A Bottesford Christmas
Childhood Memories of Christmas in the 1950s
By Sue Dunsmore
I was the 2nd youngest of six children living in one of the council houses on the Square in Bottesford, built in 1948. My father was a railwayman, and definitely working class!
I have spoken to my brother and sisters, relations, and childhood friends to gain further insight to those glorious Christmases of the past.
Stir-Up Sunday, in November, was the time to make the Christmas cake and puddings. We helped to take the seeds out of the fruit; a huge yellow bowl was required to mix the ingredients and we were allowed to take it in turns to stir and make a wish (but not tell anyone). Puddings would have a 3d or a 6d hidden in the mixture, with no thought given to health and safety! The mincemeat and lemon curd would be home made and an addition to the jams and pickles made during the year.
In December there were no bright lights or outside decorations. However, Reubin Jackson would bike steadily through the village carrying a long pole to light the street gas lights each evening. I remember that there seemed to be more stars in the sky at night.
The chimneys had to be swept for Santa Claus. No central heating of course but a coal fire was essential for warmth and for heating the water, and toasting bread on a fork! There were fire places in the bedrooms, but these were never lit unless someone was ill. I was often dispatched to wait outside and shout when the brush could be seen emerging out of the chimney. The soot would eventually be scattered carefully over the garden. My father would supplement the family income by sweeping the neighbourhood chimneys. Tommy Samuels would bring a bag of coal each week and drop it in the coalhouse.
From a very young age my Saturday mornings were filled with running errands for my aunt and her elderly neighbours, Mrs Johnson and Mrs Sellers, who all lived on the Green. I would take a large basket, a grocery list and purse, and skip to Wynns shop on the corner of Queen Street. Edith Wells would fill my basket, write down the prices, add it all up and put the change in the purse. I would totter home and repeat the journey a further 2 times. Edith would sometimes give me a sweet, but at Christmas time she would put an extra ¼ pound of Brook Bond tea into each of the baskets.
Mrs Johnson would sometimes give me a large black battery ( Accumulator), to take to Mr Greaves on Queen Street for re-charging, so that Mrs Johnson could listen to the wireless. I would also obtain from time to time, gas mantles, because it would be several years before the Green residents had electricity.
The Miss Silverwoods at the Post Office would sell coloured strips of paper to make paper chains and crepe paper for decorations.
A joint of pork would be ordered from Mr. Goodson the butcher. In later years a cockerel would be ordered for Christmas. The shops would close on Christmas Eve for 2 days.
George Parr, the Redmile baker, would go round the villages 3 times a week to sell his bread. The local butchers would also send their pork pies to Redmile, to be baked in his ovens. He would bring large unsliced loaves in an enormous basket to the house; I often imagined myself sitting inside the basket!
We did not have a fridge or freezer, but we had a large walk in pantry. Fruit and vegetables would be preserved, bottled and stored on the shelves to feed us over the winter months. Cyril Palmer would bring the milk and it would be kept outdoors or in the pantry. My oldest sister remembers taking a jug to be filled from a churn, but I only remember the bottles.
The garden was fully utilised with fruit and vegetables. We children all knew not to step foot on the garden. Dad would bring in the Brussels , carrots and potatoes and prepare them for Christmas dinner.
The Brass had to be cleaned and polished for Christmas. Candlesticks, copper kettle, ornaments from ash trays to crinoline ladies with bells; it was hard tiring work. Mum would polish the red tiles in the hall with Cardinal polish. Floors would be swept, rugs shook, and furniture dusted. Carpets and hoovers were a thing of the future. The red tiles today are sadly hidden under a carpet.
Carol singing was an exciting event for a young child on Christmas week. When the carol singers could be heard from afar, Mum would switch off the room lights and open the curtains. I would stand on a chair and watch out for the lights of the lanterns. The singers would make a circle in the middle of the Square and sing several carols, before moving on.
I was not aware of wanting specific things for Christmas. We were not exposed to the massive television advertisements, supermarket or toyshop temptations as does happen today. The family attended chapel and every Sunday we children attended Sunday school. It was a magical time; the forthcoming nativity, and if we were very good, Santa might visit our house.
On Christmas Eve the Christmas tree (plus roots) would be put in a bucket with soil and brought into the house. Crepe paper was wrapped around the bucket and we children would decorate the tree. Candles would be clipped onto the branches; they were brought out each year and never lit. Fragile baubles, some showing some aspect of the nativity, would be carefully tied to the branches with cotton. Colourful miniature crackers which were never pulled would be placed on the branches. Paper lanterns and baskets made at school would be placed, and finally the ancient fairy would be sat on top of the tree. Paper chains would be draped around the room. My older sisters would carefully cut the crepe paper into lengths and twist and stretch the paper from corner to corner, across the room. Balloons were blown up manually, of course.
Holly and mistletoe were essential Christmas decorations obtained locally and freely by a helpful uncle.
I cannot remember seeing lots of Xmas cards at this time of year. My sisters would make them at school. It has been suggested that cards would only be sent to friends and relatives who lived away.
Mum would have a major cooking session on Christmas Eve. Lemon curd tarts, sausage rolls, jam tarts, mince pies, and coconut haystacks would all be stored in the many tins and put in the pantry. A jelly would be placed in moulds and sometimes a blancmange, there was no ice cream. Unusual foods would also appear on the sideboard, such as oranges, dates and figs. Varieties of nuts, unshelled were bought by the pound and put in brown bags.
At bedtime, we would put a mince pie on a plate and Dad would pour out a glass of his home made wine for Santa Claus.
I never thought that I would fall asleep, but of course I did. Downstairs Mum would prepare a supper for extended relatives and friends.
Christmas morning, a brave person would go downstairs to find out if Santa had been and eaten his mince pie and drink. Sometimes the brilliant white filled pillow slips would be found on the landing, in the hall or in the kitchen. Normally we would quickly get dressed, to keep warm, but on this special occasion, we would pile into our parents large bed, at both ends, to open our presents. Some presents would be wrapped in thin Xmas wrapping paper, but usually in brown paper parcels or not wrapped at all.
I cannot remember chocolate or selection boxes, initially. I remember Blue Bird toffee in tins, mint humbugs, sugar mice and sweet cigarettes. My brother recollects a Smokers Pipe set, bus conductor’s set, and a Cowboy’s outfit. We all would find a box of hankies (no paper tissues), tins of paint with paintbrush, crayons, paint/drawing books and an annual. I can remember a Rupert Bear annual. Our dolls would have newly knitted outfits. One wonderful year I had a Confectioners shop with miniature bottles of sweets. My sister recalls having a Post Office with real scales and a John Bull printing set. When I was older, I would receive a cardboard sewing box, with drawers containing threads, needles and pins, and a Knitting dolly. Many of the presents were not new but it did not matter.
Downstairs, a fire would also be lit in the living room. I recall neighbours popping into the house, and passing around the mince pies and looking at our presents. The morning would pass by very quickly. Christmas dinner, as with all meals would be eaten together at the extended table, which we still have today. Lemonade was a special treat. Dad would carve the meat, and we were always encouraged to eat our vegetables! The Christmas pudding would have spent hours steaming on the hob, and there was white custard to go with it.
In the afternoon, wearing our best clothes and new hair ribbons, dad would take us to visit our cousins at the Bede House. We would sit cross legged on the rug, and play games such as I spy, Charades, pass the parcel (with forfeits), hide the thimble and sometimes sing carols. The Good Shepherd would occasionally knock on the door to tell us that Santa had asked him to deliver some presents. He would always ask us if we had been good before starting the proceedings! When we returned home Mum would have prepared the tea. I remember the jellies and the cutting of the Christmas cake. Dad enjoyed eating Pork pie.
The evening was a quieter affair. After the pots had been washed, dried and put away (we all had our jobs), we played with our toys before bedtime; I enjoyed looking at the fire and trying to interpret the “pictures” in the embers.
Boxing Day was a bit of an anticlimax after Christmas Day. We would visit our friends on the Square and share our toys and games, albeit reluctantly. The food would be eaten up from Christmas Day; there was no wastage! Dad would have to return to work the following day, but he was luckier than many men. Bottesford was surrounded by farms, and the animals still had to be milked, fed and watered. The railway also had to be manned at this time.
I feel very lucky to have witnessed a period when it was safe to leave the house unlocked; to have known a time without television and computers.
If anyone has photographs of The Square, or of other places and people mentioned in Sue’s article, which we could copy, please get in touch.