Wishing you all a great time at Christmas however you and your family decide to spend the holiday time. After Colin Chapman’s talk on Christmas Traditions, a precis of which can be seen at http://www.wsmfhs.org.uk/society_news_view.php?nID=510 – go to the attached document “Seasonal Traditions”, it is interesting to look back on how your own family has celebrated this season over the years. Have you written up your own memories of Christmas in your family?
December Society Meeting
As a Society, our December meeting on Wednesday afternoon, the 13th December from 2.30 p.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes Church Hall will be a light hearted meeting with a chance for you to share your own memories and perhaps bring along items which you can talk about which mean something to your family. Share your experiences of family history research, ask questions about DNA, examine the 1939 Register and see photographs of Old Weston as well as a Raffle and a Sales Table with seasonal refreshments. With many thanks to all the members involved in organising this event. Visitors welcome.
Christmas Day in the Workhouse
For those of you who might have had ancestors in Workhouses at Christmas time you may have heard of the old poem by George Simms which starts
“It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse, and the cold bare walls are bright,
with garlands of green and holly and the place is a pleasant sight”
But as was mentioned to me – there are other versions with which especially servicemen may be familiar!
Perhaps someone in your family might remember the whole poem which is actually very sad. The full version may be read here https://victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/poem.html It starts with the inmates having a Christmas meal provided by the Guardians but then tells the story of the old man who has recently lost his wife and had no alternative but to turn to the Workhouse for his support.
British Newspaper Archive
Newspapers often relate what was happening at Workhouses at Christmas. Apart from the usual Christmas dinner of Beef and Plum Pudding this happened on Boxing Day at Axbridge Workhouse. It is a pity that the ladies from Weston, Langford, Winscombe and Banwell were not named, nor were the amateur entertainers - perhaps they were related to some of our members?
There is a much longer account of the festivities in 1888 -with names ! - on Page 3 of the Wesoh-super-Mare Gazette and General Advertiser of Saturday 29th December 1888. Surnames mentioned include :- TANNER of Sidcot, TEEK and BUTT from Compton Bishop, BOWERING of Axbridge, READ and MASONfrom Weston, GILBERT of Allerton, TOMKINS fron Weston, BIRD of Winscombe, and Mesdames LLEWELYN and YAYMAN. The entertainers were STATTERmTYSSEN, TAYMAN, HAYWARD, VINCENT and Rev H LAW.
I’m sure you all have your own memories of childhood Christmases. Why not include them in your write-up of your family history. For children Christmas is a magical time and as our family also had several birthdays and anniversaries in December as well it was always a special time.
My earliest memories of Christmas time are from 1940 when I had my 2nd birthday just a week before Christmas Day.
It was War time, and we were at my maternal Grandfather’s house on my birthday when my grandfather, who we all called “Pip”, arrived home from work. He was the manager of a Co-op in Bristol. I think this photograph was taken in Weston-super-Mare.
He rode a bicycle and always wore a bowler hat – that day he left the bike in the hallway and carrying a brown paper parcel entered the living room where I was sitting on the floor and gave it to me.
It was a teddy bear! A treasured gift and I’m sure I’ve written about him before. I never gave him a name, but he has accompanied me throughout my life. Sadly, after I caught measles, he was taken away and deep cleaned which resulted in him losing his growl.
Nevertheless, he is still with me and although he is sorely in need of some TLC and some new inserts in his feet and paws – and a new nose – he is still much-loved.
More family Christmases
When I was a child my mother and her sister made sure that my sister, my cousin, and I had as a good a time as they could manage, especially during the war years. I remember the anticipation in the days leading up to Christmas, singing carols and the fun of making decorations – all those chains made with coloured paper with paper lanterns hanging from them, coupled with decorations saved from before the war. We were told the Father Christmas would not come unless we were very good and tidied our toys away!
I don’t remember a tree, but Christmas day started with the excitement of finding our Christmas stockings filled with an apple (was there an orange as well?) in the toe and then other small gifts such as coloured pencils, a rubber, sweets, small toys and/or handmade gifts made specially for us. I do remember a new face flannel one year! What would children today make of that?!
Christmas dinner meant chicken – a rare treat – no turkey in those days - and then time spent playing games. with lots of laughter. Board games were very popular and noisy! Snakes and Ladders and Ludo being amongst the favourites.
Card games such as “Happy Families” were also enjoyed by my family.
Other Games and Pastimes
To celebrate Queen Victoria’s Coronation in 1883 this event was put on in Wells Market Square.
These may not have been available at Christmas but there are some very familiar activities shown here which were popular in Victorian times - Donkey racing, sack racing, a bran tub, gurning (grinning through horse collars,) weightlifting, bobbing for apples, etc.
I’m not sure about “Whipping the Cock” but I have heard of chasing a piglet with a greased tail!
Shingling was showing a skill in splitting chestnut wood to make roofing shingles.
New Resources for Family History
British Newspaper Archives
Although Shepton Mallet is not exactly in our area the Shepton Mallet Journal, 1992-1993, 1996, 1998 has been updated on the British Newspaper Archives and it is interesting to note how often it mentions events in Weston-super-Mare. This isn’t Weston but it is my husband’s Uncle Doug celebrating his silver wedding on Boxing Day 1952. Another example of Christmas time Weddings.
During November these resources have been updated or added to Ancestry – Don’t forget that you can use Ancestry free of charge in Weston Library.
The range of dates for digital birth or death records which you can obtain from The GRO has been increased. Digital Images are now available for Births 1837-1922 and Deaths 1837-1957 and cost £2.50. They have answered several queries which I had. https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/login.asp
Pre-1841 censuses. The first census was taken in 1801 and was administered by the parish. Findmypast has an article about all censuses https://www.findmypast.com/blog/family-records/uk-census-records but members can see the 1801 census for Huntspill in our transcriptions. It just lists the head of the Household and how many people are in that household. Go to the Index of Parish Transcripts for Huntspill and you will find the 1801 census included.
FindmyPast is also available for you to use in Weston Library. I find it one of the best sites to use in conjunction with the free sites of FreeBMD and Free REG especially when researching a quick and dirty tree to establish DNA matches or as a beginner just starting your research.
Are you a parent or a grandparent? Familysearch has some ideas for you to inspire the younger generation to be interested in their past. https://www.familysearch.org/discovery/activities/about_me/14/tips Familysearch is completely free to use.
Please post any resources you have found helpful in breaking down your problems.
Free Help Session in Weston Library
There will be a free help session in Weston Library from 2.00pm – 3.30pm on Sat 2nd December – Do go along with your problems and get the advice from our experienced volunteers. There will also be a Help Session on January 6th.
Society Meeting Wednesday 13th December
As stated at the beginning of this newsletter visitors will be welcome to attend our December Meeting at Our Lady of Lourdes Church Hall from 2.30pm to celebrate the Christmas season. N.B. This meeting is now due to start at 2.00pm and will finish at 4.30pm.
Wishing all members of our Society and the Facebook Group a Very Joyeous Holiday season and lots of success with your Family History research.