Christmas in 1900

By Helen Cooper

We looked forward to Christmas for weeks when we were children - now it is Christmas every weekend. Early in September mother started to collect the ingredients for the Christmas puddings, a little bit of something each week. She would also put a few coppers away in the moneybox for goodies for Christmas. There were lots of secret parcels tucked away in closets and cupboards. It was a thrill in those days to look forward to as everyone in the family took part.

Even though there was such a lot of poverty and poor people had a rough time of it they always had a lovely Christmas. Of course we didn’t have all these expensive presents like today. Dolls for the girls or a wooden horse or wheelbarrow and soldiers for the boys. Also little tea sets made in Germany of tin for the girls but best of all was your stocking with an orange or apple and a new penny and some nuts. Yet we were so happy and content with just that. The rich had very elaborate parties but I am sure they didn’t enjoy themselves as much as the poor classes because their servants prepared everything for them. We had to do everything ourselves, that was much more rewarding.

There were always the classes right up to the First World War, when it began to change a little. Servants went into munitions and the factories and everyone had to pull their weight.

The rich mingled with the working classes and made friends in different walks of life. Some things turned out for the good but others not so well. Anyway I still think that some of us senior citizens wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I used to love to go to town on Christmas Eve, down the Bull Ring, with my mother. We would collect my father from the Wholesale Market in Jamaica Row.

On Saturday they shut at 3 o’clock. I was dressed in my best bib and tucker and best button boots. We would go to the grocers on the corner of Worcester Street, Jarvis they were called, a very old-fashioned shop. A great coffee machine stood in the corner with a funny top like a chimney on a train. The coffee smell was lovely; also there were chairs for the customers to sit on. Miss Jarvis was a very plump, jolly woman who was very fond of children and always gave them a bag of biscuits. Also you were given a Christmas box, unlike today when you’re supposed to give the shops one instead. You could choose between a bottle of port, a pork pie or a lovely Christmas cake covered with almonds.

The shops went out of their way to celebrate Christmas. The pork butcher had a pig with a rosy apple in his mouth and a rosette in his ear; even the sausages were decorated with paper roses. The bakers and cake shops displayed lovely iced slab cakes and great big pork pies, also big cottage loaves with tiny ones around them. Also the lovely homemade mince pies and plum puddings in basins covered with a spotless cloth.

The stalls were crowded with people shopping and decked with oil lanterns shining on the goods. The fairy lights outside St Martins Church and two Father Christmases, one at the top of New Street and one lower down by the market. It looked like a picture from a children’s storybook. Everyone seemed so happy, they would join in the carols from the church. Also the songs the old men sang like ‘The Mistletoe’, we called them the Weights.

Things were cheap then figs were 2d and oranges 4 for a penny, best apples were 3d and you could buy a coconut for 2d. Nuts were 4d a lb, celery ½d and watercress a 1d. The fish market had their share of poultry, turkeys were 5/- each, a chicken was 1/6d and a goose was 2/-. You cannot really believe that things could change so much. Flowers were 6d a bunch, carnations 1d each, now they are outrageous what they charge.

Barneby’s in the Great Western Arcade was the leading toyshop. It was a shop full of old world charm. There were penny dips for the children that was a real treat to have a dip from Father Christmas’s sack. I would clutch my penny until the last minute. He was such a jolly Father Christmas. Oh what happy days and I hope that I haven’t bored you with my memories.

Ed’s comment- Lovely memories that couldn’t possibly bore anyone. The article was taken from a book of memories written by Helen Cooper who was born in 1899

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