With forthcoming festivities almost upon us, here are some choice glimpses into Walthamstow’s Christmas past, early 20th century style…and there are some surprising similarities between then and now.
Shopping for food and fancies was made easier by stores that sold everything under one roof. The District Supply Stores Ltd at 7-11 Coppermill Lane, 143 Carr Road and 2, 7 and 8 Rushbrook Crescent offered “the finest Christmas stock in the district,” with fancy gifts, Christmas crackers, turkeys, geese, hams and cakes; they also provided Christmas and turkey clubs to help spread costs. Pearks Stores at nearby 34 and 224 High Street were renowned for their impressive window displays, and claimed to sell the finest Christmas fruits and fancies at the lowest prices. Novelty Christmas and New Year gifts could be bought from T. Venables Ltd, house furnishers and drapers at 102-105 and 115 High Street- not perhaps the obvious choice for Christmas present shopping.
Clothing shops offering luxury gifts included A. Whitfield & Co, 292-298 High Street and Cooper, Cooper & Co at No. 85, with their ‘bewitching’ range of furs including squirrel, musquash and racoon. For the less frivolous shopper, optician Owen Aves on Hoe Street advertised perfectly fitting spectacles and pince-nez as “Sensible Christmas Presents.”
Then as now, some families were not financially well-off, and several charitable organisations supplied food for those struggling to make ends meet, or who would not otherwise be able to cook a Christmas meal. Amongst these was the Christmas Hamper Fund who distributed 950 hampers to families in the area, and The Old Folks Christmas Dinner Fund who hosted Christmas dinners for the area’s elderly. Fundraising events included charity football matches between the local police and Wood Street Tradesmen, and sold-out variety shows at The Palace on High Street and Crown Picture Palace in Wood Street.
Plentiful festive social events were held for all budgets and tastes- whether parties held by the local Band of Hope (a temperance group) or a Cinderella Dance at the Conservative Club. Musical events were popular: smoking concerts (a live music event where men would smoke and talk politics) were also held at the Conservative Club, and singing concerts were enjoyed at Shern Hall.
For those fancying a seaside escape, coastal getaways were available on Christmas and Boxing Day from the Midland and Southend Railway, with cheap return tickets to Leigh-on-Sea, Westcliff and Southend-on-Sea.
Christmas celebrations within Walthamstow’s churches were central to parish life throughout the season. Their interiors were elaborately decorated with holly and evergreens, some with seasonal flowers such as chrysanthemums and lilies at the altar. Carol services included Christmas Eve carols at St Saviours Church, Markhouse Road and a Christmas Day service at St Mary’s Church, Church Lane. Festive nuptials were popular; in 1913 over thirty weddings were solemnised at St Mary’s during the Christmas season, and twenty-one of those were on Christmas Day itself.
Despite obvious differences, there are some interesting parallels between Walthamstow’s Christmases past and the present. Shopping locally, donating to foodbanks, and attending a Christmas ‘do’ or carol service are familiar to us , and link us with those who have gone before…although at the moment these latter events are strictly being enjoyed online of course.