The Nostalgia Column with Margaret Watson: Memories of Christmas past in Dewsbury

Good times: Children always came first at Christmas, especially the children who were in hospital over the festive period or who had been in a ward throughout the year. Pictured are children who attended a Christmas party at Dewsbury General Hospital some years ago with the nurses who took care of them.
Good times: Children always came first at Christmas, especially the children who were in hospital over the festive period or who had been in a ward throughout the year. Pictured are children who attended a Christmas party at Dewsbury General Hospital some years ago with the nurses who took care of them.

We all have happy memories of Christmas past but my recollections of childhood are not of the toys I received, because we didn’t get many, but of the glorious food we enjoyed over the festive period.

I was born during the war so I knew what scarcity was all about, but no matter how poor people were, they made an effort to make sure there was always plenty of food around at Christmas.

Margaret Watson.

Margaret Watson.

They ensured this by paying a weekly amount throughout the year into various Christmas clubs, at the butchers, green-grocers and one at the shop which sold chocolate selection boxes.

We didn’t have turkey, but there was always a piece of pork or a stuffed rabbit for Christmas dinner, and on Boxing day it was stand-pie with pickled onions and red cabbage, trifle, mince pies and spice cake with cheese.

There were always tangerines and nuts and dates in a large fruit bowl on the sideboard, and in the cupboard beneath, a bottle of sherry, Egg Flip and a few bottles of Guinness.

In those days people bought their festive food from the market or from the many town centre grocery stores and butchers, long before supermarkets came on the scene.

People of my generation will remember most of them, like Redman’s, Driver’s, Jubbs, Maypole, Lidbetters, Fullerton’s, Broughs, Dempster Lister, Lion stores and many more.

Looking through old Reporter files for this time of year, I see lots of advertisements from stores urging housewives to buy all sorts of commodities for Christmas, from new furniture to new carpets and lino.

Food shops, including Fullerton’s took out huge adverts for their stand pies, mince pies, Christmas cakes, and sponge sandwiches.

This particular shop also enticed customers to come inside by offering their special turkey lunches and teas in their up-to-date cafe-restaurant upstairs in Northgate.

The Lion Stores and Lidbetter’s competed against each other at Christmas time, the Lion Stores selling their mild cured hams at only one shilling and two pence per 1lb, while Lidbetters Royal Oak hams were one shilling and seven pence per 1lb.

But the two department stores which took out the biggest advertisements at Christmas were the Co-op, which sold everything from food to furniture, and J&B’s whose toy department took over the whole of the top floor.

The popular toys being sold in their 1937 Christmas adverts included Meccano sets, various dolls, prams, motor cars, tricycles, Hornby train sets, dolls’ houses, desks, garages, speedway tracks, games and forts, soldiers and Dinky Toys. No computer games in those days.

Children who kept their toys and didn’t bash them about, may now find they can sell them for huge amounts because they are now classed as “antiques”, and if you watch television’s “Flog It” you’ll see that the ones which make the most are those still in their boxes.

Children always came first at Christmas, particularly those unfortunate enough to be in hospital over that time.

The hospital staff at all the hospitals in the district put up a huge Christmas tree and trimmed up the wards, and lots of toys were provided by the various charity organisations in the town.

There was also a huge party every Christmas with a visit from Santa, and children, who had been in hospital throughout the year, were invited.

Local churches also made sure that children from poorer families were looked after. Ebenezer Chapel, now known as the Longcauseway Church, always put on a Christmas breakfast for poor children.

Another church, long gone, Trinity Congregational Church at the bottom of Halifax Road, did the same, and made sure poor children also got at least a few Christmas presents.

In 1909, they entertained over 500 children to Christmas breakfast, organised by the young men of the church, with each child receiving a meat pie, currant bun, orange, a thick chunk of sultana cake, a slice each of white and brown bread, a packet of sweets and a mug of steaming hot tea.

It was reported that some of those helping were so overcome by the faces of the children – some so pallid, pinched and worn, that they broke down in tears.

No distinction of creed was made that day in the issue of invitations, the only qualification being that the recipients should be children in need.

Before the children left, they gave three hearty cheers to those who had contributed to the cost of the breakfast, and also sang with gusto ‘Christians Awake’. On leaving each child received a bright new penny.

The article about this particular Christmas event ended thus:

“Clasping this small Christmas gift in their tiny hands, the children passed joyously out of the church and into the sunlit street, no doubt to remember for years to come the wonderful Christmas feast they’d enjoyed that day.”

I often wonder how many of our parents or grandparent would have been among those children that day.

Quite a few I should imagine.

○ Send your memories of past times in the Dewsbury area to me at tresham3@gmail.com