Christmas 1854 was the starting point for my research simply because I looked at Christmas in Penrith in 1853 previously.
What quickly ‘jumped out at me’ was a reminder that poverty and desperation in Victorian Britain weren’t confined to the ‘big cities’ like London and Liverpool. Along with the thought that sadly, some things haven’t changed for the better. Today, we have bright lights and TV advertisers encouraging us to spend, spend, spend. And collection points in supermarkets for food banks.
The ‘bright lights’
The shop windows of Carlisle at Christmas 1854 must have presented a jolly and enticing sight.
T Holstead’s advert may lack the gloss of present marketing, but we can still imagine. His ‘confection manufactory,’ (50 Scotch Street and 69 English Street), offered ‘a large assortment of articles, suitable for Christmas trees and presents’.
The 1861 census shows William Holstead, 24, confectioner employing nine men and 13 boys, with a wife, child, brother Thomas, 16, confectioner, and two servants – one of them a pastry cook. It looks as though ’T Holstead’ of 1854 was their father.
Other adverts in the Carlisle press include:
Thurnam’s Library, Carlisle. Selected works adapted for festive and birthday presents… Christmas with the Poets, a collection relating to the festival of Christmas. 25 shillings.
That’s the equivalent of about £140 today.
A report on Carlisle Fat Cattle Market talks of ‘the roast beef of old England’ being much in request at this “righte merrie time” (their punctuation). And says tables will ‘not lack their usual plentiful supply of Christmas cheer’.
There are reports of festive teas, annual balls, and ‘soirées’.
While adverts for Woolley’s Vegetable Pills – ‘at this season of the year, the stomach is very subject to become deranged’ – hint at ‘too much figgy pudding’!
A timely name
I digress, to mention a death notice in December 1854 records the passing of Ann Christmas, aged 76, widow of Jonathan. The 1841 census shows them together in Annetwell Street. Jonathan Christmas died on December 8, 1847, aged 66. His death notice records that he was the sexton for the parish of St Mary’s, Carlisle. And that he had been a sergeant in the Grenadier Guards, serving under the ‘late Duke of York’. He’d married Ann Thompson in 1815. The 1851 census shows Ann Christmas a widow, and pauper, in Annetwell Street, ‘former servant’.
The other side of Christmas 1854
A letter in both the Carlisle Journal and its rival the Carlisle Patriot, a few weeks before Christmas 1854, has a grim heading:
STARVATION IN THE CITY
It was written by Dr Henry Lonsdale, and starts by saying he knows the newpapers and readers are focussed on matters such as the Crimean War, and squabbles between church denominations. But:
let conformity and non-conformity cease their squabbling about the sepulchral rites of the dead, and look for moment to the living, who, at starvation point with labour, are dying daily.
Henry Lonsdale’s concern was with the plight of handloom weavers.
As that is a top in itself, that stretches well beyond Christmas 1854, I shall come back to it in my next post.