In the recent episode of DNA Journey, presenter Alex Brooker had a chance to uncover the secrets of his ancestry. Accompanied by his comedian friend Johnny Vegas, the two embarked on a journey to discover their family history. In the course of their adventure, they learned about their past, and the hardships that their ancestors had to face.
The start of their journey took them to the West Country, where Johnny discovered that his 3x great-grandfather, Richard Everson, was a skilled glassblower who was relocated to St Helen’s to practice his craft. Meanwhile, Alex learned about his great-grandmother on his maternal side, Margaret Newbury, who was born in 1898, and her two sisters. The trio faced several challenges, which Alex and Johnny came to learn in detail.
As they drove through rural Wiltshire, Alex and Johnny met historian Brad Argent, who revealed to Alex that the journey to South London began in Warminster. The town centre used to be the Magistrates’ Court, where the Newbury’s spent some time before the magistrate. Brad showed Alex a photograph of his great-grandmother and her sisters, all of whom had the same short haircuts. Brad explained that in order to tell their story, they needed to step back to their parents.
Alex’s great-great-grandparents, Herbert and Mary Jane Newbury, had children shortly after their marriage in 1896. Herbert left Warminster to fight in the Boer War, where he witnessed some of the horrific first battles. After being sent back to England, reports suggest that he was lazy and drunk, and Mary Jane was put in an asylum due to her mental health issues. Brad explained to Alex that if they looked at it through a modern lens, they would see that Mary Jane had mental health issues, and Herbert had PTSD and was self-medicating with alcohol.
As a result of the couple’s mental states, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was contacted, and the children were taken away. The report that was written about the children described the dire living conditions: “The children were so dirty that it was impossible even to form an opinion as to when they had been washed last. The living room was dirty, and there was only an old mattress, a dirty quilt, and some garments for the children to sleep on. The husband spent a good deal on drink. Mrs. Newbury complained that her husband allowed her no money, and sometimes she and the children were half-starved.”
The three girls were sent to Barnardo’s, and Alex’s great-grandmother and her sister, Emily, were trained to be domestic servants and found work in Croydon, their hometown. However, Lily, the youngest sister, boarded a ship to Canada, where she got married and had six children, becoming a matriarch. Brad was able to track down her descendants, Alex’s cousins Loys Lemus and Rachel Swaine. Loys told Alex that Lily was an “awesome woman” and a “fantastic cook” who made “the best mashed potatoes.”
Alex was overwhelmed after speaking to his cousins, making plans to travel to Canada to meet them. He said:
I never expected anything like this. The last couple of hours have been an absolute rollercoaster, and for it to finish like this is just amazing.
Alex Brooker, presenter
DNA Journey has once again shown that everyone has a story to tell, and it is worth discovering our past to understand our present. Alex and Johnny’s journey was an eye-opener, revealing the struggles and hardships that their ancestors had to endure. However, it also showed the resilience and determination of their forebears, who faced their challenges head-on and triumphed in their own way.
- Johnny Vegas and Alex Brooker: itv