They protect us, care for us and love us unconditionally. They are also quite capable of embarrassing us in public, accosting us with unsolicited advice and coming at us with spitty tissues (even now!) but we love them with all our hearts, says Gill Chetcuti
‘Oh, that’s just another American import,’ is often the sneering reaction to any mention of Mother’s Day … but are we right? Well, sort of.
Many people think that Mother’s Day and Mothering Sunday are the same thing when, in fact, they are not. Mother's Day (which is completely unrelated to the Christian celebration known as Mothering Sunday) began in 1908 with an American woman named Anna Jarvis. Anna’s mother was a peace activist and staunch campaigner for the improvement of women’s health and equality. When she died, her daughter wanted to commemorate her life so requested that a service be held to honour all mothers. Thus, the first official Mother's Day celebration was observed at St Andrew's Methodist Church on May 10th, 1908, with 407 people in attendance.
Before long, several states adopted ‘Mother's Day’ as an official event. The first was West Virginia, Jarvis’s home state. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day – the second Sunday in May – as a national holiday. However, far from being thrilled at this turn of events, Anna was mortified that a celebration of love had quickly evolved into a commercial enterprise. In fact, at a subsequent Mother's Day festival, she was arrested for disturbing the peace after attempting to stop women from selling flowers. Tearfully she told the police, ‘I just wanted it to be a day of sentiment not profit.’
By the early 1920s, Hallmark had started selling Mother's Day cards. Jarvis was so incensed by what she saw as exploitation that she tried to abolish Mother’s Day altogether. In her view, the celebration she created – a day she’d hoped would be reverential and contemplative – had been cheapened beyond repair. In her words: ‘A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother and then eat most of it yourself!’ She even called florists and the makers of greeting cards ‘charlatans, bandits, pirates and termites’! Jarvis's fervent attempts to reform Mother's Day continued, largely unsuccessfully, until the early 1940s.
Perhaps inspired by Anna's effort in the US, Constance Penswick-Smith created the Mothering Sunday Movement in the UK in 1914. Like Anna, Constance was disillusioned with the way in which the celebration was heading. Centuries ago, it was considered important for people to return to their home or ‘mother’ church on the fourth day of Lent. This was known as going ‘a-mothering’ and worshippers would pick wildflower posies en route to give to their mothers. However, now the religious celebration was becoming blurred by commercialism, its true meaning lost in greed, just like its American counterpart. Constance and her friend Ellen Porter were also unsuccessful in their campaign to make Mothering Sunday more reverent, as by the 1930s, the custom of celebrating the event began to disappear.
However, this changed in December 1941 when the United States entered the war and thousands of American servicemen began to arrive in England. They were surprised to find that the English did not have a day to celebrate their mothers so, on the second Sunday in May, they presented their hosts with presents and cards to thank them for their kindness, just as they would have done at home for their own mums. When the war ended and the young men returned to their country, Mothering Sunday (albeit with new, American influences) became popular again, reverting to its original date – the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Today, the original meaning of Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day is still somewhat lost but it remains an occasion to show mum just how much she is valued, appreciated and loved. As James Joyce said: ‘Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world, a mother's love is not.’ And we agree. Happy Mother's Day to you all!
We asked some readers for their favourite words of wisdom from dear old ma. Here’s what they told us…
‘Love many, trust few, learn to paddle your own canoe!’ Natasha Wait, Mold
‘Don’t bother lying because mums always find out!’ And they do! Charlotte Morris, Wrexham
‘You can buy jam!’ Actually, this was my midwife in response to me trying to be superwoman and doing everything myself! Julie-Ann Robinson, Chester
‘A tidy house is a wasted life!’ Jane Taylor, Birkenhead
‘You’re not crazy or mad, you just think differently from everybody else.’ Jessie Rudd, on holiday from Cape Town
‘If a problem can be fixed then don’t worry about it. If a problem can’t be fixed then why worry about it?’ Carol Burke, Liverpool
‘Don’t judge people until you know their story.’ Trudy Bircham, Connah’s Quay
‘Learn a little about a lot so you can speak to anyone on any level.’ Samantha Jones, Oswestry
‘Never marry a person until you’ve been on holiday with them!’ Dean Ashton, on holiday from London
‘Do all your drinking before the age of 60 as after that, two glasses and you’re done!’ Sam Wellings, Barmouth
Six Mothering Sunday facts
Mothering Sunday was also known as Refreshment Sunday because the fasting rules for Lent were relaxed that day.
The UK's flower sales increase by an average of 40 per cent during the run-up to Mother’s Day.
The ancient Greeks celebrated Rhea, the Mother of the Gods, every year.
In the UK, more than 30 million cards are sent on Mother’s Day.
In most countries and languages, the word for mother begins with the letter ‘M'.
More than 50 countries observe an official day dedicated solely to mothers.
Nurturing, supportive and with buckets of charm, the Weasley matriarch and Order of the Phoenix member will fight off even the darkest of wizards to protect her children – and Harry Potter!
The true ‘super-mum’, as one of The Increidbles, she balances motherly duties with crime-fighting and capturing criminals – plus she hassuperhuman stretching powers!
Outspoken Marge is the happy homemaker of the Simpson family, endlessly tolerant of her husband Homer’s lsacker ways, and supportive mum to Bart, Lisa and Maggie.
The sharpest, quickest tongue of the 20th century, the dowager of Downton Abbey tells her son Robert exactly what she thinks, and won’t shy away from mothering her granddaughters either!
Maria von Trapp
The all-singing, all-dancing governess-turned-mum uses her imagination to nurture the Von Trapp children. ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria?’ Well, there’s no need! In the words of another of Andrews’ famous roles, Maria is ‘practically perfect in every way!’
Snow White’s stepmum
She may think she’s ‘the fairest of them all,’ but the Evil Queen (especially as played by Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror) certainly won’t win any awards for Mother of the Year!
Overbearing, embarrassing and inappropriate, Mrs Bennett (as played by Brenda Blethyn in the 2005 film) nearly scuppers Lizzie’s chances with Darcy. But there’s no doubt she loves her five daughters – marrying them off to the richest men possible is a sign of affection, right?
Gertrude, Queen of Denmark
Whether she helped to murder Hamlet’s father or not, marrying her brother-in-law immediately after her husband’s somewhat suspicious demise obviously didn’t help Gertrude’s poor son’s mental state!
Jennifer Saunders’ Absolutely Fabulous heavy-drinking, fad-chasing mum to Saffie spends more time trying to stay ‘young and hip’ than caring for her daughter.
Though she has a soft spot for her daughter, Roald Dahl’s creation is self-obsessed and more concerned with her next hairstyle or bingo night than nurturing Matilda.
‘Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world, a mother's love is not.’ James Joyce
The magnificent stately homes, manor houses, castles and abbeys scattered across our region are places of grandeur and sophistication – surely not scandal, intrigue and drama? Gill Chetcuti discovers that some of the goings on behind in high places were far more unseemly than any Downton Abbey plot lines...
When Cheshire’s Shrigley Hall Hotel was a family home, it was at the centre of a scandal that sent shockwaves through Britain’s society. Built by William Turner, a prosperous cotton magnate, in 1825, the hall was opulent and elegant, and Turner’s daughter, Ellen, was the sole heiress to a vast fortune.
Ellen was a pupil at the prestigious Ladies Seminary boarding school in Warrington. Clever and dedicated to her studies, she was a popular student. It came as a shock to all when a well-dressed stranger arrived explaining that Ellen’s mother was seriously ill and that she must return home immediately.
Fifteen-year-old Ellen was taken to the Albion Hotel in Manchester where she was introduced to a charismatic man named Captain Wilson. Ellen was bewildered but Wilson immediately put her mind at rest, assuring her that he was a family friend. The captain’s brother, William, then joined them. At this point, Ellen felt there was no reason to be alarmed. Her companions were charming and attentive, the atmosphere light and convivial.
The mood changed shortly after when Wilson revealed that he was actually Edward Gibbons Wakefield and that her mother was not ill, but instead there was a problem with her father’s business. He explained that he and her father had reached an agreement with his creditors, but, to ensure that Shrigley Hall stayed in the family, Ellen must first marry a well-connected gent... like himself.
Shocked and confused, Ellen asked to see her father before agreeing to Wakefield’s proposal. Wakefield assured her that her father was anxious to be reunited with her too but his situation had worsened and now his life was in danger. He explained that to ensure his safety, she must marry at once. They were married at Gretna Green just three days after her abduction. The deceit continued until the couple reached Calais and Ellen’s uncles and attorney arrived to confront Edward.
The marriage was annulled by Parliament, and both Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his brother William were convicted at trial and sentenced to three years hard labour.
George Harry Grey, 7th Earl of Stamford, broke conventional barriers and scandalised polite society when in 1855 he married Catherine ‘Kitty’ Cocks – a bareback horse rider who used to thrill audiences at the circus with her equestrian skills. Cheshire’s aristocracy was less than enamoured by the union and the couple received a cold welcome when they arrived at Dunham Massey – the Earl’s family home.
By all accounts, Kitty was intelligent, friendly and pretty but that did little to placate the locals. Their mistrust of her worsened when it was discovered that both her mother and brother had spent time in prison and that her sister had a daughter who was born in the workhouse. They snubbed Kitty at every opportunity, turning their backs on her at the Knutsford Races and using their parasols as shields to block her from their vision. The final straw came, for George at least, when the minister and the churchwarden refused to ring the church bells to announce their arrival.
Reportedly furious, the couple packed their bags and left Cheshire, preferring to live at George’s second home in Staffordshire where society was more tolerant of their unorthodox union. (This was not the first time that the Earl had married ‘beneath him’ – as a student at Cambridge University he married Elizabeth Billage, the daughter of his boot maker.) George died in 1883 and the snobbery they had endured during their married life carried on after his death, with the council refusing to pass on a message of condolence to his grieving widow.
Pay a visit to Dunham Massey today and you can see Kitty’s beautiful Green Silk Room.
Built between 1480 and 1600, Cheshire’s Gawsworth Hall was originally home to the Fitton family, the most famous being Mary, considered by many to be the ‘dark lady’ of William Shakespeare’s sonnets. Mary’s life was interspersed with romance and disgrace. In the late 1500s, she found employment as a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth I. This highly sought-after, prestigious role required her to be respectable and beyond reproach and, for a while, that’s exactly what she was.
However, Mary Fitton’s blameless career came to an abrupt end in 1601, shortly after she met William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke. Their friendship quickly turned into an affair and Mary fell pregnant. Although William admitted paternity, he refused to marry her and was sent to Fleet prison. Their child, a son, died soon after birth, but the court was scandalised and Mary dismissed. The disgraced Earl was eventually released, though he and Mary remained barred from court.
Scandal associated with Gawsworth Hall did not end with Mary’s fall from grace. In 1712, the estate was bequeathed to a niece, Lady Mohun and contested by another, the Duchess of Hamilton. The dispute culminated in a duel in Hyde Park where both Lord Mohun and the Duke of Hamilton lost their lives.
Gawsworth Hall is still a family home and is open to the public from May to September. Visit www.gawsworthhall.com
Tredegar House in Newport has an extremely colourful history. One of the finest Restoration period buildings in Wales it was home to the wealthy and influential Morgan Family, who later became Lords Tredegar. The family lived there for more than 500 years but Evan, a hedonistic eccentric, was the last member of the line to call it home.
Evan’s weekend house parties at Tredegar in the 1930s and 40s gained local notoriety from a largely disapproving society. These events attracted eminent artistic, literary and society figures including Aldous Huxley, Herbert George Wells and the ‘Great Beast’ himself, the occultist Aleister Crowley. As the friendship between Evan and Crowley deepened, so too did Evan’s obsession with the occult. Crowley himself took part in many dark rituals at Tredegar Park and christened Evan ‘adept of adepts’. However, Evan’s devil worshipping was put on hold when he converted to Catholicism and became chamberlain to Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI!
Paul Busby, local historian and former tour guide at Tredegar House, says: ‘The flamboyant and extravagant Evan was a fantastical figure whose eccentricities were allowed full rein thanks to his electric personality and enormous wealth. Life was often alarming in his company but things were never dull. I still get a chuckle at the fact that he was a gay, black magic-practising chamberlain to the pope. He didn’t see the contradiction!’
Despite his openly acknowledged homosexuality, Evan married twice. Understandably, neither marriage was a success. Evan was not the only family member to cause a stir in the community, however. His mother is rumoured to have built bird’s nests big enough to sit in, and in 1925 his sister, Gwyneth, was found dead aged 29 in the River Thames after succumbing to drug abuse.
It is hard to imagine today how scandalous it was in the 18th century for unmarried women to live together, but in 1778, two friends – Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler – did just that. Both women had had unhappy family lives: Eleanor, the youngest daughter of the de jure Earl of Ormonde, of Kilkenny Castle, was considered, at 39, too old to marry and her family were pressurising her to join a nunnery. Her orphaned 23-year-old friend, Sarah Ponsonby, was suffering the unwanted attentions of her middle-aged guardian, Sir William Fownes.
Both women felt trapped, frightened and angry so decided to escape their unbearable situations and flee. However, their families discovered the women’s plans and the pair were caught on board a merchant vessel ship about to set sail. Like naughty schoolchildren, they were scolded and separated.
When Sarah fell seriously ill, Eleanor ran away to join her and hid in Sarah's bedroom. This time, her parents, perhaps bored with their daughter’s behaviour, declined to collect her – Sarah and Eleanor were free to do as they pleased. Joyfully, they sailed from Ireland to Milford Haven and then journeyed north, until they found themselves in the Vale of Llangollen. Falling in love with the area, they bought an unassuming two-storey cottage known as Pen y Maes, which they refurbished and extended before renaming it Plas Newydd.
The nature of Sarah and Eleanor's friendship has excited much curiosity over the years. Certainly, they were devoted to each other – they slept in the same bed (common behaviour between friends and sisters), wore men’s clothes and hats (warm and practical) and didn’t concern themselves with ‘ladies’ pursuits’. They themselves remained seemingly untroubled by the controversy their lifestyle caused and remained together for 50 years.
Plas Newydd is open to the public from April to September. Visit www.denbighshire.gov.uk
Another Plas Newydd but, this time, on the beautiful island of Anglesey. Eccentricities have traditionally been an accepted, even expected, feature of the aristocracy, and Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey, does not disappoint. Known as the ‘Dancing Marquess’ because he liked to perform in his own theatre, festooned in extravagant silks and jewels, Henry inherited his title and a vast fortune following the death of his father in 1898. He loved the finer things in life and squandered a huge amount of money on parties, outlandish clothes, entertaining friends and attending the theatrical performances.
Henry was briefly married to his cousin, but she disapproved of his extravagant lifestyle and complete disregard for money. Their marriage was struggling in other ways too – it was never consummated – and eventually Lillian filed for divorce.
Before long, the Marquess had accumulated massive debts and bankrupted the family. In order to try to recoup some of his losses he held ‘the Great Anglesey Sales’ – which was 40 days of sales with more than 40,000 lots including his beloved pet chows, pugs, collies and terriers – to appease his creditors. Left with a paltry £3,000 a year, he moved to Monaco, where he died aged 30 after a long illness.
Halston Hall in Whittington, near Oswestry, was the family seat for the Myttons from the mid 1500s. The family were influential landowners, well known throughout the county, but it was John, born in 1796, who is the best remembered. Appropriately nicknamed ‘Mad Jack’, as a young boy he was expelled from the prestigious Westminster School for fighting with a teacher before tormenting a series of private tutors with practical jokes and pranks. One of them awoke to find himself in bed with a horse! After a stint in the army, John Mytton returned to Halston Hall and took up his duties as a squire in preparation for coming into his vast inheritance when he turned 21.
However, if John’s friends and family were expecting him to become more adult in his outlook and forsake his immature ways, they were to be sadly disappointed. If anything, the money and freedom (as well as six bottles of port a day) made Mad Jack even more wayward and unpredictable. After a particularly raucous night, he sent an inebriated friend to bed with two bulldogs and a bear. On another occasion he decided to go duck shooting by moonlight on Halston's frozen lake, dressed in only his nightshirt. One of his favourite pranks was to dress as a highwayman, complete with pistols, and ambush unsuspecting guests as they went home along the Oswestry road.
Perhaps in an attempt to change his ways and appear more respectable, John decided to stand for Parliament. If the story is to be believed, he secured his seat by ‘encouraging’ the constituents of Shrewsbury to vote for him by offering them huge amounts of money. Unsurprisingly he was elected but found politics stifling and boring, attending the House of Commons only once and leaving after half an hour.
Halston Hall is still a privately owned family house, available to hire for weddings and functions. Visit www.halstonestate.co.uk
The historic timber-framed building of Boscobel House in Shropshire, built in the early 1600s, was home to the Giffard family, staunch Catholics at a time when the religion was coming under heavy persecution. Some historians argue that it was designed with the sole purpose of protecting Catholics, and if that’s true, it certainly did its job in 1651 when Charles, Prince of Wales, sought refuge there after the Battle of Worcester.
The future king and a few trusted companions fled after suffering a defeat at the hands of Cromwell’s New Model Army. With a reward of £1000 on Charles’s head, the group were in grave danger and found their escape route into Wales blocked by Parliamentary troops. Their situation looked bleak but the resourceful Charles had a plan. Making contact with the Penderel family, who were tenants and servants of the Giffards, he arranged shelter at the great house. However, as Boscobel was at risk from intensive searches, it was considered safest for Charles to hide in a large oak tree in the nearby forest. After spending the entire day in the tree, Charles moved to the house and hid in a priest-hole in the attic until managing to escape to France, and safety.
A descendant of the ‘Royal Oak’ still stans: 18th-century souvenir hunters ravaged the original tree in order to make snuff boxes from its boughs.
Shropshire’s Buildwas Abbey was founded originally in 1135 by Roger De Clinton, Bishop of Coventry, as a Savignac monastery, and was inhabited by a small community of about a dozen monks. This enterprising brotherhood made their living by charging travellers a toll for crossing the stone bridge over the river Severn.
The abbey was in a precarious position, located as it was near the border of Wales, and came under regular attack from marauding Welsh princes and their followers. The monks became used to raids; on one occasion in 1350, raiders from Powys even kidnapped and imprisoned the abbot.
In 1406, the abbey’s estates were laid waste by the followers of Owain Glyndwr but it was one of the brotherhood’s own who really shocked the order. Thomas Tonge murdered the abbot in 1342, somehow managed to evade arrest and then audaciously petitioned for re-instatement into the Cistercian order.
The abbey closed in 1536 by the order of Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries, when the estate was transferred to Edward Grey, 3rd Baron Grey of Powis.
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Einstein famously said: ‘If we lose our honey-bees, man would only have another four years on the planet.’ Lynne Allbutt wants to find out why...
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