My Granny, Emily Eliza Mitchell, was baptised at Shipley, in Sussex, on Advent Sunday in 1888, 128 years ago.

I learnt that piece of information 24 years ago, when, following a fairly traumatic birth, we took our first baby daughter to Church on Advent Sunday for a Thanksgiving Service.  She is partly named after her great grandmother, and my Mum remarked on how appropriate the day was.

I do like Advent.  There’s something about all those great Advent hymns in minor keys (‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’, ‘Come thou long-expected Jesus’, ‘Lo, he comes with clouds descending’ etc), the purple of altar frontals and liturgical robes and advent candles to light.  And of course Advent Calendars.  I remember as a child being thrilled when our neighbours the Madgwicks gave us an Advent calendar (no chocolate ones in those days!) and I still like to have one.  It brings out the child in me to count the days till Christmas!  When our children were small we made a large Blue Peter-inspired one which involved toilet rolls and lots of tissue paper, glue and paint.    It got re-used for a number of years.

Last Sunday being Advent Sunday it got me thinking about what my ancestors might have been doing during that period in years gone by.  Not counting the days with chocolate-filled Advent Calendars, that’s for sure.

David George, my earliest proven ancestor on my Norfolk George tree, married Elizabeth Jefferies on Sunday 7 December 1806 at East Dereham – the second Sunday in Advent, but only a year later they buried their first baby, Mary Ann, on 13 December 1807, the third Sunday in Advent.

David’s son John George married Emily White on Sunday 6 December 1840 – also the second Sunday in Advent.

His son David, my great grandfather, married Elizabeth Mayne in Croydon on a Saturday – the 29 November 1873 – the day before Advent Sunday.

On my Wakefield tree, my great grandfather William Wakefield married Annie Neighbour on 10 December 1893 in Newington, again the second Sunday in Advent.

Caleb Osborne, the cordwainer from Shipley in Sussex, married Mary Botting on the Tuesday after Advent Sunday in 1802 – the 30 November.

My Mitchell and Phipott ancestors, on the other hand, seem to have had a distinct aversion to doing anything like getting married or baptised during the back end of the year – apart from my Granny, that is.

I discovered  when Advent Sunday was in years gone by on this website: , where you can also calculate all kinds of dates.

So Happy Advent!  I hope this season is not too frenetic for you and that you can find some space to welcome the coming light:

“O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.” 



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.