1850 – 1950 A century of Barton Christmases
You don’t have to look far in Barton upon Humber to see that Christmas brings out the creative and extraordinary in people. Take the Christmas Festival and the lovely Alice in Wonderland themed lantern parade that made its way through the town a few weeks ago. A wondrous display of originality. If we go back in time though, things just get “curiouser and curiouser” to quote Alice.
Victorian Christmas – A time for benevolence and liberality
There has always been plenty of Christmas cheer to go around in this little town. Indeed, according to the Barton News, in 1858, “the inhabitants were pleasantly serenaded by parties and singers both on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, to the great appreciation of all.”
Things weren’t always so down to earth back then though. A later edition of the paper recounts the unusual tale of “An enterprising trader [who] received a few links of sausages with somebody’s compliments.” After some showing off the sausages were cooked until “the patience of the cook was exhausted. She took out the obstinate sausages and cut one in half, when was disclosed to the disappointed gaze a lot of sawdust.”
Evidently those Victorians weren’t so straight-laced as everyone thinks, although their practical jokes leave a little to be desired.
Christmas in the Victorian era wasn’t just about humour though, it was also “a time for benevolence and liberality when Christmas boxes, treats for workmen, treats to paupers and event treats for prisoners are dispersed with a bountiful hand … Yet we fear that there are many humble homes that know no festivity or rejoicing, nothing indeed but the scant and unsavoury fare of penury … Where a little Christmas fare would indeed be welcomed as a blessing. If everyone were to exert just a trifling amount of benevolence, how many hear
ts would rejoice.
This plea was printed in the Barton News under the title of Christmas Benevolence in the late 19th century.
Christmas in Wartime
In the first half of the 20th century, nobody let wars and rationing get in the way of a merry Christmas. Dr Tom Kirk’s Diaries tell us of hockey, four course meals at Guy and Smith’s store in Grimsby and Boys’ Club Christmas Parties, despite the war and a busy doctor’s schedule.
On Christmas Day 1942 the doctor was entertaining “two US Flying-officers called Bland and Manlove. After a great turkey meal we played hockey on the lawn until our guests pleaded for a rest and had to be revived with drinks of water. In evening we went over to Cob Hall and joined a terrific party. They had 2 Americans, Squadron-Leader and Mrs Kennard, also Laurie and Betty. … Afterwards we played Murder and Charades until after midnight. Starving England in war-time?!”
Things weren’t always joyful though, the family worried in the back of their minds about Dr Peggy Kirk’s brother, Kenneth, who disappeared early in the war. But, as with all good Christmas tales, there was a happy ending when a card arrived on the last Christmas Eve of the war “from Kenneth [saying] ‘Health and climate excellent. Interesting work.’ It came from a Borneo Prisoner of War Camp. Peg [Kirk] burst into tears with relief.”
That Christmas Day Dr Kirk could be found happily giving food to the old and infirm of Barton, just as his Victorian ancestors would have wanted, before nipping to Cob Hall to watch his best friend Laurie “at his daftest, hitting golf balls off tumblers.” A very merry Christmas then.
Sources (all can be found at the library): A Doctors’ War – Tom Kirk’s Diaries, by Geoffrey F. Bryant, Nigel D. Land & Stephen J. Wright
Barton on Humber in the 1850s by the Barton on Humber Branch of the Workers Educational Association