Wednesday 21 December 2011

Christmas in Kingsley

What follows does not represent any particular Christmas in Kingsley but rather a sort of general flavour of Christmas in the village over the period I was living there. I suspect, as with many country villages old habits die hard and many of the things I am about to write will be recognised today. In the Dorset village in which I now live much still goes on as it did years ago, indeed tonight 21/12/11, I am taking my grand children around the village on a tractor and trailer with the local church carol singers to be followed by singing around the Christmas tree at the pub.

The early Christmases that I recall were very different from those of today. The Christmas stocking contained much more in the way of fruit and nuts and far less of toys. Games were more popular not, of course, the electronic wizardry of today, but board games and jigsaws. Life was much simpler and the whole family spent the big day together often playing games between meals.

Mince pies were made together with sausage rolls and Christmas puddings and a Christmas cake. All were home made. It seems incredible to think that even in the countryside chickens for the table were not that common. Turkeys were almost unheard of for the average family. I suppose the after effects of the war, rationing and food scarcity all played a part in the lack of goodies in the early days. Animal food was also on ration and no doubt this to some extent restricted the number of large poultry farms. Mass production of chicken and turkeys was then a long way off. Although people kept a few chicken they were mostly for the eggs and not the pot. They came to the pot as boilers after their laying life was over. Nothing like the roasting birds we take so much for granted today.

The Christmas tree, in our case, was obtained from the local area. As I grew up I usually went and got a tree from somewhere.  This was something I really enjoyed doing and was probably the only time that I ever got away with bringing anything home without being closely questioned as to where it had come from. It was usual for me to select a tree at the end of the summer and watch it carefully throughout the time running up to Christmas. I was not the only villager that collected a tree from round about. Many of the trees collected originated on the common at Kingsley or from Broxhead Common where they were of the large needled, blue grey, fir tree type. They were also self seeders which grew wild. Later Alice Holt Forest became the place to collect from, this was in the area near to the Forest Field of a previous article. The trees there were of a finer needled type and much greener. I never saw anyone whilst engaged in tree collection but each year the Farnham Herald announced to its readers that the Forestry Commision were putting on patrols to catch people taking trees. I collected ours usually about ten days before Christmas and selected an evening that was dark, wet, foggy or a combination of all three. I think the patrols must have operated nearer to Farnham and Frensham where there were formal  plantations. My trees were not from what I would describe as a laid out plantation and appeared at random. Hey ho times were hard and money was scarce.

Having got the tree home it was decorated with real candles held to the branches with gold or silver clips similar to clothes pegs. The candles were usually lit in the evenings and had to be watched as they had real flames and Christmas trees burn fiercely. In addition to the candles various baubles were added and large amounts of plain silver coloured tinsel was draped all over the tree. A star or fairy was placed on top of the tree.

School played a large part in the run up to Christmas, as I guess it still does today. Decorations were made in class, these were made from strips of coloured paper with sticky ends which were fashioned into  inter linking rings, hence paper chains. Bells were also a popular decoration and these in various forms were also produced in school. But the big preparation was the Nativity play. This was produced at school and put on in the church just before school broke up for Christmas. Then there was the Christmas Bazaar which was a glorified jumble sale but included quite a lot of items made by local people. Jams, pickles and chutneys and cakes various were usually on sale. Lead soldiers were produced by a serving soldier who lived in Ockham Hall and these little treasures were often sold. Ken Chadwick, the son of the postmistress Mrs. Chadwick  produced military figures from wood. The Post Office in those days was a recruiting ground for the military and always displayed posters of men from the three services. Many were chart like posters featuring images of individuals in regimental dress. These Ken cut out and having produced a wooden profile of the cut out by means of a fret saw he would glue the paper image to the wood, varnish it and add a small block behind and at the base in order that the soldier would stand. He produced dozens of these and they were much sought after. I don’t recall where the proceeds from this event went but it was probably to the church. The bazaar was always well attended. As always the pub played a part in the Christmas preparations. The local thrift club was run by the pub and was paid out just before Christmas. The earliest landlord I recall was Mr. Tizzard,  Jack,he stayed at the Cricketers for many years until, I believe,his death. Mr. and Mrs. Ratley followed.

Christmas eve was memorable for the midnight service, in those days, always held at St Nicolas church, or as it was known The Old Church. People would walk from the village to attend and the church was usually full to capacity. Standing room at the back where people would be crammed in was normal then. The upstairs balcony at the rear of the building was also used and this too would be full. The singing was, how can I put this, variable. The quality of song would vary greatly. The normal good and great would sing with their usual delicacy and precision. The rare attendees  would do quite well and the choir,of course, would give good account of  itself. The variable element was provided by the good people of the village who had spent the earlier part of the evening in the Cricketers. Depending upon the length of their visit and or the amount of good cheer they had consumed, their song ranged from loud, boisterous, over ambitious through to in audible and unrecognisable. The performance of those worthies was often the talking point in the village long after the event.

As far as our family was concerned, after the service we would return home, have mince pies or sausage rolls and a hot drink and off to bed. It seemed to take an age to get off to sleep the excitement was so great.  The big day was almost always spent at home and indoors. Presents, lunch, games and tea. Sherry and Port were the main drinks served over the Christmas period with the men having an occasional  beer. The range of beverages was much less and people in general drank far less, not least because they couldn’t  afford to.

Christmas morning the church service was held in the church in the village, All Saints ? It was usually well attended although I don’t recall that we went very often.  Boxing day saw more people out and about  and children met to compare toys etc.  Overall travel was not like it is now and people stayed in the village for Christmas. It should also be remembered that for the most part whole families lived where they were born and did not depart to far horizons as they do now. Visiting family then was usually little more than a short walk away.

Well there you have it, I do hope that you all have the happiest of Christmases and that at least some of the old traditions are still going, not least the midnight service! Till January I wish you all well, the compliments of the season and all that you wish yourselves. 

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