Cornwall in Christmas past

This Christmas will be very different from those that many of us will have known in the recent past due to physical restrictions causing these changes rather than financial and commercial one. Older readers will perhaps remember earlier times when celebrations were simpler albeit not necessarily less enjoyable and were certainly not about spending huge sums of money. Here we look even further back in time relating to Christmases in Cornwall.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, March 1910 reported on the number of tramps in Cornwall over the previous Christmas and was less than charitable about them. Caring for the poor at Christmas was a popular theme in Newspapers some 150 years ago with stories of who donated money and food and what the poor ate. Often the donors would go to view the poor in the workhouses eating their Christmas meal.

World's First Christmas Card 1843
Christmas Day in the Workhouse - Donors come to watch

Cornishmen abroad were remembering Christmas and their homeland. A snip from the Cornishman - Thursday 26 January 1882 about Cornishmen in Mexico enjoying Christmas in 1881.

Cornishman - Thursday 26 January 1882

West Briton, 27th December 1877:

Cornwall Lunatic Asylum: The patients of the CLA were regaled on Christmas Day with an abundance of roast Geese and Pork, Plum Pudding etc.

Fowey: Seasonable Benevolence - The poor residing in the parishes adjacent to Menabilly received on Christmas Eve, the usual supply of beef and bread for their Christmas dinners. Every poor person received one shilling each.

Truro: On Christmas-day, the poor in Truro workhouse were treated with a dinner of roast beef and plum pudding, and a pint of beer each, which had been kindly provided by the private subscription of the gentlemen composing the board of guardians. Seventy-two persons sat down to dinner; the average of whose ages was upwards of 70 years. The inmates of Probus workhouse had a similar treat.

Falmouth: On Christmas day, the poor in the town and parish workhouse at Falmouth, were regaled with roast beef and plum pudding, in the presence of several ladies and gentlemen who went to see them partake of their treat. The fare was of the best description, and an extra allowance was given to each individual.

Redruth Union House: The inmate paupers of this union were enabled to celebrate the Christmas in the most approved old English manner. The governor's family, consisting of 33 men, 120 women, and 150 children, after attending the chapel, in which service was performed by the Rev. J W Hawksley,  sat down to a dinner which very few gentlemen would wish to have to pay for every day - veritable mountains of beef and plum pudding, and streams of beer; beef of the best cuts, and plum pudding that really deserved to be called by that very respectable appellation, and not the mere lock jaw dumplings which, too frequently for the inmates of union-houses, usurp the honourable title. The paupers "ate and were filled", and were satisfied, moreover, and very grateful to the subscribers in general, at whose expense they had been feasted, especially to Mr. Allen, the assistant clerk, to whose kind-hearted exertions in the collection of subscriptions they were mainly indebted for their feast, and who had obtained money sufficient to give the paupers a tea on New Year's day. It has been a real, hearty, merry Christmas for the poor people; and it did one's heart good to see the happy faces of the company, and their industrious application in the business which had called them together, and to hear the merry carol which followed "the withdrawal of the cloth". The Rev's J. W. Hawksley, senior and junior, and their ladies, and several respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood, attended to witness the festivities.

The Cornishman, December 20th 1883: It’s is always amusing to look at adverts in newspapers from long ago and in the Christmas week edition of W Treleaven of St Nicholas Street Truro had a clothing sale. In the same newspaper the well-known firm of John Julian were also advertising. John Julian’s would later also have shops in Falmouth and Newquay, as well as Truro into the late 20th century and are remembered by local folk with affection.

The West Briton, 10th December 1908: In this the Truro firm of N Gill & Son had a bonanza selection for Christmas at their shop. Excellent Choice and wonderful cheap prices ana huge range of goodies. N Gill & Son would go on to have shops at 1 Boscawen Street, Market Strand and 13-15 Princes Street. The Princes Street shop would later be occupied by Woolworths and afterwards split between Poundland and Cotswolds. N Gill & Son would close in 1953 when they went into liquidation.

N Gill & Son, Boscawen Street, Truro
Lemon Street with John Julian & Co at the bottom
Great Sale - W Treleaven, Truro
John Julian Advert - Cornishman 20th December 1883
N Gill & Son, Advertisement - West Briton - 10.12.1908

Now in Cornish dialect a large log is known as a block, stock or stog. Long ago when folk had larger open fires that they also cooked on, during Christmas they would have a special Christmas stog for the fire. Often when lighting the fire with great ceremony they would often include the remains of the stog from the previous year.

West Briton, 2nd February 1838. The following is reported in an early number of the West Briton newspaper. ‘One evening during the Christmas of 1837 a certain Mr Lukey, of Carminow, near Helston, was sitting by the fire when his ears were suddenly assailed by cries resembling those of a child which apparently proceeded from the chimney wherein the stock lay burning, as it had been for three successive days, according to the universal custom of the country folk at this season. On examining the log, he noticed that it contained a little hole, which being too small to admit his fingers he split open with an axe, only to discover to his great astonishment a large toad entombed in the centre!’

What Christmas Day will bring weatherwise is an annual discussion with many families.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 3rd January 1835: The weather in the neighbourhood has been for the last three weeks prior to the 26th, most delightful, more like Midsummer than Christmas. Persons were seen bathing in the bay the day before Christmas, and a species of butterfly of very elegant colour flew in at a window in the town and settled on a myrtle.

Evening Herald and Western Evening News, 29th December 1923:  A letter to the newspaper from Marie St Germain spoke about a Christmas spent in Cornwall. In it she enthuses about being out of doors for hours in the sunshine on Christmas Day and how mild the weather was and what summer plants were still flowering. She tells readers that her Christmas spent in Cornwall was the best when compared with her many Christmases spent in various destinations around the world.

Let’s hope that this year we get similar weather to these two long ago examples so that we can meet with friends on outside walks this Christmas.

Evening Herald and Western Evening News - December 29th 1923

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 7th December 1893 Mr. J. Pollard, bookseller, St. Nicholas-street, Truro, is to be congratulated upon his enterprise. He has struck out one or two new and decided lines, and his latest effort is the production of a unique Cornish Christmas card. On the card are dainty little etchings, one of the interior of Truro Cathedral the Land's End, Pendennis Castle, Falmouth, Cornish fishermen packing the spoils of the sea, and St. George's Church and Viaduct, Truro; and the other of the exterior of Truro Cathedral, St. Michael's Mount rocks at Perranporth, a Cornish tin miner, and Kenwyn Church. The cards were designed and etched y Mr. McFadden, and with their seasonable greetings will he particularly grateful to exiles from the Cornish land.

May I wish readers

Nadelik Lowen ha Bledhen Nowydh Da onan hag oll

Magic Lantern Slide POLPERRO HARBOUR C1890
Ertach Kernow - Cornwall at Christmas
Voice - Ertach Kernow - Cornwall at Christmas