The Calgary Barkers from East Anglia – through the rear view mirror

East Anglia.  So near to London and yet a whole different world.  Farmland stretching for miles. Fields and roads lined with ageless trees, deep green juxtaposed against the golden crops ready for harvest.


East Anglia.  Endless charming villages with charming names tripping back in time.


East Anglia…. miles of secret winding single-track roads leading from one vista to another.


East Anglia…. so lovely, I wondered why my relatives had ever left.


As a Barker, daughter of Donald in Calgary, my siblings and I knew that our Great Grandfather Jesse came to Canada from England, bringing our Grandfather Will as a young boy. But I can’t say I knew much more than that. However, following our Uncle Allan’s lead, we did some digging – made relatively easy by online genealogy sites like and . My sister Val took it one step further and made a short exploratory visit to the places with exotic names:   East Anglia, Suffolk, Occold and Eye, Thorndon and Wickham Skeith in England.


Without really meaning to, I discovered I was mere minutes from these places this summer when I arrived at the country home of wonderful friends near Debenham. So I dug out my sister’s email message from years ago and set off in the car.

Only two or three turns down country lanes, and I was standing in front of the gravestones of my Great Great Grandfather Thomas Barker and his wife Eliza in the graveyard of All Saints Church in Thorndon. I found myself tingling and giddy, standing where my family had stood four and five generations ago.


Thomas Barker was the son of Sophia Barker and Thomas Lambert. Sophia Barker gave birth to Thomas in 1829 in Aylsham, Norfolk County, and 6 weeks later, married Thomas Lambert. They had six more children. Thomas Barker was part of this family and, in his early years, went by the name Lambert. They lived at Castle Hill, which is now part of the large village of Eye, possibly in this house.


Thomas Lambert, his stepfather, and perhaps his biological father, was the Inn Keeper at “The Black Horse” in Occold and later head foreman at Occold Hall in the mid-to-late 1800’s.   Amazingly, the Black Horse pub is still functioning – even thriving with a great carvery lunch.  I am still pleased to think my GGF stoked that fireplace on cold nights.


Thomas Lambert Barker married Eliza Davey from Wickham Skeith in 1849, and at the time of their son Jesse’s birth in 1858, he was listed as Thomas “Barker”. Thomas and Eliza had 15 children, and our Great Grandfather Jesse Barker was the fifth. Eliza died in 1896 and Thomas in 1917, and it was their gravestones we had located. My sister first found both headstones at the All Saints Church in Thorndon, but the couple was mysteriously buried as “Lambert” and Eliza’s stone was propped against Thomas’s. Val took a photo of our Great Great Grandfather Thomas (Lambert) Barker’s stone with one hand while balancing Eliza’s stone on her knees. I found the stone too heavy to move.

A look inside the church revealed a second mystery. Prominent in the floor of the aisle is the black gravestone of John Barker, who died in 1714, and his wife Susan.  Apparently, the term “Gent” denotes Gentleman, a person of good reputation. I haven’t yet found a direct connection to our ancestry.

Actual records take us back to James Barker, born in Thwaite, 1775. James, son of Daniel Barker and Mary Clarke, married Sarah Smith in 1799, and their fourth child, Sophia Barker, born in 1809, was the mother of my Great Great Grandfather Thomas Lambert Barker. The father of James Barker was Daniel Barker, born in Wickham Skeith in 1748, and married to Mary Clarke in Thwaite Suffolk, who had two sons and died in 1815. So I am missing approximately 3 generations to link Daniel Barker to John Barker who had died exactly 100 years before. I will see what I find.


Going forward, then, Great Grandfather Jesse Barker, son of Thomas and Eliza (Davey) Barker was born January 30, 1858 in Wickham Skeith in County Suffolk, the 5th of 15 children of Thomas and Eliza (a long list that I hope to follow up on, as some came to Canada, some to the US, and some to Australia). Jesse married Emma Smith in Occold, on Dec. 25, 1877. She was from Coddenham, Suffolk, daughter of Benjamin Smith, a veterinary surgeon. Jesse was an agricultural laborer and games keeper; Emma was a bit older and a spinster/domestic servant. Jesse and Emma had 5 children: Will (our Grandfather Barker) born Jan. 21, 1879 in Occold; twins Mark and Ruth born Nov. 23, 1881, in Occold; Bessie born 1884 and Benjamin, born 1889, both in Kingston Township, Ontario, Canada.


Jesse BarkerOn September 2, 1883, Jesse and Emma with children Will, Mark and Ruth sailed from Liverpool aboard SS Parisian arriving at the Port of Quebec on 29 September 1883. They settled first on Wolfe Island in the St. Lawrence River just outside the mouth of Kingston Harbour.

In 1900, Jesse and his sons, Will and Mark, filed homestead claims near Calgary. That homestead is still in the Barker family, 118 years later, farmed by Will and his son Donald – my Dad.  Maybe unsurprisingly, the farmland in Alberta looked a lot like what they’d left behind in East Anglia!


Jesse’s obituary in The Calgary Herald on 16 Jan 1917 reads: “Well Known Farmer of District is Dead. Jesse Barker Found in Bed This Morning with Life Extinct. Jesse Barker, a well-known rancher who has lived on his farm eight miles east of Calgary for the past sixteen years, died suddenly in his bed last night. The remains have been removed to Calgary, and now lie at Shaver’s undertaking establishment awaiting the instructions of the relations of the deceased. Mr. Barker was 59 years of age. About two years ago he was injured in a runaway accident, and never fully recovered. Yesterday afternoon he came in from work about 4 o’clock and lay down, retiring later. He was alone in the house except for the presence of a lad of about twelve years. When he did not arise this morning the boy went to awaken him about 10 o’clock, and found him dead…”Dad and Barkers Will Barker, my Grandfather, married Anna Mabel Belyea in 1812 in Dalemead, Alberta. They farmed on the outskirts of what became the city of Calgary, in the community of Chestermere Lake. They had 4 children, Dorothy, Alan, Gordon, and Donald, who was my father. Donald Calvin Barker married my mom, Doris Brown and they hbefore Pamad four Barker children: Roy, Kathryn (me), Valerie and Pam. Roy’s son, the last male heir to carry the Barker name, tragically died in an avalanche while skiing, and so ends that link for the Calgary Barkers of East Anglia.   BUT there are still Barker women to carry the name, as did Sophia Barker.



And still, beautiful East Anglia has called us back.