Huntrodds Day and the fascination of coincidence

Will you be celebrating “Huntrodds Day” this Friday, 19 September 2014?

This is the name coined by stats and number gurus, David Spiegelhalter, Michael Blastland and Timandra Harkness, for the anniversary of what appears to be a remarkable coincidence.

At the rear of St Mary’s Church in Whitby, Yorkshire, is the “Huntrodds Gravestone”, which intrigued David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor of the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge. On his blog, David discusses the notable life circumstances of Mr Francis Huntrodd and his wife, Mary. Both are said to have been born on the same day, 19 September 1600, married on the same date some years later and, after 80 years, died the same date in 1680. Apparently fewer than five hours separated their deaths.

The inscription reads:

“Here lies the bodies of Francis Huntrodds and his wife Mary who were both born on the same day of the week month and year (viz) Septr ye 19th 1600 marry’d on the day of their birth and after having had 12 children born to them died aged 80 years on the same day of the year they were born ye September 19th 1680 the one not above five hours before ye other.

“Husband and wife that did 12 children bear, dy’d the same day; alike both aged were bout 80 years they liv’d, five hours did part (ev’n on the marriage day) each tender heart so fit a match, surely, could never be; both in their lives, and in their deaths agree.”

For a husband and wife to be born on the same day is interesting but not necessarily remarkable. After all they chose to marry each other, rather than some other. That their wedding day is also their birthday sounds like romantic choice. So, as Professor Spiegelhalter says, “the really odd thing is when they died”; he goes on to discuss this in the context of the general question of whether or not people are more likely to die on their birthday.

I’ll leave that to David’s blog. What intrigues me is that there seems so little to be known of this couple, given they must have had some notoriety. After some time on the web I finally came across a reference to a Mary Huntrode who died in 1680. The source for this information is given as a book by Rev. George Young published in 1817 titled “A history of Whitby, and Streoneshalh abbey; with a statistical survey of the vicinity.”

The book has been digitised by Google. According to George Young in a footnote on page 612:

“On the church wall, at the chancel door, is a flat stone, which bore the following singular inscription, not now legible:

“Here lieth the body of Francis Huntrodes, sen. and Mary his wife, who were interred here on the 12th day of September, anno 1680.

Husband, and wife that did ten children bear,
Dyed the same day; alike both aged were.
About eighty years they lived: Five hours did part
(Even on their marriage day) each dearest heart.
So fit a match surely could never be;
Both, in their lives, and in their deaths agree.”

As we can see there are differences. The surnames are spelled differently, Huntrodds and Huntrodes. The date of death in the later inscription is 19 September 1680, the earlier one says interment was 12 September 1680. Both differences may have come about through the attempt to decipher an otherwise illegible inscription. Though, as Rev. Young may have had another source given he refers to it being “not now legible”. We might also ask if “alike both aged were” is intended as a reference to being born on the same day, rather than just the same year.

What seems to be certain is that they did die on the same day, and it was on their wedding anniversary. Rev. Young refers to assistance from papers of a Mr Winter and materials from a Mr Bird. It would be great if these or other records could be found that could confirm the dates for those who wish to celebrate the coincidences of life in the Huntrodds’ name.

Like the founders of Huntrodds Day, the coincidences fascinate me. But the most pleasing thing is to find a source from 1817 that refers so clearly to a statistical survey.

Perhaps in 2017 – 200 years on – we might make a special effort to celebrate the publication of Rev. Young’s book as well?

UPDATE: I have now added a link to the Wikipedia entry for Reverend Young. According to that, Rev. Young was a favourite student of Professor John Playfair who, in turn, was the brother of early statistician, William Playfair. This might explain some of Rev. Young’s general statistical interest and his particular one in the Huntrodds’ / Huntrodes’ story. Whitby Museum’s website also has a biography of Rev. Young.