Marmalade sandwich, anyone?

Along with countless others up and down the country, no doubt, we thoroughly enjoyed the Paddington 2 film.  As a child I loved the Michael Bond books and Paddington’s fondness for marmalade sandwiches,  though there was never marmalade-making on the scale seen in the prison kitchen in this latest film!

I have to admit that I have never made ‘proper’ marmalade – that is, chopping up Seville oranges and making it from scratch.  But I do enjoy the convenience of using the large tins of prepared fruit to make a batch every now and then.  It’s nice, but not quite as nice as my Mum’s home-made marmalade (“there’s nothing quite like Granny’s marmalade”, as my daughter put it the other day).

So January has come around and with it the Seville oranges on the market stalls.    Mum duly went off to buy some, but needed us to buy the jam sugar, which her local Co-op doesn’t stock.  I spoke to her on the phone earlier and I gather that she has already chopped the fruit and tomorrow’s project will be making the marmalade.  She doesn’t consume a huge amount herself, but it’s great that she still has the energy to continue making it, as her mother did before her.

In Granny’s 1937 diary the marmalade-making in Croydon seems to go on for days and days!  It started on Monday 18th:  “cut up oranges in the evening”.  The following day:  “made marmalade and cut up more oranges evening”.  Wednesday 20th:  “Dull and cold.  Made marmalade”.  Thursday 21st:  “cutting up oranges after tea”.  Friday 22nd:  “making marmalade and cakes morning…cut up more oranges after tea”.  Saturday 23rd:  “made marmalade”.  And then a two-day respite before Tuesday 26th:  “Did ironing, sitting room and shopping.  Cut up more oranges in evening”, and finally Wednesday 27th:  “very cold east wind.  Made marmalade”.  Phew!  I wonder how many jars she made and how long that lasted her family?  The 1938 diary, which I have just started transcribing, describes the marmalade-making in a similar vein and at much the same time.  Seville oranges are only available to buy in this country for a very short time, but apparently you can freeze them whole quite successfully, which would enable you to make marmalade at any time.

I suppose having risen to the challenge and successfully made my own Christmas cake for the first time there may well come a time when I might try my hand at ‘proper’ marmalade-making.  I think I should at some point…I might just need a week off work to do so!

Marmalade sandwich, anyone?

Orange tree in Cordoba, Spain
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Seeing the old year out

I was intrigued by the entry in Granny’s diary for 31 December 1937:  “Alf and I saw the old year out.”  Intrigued, because these days we tend to talk about ‘seeing the New Year in’ rather than the ‘old year out’.

The turning of the year, however, has been celebrated since early times, with gifts being exchanged at New Year rather than at Christmas up until the nineteenth century.  In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the whole twelve days of Christmas (finishing on 6th January – Epiphany) were important, whereas today 6th January is fairly insignificant in this country, although in other countries the 6th January is the main day for the exchange of presents, mirroring the bringing of gifts by the Wise Men.  Although superstition has it that you must take your decorations down on or before 6th January, it seems that many people have done so a long time before that and seem to think you odd if you wish them a ‘happy Christmas’ after the 25th December!

Mum was recalling going to a New Year’s Eve function with my Dad at The Parrot pub in Guildford, possibly just before they were married.  Dad had a little Bubble Car in those days and she remembers it was very frosty when they came out.  Often we have either been to friends or had friends and family to us on New Year’s Eve.  At Christmas we were remembering the Millenium, just before my niece was born.  The long evening had all got a bit much for our 5 year old:  we woke her up at midnight so that she could see in the new millenium, but I’m not sure that she thought much of that idea at the time!

Unusually, this year we decided not to either see the old year out or the new year in, but we did enjoy the company of good friends who came to us for lunch on New Year’s Day, after we had watched the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna on the TV.  On the 1st January 1938 my grandparents also enjoyed the company of friends:  “Mary and Jack came to tea 5.30 and spent a jolly evening.  Rings and cribbage.  Left 11.45.”

I was curious to know how my grandparents spent New Year in other years, so decided to open a few more diaries.  At the end of 1938 I read  “Mary and Jack came to tea and saw the old year out with us”.  By that time the following year Britain was at war.  My Granny, Mum and Aunt stayed on in Cowfold following their summer holiday there, but returned to Croydon to spend Christmas.   “Saw the old year out together”.  By the end of 1941 the family had moved to Guildford, after the bombing became too much in Croydon.   “Alf and I sat up and saw old year out”.

I then picked up the 1975 diary.  Now aged 87, my Granny had been a widow for almost 3 years and earlier that year had had an operation to remove a cataract from one eye, which was not the routine procedure that it is nowadays.  I have to say that the entry for 31 December in this year brought a tear to my eye: “I left [Betty’s house] after a very happy Christmas holiday, with a thankful heart for all this past year had brought me…  Sat in my dressing gown and listened to a watch-night service, from Kingsbury London, and so saw the old year out and the new year in.  Thanks be to God”.

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!

 

 

Christmas Past, Christmas Present

A few weeks ago we travelled up to London to visit a museum I had never come across before: the Geffrye Museum.  Reading about it in Family Tree magazine inspired me to visit, especially since it is closing in the new year for a substantial refurbishment.

The Geffrye is housed in Eighteenth century almshouses in Hoxton and is wonderful for a social historian, depicting as it does the changing styles of home interiors through a series of period room from the 16th to the 21st centuries.

The Geffrye Museum

Currently they have a ‘Christmas Past, Christmas Present’ exhibition running through the rooms. We were fascinated by the decorations used and the type of foods consumed.

Twelfth night scarcely features on a modern calendar, except for the few who go wassailing and perform mummer’s plays. But in former times it had a greater prominence and I was interested to read of ‘Twelfth cake’ – a fruit cake made with yeast.  Originally this contained a dried bean or pea and the person finding it was then elected King or Queen of the night.  I quite fancy making a Twelfth Cake, but I think I might omit the dried bean!

Moving on to rooms from the nineteenth century, items of furniture became reminiscent of those in grandparents’ houses and the increasing popularity of the Christmas tree also became evident. Mum still has a tree decoration which her mother remembered being on their tree during her childhood in the 1890s.  Mum was talking about Christmas trees the other day:  during the second world war they did not have a tree and in the subsequent few years, when the family were sharing a house, there was no space for one.  It was not until they were able to move to their own home when Mum was in her late teens that they were finally able to have a Christmas tree.

1870 period room

Despite the increased popularity of sending Christmas greetings by email, Messenger or WhatsApp, I don’t think we have received fewer cards in the post this year. The custom of sending cards dates from the 1860s and it’s certainly a tradition I’m keen to maintain.  Reading my Granny’s 1937 diary I am surprised how last minute the Christmas preparations were:  cards were being sent out only a couple of days before Christmas.  “Wednesday 22nd December – busy day writing and doing up packets, then to Waddon Post Office after school”.  I guess with several collections and deliveries a day there was no worry about cards not getting to people in time.

But we have many things in common with the celebration of Christmas in my Mum’s family 80 years ago: going to Church, having turkey, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake.  They listened to George VI’s Christmas message on their brand new wireless; we will watch the Queen on TV.

This year the Father Christmas figure, now 87 years old, has once again taken up his central position on Mum’s Christmas cake; the little paper lanterns I made with my daughter when she was a child have been blu-tacked in their habitual place and the small plastic tree I bought in Woolworths in 1987 has once more been found a position.

The Geffrye displays brought back memories for us of paper chains, wrapping paper and board games and was a great way of learning about Christmas Past. The museum closes on 7th January, but I definitely recommend a visit. https://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/ .

Happy Christmas!

1955-65 period room

Two problems solved

John George 1815 – 1901

Recently I read in Family Tree Magazine that the GRO are currently running a pilot scheme whereby you can order a pdf copy of birth and death records for certain periods. When an actual ‘certificate’ is not needed – just the information contained on it – then the vastly reduced price of £6 is quite an inducement to buy when normally a certificate costs £9.25.  Currently the records available in this format are births 1837 – 1916 and deaths 1837 – 1957.

I was aware of a couple of events on my George tree where the GRO information would be very useful: the actual death date of my Great Great Grandfather John George in 1901 and the birth of a William George who is recorded in censuses living with John’s parents David and Elizabeth and apparently a grandson.  I have not been able to place him properly, so information on his parentage would be very useful.

Finding the GRO references for both was very easy using the search facility on the ordering site https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/ and cross-checking with the Freebmd site for good measure.  Having set up an account I placed my order and exactly seven days later I got an email to say that the pdfs were ready to download!  I was impressed with the speed of the process but even more excited about the results.  It’s some years since I ordered a certificate by post, but the excitement (“what am I about to find out?”) was still the same.  I was not disappointed.

It turns out that William was born on the 25th of October 1838 to Mary George, the older sister of my G G Grandfather John.  Her illegitimate son was born in the workhouse at Gressenhall, Norfolk.  Now Mary was not a teenage mum – she was 30 when she had William.  Although I have not located her in 1841, subsequent censuses show her as a servant in various farming households in the area.  Her parents were obviously happy to take the boy in and bring him up – at some point I will see if I can find what happened to him in later life. Mary never married and lived to the grand age of 95, dying in Gressenhall and buried in the churchyard there.

As for John George, well he died on the 14th February 1901 of ‘senile decay’, apparently aged 89 years (although I think that should have been 85).  Where did he die?  In Gressenhall workhouse!  That was a surprise.  Poor John.  Perhaps when he developed what we might term dementia his wife Fanny was unable to cope with him at home, I thought.  Wondering what happened to Fanny, I did a bit of digging around and eventually realised that she died first – in 1894 – while visiting or even living with her daughter Martha in Fakenham.

Possibly, then, John was admitted to the Workhouse some years before he died and Fanny went to live with her daughter. Unfortunately the Admissions records for that period do not seem to have survived as far as I can tell so that is probably as far as I can get.  Except that a very helpful Volunteer Researcher at the Gressenhall Museum was able to tell me that the burial ground at the workhouse went out of use in 1900.  I will need to do a bit more hunting to find where he was actually buried.

This workhouse, unlike some others which have been turned into luxury appartments, survives and thrives as a museum and we visited it just the other year, little knowing then the personal connection I had with the place. https://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/gressenhall-farm-and-workhouse .

I think that was £12 well spent to have discovered the answers to those two outstanding questions. I wonder what other problems I can resolve while the pilot lasts?

Gressenhall Workhouse
The former workhouse at Gressenhall

Tanks at Cambrai

I am writing this blog on the 20th November, which happens to be the date of the centenary of the first British massed tank attack.  The Battle of Cambrai started on 20th November 1917 and the secret weapon which the British had been developing since 1915 came into its own in a major way.

A fascinating programme was shown on Channel 4 last night: ‘Guy Martin’s WW1 Tank’.  It follows the story of Guy’s ambitious plan to build a working replica of a Mark IV WW1 tank in time for the centenary of their use at Cambrai.

At the same time I have just read an article on the use of the tanks at Cambrai in November’s Family Tree Magazine by the war historian Keith Gregson www.family-tree.co.uk .  He writes regularly for the magazine and I had the pleasure of hearing him speak in person in September at the Family History Fair at Sandown Park.  Keith’s grandfather was involved in that first attack near Cambrai as the British attempted to break through the Hindenburg line.

Tanks had been used earlier in the war, but many had broken down or been lost in the mud of the Somme. The Great Uncle of a friend of mine, one Harry Leat,  took the very first tank into battle (a Mark I) at the Battle of Flers in September 1916.  He survived that battle but was killed the following spring.

However, the landscape chosen for their massed use in November of that year was very different. The ground was hard and undisturbed – much better going for the tanks.  In a visit to the Cambrai area, Guy Martin’s guide Philippe Gorczynski explained the terrain and the great swathe of No Man’s Land covered with three enormous belts of barbed wire between the British front link and that of the Germans.  The element of surprise was important:  in any official correspondence regarding the vehicles’ transportation, they were referred to as ‘water tanks’, and so that’s how they got the name ‘tanks’.  They were transported to the front line as quietly as possible.

On 20th November 1917 375 tanks, according to the TV programme, moved into action.  Philippe described it as a ‘tsunami’.  They moved swiftly over the ground, ploughing easily through the barbed wire defences, and advancing 5 miles .  This was a huge triumph for the tanks as the Hindenburg line was broken through.  Although 8,000 Germans were taken prisoner of war on that day, tragically the Allies were not prepared for success on that scale and the reinforcements were not in place to be able to consolidate the position.  The delay enabled the Germans to launch a counter attack ten days later, reclaiming much of the gained ground.

However, the Mark IV tank would then be used for the rest of war, seeing very successful action the following year at the Battle of Amiens.

With crucial assistance from JCB and using the latest technology, Guy Martin’s dream of building the 30 ton tank eventually became a reality. Though his initial plan to drive it through Lincoln on Remembrance Sunday was thwarted, the final plan of taking it to Cambrai itself for the anniversary was even better.  Those involved in the project obviously gained much knowledge of how the tank was built and worked and also an appreciation for the conditions that the soldiers endured inside the vehicle, not least with the heat and engine fumes.

This reconstructed tank is apparently now going to the Norfok Tank Museum. For lots more information on the use of the tanks at Cambrai see http://tank100.com/category/cambrai/

Reconstructed Mark IV tank at Cambrai

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor…

Well it’s that time of year again when the A Level students are submitting their university applications.   Psychology, Sports Science, Marketing, Chinese with Economics, Film Production, Linguistics, Aeronautical Engineering – you name it, you can do it at university these days.  Shall I  be a journalist or an Events Manager?  Should I go into digital marketing or nanotechnology?  For the most part these are choices our ancestors just did not have.  And whatever you apply for, whether a degree course or one of the increasing number of higher or degree level apprenticeships, the application process can be increasingly complex.

Back in my day, you applied for university on a paper application form written in black ink. I suppose we must have written a personal statement, but I really can’t remember doing that.  The choice of courses and universities was not vast.  Going to open days in advance of applying was definitely not a thing – you were invited for an interview and if you were lucky you might get to see some accommodation while you were there.  Today, of course, all the universities are after the same, currently small, pool of students and open days are big business.  If you applied for an apprenticeship forty-odd years ago you would almost certainly not have had to do a psychometric test or attend an assessment centre and would definitely not have had to do an interview by phone or skype as part of the selection process.

If I look through my family trees at ancestral occupations I can see that ‘agricultural labourer’ is far and away the most common. In rural areas the choice was limited – your father was an ‘ag lab’ so that’s what you went into too.  Not much family wealth, not much education, not much choice.

Ag labs

There are some more diverse occupations that occur on my family trees: stonemasons in Oxfordshire, bricklayers in north London and dyers in Derbyshire.  Creating a report through RootsMagic on my George family also reveals a French Polisher, a brushmaker, a blacksmith, a Police Constable and a gardener’s labourer.  (No tinkers or tailors).  Of course that’s just the men.  What about the women?  That same report shows a laundress and a Headmistress.  In other family groups there are women basically supporting their husband’s business, whether that was running a pub or shoemaking, but basically following marriage it was assumed a woman had occupation enough with running a home and raising a family.  And of course for women in some occupations (like teaching in the early days) it was forbidden to continue once you were married.

Mum was looking through her 1947 diary recently. She applied for teacher training and made a note in her diary that she received a letter from Furzedown College near Streatham on a Friday, inviting her for interview the following Monday!  Not much time for preparation.  She noted the timings of her fairly lengthy journey there on the Monday and reckoned the interview can’t have lasted more than a quarter of an hour judging by the time of the return train!  Certainly times have changed – nowadays a Primary Education application involves passing skills tests in English and Maths and the interview day may well include a written task, a presentation, a group exercise as well as an individual interview.

Mum’s diary also notes that her father’s cousin Edith (who is the Headmistress referred to above and whose village of Leigh in Staffordshire we visited earlier this year) came to visit that year and gave Mum 10 shillings! I wonder if she passed on any teaching tips?!

Tinker, tailor……. The choice of occupations is greater for today’s school leavers, but so are the hoops they have to jump through to get there.

 

 

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….