Department Store Christmas
The first purpose built department store in England was Brixton’s Bon Marché opened in 1877.
It was not until the end of the 19th Century that electric lighting was common in shops and with that came some wonderful Christmas lighting. Busbys’ department store was founded in 1908 (merging with Debenhams in 1958) and over the succeeding 70 years became one of the most popular shops in Yorkshire. At Christmas, Busbys’ Santa’s grotto was a must visit for many families in the Bradford district. The following quotes are taken from Busbys’ A Shop Full of Memories by Michael Callahan and Colin Neville (Bradford Museums, Galleries & Heritage, 2008).
“I was chosen to be ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, and I felt very proud to be doing this. The day the Grotto opened we started out for Busbys’ on a big flat lorry from Dockfield, in Shipley. There was Mother and Father Christmas and their fairy, and myself in the lorry, and we were joined by some of the Hammond Sauce Band and they played Christmas songs and carols along the route. We had a big bags of sweets, and all along Manningham Lane there were children and mothers just lining the road and we threw sweets to them all along the way; it was such a big event. In the Grotto I had my own little sweet shop and talked to the children while they were waiting to see Father Christmas. The Grotto was so big; it was never-ending! There was a lot to see – and it was magical. Dorothy West”
“As the electrician at Busbys’ from 1972-75 I have great memories of the family atmosphere there. The highlight and privilege was wiring all the working models and fairy lights for the Grotto. Seeing the children’s faces from behind the scenes was magical. Keith Brown” p. 71
“My memory is being taken to see Santa Claus when very small. My memory is a huge display of lights and tinsel and magic. We had to walk down paths and over bridges, pull strings, and glitter snowed down on us. It seemed as though we walked for ages before we saw Santa… that walk and the magic has never been equalled in any display since. A.Wallace” p.59
‘I must have been the only child who didn’t enjoy the visit to Santa’s Grotto. I was aged about 3, and when we finally reached Santa he said, “what do you want little girl” I replied, “I want to get out of here!” Anonymous, p. 61
Many textile mills decorated workplaces, and even some machinery, for royal events but also for Christmastime:
‘We would buy a few packets of crimped paper, which we cut and made into streamers to decorate the room at the mill. We would have a walk round at dinner time to see the other rooms and decide which we liked best. As Christmas drew near there was always someone singing carols during meal-times. Someone would start “Hark the herald angels sing” or “While shepherds watched”, and soon it was taken up by another and another, till soon almost everyone had joined in. It was in the mill that I was introduced to Handel’s Messiah. Most of the mill workers, if they could sing, would be taking part in the Messiah at their own places of worship. They put in a bit of practice while working.’ Picking up Threads Reminiscences of a Bradford Mill Girl by Maggie Newberry (Bradford Libraries, 1993), p. 52
At Christmas we’d take some sherry and mince pies, and happen a Christmas cake, and have a break for about an hour in the afternoon. The weavers, you could hear them going mad, but we weren’t with them, we just sat round our mending tables and had us own bit of fun. We never went in any other part of the mill at all.’ Woman. Born 1915 From Textile Voices A Century of Mill Life by Tim Smith and Olive Howarth, BHRU (Bradford Arts, Heritage & Leisure, 2006), p. 115
Artists’ and Writers’ Christmas
David Hockney: One Tuesday afternoon in December 1951 three boys from Bradford Grammar School boarded the trolley bus. The three, namely Hockney (David), Taylor, M.S. (later Oxford University scholarship), and Dixon, M. (minor), had all been subjected to a ‘half Tuesday’ – detention – for a variety of misdemeanours. It was decided a visit to Busbys’ to see Father Christmas and the grotto was in order. We joined a long queue. After what seemed like hours we finally arrived at the head of the queue. Alas! We were approached by a very imposing commissionaire in uniform complete with bristling moustache who enquired ‘where were our parents?’ On being informed they were at home he said ‘sorry, but we could not see Father Christmas’. He politely showed us the Emergency Exit and kicked us out! On the wall immediately opposite was the famous Busbys’ sign with the marching guardsmen and the slogan ‘The Store with the Friendly Welcome’. The now world famous David Hockney was heard to mumble ‘some friendly welcome!’ “ Michael Dixon in Busbys’ A Shop Full of Memories by Michael Callahan and Colin Neville (Bradford Museums, Galleries & Heritage, 2008) p.71. See also https://capitadiscovery.co.uk/bradford/items?query=the++Hockneys
Charles Dickens: On 28th December 1854, ‘Mr Christmas’ himself, Charles Dickens (author of such Christmassy works as A Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers and The Chimes) read from his works to a packed audience at the new St George’s Hall in Bradford. Special trains were put on for journeys to Halifax and Huddersfield, such was the popularity of the event. However, for some female members of the audience, the evening might not have turned out quite as Dickens had initially promised, that is like “a small social party assembled to hear a tale told round the Christmas fire…” because, as a skilled actor, his dramatic readings of the violent murder of Nancy in Oliver Twist, for example, had been known to cause women in the audience to swoon into a dead faint.
J.B. Priestley: Much later in time, a great fan of Charles Dickens, a young Bradford born J.B. Priestley, who would frequently forego dinner to buy books, was said to have “spent one Yuletide with a chum at an old inn near Bradford where he smoked a church-warden pipe and tried a brew of punch”, in order “to sample Christmas very much as Dickens’s Mr Pickwick would have done.” (Rebel Tyke Bradford and J.B. Priestley by Peter Holdsworth (Bradford Libraries, 1994), p.45
The school nativity has long provided a Christmas gift that keeps on giving to parents and teachers alike. Let’s hope that this year will be the only year that for many has to be watched only on film at home or not at all. If you have never seen or been part of one, Gervase Phinn gives some lovely and humorous accounts from his Yorkshire School Inspector days, such as at St Helen’s school where the teacher, Mrs Smith had asked the children to write parts of the Christmas story in their own words, one child read,
’The three kings were very rich and they wore beautiful clothes and had these crowns and things. They looked at the stars every night. One night one of the kings said, “Hey up, what’s that up there, then?” “What?” said the other kings. “That up there in the sky? I’ve not seen a star like that one.” The star sparkled and glittered in the blue sky. “You know what?” said another king. “It means there’s a new baby king been born. Shall we go and see Him?” “All right.”’
The narrator continued: ‘They shouted to their wives: “Wives! Wives! Go and get some presents for the baby king. We’re off to Beth’lem to see Him.” “OK,” said the wives.’ Head Over Heels in the Dales (Michael Joseph, 2002), p. 95 These books are available for loan, follow: https://www.bradford.gov.uk/libraries
Charity in Depression Christmas, 1932
In 1861, Francis Middlebrook wrote, “Mother went to Keighley workhouse to see all the inmates get rum and tea”, the latter being donated by William Busfield Ferrand of St Ives. Keighley News 24 Dec 1982
In Keighley at the two lodging houses, Mr Edward Roberts, landlord, provided a ham and egg breakfast and an anonymous donor provided parcels of tea and sugar. Mr Roberts organised an annual fund and as a consequence each resident was also given free lodgings, tobacco and cigarettes on Christmas day. Each child in various Keighley institutions was also given a new shilling piece by a Mr Asa Smith. Keighley News 10 December 1982
Hearth and home in Victoria’s reign was not for everyone. With no regular police force yet, law and order in Bradford and Keighley was kept by Watchmen. In Keighley, there were 6 patrolling the streets. One of these kept a diary between the years 1848-1853, now held in Keighley Local Studies Library archive (BK 309) and was called, James Leach. He had a very busy Christmas in 1848. In his diary he reported that at one o’clock on Christmas Day morning Mrs Wilkins’ Star Inn had “company in her house from 15 to 20 persons”. They were still drinking there at a quarter to three on Boxing Day. On 27th December one Zyckriah Ashton was found in Cony Lane drunk and very ill. On the 28th December at one o’clock there was fighting at the Black Horse amongst a group of men and at two o’clock Mr Lapish of New Town was found drunk and disorderly. On the 31st , Samuel Smith, ‘comonley caled Mucky Sam’, ‘threw Patrick Waterhouse over the batlment at Damside a depth of 5 yards & cut & wounded im daingerousley’. The New Year started in a similar way…
War Time Christmas, 1939
During WW2, Keighley people on the Home Front, as in other districts, did their best to provide “comforts” for those serving in the forces. They provided funds for recreational and rest huts. During November, four large bales of knitted woollen comforts were despatched to France, also to the Navy and Air Force. “Cigarettes, sweets, candles etc.,” were also sent. Firms such as Ward, Haggas & Smith; Clapham Bros., and Dean, Smith and Grace also had schemes to provide comforts as well as Christmas parcels to their work people serving in the Forces. Keighley News, 9 December 1939
For those Evacuees remaining in Keighley and the Worth Valley over the holidays, there was a large Christmas party on 4th January with a film show, community singing and a play. On other days, there were to be games in schools, walks and visits to museums and places of interest. Keighley News 23 December 1939.
Keighley and District Victoria Hospital held regular children’s Christmas parties even during the war years. Ian Dewhirst noted that in 1943, the visiting Santa Claus was none other than Dr Joseph Chalmers, hospital surgeon. Nursing staff also performed a pantomime, “Boy Blue” and patients received presents from the Matron’s Christmas Fund and the Workpeople’s Collection Committee. Keighley News 21 December 2001.
World’s first ‘socially distancing’ cracker
COVID Christmas 2020
Another shadow, another queue, hopefully we shall soon be on the bright side…….
To join the library, borrow books and examine local 19thC newspapers using our online services from home, as well as gain free access to Ancestry and Findmypast, follow the link below:
See also Bradford Museums Photo Archives: https://photos.bradfordmuseums.org/
Bradford’s Oral History collection is housed in Bradford Local Studies Library. It consists of 800 tape recorded interviews (also transcriptions) with local people’s memories including subject areas such as textiles, health, war, immigration to Bradford.
Other useful sites:
https://new.millsarchive.org/about-us/ traditional and modern mills’ repository of records and photographs
Gina Birdsall, Keighley Local Studies Library