Christmas Eve

After labour’s long turmoil,

Sorry fare and frequent fast, 

Two-and-fifty weeks of toil,

Pudding-time is come at last…

This post is set to appear on December 24. So, while it will remain ‘out there’ for anyone to discover on any day after, I thought I’d find a selection of clippings from Cumbrian newspapers that illustrate Christmas Eves in times past.

Sort of like the TV compilations that pop up in the schedules at pudding-time. Or a selection box of chocolates.

The verse at the start is from Thomas Hood’s The Pauper’s Christmas Carol.

1855. Matterdale

A ‘soul-stirring’ band of violins, tambourines, triangles (‘etc’) struck up at one end of the vale at 10pm on Christmas Eve, and played their way to the other, finishing at 6am.

Among the numerous tunes played was 

‘the old and favourite ode, common to the season, Huntsop through the Woods’.

2023 note: this Victorian chart-topper is today proof that the internet doesn’t know everything!

1856. Crimea

As reported in the Cumberland and Westmorland Advertiser, and Penrith Literary Chronicle.

Daring Act. —Our soldiers are daring enough to do anything. One of them, on Christmas Eve, rowed across the harbour of Sebastopol to cut holly and mistletoe, when a Russian sentry shot him in the arm. But the bold Briton got back in safety.

It doesn’t say why a soldier in a war zone wanted mistletoe

1858. Penrith

The bells tolled out on Christmas Eve and junior bands played round the streets and ‘in front of the different gentlemen’s residences’. While nearly 200 inmates at the Union Workhouse eagerly anticipated the roast beef dinner, and ‘tea and loaf’ (women and children) or ‘ale and loaf’ (men) provided for them the following day, courtesy of Sir George Musgrave, of Eden Hall.

And yes, there was plum pudding.

1859. Long Marton

On Christmas Eve, the Rev J Heelis delivered an able and instructive lecture on Air to members of the village library, and others, in the schoolroom.

The Chronicle noted that although the lecture occupied nearly two hours, ‘the greatest attention was paid throughout’.

The vicar of Long Marton was the Rev Edward Heelis, so either it was another relative also in the church, or the Chronicle was paying less attention than the audience.

1861. ‘A village not far from Kendal’

The village blacksmith reported that he got up at 6am on Christmas Eve to ‘sharp’ a horse. But so keen was the frost, that when he touched the nails they instantly froze to his fingers.

This ‘story’ was given ten lines in the Penrith Observer. Underneath it, the inquest into the accidental drowning of five-year-old John Hutchinson, near Camerton, was accorded six lines.

1863 Great Salkeld

The annual sports were held on Christmas Eve, and the gathering

‘was allowed to be the largest that has been seen in the village for upwards of thirty years’.

Events included wrestling, a foot race, a hurdle race, and a shooting contest.

The winner of that wound up with a fat goose. The other 43 competitors had to find something else to cook next day for their dinner.

1865. St Bees

On Christmas Eve, gas was burned for the first time at St. Bees. 

‘It is expected that street lamps will be erected and lighted shortly.’

1867. Skirwith

C. Parker, Esq., of Skirwith Abbey, ordered eight prime fat sheep slaughtered, and distributed among the deserving poor residents in the town.

There a lot of these instances of gifts of food, drink, and even things like coal and clothing, to the poor at Christmas.

One the one hand, like Thomas Hood’s pauper, it must have seemed like a too-brief (if welcome) respite from ‘diet scant and usage rough’. On the other, those providing eight prime sheep, or beef and ale for 200, couldn’t possibly have afforded to do so every day of the year.

The Rev Christopher Parker of Skirwith Abbey having died in 1865, ‘C Parker’ has to be his son Christopher Parker – who was to die in 1869, aged just 25.

1869. Cumberland

Frost on Christmas Eve was followed by ‘a considerable fall of snow’ on Boxing Day. The Penrith Observer of December 28 noted it

‘still covers the ground to a great depth, so that all the proverbial conditions of the season from a weather point of view are amply fulfilled’.

The Observer gently reminded readers that for:

‘a large section of our poorer fellow-creatures, frost and snow only entail increased misery and privation’.

With family coming tomorrow, Cumbrian Characters is very glad there is no frost or snow on the roads this Christmas.

So may your day be jolly and bright. But the only white stuff the brandy cream on that pudding.


I borrowed the Christmas pudding photo from Waitrose (and will remove it, should they object). Haven’t tried their recipe myself, but you can find it here.