A BANBURY collector has reunited two 19th century schoolbooks with the family of their Victorian owners following a more than thirty year search.

Lesley Handley, 64, was browsing a book stall in Finlere, Buckinghamshire in the early 1980s when she came across the pair of geography volumes, dated to 1881.

She was fascinated by the delicate pencil drawings and homework exercises within the pages, which were inscribed with the names Ada, Lucy, Ethel and Lily Dobel.

She said: “We have enjoyed the books and have kept them in good condition, but always wanted to locate the descendants because these books shed a lovely light on the personal lives of the girls at that time.

“I’ve never felt as though they were mine, it was as if I was just a custodian until I could return them to their rightful owner.”

“I know it sounds silly but I used to speak to the drawing of the four little girls and tell them, ‘there must be somebody out there you belong to’.”

Ms Handley scoured census records for decades to try to find the family but was only able to discover the girls’ father was a vicar.

She was inspired to seek outside help after watching an episode of BBC’s Heir Hunters, in which Finders International, a specialist probate genealogist firm based in London, Edinburgh and Dublin, track down the distant relatives of those who have died without a will.

She said: “I called them up and they agreed to take on the case.

“It took them just one day to find a living relative, I couldn’t believe it.

"Since then they’ve found three.”

Finders founder Danny Curran and his team of researchers located descendants of Lucy Dobel, one of the little girls from the books.

Enid Margaret, the daughter of Lucy, was born in Lewisham, first married Thomas Maddock in Aylesbury Buckinghamshire, and married her second husband Brian H Newton in 1948 in Hertfordshire.

Ms Handley travelled to meet David Newton, Lucy Dobel’s grandson, to present the volumes to the family in Tring, Hertfordshire, on Tuesday.

Mr Newton remembered his grandmother fondly and said: "My earliest memory of 'Gan' was of a friendly lady in a dark blue dress sitting by her fireside with two cats asleep upon her.

"This would be when I was about six or seven years old.

“She was of a comfortable granny shape. I was in the lucky position of having a granny living on either side of us, so I would doubtless have been very spoilt.”

“Gan did not drive when I knew her, but went everywhere on her tricycle.

"It was possibly a former baker’s bike as it had two large wheels on the front.

“Her eyesight was not very good towards the end, so she used to navigate by riding on the white line in the middle of the road.

"There was less traffic in those days."

Ms Handley said: “I’ve always been fascinated by books and the messages people leave inside them. I don’t think those four little girls would ever have imagined that all these years later their drawings would be used in this way.

“Hopefully now the books can be passed on to the next generation and stay in the family.”