Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle from ‘Illustrated London News, Christmas Supplement’, 1848 (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll, 030 ILL)This illustration from the December 1848 Christmas Supplement to the Illustrated London News, shows the royal family gathered round a christmas tree at Windsor Castle. When this image first appeared in the Illustrated London News, it attracted a huge amount of attention. The upper classes had been decorating trees for some time, having been introduced by Queen Charlotte in the 18th century, but this image spread the fashion to the rest of society.
Decorating a tree with candles and gifts was a German tradition that was enthusiastically enjoyed by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This image of the royal family, which depicts children, parents and grandmother, all enjoying themselves around the tree was influential in promoting Christmas as a family occasion. By the end of the 1840s, Christmas had become a festival celebration of the Victorian calendar.
Kissing Couple from ‘Impresses Quaint’, 1889 (Joseph Crawhall II Archive, JCII/7/96)
Is kissing under the mistletoe a Christmas tradition for you?
Joseph Crawhall II was born in Newcastle in 1821 and was the son of Joseph Crawhall I, who was a sheriff of Newcastle. As well as running the family ropery business with his brothers, he also spent his time illustrating, making woodcuts and producing books.
“We meet in China’s sunny clime, A Tea Plantation as here seen, Where plants the sloping hill-side climb, In straggling tufts of evergreen. This then as you will plainly see, Depicts the origin of Tea.”
Above transcription taken from page 1 of The Story of Cup of Tea in Rhymes and Pictures. Beautifully illustrated, this book takes you through the tea plantation, culture, gathering, drying, roasting and rolling, sorting, buying, mixing, carrying and finally drinking tea. The story ends…
“Hurrah! at length we see it here, Upon our own Tea Table placed; And soon our spirits it will cheer, From out the Urn that it has graced.
Let each and all the grateful be, And hail a welcome guest in Tea”.
Letter from Thomas Baker Brown to his father, 29th Dec 1917 (Thomas Baker Brown Archive, TBB/1/1/1/1/248)This letter from Thomas Baker Brown to his father is written from France. He describes his Christmas dinner, and remarks that there were ’30 men to a turkey’. See transcript below…
My dear Father
Just a few lines to let you know that things are all ok and going strong.
Today we had our so called Xmas diner and gee wiz it was some dinn. There were 30 men to a turkey so you can imagine how much we saw of it after the Sergt Major and the NCOs had a dig in. So I made up with Nestles Choc afterwards.
I don’t know whether I told you that the razor blade (singular) arrived all right.
I’ve had a letter from Mr Drew and he proposed drinking my health this Xmas.
Have just to move so will now pip-pip
Love to all
Your loving son
(SB) – Tommy”
Thomas Baker Brown, born 22nd December 1896, a soldier who fought in World War I. In December 1915, he was serving in the ‘Clerks Platoon’ for the 6th Northumberland Fusiliers at a training camp at Scarcroft School, York. As a soldier, or “tommy”, training would begin with basic physical fitness, drill, march discipline and essential field craft. Tommies would later specialise in a role and Brown received training in bombing, signalling and musketry. He suffered from poor eyesight and was issued with glasses. After failing to be transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, Brown was placed into the signalling section and later drafted to France alongside his brother George, as part of the 2/6th Northumberland Fusiliers, 32nd Division.
By the 1st August 1916, Brown was moved to the 21st Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Scottish 37th Division) and was sent on his first journey to the front line trenches. Later, in March 1917, Brown was awarded the Military Medal for his ‘heroism’ and ‘bravery’.
Prologue from ‘Round about the coal-fire: or Christmas entertainments’ (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll 398.268 CHR)To get you in the Christmas spirit, here’s the Prologue from ‘Round about our coal fire, or, Christmas Entertainments’ “wherein is described abundance of Fiddle-Faddle-Stuff, Raw-heads, bloody-bones, Buggybows and such like Horrible Bodies; Eating, Drinking, Kissing & other Diversions…” produced in 1734.
‘The Fig Tree’ illustration from Elizabeth Blackwell’s Herbal Vol. 1
Plate 125. The Fig Tree. Ficus.
It seldome grows to be a Tree of any great Bigness in England; the Leaves are a grass Green and the Fruit when ripe of a brownish Green; it beareth no visible Flowers, which makes it believed they are hid in the Fruit.
Its Native soils are Turky, Spain and Portugal; and its time of Bearing is in Spring and Autumn; the Figs are cured by dipping them in scalding hot Lye, made of ye Ashes of the Guttings of the Tree, and afterwards they dry them carefully in the Sun.
Figs are esteem’d cooling and moistning, good for coughs, shortness of Breath, and all Diseases of the Breast; as also the Stone and Gravel, – and the small Pox and Measels, which they drive out. – Outwardly they are dissolving and ripening, good for Imposthumations and Swellings; and pestilential buboes.
The below extract is taken from Kate Greenaway’s 1890 almanack and describes the seasons through rhyme and accompanying illustrations…
The lambs are playing, and the day
Is sweetly scented with the May.
The sun is warm, but sweetly cool
The waters of the rippling pool.
The corn is cut, and on the bough
Are reddest apples hanging now.
The cold is keen, for north winds blow, And softly falling comes the snow.”
Catherine Greenaway (1846 – 1901), known as Kate Greenaway, was an English children’s book illustrator and writer. Her almanacs ran from 1883 up until 1897, with no 1896 issue being published. Each almanacks included a Jan-Dec calendar, beautifully drawn illustrations and short poems. Her almanacs were sold throughout America, England, Germany and France and were produced with different variations and in different languages.
Photograph of Geoffrey Clarke’s sculpture, in the snow, in front of Sir Basil Spence’s Herschel Building at Newcastle University, for the Department of Physics, taken 1963.
‘Spiral Nebula’ (also known as ‘Swirling Nebula’) was designed by noted post-war sculptor Geoffrey Clarke in 1962. It is a leading example of post-war public art. It is one of the few from this period that is situated in Newcastle.
It was commissioned by the architect Basil Spence as part of the design of the Herschel Building for the Physics Department of Kings College, University of Durham (which later in 1963 became Newcastle University). It reflects the scientific advances being made at this time, such as Britain’s first satellite, ‘Ariel 1’, which was launched in 1963 (the same year as the building was opened and sculpture unveiled).
Read more about the sculpture’s history and its revival here.
‘Spiral Nebula’ was one of five pieces of post-war public art in the North East to be given listed status at Grade II by Historic England in August 2016 (announced by Historic England September 2016). Read more here.
Although he is famed as a novelist and journalist, it is a fact perhaps less well-known that, during the last twelve years of his life, Charles Dickens (1812-1870) embarked on a new career for himself as a highly successful performer, touring Britain and America to deliver public readings from his novels and stories to thousands of people.
From 1853, Dickens had given successful public performances of his work for the benefit of charities, but from the late 1850s a feeling of restlessness combined with an inclination to accept invitations to read for money – perhaps owing to his recent purchase of a house, Gad’s Hill Place in Kent – and he began to give professional commercial public readings.
Dickens gave his first commercial reading in London on the evening of 29th April, 1858. Travelling with a manager, a valet and a technician, he used a simple stage-set of a small reading desk with a screen behind it to act as a sound-board for the projection of his voice, illuminated by gas-fittings hanging from a lighting rig above the stage. He rehearsed carefully and intensively so that he knew his texts by heart, and would improvise spontaneous variations in response to the reaction of a particular audience. As he read aloud he assumed the various roles and characters from his stories, imitating their accents and mannerisms to create a dramatic performance which was more than simply reading aloud from a book, and which delighted the crowds.
After his success in London Dickens went on to tour a number of provincial English cities, including Newcastle upon Tyne, and present in the audience there on 24th September 1858 for a reading of A Christmas Carol was the antiquarian Robert White. The White (Robert) Collection was presented to the then King’s College Library (now Newcastle University Library) by his family in 1942, and are now held in Special Collections. Contained in a journal amongst his papers is this vivid eye-witness account of his trip to hear Dickens read on that occasion.
White begins, “In the evening went to hear Charles Dickens read his Christmas Carol – saw him at a distance of 10 yards.” He goes on to give a detailed physical description of Dickens, including his forehead which is “more broad than high”, “cheeks thin with wrinkles coming over them at the side of the nose, black eyes, brown rather than black… His chin and mouth are partly hidden by a beard – the mouth rather large and chin prominent.”
Of the performance itself, White writes enthusiastically, “He addressed the audience in perfect self-possession, a capital reader, or more a speaker, for his readings are like speakings. Every word falls distinctly on the ear… He has little or no action save when he throws it into the making up of a character. His imitations of the dramatis personae are very good.”