17. Christmas

This piece is about Christmas in Witham a hundred years ago, and I am going to pass on to you what three people were once kind enough to tell me in their reminiscences.

Miss May King, born 1898
May was talking about Mr Pinkham’s glove factory, where she worked for forty-two years. “Oh yes and Christmas time we used to have a big Christmas tree in the factory in the space and he used to put a little present on for everyone of us and he used to dress up as Grandfather Christmas and he used to call out the names and take them off the tree and that was very nice that were. That was the last day before the Christmas holiday you see. They used to be good up there. I used to enjoy that. But I dare say they don’t do nothing like that now do they ?”

Mrs Elsie Hammond (nee Burton), born c 1900
Mrs Hammond’s father, Arnold, drove the railway van, delivering goods arriving by train. Her mother Emily came to Witham to work as a cook. Elsie herself was brought up in Chipping Hill Terrace in Church Street (shown in the photo) with five brothers and sisters. Until she married, she worked at the glove factory, and once helped to organise a strike there. She said:

“Those rooms, when I look at them now, I don’t know how we lived in them. Cause we didn’t live in the front room, that was all, nobody went into it much, you see. Only at Christmas time we used to go in there [laughing], for a couple of days. Well, we had our meal there, we used, oh yes, we used to have our dinner and tea in there you see, yes …..

Chipping Hill Terrace in Church Street, where Mrs Hammond was brought up
Chipping Hill Terrace in Church Street, where Mrs Hammond was brought up

Dates at Christmas, they used to come in a big block, in the shop, and we used to go and get about two pennorth, something like that. It was a block that’d stand in the shop. Yes, we knew Christmas was coming when they, when they got the dates in, but they didn’t have them before.

And they didn’t use to have oranges all the year round. Only in the seasons. So that was a real treat. We used to hang up a stocking, didn’t get a lot in there, only a few nuts, oranges, little, little, mice, you know, sweet mice, but nothing much in the way of presents, cause we couldn’t have them, you see. But there was always a stocking for each of us.”

George Hayes, born 1904
George and his father were both in steady jobs. His father David was a signalman on the railway, and George himself worked at Crittall’s window factory for 47½ years. His wife Doll was a long-serving member of the Red Cross, and was Commandant during the 1950s. They lived in Chalks Road.

He said “We used to have a little something special [at Christmas] but I suppose a good many families really had no Christmas and if they could buy a rabbit for 6d they used to reckon that was good times. If they had that and a couple of sausages cooked with it for Christmas dinner they had a good Christmas dinner.”

A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in December 2011

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