Ancestor Worship starts with Mordecai Cubitt Cooke

Thornam parva churchWe’d made a plan to go and look at some graves.  A little  eccentric perhaps.  But in the spirit of humoring the quirks of  others,  I went along with it.    It was my mother’s firm wish to visit the place that her father’s family had come from. And so we went to Norfolk. and a day of mixing past and new unrolled.

We stopped to break the journey at Thornam Parva church, spitting distance from the juggernaut A146.  The thatched building  houses an early 14th century screen, rich in saints and gilding.   There are also traces of fresco, including a Catherine wheel and Basil Spence is buried outside, an old friend of my mother’s.  We began to stumble over the past.

In Norfolk we were in go between country and tracing our way by map, we finally tracked down a hamlet.  Our new/old relations were living in the same house in the same village where my great-great grandfather was born.  And though I’d never met them before, here were our people now.

Perhaps I should explain that we have never been family types.  An itinerant diplomatic upbringing – 3 years on we were no longer there, wherever that was.  Short on rellies, we didn’t bother with cousins, and the family tree stopped with my grandfather.   Or not.   I was dimly aware  that he had a family tree of lines and rules and use of red biro, tucked away in his rolltop desk to work on on rainy days.

My newold relation took us to the Baptist Chapel.  We met the Vicar and told her that we were descended from the occupants of the tombs outside.  Two sisters married two brothers and one of them was Rhoda,  my great-great grandmother. She died aged 36 and then when her husband married again,  my great grandfather got the hell of there to seek his fortune.

This oldpast thing is like doing a jigsaw.  The very same day that we were in Norfolk,  my brother was going through my grandfather’s papers.  Clearing an old cowshed before the builders arrived.  Out came a whole archive, paperclipped, folded, brown enveloped. Letters, a photograph of Rhoda softly coloured up and mounted in a Regency frame, In memoriam cards, invoices for restoring those graves  and the family tree.

Mordecai Cubitt CookeSo now I want to introduce you to Mordecai Cubitt Cooke, Victorian naturalist, mycologist, teacher and eccentric.  A serious mushroom boff,  he wrote 36 books, including  “The Seven Sisters of Sleep:  A Popular History of the 7 prevailing Narcotics the World”.  Holder of medals from the RHS and the Linnaean Society, he’s Rhoda’s father and my great great great grandfather.  I am as pleased as punch that I can now foray back into history and claim folk.


  1. PatioPatch says:

    Catharine, your account of searching for the past in the graveyard and old cow sheds is pure joy to read, culminating in the unearthing of evidence that you are a worthy scion of the fascinating Mordechai – even down to your mushroom hunting skills!

    Laura x

  2. Here! Here! Good for you! Isn’t it great to find connection to your roots?

  3. Robur says:

    Looking at gravestones is indeed very eccentric. I hope you reprimanded that vicar for allowing the grass to be cut far too short.

    I have a remote relative who is passionately interested in family history, and occasionally sends me photocopies of their findings. There’s a lot of work involved in it. You were very lucky to come across such a treasure trove.

  4. Helen says:

    Wow! Isn’t it awesome to find and visit places that gives you a glimpse of the past? You are fortunate to be closely related to a well-known plant scientist! The “Seven Sisters of Sleep” sounds familiar to me. Now I’ll have to go read it again with a different view.

    Thank you again for visiting my blog!

  5. i am so pleased for you..and what a fine and distinguished gentleman Mordecai looks too…

  6. Linda says:

    Grave-visiting can be one of the pleasures of holidays. We found ourselves in the graveyard of a tiny village in the Pyrenees this year, fascinated by the headstones which were a blend of Christian and pagan symbolism.

    Bet there were some really lurid things among those Victorian narcotics.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Hi Catherine! Old places have great history that is valuable and good to know.

  8. Rob English says:

    Hi Catherine, MCC is also one of my forbears. My aunt wrote his biography. I have an original colour sketch of his from 1892 if you wish to see a photo of it let me know a contact and I will email it too you.

    Kind regards

  9. David Gray says:

    Hi Catherine

    Your blog post was forwarded to me by a distant cousin who is doing family research. The three graves pictured are of my Great-Grandparents, Benjamin George Sharpe and Naomi Cooke Sharpe, as well as Rhoda Cooke Sharpe and her husband, William Henry Sharpe, your great great grandparents, and their son, Noami & Benjamin’s 7th child, Henry William Sharpe, my granduncle.

    I’d be interested in knowing more about your family line.

    David Gray, your 3rd cousin

  10. David Gray says:

    You might also like to check out our Facebook Page.

    I’d be interested in talking with Rob English who’s aunt Mary English got many of us started on this search across Canada, Great Britain, USA, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand.

  11. David Gray says:

    Sorry… just reread your post. Mordecai Cubitt Cooke (the mycologist) was Rhoda Cooke’s brother, not father as you state. This would mean that he was your great grand uncle. It is true however, that MCC’s father was also named Mordecai Cooke as were many of his relatives dating back hundreds of years. There is a picture of your great great great grandfather, Mordecai Cooke who married Mary Cubitt, on the FB page I referenced.

  12. Hi Catherine , Mordecai
    My mother Audrey’s Evans’s father was one of Mordecai’s sons. He died when she was a baby . She is 87 and she emigrated to NewZealand back in 1951 . She had six children and most of us follow the family interest in nature by growing things, one way or another . Check out Browens website, she is in Thailand . where she lives works and nurtures nature in her eco resort . Regards , Marina

  13. Carol Smith says:

    I am not related to you but my partner is his GGG Grandfather was Josiah Cooke. I am looking at the family tree this morning and thinking how lucky your family is to have some one notable in it as it does make research a whole lot easier.. My own family also from Norfolk were only farm labourer’s.. But I am tickled pink to be able to read about my partner’s family history.. It must be great to see where they are buried and the village they came from..As we are in Australia its a long way away but good to be able to find your web page here.

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