Nobody was ever forgotten over the Christmas period
THE festive season is over but for people like me, with a nostalgic turn of mind, memories of Christmas past will continue to linger until the last of the Christmas lights in Dewsbury have been taken down.
So much is changing in our lives and so many well-loved traditions going by the wayside, that Christmas is one I am determined to hold on to.
Ironically, in days gone by, it was the poor and destitute who looked forward to Christmas more than most.
It was the one time of the year when their fellow men remembered them, and here in Dewsbury every village and church held some kind of treat for the poor, the elderly and the sick.
The Workhouse at Staincliffe, where something like 500 paupers were housed, celebrated Christmas in fine fashion and the inmates were treated like kings.
Even the Guardians of the Poor turned up at the Christmas dinner to act as waiters for the day and served up the finest of food to the poor wretches in their care.
The normally austere building was trimmed with gay decorations, huge bunches of holly hung from the rafters, and there was giant Christmas tree in the centre of the main hall.
The coal fires burned brightly and carols were sung, and for one day at least, life was good for the paupers housed in our local workhouse.
The following report in an old Reporter file for 1887 gives us a glimpse of what Christmas day at the workhouse was like.
The story was headed TREAT FOR THE INMATES OF THE UNION WORKHOUSE and this is the report which followed:
“In accordance with the good old custom of Christmas time, the inmates of the Dewsbury Union House have been feasted right royally.
“And besides the never to be forgotten roast beef and plum pudding there were many other substantial and succulent feeds to enjoy.
“There was quite an array of waiters, made up of ladies and gentlemen, including several Guardians.
“The children were presented with a sixpence each, sent by the Mayor of Dewsbury, Alderman Mark Oldroyd, and the Ex-Mayor, Alderman TB Fox, and the hearts of the children were made additionally glad by presents of toys from other friends.
“As customary on this “feast” day, there was capital entertainment provided for workhouse inmates, the chief entertainers being senior scholars from Christ Church School, Staincliffe, upwards of 60 in number.
“They sang most beautifully, and earned loud applause, and their hearers were not hard to please.
“It was generally agreed among the older inmates that of all the Christmas treats at the workhouse that was one of the most pleasing and enjoyable.”
The sick who happened to be in hospital at Christmas were remembered too:
“Neither patients nor members of staff at the Infirmary have been forgotten this festive season, nor was it expected they would be.
“Turkeys, geese, hares and rabbits for Christmas dinner, toys for the children, and handsome cards for patients of all ages were received from kind friends, as well as a handsome Christmas tree and fruits.”
Presents included; plum puddings, scrap books, a Christmas tree, holly and two fowls.
In Westtown poor children were well provided for.
The headline in the Reporter regarding their treat read, REMEMBERING THE LITTLE ONES.
The following is the report of that day:
“The Christmas dinner for the poor children of the neighbourhood of Westtown was given in the large schoolroom.
“About 120 were present, and were provided with a real Christmas dinner, consisting of roast beef and vegetables, followed by an ample supply of plum pudding.
“Tea was always in readiness, and during the evening oranges, nuts and the contents of the Christmas tree were distributed.
“The little ones enjoyed themselves thoroughly, and highly appreciated the performance of the waxworks.
“Many games were indulged in, and a spirited snowball match (the balls, however were made of paper) concluded an evening which will be remembered for some time.
“The materials for the treat were supplied by a large number of friends, so that the funds for the soup kitchen were not touched.
“The following additional subscriptions have been received for the soup kitchen: Mr Teale 5s., Anonymous, 10s., M Oldroyd Esq., £2.
WHEN I was writing my book, Dewsbury in Food and Photos, I realised that nearly every single savoury recipe contained meat.
I felt a bit guilty that there weren’t any dishes for vegetarians, and so to placate them, I included this one for savoury pancakes.
This one came from an old Yorkshire Observer recipe book published 70 years ago and it was supplied by Miss E Cartwright, of 80 Pilgrim Crescent, Dewsbury Moor.
I also included it in the book because it reminded me of my dad who loved pancakes, which in our house were always savoury ones, never sweet ones..
When you mention pancakes, most people, especially those from outside Yorkshire, think of the sweetened variety served with jam or syrup, or sprinkled with lemon juice and sugar.
In our house, as children, pancakes were a meal in themselves, always served with gravy, or filled with all manner of savoury tit-bits or left-overs.
Dad once complained to a visitor that mother never made him pancakes anymore, and she was so upset at being “shown up”, she decided to teach him a lesson.
She made him pancakes every day, week after week, until he eventually gave in, and admitted he’d had enough.
Pancakes were off the menu for a long time after that, but I’ve never forgotten this little episode from my childhood.
It taught me one important thing about life - you can have too much of a good thing. Dad learned that lesson the hard way.
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