Getting to know you

Deciding that it was high time I turned my attention to the correct storage of my old books, papers and artefacts, I recently ordered myself a nice big archival storage box and some acid free tissue paper.

I have had in my possession for some time some old books of my Granny’s, such as her illustrated Bible, a copy of On The Imitation of Christ, and various notebooks where she recorded notes from sermons. I have carefully extracted these from the drawer where they have lived for many years, wrapped them in tissue paper, labelled them and placed them in the new box.

One book which I had completely forgotten I had is a small (4” x 3”) book entitled ‘The Keepsake Scripture Text Book’, which had belonged to my Granny’s brother, Uncle Bert Mitchell. Unfortunately I cannot now remember how I come to have this little book, but it is quite possible that it was given to me after the death of his daughter Mary.  Inside the front cover is inscribed “Albert Mitchell – a present from his loving sister Carrie”.  There is no date, but the writing is certainly that of a child.  The book cost 1 shilling.  On each double-page spread through the book there are Bible verses one one side and dates through the year on the other – three to a page.  Uncle Bert used this book primarily as a Birthday Book, but also recorded the dates of family deaths and weddings.  It seems to have been used by him throughout his lifetime:  the earliest date is a death in 1897 and the latest a birth in 1962.  Some of the later entries are, I am sure, written in a different hand, possibly that of my Aunty Mary.  Since Bert was born in 1892 I suspect that the 1897 death was entered in retrospect, but there are a number around 1903/4, so he may well have been given this book around the age of 10 or 11.

The Keepsake Scripture Text Book

In addition to the family events it is interesting to see what else is recorded. There are names of the local gentry and clergy (eg the birthday of Miss Joan Burrell, daughter of Sir Merrick Burrell of West Grinstead).  Other names may be neighbours or friends from the area (Miss Parvin, Mrs Blotting, Mr A Mason, Miss Bacon) and others may be schoolfriends (Willie Myram, Tommy Botting).  When I have nothing better to do, it would be really interesting to try to find some of these names on a census and establish who they might be.

However, other entries record ‘Jan 18 Knepp Castle burnt down 1904’, ‘March 10 King’s Wedding day’, ‘May 22 York Minster 1926’, ‘Aug 4 European War 1914’, ‘Sept 3 II World War 1939’. It is fascinating to see what is included.

Some entries are tantalising: ‘April 15 Uncle Amos died 1900’.  Amos?  Doesn’t ring a bell.  I go to my Mitchell tree on Ancestry, but no Amos. Ok, so which other family?  I try the Philpott tree – yes, there he is, Amos Sayers born 1842, an uncle of Bert’s mother’s, and therefore his great-uncle.  Bert’s maternal grandmother was Eliza Sayers.  This discovery leads me on an interesting path of discovery.  I knew that Amos was born in Ifield, Sussex, near Crawley.  I found him there in the 1851 and 1861 censuses (‘son’ and ‘watchmaker – servant’) before his marriage in 1868.  Subsequently he appears on the 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses, all in Ifield, where his occupation is given as ‘post messenger’, ‘post messenger and watchmaker’, and ‘postman’ respectively.  It looks as though he may have served an apprenticeship as a watchmaker and then continued to practise that trade whilst also earning a wage as a postman latterly.  I haven’t found his burial, but the Probate calendar confirms his date of death as 15 April 1900.

Entry for Uncle Amos

What I find quite interesting is that a number of Sayers names appear in the book, which indicates to me that these were uncles, aunts and cousins of Bert’s mother’s with whom she stayed in touch. I already knew that the extensive Mitchell family kept in close contact, despite emigrations to the USA and Canada, but now I know that the this was also true of the Sayers family.  I feel that through this lovely little book I am getting to know my Granny’s family and the relationships that were important to them.

I also realise that I have a lot of blanks to fill in on the Sayers tree, so that might be a nice little winter project….when I’m not looking up all those other friends and neighbours from the book….


Sir Hugh Shot

I’ve just been given some rather important documents (for me, at least).

I have very gratefully inherited an old suitcase containing the diaries that my Granny kept between 1937 and her death in 1984. I have known of their existence for very many years and have been anxious for their preservation, but a few weeks ago the time became right for them to pass to me.

Since starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start, I have begun transcribing the diary for 1937. Most entries primarily describe daily and weekly domestic life:  shopping, washing, mending, children being fetched from school, spring cleaning, going to Church, meeting friends, Sunday afternoon walks.  Every day without fail starts with a weather report.  Two things have struck me so far above all – the distances that the family regularly walked (including children of 7 and 9 years) and the frequency of letters and postcards being sent to and received from family and friends.  Communication and keeping in touch with loved ones was obviously very important and the means of doing this very different from the hastily written Text and WhatsApp messages that I tend to send and receive!  I am finding out a great deal about what was important to my grandparents and I feel that I am getting to know them afresh.

Very very occasionally there is a reference in the diary to something of wider or national importance. One such instance caught my attention recently, at the very end of the entry for Thursday 26 August. Granny and family were staying with her brother in Guildford, and they had a day trip down to Southsea by bus.  “Warm but very misty. Left Bellfields 9am for Southsea.  Lovely ride thro’ Godalming, Hindhead, Grayshott, Horndean etc arriving at 11.15am.  Had lunch on the Beach.  Children paddled, then walked along to South Pier.  B & B rode in miniature Train”. And then unexpectedly at the end “Sir Hugh shot”.

Sir Hugh? Shot?  What was this all about then?  Hurrah for Google.  I put in the date and ‘Sir Hugh Shot’ and was rewarded by a number of items revealing that this was Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, Ambassador to China, who was seriously injured by machine gun fire from a Japanese plane which targetted the car in which he was travelling to Shanghai.  And if you regularly read my blogs you will recognise the surname!  Sir Hughe was the second son of Reverend Reginald Bridges Knatchbull-Hugessen, Vicar of West Grinstead from 1889 to 1908. Hughe was just two years older than Granny, so doubtless she remembered seeing him at Church when they were young, even if he did then go off to be educated at Eton.

How did Granny learn of this occurrence? From a newspaper?  From a letter from family in Sussex?  I don’t know.  But it would appear that the Knatchbull-Hugessen family were held in some esteem for that entry to have appeared in the diary.

Diary entry 26 Aug 1937

The postscript to this is that I had related the finding to my Mum, who has been shedding light on some of the people and places which appear in the diary. When we visited her last weekend, she proudly produced a newspaper cutting found within an old book of poetry.  The cutting is an obituary of Sir Hughe, with the date 21 March 1971 handwritten at the top – the date of his death.

Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen
Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen obituary