Elizabeth Annie Kimpton (1871-1938) was the eldest of the seven children of Matthew Timberlake (1845-1933) and his wife Mary (1846-1914). From the age of one she was brought up in the village of Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire. Matthew, her father, was a bricklayer by trade, and was one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in the village. Annie was only 2 years old when her brother, Matthew Henry, died at the age of 13 weeks. When Annie was 13 her sister, Edith Marion, died aged 3, and when she was 27 her surviving sister, Fanny, died, aged 15. Only Annie and her two brothers, Joseph and another Matthew, survived to adulthood.
Annie married David Kimpton, a blacksmith from the neighbouring village of Leavesden, and they had 3 children: Joseph Matthew (b.1897), Marion Timberlake (b.1902) and Frederick David (b.1905). They also came to live in Abbots Langley. Annie was widowed at the age of 42 when David died of pernicious anaemia. Today this illness is rarely fatal. Times were hard for Annie, but she was a strong spirited lady and a good needlewoman and supplemented her income with simple dressmaking.
When her eldest son, Joe, came out of the army after the First World War, he was very unsettled and found life very dull. In 1924 he got a passage on a cattle-boat to Canada and after less than a year there, he "jumped" the border into the United States and hitch-hiked to California. Joe subsequently met and married Alta Farthing and set up home in San Francisco in 1932. After a seemingly impossible invitation from Joe and Alta and despite comments that she was "a silly old woman" Annie decided to use her nest-egg of her Co-op "divi", which she had built-up over the years, to visit them in America. Annie embarked on her journey on Friday, 7 May 1937, taking a cargo boat from the Manchester Ship Canal to Canada. She stayed with relatives and friends in Canada, then with relatives across the border in Rochester, USA, before travelling by train the 3,000 miles across the United States to stay with her son and the daughter-in-law she had never seen.
In all, Annie wrote of everyday events in the 67 letters she sent back to her family in Abbots Langley. These letters are extraordinary in their detail and give a flavour of life in Canada and America in the late 1930s. Annie was very well read, had a keen mind and was not afraid to give her opinion on the people she met, the food she ate and the North American way of life. Although brought up in Victorian England by a deeply religious father, Annie had a vigorous sense of humour and enjoyed a rude joke. At her request the letters were put together, numbered and kept by her daughter, Marion. She intended using them on her return as the basis for talks to the Women's Meeting at the local Methodist Chapel of which she was member. She was equally eager to receive news from Abbots Langley of family, friends and chapel. The letters also give a glimpse into the lives of people in the village of Abbots Langley during the same period.
Sadly, Annie had a heart attack in August 1938 when she was visiting Point Reyes in California and died; so she never did give the talks on her visit to Canada and America. However her daughter Marion used the material her mother had provided to give numerous amusing and interesting talks for the next 30 years.
A book of her letters, edited, annotated and published by Roger and David Flint, two of her grandsons, is now available. It consists of 290 pages of text, with illustrations, photographs, maps, family trees and appendices. To order a copy, please send a cheque/PO (£ sterling) payable to David Flint for £16.00 (includes p&p in the UK/overseas surface mail) or £20.00 (includes p&p overseas air mail) to: 30 Barn Lane, Oakley, Basingstoke, Hants. RG23 7HT. Please include your name and address (and please mention this web site).