Winter solstice & fashion tips 1893

Winter solstice and curious questions

‘Winter solstice 2019 in Northern Hemisphere was at 04:19 on Sunday, 22 December’.

So Google informs us. Bringing up with it such puzzling questions as: 

‘Do days get longer after the winter solstice?’

(Er, duh, that’s kind of what it is).

‘How many hours of daylight is there left?’

What, ever?


‘What should I do on the first day of summer?’

Whatever you fancy, I’d suggest.

Kingfishers and the saint of drunkards

Celebrating the winter solstice makes more sense, really, than marking the summer solstice in June (if you are in the northern hemisphere). The longest day of the year is lovely – but also tinged with sadness that it’s going to be downhill all the way to late December, even before the British summer has really begun.

Whereas the winter solstice is a time to shout ‘hurray!’

‘The ancient Sicilians believed the halcyon, or kingfisher, laid its eggs and incubated them for 14 days before the winter solstice on the surface of the sea. During which time the waves of the sea were always unruffled.’

That’s not from the internet in 2019, but the Carlisle Journal in 1893. 

The unnamed writer (no bylines in 1893) was explaining that ‘halcyon days’ of peace and prosperity did not correspond to ‘St Martin’s summer’. Presumably it was widely thought they did. St Martin’s summer/Indian summer was roughly ‘from the sun entering Scorpio to November 11’.

November 11, he/she tells us, is St Martin’s Day – in ancient times, a day for feasting and drinking to excess. With St Martin the patron saint of drunkards.

 You learn something every day. Even if that day was November 3,1893.

…and green-handled umbrellas

The Journal slides neatly from the winter solstice and St Martin into the news that green-handled umbrellas are THE latest must-have accessory. 

The handles were bone, stained green, with silver or gold bands, coupled with the best-quality silk for the canopy.

They were very chic, but only to be found in the best shops.

Plus ça change…

It doesn’t go back to the winter solstice, but does reflect on the ‘hearty enjoyment’ of the entertainments given in the lead-up to Christmas.

‘It is certainly true that our purses are not so well filled after our Christmas gifts have been bought, our Christmas dinners provided and eaten, our alms bestowed, our tips given, and school and other bills coming in by every post’.’

Wear yellow and never dance alone

So, if you had a winter solstice party lined up in Cumberland in 1893, and had a few pounds left over from buying gifts and green-handled umbrellas, what did the Carlisle Journal recommend wearing?

Rich white satin, trimmed with pearl embroidery, and large puff sleeves of green velvet were ‘an effective toilet’.

Yellow brocade was likely to be popular in the ballroom – for both brunettes and blondes.

Yellow is an excellent foil to black and does not destroy red when in proximity. Facts that dancing men frequently take into account when choosing partners, unless indeed the attractions of the individual outweigh all other considerations.

Tinned ox tongue, a winter solstice ‘must-have’

Turning to the advertisements, were there many opportunities for better-off women in Carlisle to buy yellow brocade to attract a partner at any winter solstice ball?

To be honest, most of the adverts in the Carlisle Journal either relate to agriculture, or to dubious medicinal pills and potions.

I’m not sure why every housekeeper should have McCall’s Paysandu Ox Tongue to hand, in tins ready for immediate use.

And it’s all too easy to get sidetracked by a report on ‘interesting experiments with sewage’. And by a court case where an otherwise respectable boy of 15 had stolen from his employer after being ‘led astray by penny dreadfuls’.

But the only clothing adverts were for George Tweddle, hat and cap manufacturer of English Street, Carlisle. 

And McKay Cubby, also of English Street, ‘costumes, mantles and millinery’.

Miss Foster’s fashionable dressmaking establishment, 23 Lismore Terrace, would make up customers’ own material ‘at moderate charges’.

You could buy football jerseys, knickers etc at Moss, Scotch Street. Along with blouses and Jersey suits.

Holmes of Botchergate sold new and second-hand goods, from violins to dinner gowns.

But nowhere in Carlisle was advertising green-handled umbrellas.

It remains only for me to wish all regular readers and passers by a happy and healthy Christmas