The Midwinter family

Midwinter is the winter solstice, the day of the year when the Sun is at its lowest point in the sky, resulting in the shortest day and the longest night of the day. Temperatures can drop well below freezing in midwinter. The Winter Solstice is the most important day of the year at Stonehenge. It marks the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun. Druids and people from around the world gather to celebrate the midwinter and welcome longer days. Many people thus light candles on this day. For the builders of Stonehenge, the mid-winter solstice was presumably more important. As farmers and people rearing domestic animals and growing crops for food, the midwinter sunset marks the turning of the year. Since ancient times, people all over the world have recognized this important astronomical occurrence and celebrated the subsequent “return” of the Sun in a variety of different ways.

There is evidence to show that my surname was sometimes given to someone born on Christmas Day. I think the importance of the winter solstice and Stonehenge gives us another possibility; that there is strong circumstantial evidence to show that my surname could originate from a time that pre-dates any existing records. The winter solstice is England’s oldest, most important festival, dating back tens of thousands of years. You can often witness people lighting candles, displaying fairy lights, and holding lanterns to reflect the importance of creating warmth and light and encouraging the return of the sun.  It thus makes sense to name yourself after such an important day. It would effectively be a very positive name to have and one with very significant symbolism. With this in mind, it could well be one of the very first English names.

Old solstice traditions have influenced the holidays we celebrate now, such as Christmas and Hanukkah. Soyal is the winter solstice celebration of the Hopi Indians of northern Arizona. The Persian festival Yalda, or Shab-e Yalda is a celebration of the winter solstice in Iran that started in ancient times. Inti Raymi is celebrated in June But for Peru, it is the winter solstice, and this Incan celebration is in honor of the Sun god. The ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia is perhaps the most closely linked with the modern celebration of Christmas. Kwanzaa is an African American celebration of life, family, community, and culture that lasts for seven days, from December 26 to January 1. The winter solstice has inspired mystical celebrations worldwide, both old and new, in anticipation of the sun’s return. 

It was the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year. Many of these customs are still followed today. They have been incorporated into the Christian and secular celebrations of Christmas. The famous poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter” was written by the English poet Christina Rossetti. The English poem has an atmosphere of cold winter stillness and is commonly performed as a Christmas carol.

There are approximately 252 people with my surname in the UK. That makes it the 13,820th most common overall. Out of every million people in the UK, approximately 4 will be a Midwinter. But, it is not just a rare surname, it can also be traced back to 1188 when John Midwinter held lands in Berkshire. Later, another John Midwinter was recorded in 1248 in Warwickshire, and Geoffrey Midewynter appears in 1275 in Surrey. In Northleach, Gloucestershire, there is a monumental brass of William and Agnes. Willliam served as High Bailiff in 1493. We know quite a bit about his business career; he traded with the Cely company, Merchants of the Staple of Calais. The Cely’s bought Cotswold wool, transported it by packhorse to London, where the weight was double-checked, then it was loaded on a ship for Calais. The Cely’s came to Northleach regularly for business meetings and much of their correspondence with William Midwinter has survived, giving us a fascinating glimpse into the medieval wool trade. It is interesting that Agnes is shown with her feet on a sheep and woolpack, suggesting that she was a merchant in her own right. William died in 1501 and Agnes died in 1502.

William Shakespeare wrote “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It was first performed around 1596. Shakespeare’s comic fantasy of four lovers who find themselves bewitched by fairies is a sly reckoning with love, jealousy, and marriage. For centuries it’s been one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays. More recently, several people have created a version of “A Midwinter Night’s Dream”.

The Berkshire record office shows that Charles Midwinter & Son were corn and seed merchants. They operated between 1865-1984. In Berkshire, Midwinter’s held a family seat as Lords of the Manor. The associated coat of arms is recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884. The Midwinter Pottery was founded as W.R. Midwinter, Stoke-on-Trent in 1910 and had become one of England’s largest potteries by the late 1930s with more than 700 employees. Its Stylecraft collection influenced British design during the 50s as the public had a taste for new designs fuelled by the successful Festival of Britain Exhibition in 1951. The designs led to a revolution during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s which these days would be highly-prized and considered retro. Production of the pottery ceased in 1987.

Eric Clare Midwinter OBE, (born February 1932) is an English author, broadcaster, and academic. He is a consumer advocate, a social policy analyst, a historian of the sport of cricket, and an expert on British comedy. My father, John Edwin Midwinter OBE FRS FREng (born 8 March 1938) is an electrical engineer, professor, and was President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (now IET) from 2000 to 2001. I am the youngest of four. Timothy is the oldest, then Phillippa, Kim, and me. Information me can be found on this website.


Author: Piers Midwinter
I am an artist and a teacher. I am currently teaching at a Cambridge International School in Vietnam.