Christmas toys and games

It’s lovely the way people play games at Christmas in a way that they don’t at other times of year.  Granted we often take a couple of board games away with us in the caravan on regular holidays, but at Christmas in our family there are other sorts of games to look forward to.

Mum’s ring board makes its annual outing!  I’m not actually sure how old this is (1940s?), but it has given hours of amusement over the years as people attempt the deceptively hard art of throwing rubber rings at the hooks on the board, the first team reaching a score of 101 being the winner.  We took it to family parties at Aunty Betty’s in the 1970s and played it at home when Granny came to visit.  Despite only having sight in one eye, she was remarkably good at the game.  No doubt when the furniture is finally moved in Mum’s house we will find the missing rings down the back of the bureau!  This year the ring board had a very successful outing to Hertfordshire, when we visited my husband’s family.

My Granny (Emily George, nee Mitchell) was also a great one for a game of cribbage.  She had learnt as a girl in Sussex, looking over the shoulders of the menfolk in her family who played.  Her mental arithmetic, even in her 90s, was as sharp as anything.  The cibbage board came out this Christmas when my Mum and my daughter had a game.

Despite the somewhat eventful year that she has had, my Mum still somehow managed to put together the annual newspaper headlines competition, and the ‘feely sock’ kept people amused in between the washing up on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day was also an opportunity to talk about the tradition of Christmas stockings.  We always had stockings as children, as did my Mum as a child and I did (oh, sorry, Father Christmas filled) stockings for my daughters once more this Christmas although they are somewhat beyond childhood.  Mum said that as a child she always liked mechanical toys and one year she had a clockwork steam roller in her stocking.  She remembers winding it up and running it on her bed until the fluff from the blanket made it grind to a halt.  Her father had to remove the fluff from the cogs before she could run it again on the lino of the landing floor.

Well I hope Father Christmas visited you this Christmas and that you enjoyed the festive period, whether you had games and toys or not!

My Granny playing rings in 1982
My Granny playing rings in 1982
The same ringboard in use Christmas 2016
The same ringboard in use Christmas 2016

 

 

Cribbage
Granny playing cribbage in 1981
At home with the cribbage board, probably a different Christmas
At home with the cribbage board, probably a different Christmas

Christmas is coming….

I have in my possession a rather battered little book called ‘Sussex in bygone days – reminiscences of Nathaniel Paine Blaker MRCS’, which was published in 1919 by my husband’s forbears, the Combridges of 56 Church Road, Hove.  It was first published privately in 1906.  Nathaniel grew up in Sussex, having been born in Selmeston in 1835, and eventually went on to work at the Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.  The book is a collection of memories of life in Sussex in former times and includes subjects such as old occupations, transport, sport, health and festivals as well as describing his medical training.

I wondered what Nathaniel might have to say about Christmas in days gone by.  In talking of agricultural labourers, he says “sheep-shearing, harvest-supper and Christmas were in those country villages the three festivals of the year, and were looked forward to and remembered for days or weeks: A Christmas gambol oft could cheer the poor man’s heart for half a year”.

In a later chapter, however, he talks of ‘Club Day’ being “the most festive day of the year”, when members of the Benefit Club marched to church with a band and subsequently proceeded to the pub where they “dined and spent the rest of the day in dancing and other games and amusements”.  He goes on to say “A little girl, when asked by a school inspector what were the chief festivals of the Church, replied ‘Christmas, Easter and Albourne Club’”.

Nathaniel’s other recollection of Christmas is of one year when he was about 11 or 12 years old (ie around 1847).  On Christmas Eve burglars got into the family house by removing the iron bars from the cellar window.  “They took nothing of value, only a gun, a few overcoats and other small articles, but they took what in those days I thought of great importance, namely, the beef and plum-pudding intended for the Christmas dinner next day.  Being six miles from any town, and all the shops being closed, no more beef or materials for plum-pudding could be got, and we were indebted to the Rector, Mr Tufnell, who kindly helped us out by sending some pork pies”.   (A quick check of the 1841 census reveals that Mr Tufnell and family and Nathaniel Blaker’s family lived in Edburton, a village on the north side of the Devil’s Dyke).  Somehow pork pies sound a poor substitute for Christmas dinner, but I’m sure the family were extremely grateful for at least something to eat.

Well, whatever you are planning to eat for your Christmas dinner, and whether or not you are planning a ‘Christmas gambol’, I hope you have a lovely time.

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Comes But Once A Year - Charles Green
Christmas Comes But Once A Year – Charles Green

Advent

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: www.timeanddate.com/holidays/uk/first-day-advent , 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.” 

Advent

 

More fun at the fair

This time last year I had a very fruitful trip to the West Surrey Family History Society Open Day, held at Woking Leisure Centre, so on 5 November I went to it again, and this time my husband was able to come along too.

It’s such a big event:  many neighbouring family history societies have stalls as well as local history groups, plus there are organisations selling archival storage products, maps, postcards, books and charts.

West Surrey FHS www.wsfhs.co.uk/pages/index.php had their research resources available and I was most interested to look at a map from the A – Z of Victorian London, showing the area where my Bryant ancestors worked as saddlers and harness makers in Belgravia.

I have been enjoying finding out more about the life and works of Flora Thompson this year.  John Owen Smith, local historian and author of ‘On the trail of Flora Thompson’ (among his many published works) was there with his own stall www.johnowensmith.co.uk.  We had a lovely conversation with him about the local connections of Grayshott and Liphook and bought a book of ‘Walks from the railway’.

We also found out from the folk on the Brookwood Cemetery Society stall www.tbcs.org.uk how to go about tracking down the grave of my Wakefield great grandparents, who I know are buried there.  This is definitely something to follow up.

“Don’t turn round, but I’m sure that’s Eve McLaughlin on the stall behind you”.  And it was!  There she was staffing the Buckinghamshire Family History Society stall www.bucksfhs.org.uk. When we lived in Milton Keynes in the late eighties we were members of Bucks FHS and frequently used to go over to Aylesbury on a Saturday afternoon to attend the meetings.  Eve was so energetic and inspirational, and of course she is a prolific author of family history booklets:  ‘Annals of the Poor’, ‘Reading old handwriting’, ‘Quarter Sessions’ etc.  (This year I had the forethought to make a list of the family history-related books that I own in advance of going to the fair, to minimise the risk of buying a book I already have!).  We had a lovely chat with Eve and bought two of her books to add to the collection: ‘Nonconformist ancestors’ and ‘What does it mean – words in wills, inventories, deeds and documents’.

My husband bought a couple of useful-looking Cassini maps of Norfolk, but we looked in vain for ‘My ancestor was a Quaker’.  I think it may currently be out of print.

At the Surrey History Centre stall, the archivist and I agreed that we would both very much like to be able to afford to give up work and spend our time indexing and doing family history!  What a lovely job to have, though.  She had brought with her a beautiful Victorian/Edwardian photograph album of unknown provenance, which had come from a house clearance.  How sad that these are someone’s ancestors and are unnamed.

Imogen on the Surrey in the Great War stall was just as enthusiastic as she had been when I spoke to her last year, but sadly never received the information I sent her then on the Wakefield brothers.  I will resend it to her.

By midday we were glad of a chance to sit down for a bit, and were in for a treat attending the talk given by Myko Clelland on using Findmypast.  His enthusiasm was infectious and I was particularly interested to learn more about the 1939 Register, which I have to admit I have not investigated up till now.

Overall, it was a lovely morning spent with fellow enthusiasts, with the chance to buy products and network with useful organisations and people.  Thank you WSFHS!

West Surrey Family History Society
WSFHS Fair 2016

 

Remember remember

Bonfire Night is a big date in the UK cultural calendar.  The Fifth of November this year falling on a Saturday, almost all the firework displays round here are happening tonight.

Whilst a big part of me is appalled that so much money quite literally goes up in smoke on Bonfire Night, still it’s an altogether much happier event than the worrying growth of Halloween and its associated commercialism.  Except, of course, that the event it commemorates – the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 – was hardly a happy event for those involved.  So why on earth do we continue to commemorate it? Maybe we’re really no longer remembering anything, but just taking the opportunity to enjoy bonfires, fireworks and funfairs at a time of year that is otherwise dark and chilly.

As a child, my recollection is that fireworks were only ever let off on 5th November.  Nowadays there are fireworks after music concerts and at birthday parties, not to mention New Year’s Eve.  Bonfire Night brings back memories of, unsurprisingly, a bonfire of garden prunings in the back garden, needing to keep the cat indoors, and retreating inside for bangers and mash.  Local lads (mostly lads, I think) would position themselves with their homemade ‘guy’ outside the local shops, to ask for “a penny for the guy”, or would sometimes wheel it from house to house in a wheelbarrow.  Presumably this was to fund fireworks.

I don’t remember ever going to a an organised firework display as a child, but you could buy fireworks singly at the newsagents for a small backgarden display.  There was the ‘Witch’s Cauldron’, a conical shaped firework, and the ‘Roman Candle’.  Occasionally we had a rocket, which was placed in a milkbottle prior to lighting.  My favourite firework was the ‘Catherine Wheel’, which Dad would nail onto the wooden rose arch.  The trick was to nail it securely enough that it didn’t fly off, but loosely enough that it actually span round and round once lit.  Often it didn’t, but it was lovely to watch when it worked.  And then there were the sparklers – always packets of sparklers – and we would have fun trying to write our names in the darkness, as my own children subsequently enjoyed doing.

In 1605 Roman Catholics wanted freedom to practise their religion after years of persecution.  Thankfully today we enjoy religious freedom in this country – a blessing not everyone in this world shares – so maybe if we should be remembering anything this Bonfire Night, it should be the fact that some in this world are still persecuted because of their faith.

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November” – enjoy your Bonfire Night!

Bonfire night

 

Quaker beginnings

I’ve learnt a lot about the early history of the Quakers in the last three weeks, thanks to the excellent FutureLearn course ‘Radical Spirituality: the Early History of the Quakers’ www.futurelearn.com/courses/quakers/1 .  This course, put together by Lancaster University and led by Ben Pink Dandelion, has covered the beginnings of this religious group as it emerged in 17th century England.  We have read and heard extracts from George Fox’s journal and also the writings of other key early Quakers such as Margaret Fell and Francis Howgill and some of the videos have been recorded at significant locations in the formation of the group such as Pendle Hill and Swarthmoor Hall.  I was already aware of my husband’s Quaker ancestry when we visited Swarthmoor Hall near Ulverston on a particularly wet and gloomy day a good 25 years ago.  Despite the weather I have fond memories of it being a special place and of the warm welcome we received there.

I have known for years that some of the earliest Quakers in Norfolk were Musketts, but following this course has enabled me to appreciate just how early they were.  In the book ‘The Intwood Story’ by Reverend A J Nixseaman, published in 1972, he asserts that “the first of the Muskett family known to have been a Quaker was Andrew Muskett, son of John Muskett, Gent. of Fersfield.  We find him settled in Thelton in the year 1659, and then known to be a Quaker”.   What is unclear is where this information came from but, if accurate, it means there was a Quaker Muskett in Norfolk barely five years after the Quaker message was disseminated from its Lancashire origins, when the ‘Valiant Sixty’ (Quaker preachers) set out on an organised mission to spread the message to the rest of Britain.  The book goes on to tell us that the first citizen of Norwich to become a Quaker was Thomas Symonds, in 1654, and the source for this information is ‘The First Fifty Years of Quakerism’, compiled by Arthur J Eddington in 1932.

Andrew Muskett’s son Andrew was twice imprisoned in Norwich Castle because of his beliefs, we are told.  Quakers had been free to worship since the Act of Toleration in 1689, but imprisonments continued for non-payment of tithes.  Andrew’s eldest son John, born in 1711, had 12 children by two wives:  Ann Hart and then Mary Heyward, both from Quaker families.  John lived at Tharston Hall.  He sent his seven sons to a Quaker boarding school in Lancashire called Yealand’s, founded by brothers John and James Jenkins.  His sons were born between about 1739 and 1762 and at that time a stage coach must have taken several days to make the journey from Norfolk to Lancashire.  The seven sons were John, Ephraim, Joseph, Zachariah, Benjamin, William and Thomas, and it is from Thomas, born in 1762, that my husband’s line of the family is descended.  Thomas settled in Gressenhall, where coincidentally I have found some of my Norfolk George family.  I live in hope that one day I will find a connection between the two families!

The FutureLearn course has been a real eye-opener into the radical nature of the early Quaker beliefs.  At a time when the Puritans conveyed the message that the ‘elect’ had already been chosen for salvation, it must have been an amazing revelation to people to be told that they could discover God for themselves, without the help of the Established Church, just as George Fox had done in the 1640s.  An additional surprise was the role of women in the movement, not least Margaret Fell, whose strong leadership and organisational skills helped to ensure the survival and growth of the Quaker movement  despite the opposition it encountered.

The Quaker faith today is quite different , and we would be wrong to think of our early Quaker ancestors as being peace-loving and liberal-minded.   From what I have learnt during the last few weeks, they appear to have been feisty people who knew their mind.  If you have Quaker ancestors I would recommend the following websites for further information:

http://www.qfhs.co.uk/ The Quaker Family History Society

http://www.swarthmoorhall.co.uk/

http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/quakers/01_quakers_home.html

Swarthmoor Hall
Swarthmoor Hall

Family Bake Off

Unlike some TV shows one could mention, The Great British Bake Off seems to have enriched our community lives. Families sit down together to watch the show itself; my cousin’s wife told me how her circle of friends go to the house of one of their number each week and the home bakes come out as soon as they get to the Technical Challenge.  My daughter has organised colleagues in her office so that each person is allocated a contestant and when that person leaves the tent they have to bring in cakes (or Steak and Ale pie, as one colleague is promising!).

What does this have to do with family history?  Well, coincidentally, October’s issue of Family Tree magazine www.family-tree.co.uk has a great article by Rachel Bellerby entitiled ‘A taste of the past’.  As she so rightly states “food and cooking play a big part in your memories”.  In common with many families, mine have had regular gatherings for as long as I can remember, often at Christmas, where everyone contributes food.  I can remember as a child making pink meringues to take to Aunty Mary’s now legendary Christmas parties.  In no small part due to her parties, that side of the family has remained in contact.  Once we had moved back within range of the rest of the family and had enough space, we instituted our own Christmas parties, knowing we could rely on Mum to bring the mushroom vol-au-vents.

Rachel Bellerby’s article highlights how precious a handwritten family recipe book can be.  At a recent visit with my daughters to my Mum’s house, the subject of baking came up, and out came her mother’s handwritten recipe book.  “Treat it like a form of autobiography” says Food Historian Dr Annie Gray www.anniegray.co.uk  :  clippings from magazines tell you what people read and names attached to recipes give you a clue to other relatives and friends.  Well, Granny’s recipe book has clippings from The Lady, a recipe for a Mother’s Union sponge cake (“very good”) and Mary’s recipe for something and Auntie Winnie’s recipe for something else.  The Mary in question is likely to be Granny’s friend Mary Moreley, who also lived in Croydon in the 1930s.  The recipe for Dandelion Wine reminded Mum of an occasion when she was a young child when her mother announced when she came home from school at lunchtime that it was a perfect afternoon for picking dandelions!  Off they went on the bus to Mitcham Common to pick the flowers, but Mum felt so guilty that she was being made to miss afternoon school!  It’s strange to think of my Granny encouraging truanting, but then she came from a rural community where staying off school in the 1890s to help with the harvest was the norm.

I am ashamed to say that my own recipe book mostly consists of scraps of paper which I have never got round to writing up properly.  But, in a similary manner, you can tell which magazines I’ve read and who recipes have come from.  I still use Vicky’s mince pie recipe (she was a university friend) and Aunty Elsie’s biscuits are a firm family favourite.  Now you need to understand that I’ve never had an Aunty Elsie – she was an aunt of my Mum’s cousins’s husband!  Well I guess that indicates that one of these days I should write up these recipes properly and identify the provenance – as far as I can – before the likes of Aunty Elsie are totally unidentifiable.

On your marks, get set – bake!

Recipes in my collection
Recipes in my collection
Granny's recipe for dandelion wine
Granny’s recipe for dandelion wine
Winnie's cake
Winnie’s cake