|Abstract||The first Christmas I can recall was that of 1910,
I was approaching my third birthday. My mother had
died a few months previously, and I had been taken into
the care of my grandparents, John and Emma Gurton, who
lived in United Cottages of the then "Woodrope Road".
John and Emma had had thirteen children, seven boys and
six girls. I was the fourteenth child, and in the words
of grandmother I proved more trouble than the whole lot
put together. However, the few years I lived with them
were to be the happiest of my childhood. I can recall
the preparations made for that Christmas of 1910.
The puddings had been made some weeks previously and boiled
in the huge copper in the kitchen, and then suspended by
their cloths from the hooks in the ceiling, alongside the
ham hanging in a white linen bag. Grandmother told me
that there were real silver "threepenny bits" in one or
two of the puddings, but would not identify them to me
although she knew. A firkin of bitter beer had been
supplied by Mr. Stone, the brewer, who had tapped it and
placed in the cask stall in the pantry. Grandmother had
pocketed the brass Key to prevent indiscriminate use by
any adult males who may he in the cottage. A week or
so before the festive season, the visits of the tradespeople
became frequent. Orders were placed with Mr. Ponder of
Salcott for a supply of his renowned sausages (beef 6d per lb
(2½p), pork 8d per lb (3½p). Loaves of bread were
obtainable from the three local bakers at 2½d a loaf (1½p).
David Brand had prime meat at 4½d a lb., and Harrington and
Gower could supply butter at 11d (4½ p) a lb., and two
pounds of sugar at 2½d. Supply of meat was not a very great
problem, as grandfather was a wildfowler of note. He had been
known to shoot over a hundred teal and widgeon with one shot from
his punt gun.
It must be remembered that wildfowl was very plentiful in
those days, and a pest and source of great worry to farmers
and fishermen, hence punt gunners were fairly numerous in
The only toy-shops in the village were Mrs.
Harriet Leavett's in Mell Road, Miss Binnington Leavett at
the top of Woodrope Road, and the newly opened shop White's
at Bank House. Miss Binnington Leavett had a small mono-plane
suspended from a cord in her window. It was clock-work and
like all good quality toys in those days had been "made in
Germany". I was fascinated by the plane, and my Uncle Alf
arranged a demonstration for me. After being wound up the
propeller would revolve and the plane would circle around.
I hoped that I would get it for Christmas, but I feel that
my grandparents considered that it could do damage in the
small rooms of the cottage. However, I was to receive a
more dangerous toy, a carpentry set comprising tenon saw,
hammer, pincers, bradawl, etc., and I was over-joyed to find
this at the foot of my bed in the morning, as I had only hung
up my small stocking, not wishing to appear greedy. Sunday
morning or Christmas morning, my cousins next door, Stan and
Flo Collins went to Sunday-school, but I was considered too
young at that stage to go, and had to remain indoors.
In the course of the morning, my uncles who were living in
the village or were on holiday, would visit the cottage and
be regaled with a drop of home-made wine, or ale, and a piece
of Christmas fruit cake or hot mince pie. Visitors arrived
periodically throughout the day and were treated accordingly.
Dinner was a very satisfying exercise. Duff and gravy, followed
by meat and a variety of root vegetables, and cabbage, all
cooked in the large cast-iron saucepans on the kitchen range
and in the living room. I was disappointed at not finding a
"threepenny bit" in my pudding, but Uncle Alf got a another
small portion for me, and slyly pushed
in a "threepenny bit" without my knowledge, and I was overjoyed on
finding it. After the clearing away and washing up, I was
allowed to go into the front room in which an open fire had
been lit earlier. The room was a show-piece and not
frequently used. I was fascinated by the gilded baskets
of dried flowers and grasses, protected by domed glass shields,
and the beautiful model of a native catamaran, which grandfather
had retrieved from the sea years earlier. There was a variety
of nuts and apples. Chestnuts roasted in the open fire were
a special treat. As darkness fell, oil lamps were lit, and
the adults settled down to reading or keeping me amused.
Grandmother on such occasions always read a passage from the
family Bible which she had purchased by subscriptions over the
years, and which she very much treasured. Christmas festivities
being over, the work of clearing up the left overs, and
laundering the house linen followed. It was on this occasion
I disgraced myself. On washing-day, grandmother attired herself
in a large straw hat, and what she termed a "mantle", a large
hessian apron. The kitchen would be full of steam and smelling
strongly of soap and soap powder. It was on such an occasion
I asked her what I could saw, and I felt she said "I don't care
what you do" - I promptly sawed off the wheel-back of her favourite
armchair, much to my lasting sorrow and perpetual remihder as the
backless chair was placed by the back door.
The next Christmas
I received a Boy Scout's outfit, without jack-knife, the
Tollesbury Territorial Scouts had just been formed, but I was
too young to join. The next Christmas, I was to receive one
of the most useful presents of my childhood, a pair of rubber
Wellington boots, purchased by my Aunt Daisy with her first
week's wages cf 5/- (shillings 25p) she having just entered the employ
of the Count and Countess de la Chapelle as nursemaid to their daughter Yvonne
at Heron Lodge.
Wearing the boots I could accompany Grandfather when he visited
yachts in his care, give attention to his smacks "Phantom" and
"Gem" and tend his oyster pits on the saltings. No more would
I be plastered up to the eyeballs in "Wood-up mud", but I was
becoming a trial to the old couple, and the time was fast
approaching when I should go to school. In the meantime, my
father had re-married and I was to return home to live.
Christmasses were never to be the same simple care-free
occasions as those of my grand-parents. My father was the
licensee of a rambling old timbered public house, about
four hundred years old. It possessed a brew-house, where
beer had been brewed years earlier, stabling and cart-lodges for
eight horses, and a very damp cellar which filled up with water every
winter. In the days before 1915, the bars were open from 6.30 a.m.
to 10 p.m. at night. The house had been built around a massive
brick fire-place, with brick lined and plastered cupboards either
side, which were reputed to be "priest holes" as it was possible
to enter in one room and escape in another. Christmasses were
on a much grander scale. Much preparation was made, the bars
were decorated with paper chains, presents of pipes were available
for the customers, and there was a Christmas tree for the parties
which followed. Before Christmas Eve the "Slate Club" would pay
out to its contributors one or one and a half golden sovreigns for
the contributions of twopence or multiples thereof made weekly.
One of the features of Christmas in those days was the singing of
"sea shanties" and great-uncle John Prior who always walked from
his cottage opposite Beckingham Hall would always render "Farmers
Boy" before making his return journey.
It was a rough and
boisterous life, and I was pleased to be able to escape to the
kindness and serenity of the Sunday School and the
warmth of the Church which had at that time coke fires under
the floor, although on odd occasions we had to beat a hurried
exit on account of noxious fumes. In the evening, my cousin
Flo Collins would call for me and take me to the Chapel where
we had to go up into the gallery, and gaze on the assembly below.
In those days there was a choir, and there were oil lamp standards
at the end of the pews, casting a mellow glow on the proceedings.
The Rev. Basil Anstey in black silk gown would enter from one of
the doors in the north and ascend the stairway to his rostrum at
the head of the Chapel. Much singing of favourite hymns followed.
As a child I could never understand why people went to different
churches, and I asked my grandmother the reason for this, but she
could not give me an adequate answer, and impatiently told me that
there was "too much bobbing up and down" at St. Mary's and not
enough singing. However, I liked St. Mary's and the Vicar, Rev.
William Carter, who had a beautiful gold watch which could chime
the hours. Soon after Christmas the Sunday School parties followed
where there was an abundance of delicacies, jellies, cakes, etc., and
usually a concert given by the older scholars. The concert was
repeated during the week following for the benefit of adults.
The Christmas festive season was a very happy period.
Although there were no street decorations, and those in houses
were restricted to paper chains and sprigs of holly, the shop
windows made a brave display with tinsel, cotton wool, and the like.
There was no need for the American custom for putting a holly wreath
on the front door, as practically every home in the village was
open house, with a warm welcome and refreshment. Tollesbury
like many other villages at that time was a close knit community.
Over the years there had been much inter-marriage, and relatives
could be claimed in nearly every family.