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Simply, the Bests

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In the first of a new series tracing the roots of local people in the public eye, Rob Batiste looks at the Best family history – and explores its links with Dylan Thomas.

Catherine Best with her mother, Maggie. (Picture by Daniel Guerin, 0573999)

ONE look at the family tree and Cathy Best is quick to notice a pattern.

'Butcher, baker, farmer, jeweller. All we need is the candlestick maker.' And she laughs.

We are in her mum's kitchen and Cathy – full name Catherine Elizabeth, born at the PEH on 6 January 1966 – is joined by mother Maggie and aunt Gill to mull over the online digging of the genealogy team.

There is no shortage of laughs.

The Bests obviously like a giggle, although the smiles are briefly replaced by a frown and clear disappointment at the news that the long-held family belief of a direct link with the famous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas cannot be proved.

That there was some sort of association with Cathy's descendants and the wild man of Welsh poets is not in doubt.

The link comes via Cathy's maternal family, the Rightons.

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Margaret Ann Righton, Cathy's mother, is the elder of two girls born to Percy, born in Swansea on the first day of August 1900, and Edith May Sebire.

'He came on a ship to St Sampson's and met mum,' recalls the widow of Colin Best.

The wedding certificate displays Percy, then aged 35 and eight years Edith's senior, as a traveller. And being in the navy, he certainly was that.

His father was William John Righton, born around 1863 in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, and by the turn of the century listed in the census as a ship-store agent living in Swansea.

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It is known his partner was Annie Thomas, who may or may not be the link with the acclaimed but self-destructing poet.

'Maybe he wasn't a relative but we were always led to believe he was,' said Gill Spencer, Cathy's aunt, who can recall her grandmother, the unmarried Annie Thomas, being disgusted by some of Dylan's behaviour.

The Righton-Thomas home was in the Sketty area of Swansea.

Semi-detached, it was where the girls visited on holiday from Guernsey and were led to believe the poet stayed with William and Annie.

'She definitely had Dylan living with them,' said Gill.

The Righton link can be traced to John Righton and the late 18th century.

He married Elizabeth Cabble, who had four children between 1806 and 1816, all born in Trowbridge.

The most talented was the youngest, Samuel, an organist and professor of music.

So while one side of Cathy's family can be traced back to Wiltshireman John Cabble, born in 1776, the paternal tree goes back to nearby Somerset and the marriage of Samuel Best to Elizabeth White at Kingsbury Episcopi on Christmas Eve 1776.

Thereafter the Bests come thick and fast down the generational branches.

Samuel and Elizabeth had seven children, all born in Kingsbury Episcopi.

Samuel jnr, born 1779, was the second eldest child and 27 years later he married Mary Deane in his home village, where he worked as a butcher.

Whether he was the first of the Best butchers, a family trade that was to continue for two centuries, is unclear.

What is certain is that the eldest of their four children, a third Samuel Best, was the first to make the move to the Channel Islands.

Samuel married Anna Gifford in 1836 in Somerset and arrived in Guernsey about 1849.

What brought them here is not clear but by 1850 Samuel and Anna are known to have been living at Ivy Castle off the Bouet, at which time Best was earning his trade at the meat market, one of a remarkable 41 butchers in the building.

Best was one of six who had a stall in the Leadenhall, or French Halles, his name topping the list in an almanac of island life of the period that can be found at the Priaulx Library.

By 1861 Samuel and Anna had set up home at Les Vauxbelets Farm, where he was farming some 34 acres in addition to running his butchery business.

By 1881 Samuel Best was at Sunny Side in St Peter's Valley, between Ruettes Brayes and Colborne Road, where he was farming 60 acres of land.

He was then 65 and with Anna had 12 children, the last five being born in the island.

Robert Best was fourth in line.

Born in 1842, at 27 he married Betsy Blondel, daughter of Thomas Blondel and Rachel Bailleul Priaulx.

In 1871 Thomas was described as a brick manufacturer and farmer of 24 acres, living at the Brickfield.

He was by then a widower and the young Robert and Betsy were living with her father, Robert helping with the business.

They had a total of five children, including eldest son Ernest Albert Best who continued the Brickfield business.

The Best empire had expanded during the late 19th century.

Robert Best had shares in a couple of vessels – the ICU, owned by eight of the island butchers, and another, the Intrepid.

They also secured the lease for Lihou Island.

In 1901, Ernest Albert's cousin, also Ernest Albert, was farming in Brecqhou.

In early 1919, tragedy struck the large Best clan.

Ernest Albert, who was to father eight children, including

His trouser leg was caught in the flange of the wheel and he was thrown head first over the top into the path of his own heavy machine.

Seeing the fall, a witness rushed to the tractor and turned the engine off, a front wheel coming to rest on the farmer's chest.

The inquest concluded he had died from suffocation – there were no broken bones and only a bruise to the chest – and that his death must have been instantaneous as his cigarette was still between his lips.

It took a jack to free his body but any suggestion that the timing of the engine shutdown had contributed to his death was knocked back by the inquest.

Had it not been the small wheel that killed him as he lay in a furrow, the bigger back wheel would have surely gone over his face.

HM Procureur told the inquest that Mr Best had been 'an enterprising man who never lost a minute of the day'.

Of course, the entrepreneurial spirit of those early Bests has continued right through to the current generation and Cathy herself.

Freddie Best was the second eldest child of the unfortunate Ernest Albert and was a famous and popular face in mid-20th century Guernsey.

The butchery was a major success and he was to marry into another important line of food – bread making.

Marjory Edith Waymouth was the daughter of Richard Waymouth and Edith Noel, who were to operate L'Islet bakery up until and through the Occupation.

The Bests were to open a small butchery next to the bakery for a period and later moved along Les Tracheries to the building where today stands Freedom Surf Shop.

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