Mothering Sunday & Constance Penswick Smith

Constance Penswick Smith was born in 1878. She was the daughter of a Church of England priest and came to live in Coddington when she was twelve years old.


At our Club meeting held on Tuesday 2 April we had as the guest speaker Kevin Winter, Newark and Sherwood’s Assistant Museum Collector and Exhibitionist.  He is based at The Civil War Museum, although his remit is much wider than just the Civil War.

Kevin gave us an illustrated talk about Constance Penswick Smith, who was born in 1878.  She was the daughter of a Church of England priest and came to live in Coddington when she was twelve years old. She was educated in Newark and later in Nottingham.

Constance never married.  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 (chemist) qualification.  However, she is best known for her opposition to the term and method of celebrating “Mothers’ Day”.   This celebration is an American tradition, which by Constance’s time was adopted in the UK. The term still falls into some misuse today and Mothers’ Day is more commercial than religious. However, the original celebration had liturgical origins and should be referred to as Mothering Sunday. It is the fourth Sunday in Lent, which is the forty days and nights preceding the festival of Easter. Its name originates from the tradition of “a-mothering”, 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 originally referring to a person’s Mother Church, being the Anglican Church to which each person had first loyalty within his or her own Parish.  It is also sometimes called Refreshment Sunday or just mid-Lent Sunday. The calendar date is generally three months before the American counterpart, although it varies owing to Easter being on different dates from one year to the next. The two dates have no common factor, and the use of the American term results only as a result of a corruption, mainly on the part of card designers and retail outlets. Constance successfully persuaded the Church to adopt the correct practice and she spent the rest of her life publicising this. 

Constance lived until the age of sixty, a generous lifespan by Victorian standards. Her burial place is in All Saints’ Churchyard, Coddington. Within the church you can find an altar dedicated to her.

The next time that you are driving into Coddington, look at the village sign on the roadside at the entrance to the village.  You will see a colourful depiction of Constance.  You can also find a blue plaque, the first to be dedicated to a lady of Newark, in the south walk next to Newark Parish Church, being visible when walking into Appleton Gate from the area adjacent to the Church’s south door.  Other blue plaques are also placed nearby, close to the Civil War Centre.

John Lewington.

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