Constance Penswick Smith

Erection of a Plaque to Constance Penswick Smith

Plaque to Constance Penswick Smith on Church Walk

Plaque to Constance Penswick Smith on Church Walk

Society members met on the morning of Sunday 1st November 2015 to erect this, the most recent addition to the series of plaques around the town. Each plaque commemorates a famous historic figure of the community and is inscribed with a name and date. Each is located on a building relevant to the career of the subject. In the case of Miss Constance Penswick Smith, the plaque is the first of over twenty to be attributed to a lady of the town. Whilst the most appropriate venue would probably have been in Coddington, owing to the history of the person, this was not practicable as the house stands down a private drive. The chosen location, then in the south walk beside St Mary Magdalene Church, was picked for the part it played in the career of Miss Smith, as is to be explained below. The meeting was addressed by the Society’s Chairman, Mike Cox, who began by thanking Mr and Mrs Keller for permitting the event, Margaret Gaughan for organising and obtaining the plaque, Janet Lord, who was to perform the unveiling, who is the widow of Mick Lord, the originator and instigator of the project, and Coddington History Group for invaluable help with the funding.

The Chairman then went on to detail the main aspects of Miss Penswick Smith’s life.   Born in 1878, she was the daughter of a Church of England priest, Rev. Charles Penswick Smith. Her baptism shows the name of Constance Adelaide Smith. Constance was twelve years of age when she came to live in Coddington, where her father was then curate-in-charge. She was, however, first educated at the address where the memorial was about to find its home. It was then used as a ʻDame Schoolʼ and run by a Mrs Bates and Miss Hore. It was then known as ‘Newark High School’.[1] This was a good situation in which to locate the plaque, being visible to all walking from St Mary’s south door into Appleton Gate, and is close to other Society plaques and the new National Civil War Centre.

Mike Cox continued: Constance Penswick Smith went on to complete her education in Nottingham. She became a governess, and went on to work as such on the continent. After that, she amended her career, returned to work in education, and later obtained a dispenser’s qualification. Her meeting with Ellen Porter, which followed, marked the start of her mission to oppose the American tradition of celebrating ʻMothers’ Dayʼ. This had been imposed upon England and the term still falls into some misuse today. However, the celebration in question has liturgical origins and should be called ʻMothering Sundayʼ. It is the fourth Sunday of the season of Lent, which is necessarily the forty days and nights preceding the greatest Christian festival, that of Easter. Its name originates from the tradition of ʻa-motheringʼ, a concession made to Victorian servants who were allowed a day off duties to visit and make presents to their respective mothers, always on this day. The name can also be taken as referring to ones ʻMother Churchʼ, which is the Anglican Church to which each has first loyalty within his or her own Parish. The day is also called ʻRefreshment Sundayʼ or just mid-Lent Sunday. The calendar date is generally three months before the American counterpart, although it varies owing to Easter being a moveable feast. The two dates have no common factor, and the use of the American term results only as a result of corruption, mainly on the part of card designers and retail outlets. However, the two ladies successfully persuaded the Church to adopt the correct practice, and Constance spent the rest of her life publicising this. It is thought that her decision to adopt the name of ‘Penswick’ was done to give herself more ethos when communicating with the Press on the matter.

Constance lived until the age of sixty, a generous lifespan by Victorian standards. Her burial place may be found in All Saints’ Churchyard, Coddington.[2] Within the Church may be found an altar dedicated to Constance and Ellen.

Following the Chairman’s speech, Janet Lord unveiled the memorial plaque. The group then gathered for refreshments, courtesy of Mr and Mrs Keller. The erection of further plaques remains an on-going process for the Society.

[1] Not to be confused with the Lilley and Stone Girls’ High School on London Road, which was still to be opened early in the twentieth century.

[2] All Saints’ Coddington is itself part of the Newark Anglican Team Ministry. The mother Church to the parish is St Mary’s, beside the Society plaque. All Saints would have been the mother Church to Coddington villagers at that time, a time of less immediate geographical factors.