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  • Writer's pictureSadie

A Fletton Christmas 1850-1910

Updated: Dec 17, 2023



A browse through historical newspapers can soon while away many hours, whilst producing fascinating information. So, join me on a journey through Christmases past to see how Fletton residents celebrated Christmas and what was making the news during the festive season between 1850 and 1910.


Just like today the end of the school term brought prizes for achievements. In 1855 Fletton did not have a school, but that did not prevent some fortunate young people from receiving an education if their parents were able to pay for it.[i] When term broke up for Christmas from Mr. Thomas Smith’s Classical and Commercial Academy on Broad Street, Peterborough prizes were awarded to three Fletton youngsters in their examinations: T. Cooke, G. T. Cable and C. Weston. The report does not say if these youngsters were day students at £4 4s per annum or boarders at £26 per annum but their curriculum would have consisted of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Euclid, Algebra, Writing, Arithmetic, History, Geography and English. I have been unable to trace T. Cooke and G. T. Cable with any certainty, but C. Weston appears to have been Charles junior the son of Charles senior and Caroline Weston.  In 1855 Charles junior was sixteen years old. Charles senior was a coal, timber, and lime merchant. Charles junior must have been talented in the sciences as he went on to become a chemist.

Unlike today the local courts had a speedy return to work after Christmas. In fact, the Fletton bench sat on Boxing Day, Tuesday December 26th 1855.[ii] Sitting that day was Lord G. Gordon and the Reverend W. Strong. Appearing before them was Mrs. Sykes, a married woman. She was charged with stealing a quantity of tallow-fat, the property of Mr. J. Speechley, a butcher form Yaxley.  She was convicted and sentenced to two months imprisonment.


At Christmas attention is naturally drawn to what meat will adorn the festive table. On Wednesday 1st December 1858 the Rutland Agricultural Show held its Christmas Exhibition of livestock.[iii] Mr. Marriott of Fletton exhibited his three year old red and white male ox. It was awarded second place, after The Marquis of Exeter’s beast. Winning a prize undoubtedly increased the value of the animal when it was sold.

Quite appropriately for a season where music is especially important on Sunday 13th December 1874 the new organ at St. Margaret’s was opened.[iv] Mr Arthur Thacker, organist and choir master at Thorney Abbey, played at the morning service and Miss. Horton, the organist at St. Margaret’s, played at the evening service.

Unfortunately, just because it is Christmas it doesn’t mean that tragedy does not strike. On Christmas Day 1880 John Henry Glew of Woodlands, Fletton Avenue died from scarlet fever.[v] He was only eleven years old. On the 29th December his younger brother Alfred, who was four and a half, also succumbed to the disease. Their father Alfred was a chemist and druggist and he had died only five years earlier on 23rd January 1875. It can only be imagined how their mother, Hannah, coped with the boy’s illness and subsequent deaths.


Like today Christmas was a popular time for weddings. Today the reason may be to have a ‘white’ wedding but one hundred and fifty years ago it was because this was primarily when workers had time off from their employment. On Friday 31st December 1880 Mr William Brown of Newark, Peterborough married Miss Emily Elizabeth Clubb and Mr. Thomas Preston of Peterborough married Miss Johanna Ebbs at St. Margaret’s.[vi] Emily and her family lived in Park Road, New Fletton. Emily was a milliner, and her father was a railway carpenter. Emily’s family were natives of Colchester but had migrated to Fletton between 1851 and 1854. Johanna’s father also worked for the railway. He was a labourer and the family lived at 6 Railway Cottages. Like Emily, Johanna also worked in a perfect trade for preparing her wedding trousseau. She was a dressmaker.


If the report in the Peterborough Standard in January 1886 is indicative of every year, then when William and Emily and Thomas and Johanna married St. Margaret’s church would have been wonderfully decorated.[vii] The Misses Upton, Skeith, Richardson and Bristow had worked their magic in the church. The font was centre of attention with a ‘spire composed of twigs covered with cotton wool, around which was entwined ivy’. There was also holly and evergreen and the words ‘suffer little children’ in red on a white background. The pulpit was also suitably decorated with layers of evergreen. In silver lettering there were the words ‘Peace on earth’. The lectern was not left out. Around the top were the words ‘Unto us a child is born’. Around the base there was a profusion of evergreen, primarily variegated holly, which surrounded the word ‘Emmanuel’. In the recesses of the chancel windows, alongside the seasonal decoration, were the words ‘The Prince of Peace’ and ‘Thy kingdom Come’. To complete the festive scene the arches and pillars were also festooned with evergreen.


Weather is always a prime topic of conversation and the residents of Fletton were no different in 1889 to what they are now. Unfortunately, the snowy and frosty weather that is required to complete a Christmas scene was a little late for Christmas 1888, it didn’t arrive until Sunday 6th January 1889. All the trees in the ‘fine old Avenue at Fletton’ were covered in ‘a mantle of hoar frost’. Fletton, the reporter commented, could only be ‘compared to a portion of fairyland’.[viii]


Of course, no festive period would be complete without a game of football. In 1893 Old Fletton played Nene Rangers on Saturday 23rd December.[ix] Unfortunately, they lost 3-0. The surnames of the men involved in that game were: Smith, Lucy, Hammond, Manton, Goodson, Hill, Crowson, Hankin, Stallebrass, Farr and Brown.


Naturally, the world of work continues regardless of the season and men looking for vacancies eagerly scoured the ‘wanted’ columns. At the end of the nineteenth century Fletton was experiencing a boom in house building, Milton Road, Duke Street, Princes Road, and Queens Road were all being extended. For this expansion both bricks and bricklayers were required. In the Stamford Mercury on 17th December 1897, two advertisements were placed advertising for bricklayers, one by Hicks, Gardner and Co brickworks and one by Mr. B. Mills.[x] They both advertised ‘top wages for top men’ at a rate of 8d to 9d per hour for bricklayers and 4d to 5d per hour for labourers.   


Just as today political issues continued to occupy the minds of Fletton residents, no matter the season. It was announced in the Peterborough Advertiser on 21st December 1898 that the Honourable A. E. Fellowes M. P. was to open the new recreation ground in Fletton.[xi] It was also reported that Mr. Arthur Itter, the ‘Mayor of Fletton’ was wading in on the question of the introduction of the Old Age pension. He was prepared to solve the problem, well at least in Fletton. He proposed to contribute £250 to the old age pension fund if other brickmaking companies would do the same.


Arthur Itter’s great adversary, John C. Hill, founder of the London Brick Company, was also in Fletton leading up to Christmas 1898. On 19th December John was hosting the first annual dinner of the Old Fletton Central Sick and Dividing Club at the White Hart pub. There were nearly one hundred men in attendance, mainly from the local brickyards and John bore the costs of the beverages and cigars for the evening. Topics that were being discussed that evening were wide ranging but included: supporting Reverend Dowman in extending St. Margaret’s church, the threat of competition from both foreign and local brick companies, the recent strikes, the advantages of keeping Fletton separate from the Peterborough town council, the meeting of the school board and the purchase of land for the proposed school, and the proposed drainage system for Fletton, Stanground and Woodston. The evening closed with songs by J. E. Rivenhall, C. Olding and the Honourable A. E. Fellowes. Accompanying the singers was Mr. H. Henson at the pianoforte. Mr. Guest also produced his gramophone which caused curiosity and entertainment.


The festive season did not hinder the progress of the great local industry, brickmaking. It was reported on 2nd January 1901 that a local inventor and brickmaker, Mr. A. Adams had applied for a patent for continuous brick kilns.[xii] In the continuous brick kiln hot gases from a newly fired chamber are conducted to a fresh chamber via a network of flues. This makes the whole process of firing bricks both continuous and economical.  


In December 1902 the residents of Fletton were not just looking ahead to Christmas but looking ahead to more employment opportunities. The ‘leviathan’ factory of Farrows and Company was nearing completion and to those travelling on the Great Northern Railway the new factory was ‘a light set upon a hill that cannot be hid’. Although the factory had not yet opened fully 100 hands, mostly women, were already working there. In addition, 500 workers were picking and packing dried peas from their homes.


Of course, no Christmas season is complete without a visit from you know who![xiii] John C. Hill visited Fletton every Yuletide to distribute silver medals and other awards to the local children for their achievements at school. He was described as ‘the corporeal personification of that mythical philanthropist Father Christmas’.


The last event for our festive visit to Fletton concerns Mr. Harvey Claude Monck, a draper and grocer at 42 High Street.[xiv] Harvey held an annual Christmas limerick competition. The writer had to create their rhyming verse around an item, or items, in his shop window - perfect advertising. The prizes, in 1908, were very generous. The first prize was a turkey, second prize a barrel of beer and third prize a bottle of wine. The winner was Mrs. G. Brown of Stanground, and I will leave the last word of this blog to her. She probably did not imagine that over one hundred years after she put pen to paper readers would still be enjoying her limerick.


‘I’ll pick a box of soldiers,

That “Turkey” does not fear,

And stand them in Monck’s window,

To guard the “wine” and “beer”’

 


[i] Stamford Mercury, Friday 24 December 1851.

[ii] Lincolnshire Chronicle, Friday 28 December 1855.

[iii] Lincolnshire Chronicle, Friday 3 December 1858.

[iv] Peterborough Advertiser, Saturday 12 December 1874.

[v] Stamford Mercury, Friday 2 January 1880.

[vi] Stamford Mercury, Friday 31 December 1880.

[vii] Peterborough Standard, Saturday 2 January 1886.

[viii] Peterborough Express, Wednesday 9th January, 1889.

[ix] Peterborough Express, Wednesday 27 December 1893.

[x] Stamford Mercury, Friday 17 December 1897.

[xi] Peterborough Advertiser on Wednesday 21 December 1898

[xii] Peterborough Advertiser, Wednesday 2 January 1901.

[xiii] Peterborough Express, Tuesday 24 December 1907.

[xiv] Peterborough Standard, Saturday 2 January 1909.

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