Over the past couple of months I’ve spent time researching and writing about the family history of my wife’s gran. Her maiden name is Hine, and she had an idea that her family – long ago – came from the village of Hemyock in Devon, in amongst the Blackdown Hills. During this period I’ve delved into the census returns associated with these ancestors, chased up old directory listings from the Victorian period, and squinted at various maps to establish an understanding of the place and the time in which they lived. Along the way I’ve learnt a few things: a difference between a cordwainer and a cobbler; when milk bottles were introduced into the UK; and why Margate’s population boomed in the first half of the 20th century. Yes, random things – but all connected to three generations of Hines that came from Hemyock.

But, I didn’t truly know the village itself – how could I, without actually going there and experiencing it? Of course, the task of retracing the past – of connecting to a history of more than 130 years ago – is a hard one. The last Hemyockian (I don’t know if this is a word, but if not, it is a good one) Hine left the rural village behind to move to the bright lights of London in the late Victorian period. Was there any trace of these ancestors left? Well, we decided to put that to the test, when four generations of the descendants of these Hines visited Hemyock on Sunday 8th April

The first realisation was Hemyock’s location within the Blackdown Hills: it is close to the M5, but it still remains isolated and only reachable by smaller B-roads. We entered the centre of the village and our parking space was to be the location that was once Egypt House; the home of John Hine and his family in the 19th century. We walked into the centre, paying attention to the Victorian water pump in the middle of the road. St. Mary’s Church stood proud, the centre of attention for the village, and we all attempted to spot the Hine name on various gravestones: there was the name of Ronald Thomas Hine on the war memorial (he died in action during D-Day in 1944), as well as a couple of other Hines closer to the entrance (including another John Hine, a parish clerk from 1874-1888). But none of them were “our” Hines.

We all took a walk along the Culm River, past what was presumably the old market place (the street name for the newer buildings notes ‘The Old Market’). It is interesting to consider if any of the Hines utilised this market for their shoemaking business, and to what level they connected with the society in the village. The river walk led us towards the gates of Hemyock Castle: now a few ruins and residential accommodation. It ended with us back in the centre of the village in time to have a meal at the pub, the Catherine Wheel.

Whilst in the pub we asked the landlord and a local whether or not they had heard of the surname Hine in relation to Hemyock, but neither of them could. Although the distance – of more than a century – is so great, that it was before the invention of television, before Elizabeth II’s coronation, before the Second World War, the Wall Street Crash, and even the First World War. Entire generations have lived and died in the meantime, ever since young Charley Hine took his first steps outside the village on the way to London in the Victorian era.

‘I wonder where the all the Hines have gone?’ we asked one another. But in a way, we know. The shoemakers that were William and John spent their lives in Hemyock, whilst Charles Hine made the move away to London. All of the three generations of Hines had their own family and story, and their sons and daughters started their own families, too. Some stayed local, others travelled elsewhere. By doing this they created their own new histories and identities. The Hines of Hemyock were their own specific identity, but when Charles Hine moved to London, and then Margate, he created a new identity with his own family and children. His son Edward John Hine – the link in our tree – was said to have been proud to have been born within hearing distance of the Bow Bells in London, all of which was a world away from the rural confines of Hemyock. Charles’ children would create their own histories far away from Devon, within the south east of England: in the counties of Sussex and Kent. Gone, then, were the Hines of Hemyock, but new families and stories fill their place based on this new location. These were the Hines of the 20th century, and they remained forever linked to the Hines of the centuries before.