Book grows out of research into family

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Woman's way .. Beverley McCombs, of Wellington, was in Timaru last week to speak to the South Canterbury branch of the Genealogy Society about her book, The Ascott Martyrs. PHOTO: RACHAEL COMER

by Rachael Comer

When Beverley McCombs set out to learn more about her family history, she had no idea it would inspire a book.
The Wellington woman was in Timaru last week to speak to the South Canterbury branch of the Genealogy Society.
“I have been . . . speaking to the genealogy group about the book [The Ascott Martyrs],” McCombs said.
“I have always been interested in history and genealogy.”
The book has a connection to the Pratleys of Temuka.
It tells of 16 women living in the Oxfordshire village of Ascott-under-Wychwood.
McCombs visited Ascott-under-Wychwood in 1988 to see the village where her great-grandfather was from.
“We did not really expect to find anything related to his family.”
There they discovered a horse chestnut tree alone in the centre of the town square. Built around the tree was an eight-sided wooden seat with a memorial plaque to the “Ascott Martyrs”, to celebrate the centenary of the 16 women of Ascott who were sent to prison in 1873 for the part they played in the founding of the Agricultural Workers’ Union.
One of them was Jane Pratley – McCombs’s great-grandmother.
In the spring of 1873 the women tried to prevent two youths working in place of their menfolk, who were on strike for better wages. The women, two of whom had babies, were arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned with hard labour.
The women were later celebrated as martyrs and several emigrated to New Zealand, including Mary Pratley – related by marriage to Jane Pratley – who settled in Temuka in 1874.
McCombs said the book, her first published story, was an item of pride and she was already looking at publishing another.