We can imagine that Christmas parties at the manor house were glamorous affairs; a gloriously bedecked and candlelit tree twinkling in a window, the discreet sound of an orchestra wafting into the snow shrouded park, the clink of champagne glasses and the murmur of genteel conversation, but what can we really discover of the realities of Christmas in the village at large?
As it happens, whatever Christmas celebrations may have taken place at the manor house or any of the other grand houses in the village appear to have been entirely unremarked upon by the local press, but scouring the newspapers yields up some stories with festive spirit, and a few that might be better suited to Halloween.
Christmas is of course a time for children, and so we find a report carried in the Bucks Standard of January 9th, 1892, telling us that on Saturday January 2nd, the children of the church Sunday School, numbering some 60 persons, were entertained to tea by the Rector and his wife, before been ushered into the classroom, where “a large Christmas tree had been decorated and laden with useful and fancy articles. Each child received one or two presents and an orange, and they evidently went away well pleased.”
St. Andrew’s School on the High Street was opened in 1875 and a log book entry for December 23rd, 1886, records that Mrs Williams had visited the school, and given a petticoat to each of the girls, presumably as a Christmas gift; no record seems to exist of anything given to the boys. Mrs Williams would have been Ellen Maude Williams, the wife of the Rector, Sydney Herbert Williams.
We have evidence of a white Christmas in 1890, as the closing remarks for the year make reference to the very poor attendance due to the snowy weather; similar conditions prevailed in 1896.
The school was closed on December 21st, 1892 for a two week holiday, with a Christmas concert held that evening at 7pm. The last entries in the logbook for 1894 mentions that the children are engaged in preparing for “Christmas entertainments.” A similar entertainment took place the following year, as well as “social” on December 20th.
A prize giving ceremony was conduced on the last day of the school year in 1910, December 21st, and following this, “there was a distribution of oranges to every scholar by Miss Christine Turnbull, and it having been announced that the holidays would extend to Monday, January 9th, the National Anthem was sung, and the children filed out of the school happy in the thought that for a fortnight they were to enjoy freedom from their books.”
Christine was the daughter of the Rector, John Turnbull, and was again present at Christmas 1914, giving each child present an orange. Oddly, though the tradition of giving an orange at Christmas was clearly much cemented into the routine of school life and a school concert is often alluded to in the log books, there is no sign that nativity plays were routinely staged in this period; for instance in 1931 there is only mention of a “little breaking up concert.”
That nativity plays have been a feature of the school year is however entirely certain, as in 1981, the school was showcased in a full page article in a local newspaper (possibly The Citizen), which makes mention of a nativity play.
Changes in consumer behaviour is very much reflected by an advertisement carried in the Buckingham Advertiser of December 6th, 1930, offering cheap excursions to London for Christmas shopping, the fare from Great Linford railway station being 7 shillings. in December of 1950, there was also a very special traveller on the Newport Nobby, as the local train was affectionately called. Santa Claus himself set off from Great Linford to visit Newport Pagnell, greeted there to great excitement by hundreds of waiting children.
Christmas day did not necessarily mean the cessation of all activity, both respectable and nefarious, and certainly some were up to no good. On the Christmas morning of 1907, Alfred Keech and William Richardson were apprehended on suspicion of trespassing in search of game at Great Linford. Police Constable Honour searched the men, and found the tools of their trade, freshly soiled pegs and wires used to snare rabbits. A few weeks later, the bench had evidently exhausted its supply of Christmas cheer, and both men were fined 10 shillings each, plus costs, or 14 days imprisonment if unable to pay.
There was one traditional outdoor pursuit unlikely to attract the ire of the local constabulary, football. For instance, the local football team the Great Linford Hornets took to the field on Christmas Day 1935 against Salmons’ Sports and came away with a 2-1 win, though a return game scheduled for Boxing Day had to be abandoned owing to the state (unspecified) of the ground.
Weddings were not unknown on Christmas Day, and indeed a number can be identified at Great Linford, the earliest of which was solemnised between John Webster and Ann Wilson in 1718. Another was that of Thomas Johnson, and Hannah Frost in 1802, and yet another was between Henry Reynolds, a brick maker, and Mary Dawby, taking place in 1858. You might imagine there was a romantic reason for marrying on Christmas Day, but in fact it was likely more out of necessity, as leave from work was a privilege few then enjoyed, and since Christmas Day and Boxing Day were the only two days of the year that bride and groom could reasonably both expect to have free, these days became popular with couples.
Weddings led to children, and occasionally the happy occasion of a birth would coincide with the festive season. Such was case when Kathleen Rundle of The Wharf Inn delivered a daughter Tina on Christmas day 1959, though at 10 minutes past midnight, she was certainly cutting things fine.
The Wharf Inn was also home at around this time to the Mathis family, one of whom was making a name for herself as a “local child star.” A year or two previously, Susan Mathis had appeared at the Scale Theatre, London, and the Hippodrome, Derby, performing a solo acrobatic dance. As a local celebrity, she was clearly in demand, and in 1958 put on a dance performance at a Christmas party for a Newport Pagnell old folks home.
Various local organisations put on events over the Christmas period, including a dance held at the old Memorial Hall on December 13th, 1946, with music by a “modern dance band” called The Revellers. The proceeds from the dance (general admission 2 shillings, 6d, H.M Forces 1 shilling, 6d) was to go toward funding a children’s Christmas party.
Some years earlier, representatives from the Great Linford branch of the Women’s Conservative Association were on hand for a Christmas Fair held in 1937, with villagers providing one of the stalls. Several familiar names from the village appear in the report carried in the Wolverton Express, including the Seamarks and a Mrs Uthwatt, whom we can take to be Caroline, the wife of the then Lord of the Manor, William Rupert Edolph Andrewes Uthwatt.
Thought it is entirely unfair to accuse the Uthwatts of a bah humbug attitude to Christmas, accounts of their activities during the festive season are almost entirely lacking across several hundred years of newspaper reports. It seems entirely likely that the Lords of the Manor would have felt a degree of obligation to provide some Christmas cheer to the villagers, but whatever form that took, we can only guess at, though several members of the family, including Stella Uthwatt, were guests at the school on a number of occasions to hand out prizes on the last day before Christmas, notably in 1925, when carols were sung. The only clear reference found to any Christmas largess is the supply of some gifts by Gerard Uthwatt to the patients at Renny Lodge Hospital, Newport Pagnell, in 1942.
In the 1920s, the manor house was rented out to an American family called the Meads, and in 1927 the New Bradwell branch of the British Legion put on a children’s party, to which Mrs Mead donated a Christmas tree. In December of 1928, it was reported that carol singers visited the home of the Meads on the 22nd. The Meads were noted as attendees at the end of year festivities at St. Andrew’s School in the early 1930s, but here the supply of stories connected to the manor runs dry.
Stories concerning the church of St. Andrews at Christmas are also surprisingly few and far between; one might have imagined that reports of Christmas services would have proven newsworthy, but only two accounts have been discovered. In 1883, a great deal of work had commenced to improve the structure and layout of the church, paid for by public subscription, and though by December the church was not fully open, it was announced that a Christmas day service was to be held.
Another Christmas day story concerns the dedication of a new stained glass window in the church, the cost of which was paid for by a Joseph Bailey, in memory of his deceased son, William. The unveiling ceremony was carried out on Christmas day 1904, by the Reverend Turnbull.
It does seem that there was once a traditional “feast day” held in honour of the patron saint of the church, held in the week before Christmas. This does not imply a celebratory meal, but rather a religious event. This feast day was still being celebrated at least as late as 1900.
A rather odd story was published in Croydon's Weekly Standard newspaper of Saturday December 24th, 1910, concerning some visiting carolers from Stantonbury Girl’s Club. The carolers were on a tour of various villages in aid of charity, and the article reports that they had a very warm welcome in Old Bradwell, but sadly the reception in Great Linford was severely lacking in Christmas goodwill. As the article recounts, “the behaviour of a section of irresponsible youths was not of the character which one might expect.” The article does not elaborate on what this behaviour was, but it does seem to prove that delinquent behaviour is nothing new under the sun.
Sadly, the festive period could have its fair share of tragedies, as for example the story of poor Agnes Ransley, who in 1930 visited the village of her birth for the holidays, and on Christmas day went to lay flowers on the grave of her parents, Frederick and Elizabeth Kemp. A trip on a grave stone and a fall resulted in a few minor injuries, but perhaps the shock was too much, as a week later she succumbed to a blood clot to the heart.
As if that wasn’t a tragic enough story, a fatal accident occurred in the early hours of Christmas day 1941 to a solider on leave. 33 Year old Percy Richard Abel Turner was walking home to Great Linford after visiting New Bradwell when he and another solider were struck by a car. Percy died a few hours later at Northampton hospital, while his friend was severely injured.
This being a post about Christmas, it seems entirely apt to close with a note on the considerable connection the village once enjoyed with the Turkey trade. This business was based at Church Farm on the High Street. The undated photo below shows Turkeys being driven to market on the High Street.