Wednesday 12 December 2018

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” goes the song – and at Cheshire Record Office we’ve been inspired to look through our wide variety of material about the festive season. From children’s nativities to presents from the 19th century, read on to see some images and descriptions of Christmases past.

One of the first festive things to do is write your Christmas cards. We have a collection of postcards sent home to Cheshire from a soldier serving in France during the First World War which includes some embroidered Christmas cards, such as this one wishing the recipient “Christmas Greetings” . There is a handwritten note on the back to an Alice from Fred: “Best wishes for Christmas and Peace for 1917.”

In the collection of sketch books from the 1920s belonging to William Hutchings, a Liverpool-born artist who later lived in Northwich, we found what appears to be a design for a humorous Christmas card. Showing a butler tripping over a cat and spilling the Christmas pudding, the caption reads “May nothing mar your Christmas joy!”

When Christmas cards are done, we need to think about presents. Within the archives of the Egerton family of Oulton Park, we have a list of scholars at Oulton Park National School and the Christmas gifts they were given in 1900. For the infants, it includes dolls or tea sets for the girls and paint boxes or slates for the boys. The older children were given gifts such as a purse, glove box, knife or scissors! 

School pupils were not the only ones to receive gifts. Companies followed the tradition of giving small handouts of money or ‘Christmas Boxes’ to servants and tradesmen on St Stephen’s Day, what we now call Boxing Day. The Brunner, Mond & Co. chemical company - later Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) – kept meticulous records of their Christmas Boxes.  This one is dated 1st January 1879 and lists the amount given to people such as the postman, someone known as “James” from the Hope Iron and Tin Plate Company and “Griffiths” from Hatton, Sons & Co of Bilston.

On the more expensive end of the scale, we have a 19th century Christmas shopping list belonging to a member of the Leicester-Warren family of Tabley. It is a handwritten list of names of friends and family, along with the Christmas gifts intended for them.  The list covers over a hundred people with a wide variety of gifts that included not only lace handkerchiefs, smelling bottles and blotting books, but also a gold candlestick for a Colonel Ponsonby, an emerald and opal ring for Lady Stratford de Redcliffe and a sapphire and diamond ring for Lady Georgina Bathurst.

We have some receipts for the Leicester-Warren family’s Christmas supplies – not only for presents, but for the family’s Christmas food, such as one from Fortnum and Mason in 1911 which included stilton, fois gras and a hamper; and another from Selfridges in London which includes ‘Xmas trees with candles’. There is also a letter from the Managing Director of Harrods apologising for an invoicing error for Christmas Tree Ornaments – it is one of several letters he sent to the family. 

Still on the subject of food, we have a Christmas dinner menu from 1925 in the Brunner, Mond & Co archives. For the Sandbach Works celebration, staff members were served roast turkey and grilled sausage – but it was accompanied by white sauce and boiled celery, perhaps a little different to the tastes of today! 

Christmas festivities wouldn’t be complete without music and entertainment. We have some sheet music from 1876 belonging to Nether Tabley choir, and this carefully handwritten piece of Christmas music is called Sing We Merry Xmas. Children’s nativity plays are as much a Christmas tradition as carols around the tree – this nativity image, from Cheshire Image Bank, is of children at St Laurence church in Frodsham in 1948.

Finally, let us not forget those who couldn’t be with their family at Christmas. Cheshire Archives holds a collection of glass photo negatives of the Baker family of Runcorn – this one is captioned ‘Pollie making a Christmas cake to send to Hal in France, WWI’.

This photo is from Cheshire Image Bank and shows a party for evacuee children in Chester in 1941. And from our collection of Chester Royal Infirmary archives, this photograph from the late 1920s records Santa’s visit to children who had to spend Christmas in the children’s ward.

All that remains is for Cheshire Record Office to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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