Articles tagged with: Christmas

Judging a book by its cover

on Thursday, 13 December 2018. Posted in Archives, History Centre

If you are anything like me you may be giving quite a few books as gifts this Christmas, and you might have spent a long time considering their content and choosing the right book for the right person. But have you ever looked at the structure of the book and thought about how it has been made? Although the process is mechanised today, the traditional skill of bookbinding is still practised and over the last few months some of the staff here at the History Centre have been giving it a go after work, guided by our Archives Conservator, Sophie. It’s been a lot of fun and certainly makes you appreciate the work, skill and time that it takes to create books by hand.

Much more interest and scholarship has been directed towards the decoration of books rather than their components or the processes used to create them. However, it is often the ‘forwarding’ of the binding (making it fit for the finishing or more decorative elements) that makes a book really pleasing to use.

Books can be bound in many different styles and vary according to age, value and the use to which the book will be put. Bookbinding first begins in the 4th century AD with a change from rolls to flat sheets, which, although easier to transport and store, required some kind of protection. The first bindings were simple folded sheets sewn together and wrapped in leather.

The development of the printing press created a surge in binding activity and prosperity for the bookbinder. In contrast to previous manuscript versions which were often richly ornamented with costly materials such as enamels and carved ivory, the printed book was often covered with plain leather, calf or deerskin, or occasionally parchment. Covers could also be wooden boards, sometimes backed with leather, which was drawn partly of wholly over the wooden covers, the latter usually fitted with clasps.

Ref D1/1/2 showing manicules (pointing fingers used to draw attention to sections of the text)

The above example is an early 14th cent. -16th cent. wooden covered Liber Evidentiarum B (the 'B' indicates that it belongs to the bishop, as opposed to a similar volume, 'C', belonging to the chapter). It contains copies of royal and other charters (including Magna Carta [1225] and the Forest charter, compositions, ordinances, etc., and was mostly written in the early 14th century, but with 15th and 16th century additions. We think the wooden cover is original but it has been rebound many times (you can see holes for previous binding, and where there used to be a clasp).

Ref 730/97/1 This churchwarden’s account book for Steeple Ashton (1542-1668) is a nice example of a tooled leather binding.

A faster form of decoration - blind stamping (creating an image, design or lettering formed by creating a depression) - became prevalent as the numbers of books increased in the sixteenth century. This was superseded by the more visually appealing gold tooling technique (decorating the cover and spine with gold leaf, impressed into the cover with a heated finishing tool). Around 1750 the construction process also changed, when many books began to be sewn on cords let into the backs of sections. This, in contrast to the usual practice of sewing on raised cords, gave a smooth back. The spines were often lined with many layers of paper, which gave a good surface for tooling work but could mean that they were difficult to open.

The demand for books and bindings increased following the industrial revolution, although the quality of hand-binding was poorer; the construction of the binding deteriorated and attempt was often made to conceal the poor quality with lavish gold ornament on covers and spines. With the industrial revolution also came mass production, and machinery for cutting, blocking, case-making and pressing. Later in the 19th century, techniques for machine decoration were also developed.

The arts and crafts movement countered this industrialisation and inspired individuals such as lawyer, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson to study the craft, and to experiment with binding construction and decoration. His designs continued the methods of gold and blind tooling, and often incorporated flowers, leaves or branches in a geometric design. The scope for originality and creativity also prospered following World War One, and artists, designers, and amateurs all made worthy contributions to the craft.

Endpapers are often highly decorative!

Our local studies and archive collections includes examples of different binding constructions. However, the tools and equipment of the trade can also be explored through looking at wills and inventories...

A Seafaring Christmas

on Tuesday, 12 December 2017. Posted in Archives

For some festive fun I thought I would have a look at Christmas entries in various journals here at the History Centre. We have a wonderful one kept by Audley Money-Kyrle while on board the ‘Riversdale’ during her voyage to Calcutta in 1866.

He passed the morning of Monday 24th December in rehearsal for a charade. “Mrs Smith kindly supplies the necessary articles of female attire from ‘the bonnet’ to the ‘crinoline’.” The Dining saloon was converted into a stage with a curtain fashioned from ship’s flags and the charade opened with a comic song by the steward.

Christmas Day itself consisted of a sumptuous banquet and drinking of champagne (sounds good to me!)

“Oh day of carols and Xmas boxes, of roast beef, turkey and plum pudding, of happy greetings, of Peace on Earth & goodwill to men

Twenty times I have hailed thy advent at my old home and now my 21st anniversary sees me on the deep blue sea with many miles of rolling waves separating me that dear old home & all I love on earth; oh may all the prayers which I am assured will ascend for my safe return be surely answered!

We dined today about ½ past 4. Mock turtle soup. Roast goose, ditto duck, a splendid ham, tongue and roast joint of pork, champagne ad lib at the expense of the ship for this night only. We all made a good dinner, at least, I can answer for myself. When the cloth was removed, & we became a little exhilarated by the champagne the Captain proposed a toast to ‘the Queen’ which was drunk with becoming loyalty. Major Smith then in a complimentary speech proposed ‘the Captain of the ship’ who thereupon returned thanks in a grateful but wandering address; however what he lost in words, we made up in applause, so it is to be hoped that he was satisfied with his effort. Mr Stainforth in a feeling manner then gave us ‘absent friends’ and I followed with ‘the ladies’. There being only 2 married representatives present I was obliged to moderate the style of my compliments & confined myself in general terms on the many charms and graces of the sex & concluded by hoping it should be my good fortune (?) to exchange my state of single blessedness for one of married bliss I might be as happy in my choice as Major Smith or Mr Staniforth (the 2 husbands)- I think this rather ’took’ with them, at least they seemed to appreciate it. We then sang songs & made ourselves merry till about ½ past 10 when we all turned in.”

Look out for a couple more festive diary entries on our social media!

Naomi Sackett, Community History Advisor

Malmesbury and the Evacuees of World War II

on Monday, 16 January 2017. Posted in Archives, History Centre, Schools

Two visitors to the History Centre, a grandfather and his grandson were very interested by what they discovered in the school log books of two Malmesbury schools during WWII. We were so impressed by Ben’s research on the topic, we thought you would be too, and he kindly agreed to let us publish it as a WSHC blog. Many thanks to Ben Tate, age 11.

Malmesbury and the Evacuees of World War Two

Westport Church of England Boys’ School

Westport CofE Boys’ School was a primary school for boys which was running during the second world war. This historical article on it includes many real accounts from the school’s log book in the time of world war 2, which can be located at Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.

1939 In 1939 alone, 32 evacuees (and also their teachers) attended Westport, 14 of which were from London.

Due to the breakout of war, the term began a week late on September 11th 1939, rather than September 4th 1939.  Within 2 weeks of the start of term, 2 evacuees had already gone back home and 2 more had just arrived. This shows the real instability for schools managing evacuees.

At Westport they had separate registers and separate classes for evacuees and local children (as order of the attendance officer).

Something I found fascinating was that at the start of the term (September 1939) they had 32 evacuee pupils but by October 1939 they only had 16 left as the rest had gone home. This again shows the instability of schools trying to manage evacuees.

1940 The headteacher of Westport wrote in the school’s log book on 18th January 1940 that 9 local boys and 5 evacuee boys from Westport had sat a public examination.

A few weeks later in February, the headmaster wrote that Mr. Ellis (one of the teachers who had come with the boys) had had to go back to his house in London as it had been burgled.

In May that year, the headteacher wrote of how 2 evacuee boys were up against the court for crimes like robbery and vandalism.

I worked out that by May 1940 the evacuees had been integrated into one class with the local children at Westport. (That was only the first record I could find in the log book. It may have been earlier, but I haven’t found evidence).

Later that year, in June, the headteacher wrote that there was a possibility of more evacuees going to Westport but the headmaster had said that unless the top floor was brought into use, the school was going to have a real problem finding accommodation for the extra pupils. I failed to find out whether they ever opened the top floor, but I did find out that later in June, 71 evacuees and 3 teachers arrived at Westport, all from east London.

A couple of weeks later, the headteacher wrote about two evacuees who had tried to escape their foster parents and run back to London by road. He went on to say about how they had robbed their foster parents and had only got as far as Swindon when they got caught.

A couple of days after that, the headteacher recounted that Mr Murray (a teacher) had been called up for war service.

On 8th November 1940 the headteacher of Westport wrote about how he had had to keep getting new teachers as they were being called up for service and teachers who had come with the evacuees kept going back home. I found an account of this in June 1940 when the headteacher of Westport wrote, 4 new teachers arrived at the start of June: “The month isn’t even out and 1 of them has already gone back to his home in Essex”.

Something I found interesting in the Westport School’s Log book was on November 15th 1940 the headteacher wrote that bombs had been dropped on Hullavington (obviously due to the air base). He went on to say that a couple of children had been frightened but it was ‘quickly forgotten’. I was personally surprised at that.

1941   In January 1941 the headteacher of Westport wrote in the log book that all evacuees at his school currently had spent Christmas with their foster parents.

The headteacher wrote in the log book on 4th April 1941, that before the holidays the school had 130 evacuees, yet after 2 weeks holiday, they only had 117. On the 25th April 1941 he wrote about how 2 boys had gone back to their homes in Tilbury. He went on to say exactly: “It’s turning into a slow and steady flow”.

1942             I could find no references to evacuees, though I am not saying there weren’t any. I believe there were references to evacuees that I read, it was just that the headmaster had not specifically said the boy is an evacuee. I think this because by now evacuees were not a new thing and they were more integrated and accepted in the local communities.

1943 The same thing happened for 1943 as it had done in 1942.

1944 In 1944 again I had trouble finding accounts saying the child was evacuee although I found a reference talking about how the older boys at the school – some of whom must have been evacuees – were being allowed afternoons of school to help with the potato harvest.

1945 On 8th May 1945 the headteacher of Westport wrote in large writing – very unlike his usual, neat style – ‘VICTORY DAY! WAR IN EUROPE ENDED TODAY.’

Shortly after that (25th June 1945), he wrote that since the war in Europe was over, many evacuees had gone home. Therefore he had had to shuffle around the classes, as many of the students had been evacuees.

The last account that I found in Westport Church of England Boys School Log Book I’m going to tell you about was written on 10th September 1945 which simply said – in large handwriting – ‘THE WAR IS OVER. THE JAPANESE WAR IS OVER!’

How Did You Spend Christmas?

on Tuesday, 29 December 2015. Posted in Wiltshire People

Archives can reveal details about how our ancestors lived and customs and practices they took for granted which can look very strange to modern eyes! Lost ways of life can be found in all kinds of sources, the most personal of which, diaries and letters, can give an intimate portrait of individual’s daily lives as well as shedding light on their wider community. They provide a window through which we can relate to those who have gone before.

With this in mind I thought I would explore how some Wiltshire residents of the past spent their Christmas and New Year.

Francis Kilvert and Edith Olivier both have well known published diaries but the Wiltshire Record Society have also published personal diaries of everyday folk held in our collections. There is much recognisable to us in their festive moments; celebrating new beginnings, giving gifts, spending time with family, the traditional seasonal illness, country walks etc.

British Library Public Domain Image. From Christmas Books by Charles Dickens

William Henry Tucker was born in Trowbridge in 1814 and in later life became a successful clothier. The diary (WRS Vol.62) as a whole offers a candid insight into the life of Tucker and his community during the years 1825-50.

1827 25 Dec: Went to W. Plummer’s and had a Christmas supper. Exhibited my watch to the company, and made numerous enquiries respecting my anticipated settlement in the counting house.

1827 31 Dec: This day commences a most important era. At ten o’clock I made my first entry... into Mr John Stancombe’s counting house.

1829 31 Dec The weather was extremely severe about this time. Having an afternoon’s holiday, about three o’clock my brother and myself set off towards the canal by way of Islington: we ran upon the ice... on our way home we over Mr.- a fashionable shoemaker... who told us many lies of his wonderful feats in skating. On passing down the Courts I encountered a young lady who had for some time occupied no inconsiderable share of my thoughts.

1832 25 Dec supped at E.Hs (future wife, Emily Hendy, daughter of Grocer, William Hendy – married in Oct 1935 when both aged 21)

1834 26 Dec Took a walk amid the blackness of the night through the Hennicks,... and in allusion to future prospects I made a rather pointed enquiry touching a somewhat important subject, which was satisfactorily answered by the person to whom it was addressed.

1835 25 Dec An old fashioned frosty Christmas. At Dad’s all day.

1836 25 Dec – Xmas day comes on Sunday. In the evening a tremendous snowstorm came on, which lasted all night and covered the country to a depth unknown for many years past, playing the dickens with coaches, mails. etc. etc.

1838 25 Dec – mild Christmas Day. Took a walk in Studley fields by the inn.

1838 31 Dec Finished stocktaking. Mr Hall died. Had our Christmas party and watched the year out.

1 Jan 1839 Grand fete at factory. Was not present, being in Bath occupied in my final purchases of books. Spent most of the day with Matthew Newth.

1844 25 Dec Dined, tead and supped at W.H.’s Went to church twice.

1846 1 Jan This year begins in suspense on three very important points – How will the crisis in the railway market terminate? Is R. Peel coming forward as a Corn Law repealer? Is -.

1854 he wrote of ‘comforts of the Christmas fireside, surrounded by intelligent and well-conducted children’ (despite his previous depressions over the birth of numerous girls!).

1847 31 Dec. Bill of Health: E., Lucy, Alfred and Emma have had the influenza but are partially recovered. The rest of us are well.

Francis Kilvert was a clergyman, born in Hardenhuish Lane, near Chippenham and who worked as a rural curate helping his father (rector of Langley Burrell) and as curate in the Welsh Marches, Radnorshire, and Herefordshire. His diaries, reflecting on rural life, were published 50 years following his death.

A Twelve Day Christmas Holiday

on Monday, 14 December 2015. Posted in Archives

As Christmas lights are switched on and we prepare ourselves for a hastily sung verse of a carol followed by knocking on the door it’s good to reflect on more leisurely Christmases in the past. In the past the 12 days of Christmas were a time when no work was done (one feels that this did not apply to servants) and by Elizabethan times this ended with a riotous feast on Twelfth Night. The play of that name by William Shakespeare was written to be performed on 6th January and its elements of heavy drinking, revelry, practical jokes, and cross-dressing were typical of that day when the chosen King and Queen of Misrule held sway.

Wassail bowl Wiltshire

17th century Wilshire Wassail bowl © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In medieval Wiltshire halls were decorated with mistletoe, holly and other evergreens recalling a time when it was thought that woodland spirits retreated into these after the leaf fall of deciduous trees. Pagan origins of festivities at this time of year were rebirth, and the move away from darkness towards light and Christmas was allocated this time of year in the first half of the 4th century, although Easter might have been more appropriate for the time of year. In England the festival had been Yule – from the Norse jól – which was a 12 day celebration of rebirth. Interestingly in Wiltshire in the 16th century it was considered to bring good luck for the next 12 months if a mince pie was eaten on each of the 12 days. At this time mince meat really did include meat, normally minced beef. By the 19th century around Marlborough the mince pies had to be provided by 12 different people to ensure good luck.

Pies and puddings were traditional Wiltshire, and English, fare and the last Sunday before Advent was known as ‘Stir Up Sunday’ from the fact that the Collect for that day (learned by all schoolchildren in the 19th century) began ‘Stir up we beseech thee, the hearts of the faithful people’. Cooks and housewives took this to heart and made their Christmas puddings in this week, with everyone stirring and making a wish. Frumenty was eaten on Christmas Eve and after the children had gone to bed adults ate Yule Bread, made with raisins and peel, with Wiltshire cheese and spiced beer or cider that had been warmed with a hot iron. If you could afford it goose was the bird of choice for Christmas Day, although turkeys were bred in England from the 16th century, but a joint of beef was also very popular.

What Delights a Christmas Past can have in Store!

on Tuesday, 02 December 2014. Posted in Seasons

After the very recent experience of Black Friday it’s pleasant to remember Christmas shopping of 50 or 60 years ago. Every town in Wiltshire had at least one toy shop and many village shops bought in toys especially for Christmas. For children the short daylight hours of November and December were brightened by the brightly lit windows of the toy and grocery shops. Few vehicle lights and less strident street lighting made these into bright beacons attracting children as moths to a flame. The prices in this Wiltshire shop window may make you long for the days when inflation meant pumping up your bike tyres and it’s useful to look at relative prices in past decades.

Old newspapers are a great source for this, particularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Since the beginning of the 20th century shops and businesses have been advertising their seasonal offerings in the pages of local newspapers. Have a look in the Salisbury Journal, Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, and the Wiltshire Times and you will find what earlier generations bought at this time of year and how much it cost them. You’ll find all our Wiltshire newspapers, dating back to 1736, in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. On a cold, grey winter day you can lose yourself in the past whilst sitting at one of our recently refurbished microfilm readers scrolling through pages of newsprint. You'll just need to give us a call on 01249 705500 to book a reader before you make your journey into a Wiltshire Christmas past.

Michael Marshman
County Local Studies Librarian

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