Nine teachers and a funeral

Today I went to the funeral of one of my best teachers.  She taught me History to O Level, back in the mid seventies.  I realise now that she was only in her early thirties when she was teaching us, but all teachers seemed old to us then as teenagers.  I wonder what it was that made her a good teacher?

Looking back, it was not the teachers who tried to be ‘cool’ (as we might say nowadays), nor the teachers who were unfairly harsh, but those who were firm whilst also displaying humanity and, crucially, those who possessed the ability to inspire us.

I enjoyed her History lessons particularly when we were able to draw her away from Peel’s Repeal of the Corn Laws (or whatever topic we were on) to topics of wider interest.  She seemed happy to do this from time to time, which I think revealed her interest in education in the broadest sense.  So often this seems lacking in today’s classrooms, through no fault of the teachers, when the curriculum and the time in which to teach it is so tight.

It was certainly a strange experience to be at a funeral which was also attended by nine other teachers, among them the most inspirational teachers I have had.  I am grateful to all of them for widening my vision and experience of language, literature, music and, of course, history.  At the time I found learning about Gladstone, Disraeli and acts of Parliament immensely boring, but now, as a family historian, I can see the impact that government policies had on my ordinary ag lab ancestors of the mid nineteenth century.

By all accounts Mr William Corbett, headteacher of Jolesfield School 1899 – 1910, was forward-thinking (see last week’s blog post).  I hope he was an inspiration to my grandmother while she attended that school.

Strangely, the last time I saw my history teacher was at a local Family History Society meeting.  Thank you, Miss Easterling, for inspiring me.

Robert Peel
Robert Peel

Sliding on the ponds

Our annual trip south to get a vehicle serviced provides an ideal opportunity for a visit to West Sussex Record Office in Chichester.  After a good six months thinking about Norfolk and the George family it was time to get my head round all my Sussex ancestors once more.

It was this time last year that I started looking at some school log books, so I was eager to order these up again.  They give such a fascinating insight into the social history of the time.  I started with the log book for Dial Post school, which my Granny attended from 1896 following the family’s move from Shipley to West Grinstead.

In reading through, you realise the importance of the local gentry in village society: “14 October 1898.  A half holiday given on Thursday afternoon to allow the teachers to attend a fete at Knepp Castle to commemorate the coming of age of Mr M Burrell.”  (This was Sir Merrick Burrell, Baronet, who was born in 1877).  “28 June 1901. A half holiday on Thursday on account of the fete on Knepp Lawn”.

You also realise the impact of the weather on school attendance in the days when all children had to walk to school – often quite a distance.  “16 February 1900.  The attendance this week has been very poor owing to the very bad, wet and snowy weather”.  “28 September 1900.  From now the school will be closed at half past three to allow those who live a long way off to get home before dark”.

National events also had an impact:  “25 May 1900.  A holiday given on Monday to commemorate the relief of Mafeking”.

Sickness of the pupils is a recurrent theme and must have had a major impact on learning:  “25 September 1901. Owing to another outbreak of measles the Attendance Officer has visited today and closed the school for three weeks.”

We know that in autumn 1901 Granny moved to Jolesfield School apparently because of her mother’s concern about the recurrent outbreaks of measles at Dial Post.  Although the Jolesfield Log Book has more detailed entries and gives the impression of more going on, that school, too,  also experienced issues of sickness and bad weather affecting attendance.  “24 January 1902. The work this week has been greatly interfered with.  Many children all away ill some are sickening.  Measles, whooping cough and mumps all prevalent”.

As at Dial Post school, the local clergy and their wives were frequent visitors:  “29 January 1902.  Revd and Mrs Knatchbull Hugessen visited the school”.  “27 February 1902. Mrs Hugessen visited the school and stayed during first class recitation lesson.  She was pleased with what she heard”.  “12 March 1902. Miss V Hugessen visited during needlework lesson”.  Then on 19 June 1902 it was Miss Hugessen’s Wedding Day and the children were given a half holiday for the occasion. [Looking at the census returns subsequently, I saw that there were a number of daughters in the Rectory family.  Miss V Hugessen was not the one marrying on this occasion].

The Bible presented to Granny by Miss Violet Knatchbull-Hugessen in 1904

The influence of the Church can also be seen in holidays for Ash Wednesday and Ascension Day and choir and Sunday School outings.

June 1902 saw the end of the Boer War:  “2 June.  Children assembled.  Rev P W Shirley briefly addressed them.  They then sang the National Anthem and were given a whole day’s holiday in honour of the Declaration of Peace”.

Health and Safety was obviously not what it is now!  Apparently there were no minimum working temperatures:  “5 December 1902. This week has been very cold.  Several children could not write very well owing to their hands being numbed”.  PE lessons were referred to as ‘drill’, and I was amused to read the entry for 16 January 1903: “during Drill time the children this week have been allowed to go on the ponds to slide just opposite the school”.  I wonder whether the teachers tested the thickness of the ice first?  By this time Granny had left the school in order to help her mother at home, but maybe she was still able to go sliding on a nearby pond!

St James Park Frozen (1)
Nineteenth century skaters in St James Park

Labouring under temporary insanity

While searching the British Newspaper Archive for relevant family members in West Grinstead and Shipley I happened upon a report of the inquest of the death of one Edward Freeman in December 1841.

Edward Freeman
Sussex Advertiser – Monday 13 December 1841. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Now this name rang bells with me.  I realised that he had witnessed the marriage of my great great grandparents Caroline Osborne and Thomas Mitchell.  He also witnessed the second marriage of her older brother Caleb.  Their younger sister Sarah Anne married a John Freeman in 1845, so I wondered whether there was a connection there.

Now Caleb, Caroline and Sarah Anne’s father was also called Caleb and was a cordwainer by trade.  According to the newspaper report Edward Freeman was also a cordwainer, and the 1841 census reveals that he lived near the Burrell Arms in West Grinstead.

It’s a sad report.  It seems that he was “subect to excessive hypochondriac attacks”.  Perhaps today he might have been diagnosed with depression.  We glean some information about his working and living situation:  he had a ‘shop’, employed a journeyman, and had a wood house with a loft over it.  His wife (who it turns out was Ann, née Harris) had gone out for the day to work, but their teenage son William was  at home.  Edward was found “hanging by a cord to a rafter” in the aforementioned loft.  The verdict returned was that he “deprived himself of his existence whilst labouring under temporary insanity”.

Coincidentally I had been listening to a podcast on The National Archives site on Coroners’ Inquests – a talk given by Kathy Chater in 2012.  These podcasts are worth dipping into for useful background information .  Kathy asserts that the local paper is often the best and fullest source of information arising from an inquest, and I think this report is a good example of that.  She points out that a verdict of intentional suicide would mean the deceased could not be buried in consecrated ground, so here the verdict of “temporary insanity” is important.  A quick check of the West Grinstead burials on the Sussex Family History Group website reveals that Edward was indeed buried in the churchyard, four days after the inquest.

Further delving on the SFHG website reveals Edward Freeman’s baptism in West Grinstead in 1789 and the baptisms of his children Elizabeth, William and Edward.  Unfortunately it would seem that the John Freeman who married Sarah Anne was unrelated, having come from Thakeham.

But there is more:  on looking through the marriages on my West Grinstead CD (Sussex Parish Register Transcripts) I discover that Edward Freeman was some sort of professional witnesser of marriages.  From 1820 he was witnessing every other West Grinstead marriage, it seems.  Perhaps he was paid to act in this capacity.  The last marriage he witnessed was just under a month before his death.

How sad, that someone who was witness to so much joy in other people’s lives should have suffered so much that he took his own life.

More of Picturesque Sussex

One of the reasons for buying ‘Picturesque Sussex’ (see first installment on 19 Dec) was because it mentions West Grinstead in its grand tour of the county.

West Grinstead was where my Granny grew up and was married and where several generations of Mitchells before her had lived and died.  Certainly at least three generations had been employed at West Grinstead Park:  James Mitchell was some sort of  ‘caretaker’ during the first half of the nineteenth century, Thomas Mitchell was woodman on the estate around 1860 – 1880, and my great grandfather William Mitchell was a ‘houseman’ from the 1880s onwards, one of whose duties was apparently to “raise and lower the flag”.  In fact I have an old postcard of the house which says on the back “Dad standing on tower about to take flag down”.

West Grinstead
West Grinstead Park

West Grinstead Park House was unfortunately demolished in 1964, but the Park itself still exists, and Steyning Lodge, where my Granny lived, is still there.

West Grinstead
Steyning Lodge, West Grinstead

‘Picturesque Sussex’ describes West Grinstead as “a large village surrounded by copses and meadow-land”.  Apparently the Park was famous for ‘Pope’s Oak’ – a reference to Alexander Pope, a friend of one-time owner John Caryll.  It is believed that he wrote ‘Rape of the Lock’ while staying at West Grinstead Park in 1712.  However, the entry for West Grinstead in the Victoria County History claims that “there is no evidence that the incident which gave rise to the poem occurred at West Grinstead,  nor that the poem was composed under the oak tree in West Grinstead park which was made the subject of a tree preservation order in 1951”.

The book also refers to the ruins of Knepp Castle, within the parish of Shipley, which can still be seen from the public footpath on the west side of the A24.  It goes on to say that King John stayed there several times.  ‘Picturesque Sussex’ then mentions the ‘new mansion’ (built around 1809) which suffered a ‘disastrous fire’ in 1904.  What it does not mention,  is that the house was rebuilt the following year.  I know this from one of the old postcards in my possession that have been kept within the family.  My 3 x great grandfather Francis Philoptt lived at Knepp Mill around 1861 – 1871 and would have known the ‘new mansion’ in its prime.

Knepp Castle
Rebuilding Knepp Castle Jan 18th 1905
Knepp Castle
The Lake Knepp Castle

‘Picturesque Sussex’ is giving me new glimpses into notable features of the county just over a hundred years ago.

Christmas Present

Christmas tree

No, not as in ‘gift’, but as in ‘Christmas 2015’!

Family gatherings over Christmas are certainly a great opportunity to expand one’s family history knowledge.  We heard recently that turkey was not commonly consumed at Christmas-time until the 1950s, so I was curious to know what my parents might have eaten at Christmas when they were young.   Boxing Day was a great time to ask them.  Mum seemed to think they might have eaten chicken.  What we did not appreciate until she explained was that chicken was a treat.  The more common meat to be eaten year-round was beef and lamb, whereas for us it is those that are more of a treat being more expensive.

Moving on from food, Dad then regaled us with tales from his first job, working in the drawing office at Vokes during the war years.  In these days of health and safety and minimum working temperatures it’s hard to imagine having to work in your coat with no fire allowed!

This week it was time to quiz my husband’s side of the family.  I mentioned the S Combridge who had published the Picturesque Sussex that I blogged about the other week.  Ah yes!   He was known about and there might even be an address in Hove forthcoming that we could look up on a future visit.  The Combridge Indian connection was also explained.  And then it transpires, somewhat more surprisingly, that the South African Musketts who we found (or did they find us?) via social media have met my in-laws and are in postal contact!

Out came the family tree (which is vast – good thing a large table was to hand) and we were shown which were the branch that went to South Africa, which were the ones that went to Canada (the Clippesby connection) and which lot went to Australia (descended from ‘bad William’ who got transported!).

Muskett family tree
Muskett family tree

Yes, I know:  I really should have seen these coming and got some sort of recording device ready.

New Year’s resolution:  get it all written down!  And if ‘all’ sounds somewhat unattainable, then perhaps something that is achievable is to finish my write-up of the George family.

Oh and there were family history-related Christmas presents too – binders for my Family Tree magazines and ‘Tracing your East Anglian Ancestors’!

Happy New Year!