Mail Order

This winter, in the build-up to Christmas, there has been a lot of discussion about online shopping being the death of the High Street in Britain. This might well be true but what occurred to me was that there have always been other means of shopping besides physically visiting a shop.

The small town I lived in when I was a little girl (population around 2,000) was five miles away from our village had all the basics. There were two butchers, two newsagents, a greengrocer, a jeweller, two pharmacies, a couple of assorted draperies and gents outfitters, a hardware shop etc etc. For requirements beyond what our town could provide, we had to travel some distance. Swansea and Cardiff were at least an hour’s drive away and ‘big’ shopping trips were made a few times a year for Christmas shopping, new winter coats for the family, new shoes and so on. I remember thinking they were amazing with their department stores, book shops, large stores with lifts and escalators and toy shops. This was the only time we saw Boots, W H Smith, C and A and – most important of all (to us as children) – Woollies (F W Woolworth) which was heaven! It was also the perfect place to spend your little bit of pocket money as it had everything and it was all affordable.

Good old Woollies – RIP.
Howells Department store in Cardiff.
W H Smith, Newtown, Wales. One of the earliest branches and still in the style and layout of the original shops. It also houses a small museum telling the W H Smith story.

 

The rest of the time, my mum relied heavily on her mail order catalogue as did all the families in our village.

My mum’s catalogue was Marshall Ward followed later by Kays. I remember a neighbour favouring Freemans and my grandmother who lived with us liked J D Williams. Women used to swap catalogues to enjoy a wider choice of goods. From the catalogues we bought bedding, household goods, underwear, toys (via Father Christmas of course), adult and children’s clothing and many more things I can’t recall now. My mum would never buy shoes by mail order.

The pages we children used to pore over longingly!

In addition to the catalogues selling clothes and homeware, my dad used to get seeds and bulbs by mail order. Dobbie’s and Doby’s are two I remember. Newspapers and magazines also had goods for sale and on special offer.

 

 

Images obtained from the Internet. Anyone with objections to my use of a particular image can contact me and I will remove it.

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Christmas Then and Now


A busy couple of months means that I’ve been neglecting my blog. Apologies and Happy New Year!

I’m going to get back into it by doing a very simple point-by-point comparison of Christmas now and the way I remember it. I have done posts on Christmas before so I hope not to be too repetitive!

Santa Claus. As a child, I knew him as Father Christmas. I never heard the name Santa or Santa Claus mentioned apart from in songs or books. Everyone I knew called him Father Christmas. The name is now seldom heard. Children I know now only know him as Santa.

Since beginning this post I have looked up Santa Claus and Father Christmas only to find that they are completely different characters in origin who, at some point, became merged into one. I do learn a lot researching my facts for this blog!

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A traditional image of Father Christmas.
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Santa Claus.

The Christmas Pudding. This tradition probably doesn’t extend outside Britain. The traditional Christmas pudding (a rich, spiced, boiled fruit pudding – I know, sounds gross but isn’t!) is made several weeks in advance, usually late October. It’s supposed to get better with age, hence the early cooking date. My mum always kept with the old tradition which was that as the mixture is being stirred everyone in the household takes a turn at stirring and makes a wish at the same time. This all seemed so exciting to me as a child. Partly because making a wish is always exciting when you’re little and partly because it was the first sign of the Christmas to come. The other pudding tradition was that a silver sixpenny piece was hidden in the mixture. My mum was scrupulous about boiling and scrubbing them first! It was said to bring good luck to whoever found the sixpence in their portion on Christmas Day. With three children to keep happy, my mum was very fair (or maybe wanted to avoid any arguments!) and used to put three coins in the pudding. She then used to dish up carefully so that we got one each.

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A Victorian illustration.
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Advent Calendars. These were made of card with twenty-four little windows to open one day at a time. And there the resemblance ends. There were pictures behind ours – and NO chocolates! And  people actually reused them. We had the same one for years and we loved it. The excitement we felt when opening the last and biggest window on Christmas Eve and seeing the beautiful picture of the manger with baby Jesus lying in it is still with me when I think about it.

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Ours was a bit like this one.
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What children expect now.

Church.  When I was growing up, everyone in the village went either to church or to chapel. The Nine Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve was particularly exciting and it was an honour to be one of the children chosen to read a lesson. It was always really well attended as was the morning service on Christmas Day. It was lovely to walk to church all excited after opening our stockings and to see everyone we knew. Of course, it was probably often raining. I grew up in a particularly wet valley in Wales, after all. But in my memory we always walked to church on a crisp, cold, sunny day!

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The church we attended as a family.

Television.  We didn’t have a television until I was 12. Daytime TV was non-existent back then apart from a short children’s programme each day just after lunchtime and sport on a Saturday afternoon. But on Christmas Day there was always a circus on TV in the afternoon. The whole family would sit and watch it – with the curtains drawn as you couldn’t see the picture in the daytime. The image projected by TVs then was a lot weaker than today.

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A 1950s family watching television.

Christmas Stockings.
My grandmother who lived with us in the late 50s and 60s was a great one for telling stories from her childhood, many of them very funny as she had a great sense of humour. She was born in 1892 and it occurred to me years later when I was an adult that the stories we heard from Nana were first-hand Victorian tales. She used to tell us that as children (she had sixteen sixteen siblings!) they used to hang up stockings. Inside, on Christmas morning, there was always an apple, an orange and a shiny, newly minted penny. There was nothing else in Nana’s stocking and she always knew what was going to be in it but Christmas morning was as exciting then for children as it is now.
To this day, children here often find and an apple and an orange and some gold-covered chocolate coins in the toe of the stocking. Our stockings were brown hand-knitted knee-high woollen socks which had been knitted by an elderly relative years earlier for my dad to wear under his Wellington boots when he was out working in the forests. He had never actually worn them as they were coarse and prickly.

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This is one of the stockings my children used to hang up in the 1980s and early 90s.

Most of the images I have used are freely available on the Internet. As usual if anyone objects to my use of any photograph, please contact me and I will remove it.