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Changing Times | Festive essentials around town in years past

Every year we rush towards Christmas, making out our various lists, but we must always remember to send the Christmas cards.


One hundred and fifty years ago, however, we would have sent a Christmas postcard. When the first postage stamps were introduced in the 1840s, an Englishman by the name of Henry Cole, who was the founder of today’s Victoria & Albert Museum, was so busy at Christmas he was forced to enlist the help of two friends to send out his Christmas greetings.


John Calcutt Horsley RN designed the card for him and another friend, Joseph Cundall, produced 1,000.


The first card, which was produced in 1843, was about 5in x 4.5in, printed by lithography and hand painted. The scene on the card was a family group, showing grandfather, grandmother, the father and mother helping a toddler to sip from a claret glass. Watching this scene was also a young man with his lady friend.


Being an astute businessman, he decided to sell the unused cards for 1s. each. The Christmas card was born.


The cards did not catch on immediately, but a notice ‘Apologies for not sending a Christmas card’, did actually appear in The Times in 1873. By Christmas 1880, the GPO had adopted the well-known slogan ‘Post early for Christmas’, although it was still possible at that time to post late on Christmas Eve for delivery on Christmas morning!


Towards the end of the century, cards were becoming increasingly popular, with one company actually offering an immense prize of £10,000 for the best designs.


During the period between 1880 and 1900, some of the famous painters of the day sold their paintings to the postcard producers for reproduction on the cards.


Victorian writers such as George Eliot, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Wesley also vied with each other to have their words included on the cards.


By 1895, the trade had increased so dramatically it was estimated there were no fewer than 200,000 different cards being produced for the Christmas trade. The range of cards was very diverse and mechanical cards were especially popular. Some of these cards had tabs or cords, to reveal a 3D pop-up of a particular subject.


Embossed cards became very popular from 1902, when German companies began flooding the shops with designs, including the German Father Christmas, St Nicholas, who was depicted rewarding the good children, while Krampus punished the naughty ones.


The Rachael Tuck organisation went on to produce a greater variety of Christmas postcards, as did many other manufacturers. Many cards were printed with bright, bold colours, and some of the early cards’ illustrations were highlighted with tinsel. The postal staff, who complained of sore hands from handling them, did not welcome these.


I thought I would also look back into Bognor’s history to see what occurred in the run-up to Christmas in the town. On December 18, 1907, in The Observer, Visitors List and West Sussex Recorder, there was a full-page advertising the various foods required for the Christmas season. We have to remember the period, when there were very often large families, with no refrigeration and people would be buying their supplies right up to Christmas Day.


Poultry and game was prominent, with turkeys costing from 5s 6d to 25s per bird, or 22p to £1.25p. Geese cost from 7s 6d (37.5p)to 12s. 6d (62.5p) per bird and wild ducks were only 3s (15p) each.


We should consider the wages of the day, before we become too envious of their prices.


I found a newspaper from December, 1910. One of the features of Christmas was always the Arcade, when it was covered with garlands of evergreens, which included apples, oranges, and pomegranates, also shrubs and flowers of every description. All these decorations were supplied by the Arcade owner, Mr Tate.


Another report was that the children, referred to as scholars, of the Bognor Council Infants’ School were provided with a large Christmas tree and each scholar received a gift, from the Vicar of Bognor. Sadly, there is no word as to what the gift contained.


Also, the management of Bognor Pier, at that time, provided the only ‘public amusement over the Christmas holidays’, providing animated pictures with children rushing to receive a present which was offered to the first 50 passing through the turnstiles


By 1929, the reports were slightly different in December where at 18, London Road Christmas gifts were sold by D & M Wood. They had their usual large stock of goods, suitable for Christmas presents including handkerchiefs singly or in fancy boxes, white or coloured.


Ladies or children’s dainty coloured overalls, and white and coffee muslin aprons with caps to match, with or without collars and cuffs were also featured.


Dainty underwear of all kinds in coloured lawns and art silk, including pretty nightdresses and pyjamas were available as well.


George Field, the butcher in West Street, was promoting the longevity of his shop and the origins of its meat, with turkeys from the Goodwood estate and beef from the South Downs.


In a pre-Christmas newspaper in 1933, there were many delights available to be bought for friends and loved ones. Timothy Whites advertised its inexpensive gifts, which ranged from table fans to irons and canteens of cutlery. Carpet sweepers were all the range as well.


The Station Pharmacy at the corner of Lyon Street and London Road was selling cameras, and leather goods alongside jigsaw puzzles, costing from 6d (2.5p) to 21s (£1.05).


I won’t be with you for a few weeks over Christmas and new year, so will take this opportunity to thank you for reading these weekly articles and also to those of you who have contributed. I hope you have a great holiday and I will see you again in the new year.

Posted in Lifestyle.