Emmetts Garden was one of the few National Trust Gardens, within easy distance, that I had not visited. However it was in the back of my mind for good reason. It was in fact as far back as 2001, that I was researching further into my ancient maternal Scottish family line and I had come across the Biggs family.
My great, great grandmother, Catherine Biggs, already a widow, became the third wife of a vicar, (gr.gr. grandfather), from my mother’s family. On her first marriage, certificate of 1847 it had stated she was ‘of Emmett’s, West Kent‘. This immediately struck a note of familiarity, I knew of the garden, but had never visited. It seemed most unlikely we would really be connected.
I researched more deeply and found that her great uncle, a gentleman of property, an Edward Smith Biggs, had left a lengthy will, which stated he wished to have a monument erected in his memory at Barking Abbey. I contacted the staff there and they very kindly photographed the tombstone which was inside the Abbey (right). On it it repeated that he was ‘of Emmetts‘ and he helped the poor of the parish. He left a portion of his considerable property to Catherine’s father, Lewis, who also referenced his uncle Edward Smith Biggs in his will, luckily for me this provided a double confirmation.
After grinding to a halt on going back much further on a direct line from Lewis and turning my attention to other lines, I finally visited Emmetts last week. Much to my amazement, as I quizzed the staff about it’s history, we looked in the guide book and there was the first reference to the first owner, Edward Smith Biggs of Emmetts, when it had been a ‘farmstead’!
This was exciting. So I looked around the landscaped garden with a personal interest. It had since been taken over by other families who had developed it into a garden of note that the Trust make available to the public. There is a late Victorian or Edwardian house on the site, and many unusual and rare acid loving plants on the site. Slightly hilly. I enjoyed watching the gardening team dig out with machines, an obstinate enormous shrub. A handy gadget if you’ve the space to store and use such vehicles.
I contacted the manager and we are now in touch with the prospect of sharing research for the guidebook in the future. They will probably concentrate more on the families who actually created the garden in later decades, but the Biggs’ of Emmetts are relevant to the story of the garden.
There is mild intrigue as to why Catherine should be ‘of Emmett’s‘ at a date long after the Bigg’s may have vacated any connection and other families moved in, perhaps she was living there still? Nevertheless, it is a pleasant surprise to find such connections and particularly to an area I feel most at home in. One never knows what one can dig up next.