, where the Percivals had lived for a number of years. Sadly I've not been able to find any image of the house, but it's a Grade II listed building and its listing entry reveals that it was built around 1884 and styled with Queen Anne and Jacobean influences. It was appraised as, "an accomplished late Victorian house of considerable landscape impact".

At the time of the grand reunion, Alicia's aunt, Lady Percival (with the wonderful name of Henrietta Lucilla Vigne Percival – she'd married her cousin, Alicia's Uncle John Hope Percival) was the oldest living Percival, at the age of 92. 

Tucked inside the book is a type-written list of all those who attended the gathering, stating where they'd travelled from, along with a brief note to explain their family connection.


But it's the detailed content within its pages which is so impressive and must have taken a long time to gather and collate. From the earliest recorded ancestor – William Percival, who died in 1679 – each member of the family is listed in alphabetical order, along with the name of their parents and a summary of key elements in their life history. 

Alicia's baptism record
Alicia's entry tells us that she was educated at Sherborne School for Girls and St Hugh's college, Oxford, that she'd travelled extensively in India and Egypt, teaching and lecturing. During the Second World War, she had been secretary to the Women's Land Army in the Middle East between 1941 and 1945. At the end of the entry are listed the academic books she'd written, including her latest publication, Very Superior Men – some early public school headmasters and their achievements. A leaflet with more details and an order form was amongst the loose papers tucked inside.

There is so much information here, it will take me a while to read it through, as those particularly active Percivals, especially those who served in the military, are mentioned in additional accounts complied from diaries and other records. To complete the compilation, there are 7 pull-out family tree diagrams of different branches of the family from various parts around the UK. 


Northampton seems to be where the Percival family originated which caused us to raise an eyebrow. My husband's great uncle, Theodore Percival, moved to Northampton and married there in 1915. 

On his marriage certificate, his father, Shadrack Percival, is stated as being an architect, when, in fact, he was a postman. Great Uncle Theo does not feature much in the family memory and the impression has always been that Theo distanced himself from his family back in Essex. Was Theo aware of the more affluent Northampton Percivals and tried to imply that his heritage lay there in an effort to impress, rather than admit to his more modest ancestry? 

Sad discovery

As I browsed through The Percival Book, I noticed a scribbled note had been added to Alicia's entry, referring the reader to the entry of her brother, David Athelstane Percival. When I found the relevant page, I saw that there was another additional note in the same hand. It read: "Died of food poisoning with his sister Alicia when she was staying with him, 1987." 

Sure enough, their deaths are both listed in the same month – September 1987 – and was announced in The TimesA sad ending to a long and active life. Alicia was 84 and her brother was 81.

What's interesting is that David lived in Great Baddow, Essex, only around 20 miles from Great Tey, where our very own "Ag Lab" Percivals originated. A coincidence? Or was there a particular reason why he settled there after spending so much time abroad during his life. It will be interesting to study the book and see if I can find any connections!


Are you related to the Percivals? Do you recognise this particular branch? Do you know of this amazing book? I'd love to hear from you.