The Children’s Christmas
There’s gladness and loud animation
In cottage and palace to-day;
And the children, in warmest elation,
Trill their songs, bright, merry and gay.
The floodgates of joy are now open—
Old Christmas gives out his best store;
For the season of mirth the children
Returns with its hight, hallowed lore.
The star of the far distant ages
Still gleams like a diadem rare;
Still songs of both shepherds and sages
Tell the story of Bethlehem fair.
The children ‘mid innocent pleasure
Re-echo the joyous refrain.
And, swelling the old gladsome measure,
Tell Yuletide’s sweet tale once again.
—“J. T.”, Shrewsbury. Published in the Wellington Journal, 20 December 1890.
During the 1800s, and particularly over the course of Victoria’s reign, the celebration of Christmas in Britain evolved and was enriched by innovations and importations. As a result, towards the end of the century the traditions of the ‘Victorian Christmas’ were all in place – cards, carols and crackers, decorations and dinners, a red-robed, full-figured Father Christmas / Santa Claus, and a somewhat incongruous combination of commercialism and Christian values.(The image here is from a book published in 1888. Taken from the British Library Flickr photostream; no known copyright restrictions.)
From the newspapers of the time we can learn what late Victorian Christmases were like in towns and villages across the country, and gain glimpses of the ways in which the season was celebrated in Waters Upton.
Decking the halls (and churches)
The holly berries all aglow
Are wreathed in wonted Christmas brightness
Aloft is hung the mistletoe
In all its pearly whiteness.
—“Olive,” The Children’s Visitor. Published in the Wellington Journal, 22 December 1888.
By longstanding tradition, homes were decorated with Christmas greenery: holly, mistletoe, garlands of fir, kissing boughs, with wreaths or ‘welcome rings’ hung on front doors. From newspaper reports viewed at the British Newspaper Archive it seems that flowers too were an element of Christmas decorations, at least in public institutions such as infirmaries, workhouses and churches (such reports are easier to come by for those establishments than for private homes). Thus we learn from the Wellington Journal of 26 December 1885 that:
John Bayley Davies was educated at Shrewsbury School and became Rector of Waters Upton in 1866. Mrs Davies, formerly Susan Anslow Juckes, was married to the Rev Davies in 1875. If I have correctly worked out who the above-mentioned Misses E Taylor and L Groucock were – Edith Clayton Taylor and Elizabeth (a.k.a. Lizzie?) Mary Hombersley Groucock, the Rev J B Davies was related to both of them (first cousin and first cousin once removed, respectively). The family (Christmas) tree shown here illustrates how the three were related.
The Groucock family was originally of Meeson in the neighbouring parish of Bolas Magna, but by 1881 the widowed Thomas Groucock had moved to Waters Upton along with his sister. Mary Emma Groucock née Taylor was born at Burleigh Villa in Bolas Magna, where her father Thomas was still living (see Kelly’s Directory 1891).
I have not identified Miss F Minor, but members of family with that surname were resident at Meeson at this time – and we will shortly meet Miss M Minor, almost certainly Margaret Elizabeth Minor of that place. Another demonstration of the links between Meeson and Waters Upton came in 1897.
Christmas at the latter village that year was “observed at the Parish Church in the usual way” according to the New Year’s Day edition of the Wellington Journal in 1898. Celebrations of Holy Communion took place at 8.30am and 11am, with a shortened evening service at 6.30pm at which “the choir sang several carols.” “The church was prettily decorated by the ladies of the congregation, beautiful lilies and camelias being sent from Meeson Hall for the chancel decoration.”
Four years later in 1901, the year of Queen Victoria’s death, the Wellington Journal stated on 28 December that “Christmas in the churches has been kept this year with a heartiness which has probably never been surpassed, notwithstanding those who contend that its celebrations are falling into disuse.” It went on to say that “the decorations have been exceedingly appropriate and ornate, reflecting great credit the busy and untiring efforts of those responsible for the work.” With regard to Waters Upton:
Mrs L V Yonge was the above-mentioned Elizabeth Mary Hombersley Groucock, now married. Elizabeth had ‘tied the knot’ with the Rev Lyttleton Vernon Yonge, vicar of nearby Rowton in Ercall Magna parish, in 1892 and the couple resided at Waters Upton. I have yet to work out who Dolly Austin was, but Daisy Pritchard was enumerated on the census of 1901 at nearby Cold Hatton in Ercall Magna parish. Then aged 13, she was the daughter of agricultural labourer Edward Pritchard and his second wife Ellen, née Gough. At first I thought Daisy had no connections with Waters Upton, but her father Edward, although born in Wolverhampton, had Shropshire ancestry and was enumerated at Waters Upton with his parents in the censuses of 1871 and 1881.
The Tompkin girls were most likely Dorothy and Maggie (born 1891 and 1894 respectively), daughters of Robert Tompkin and Mary Margaret Sutton (née Barlow) Tompkin. The Tompkins had not been in Waters Upton for very long at this point, having been enumerated on the census back in April in their native county of Staffordshire. The family was still living in Waters Upton in 1911. That year’s census shows that Robert was a farm bailiff – Kelly’s Directory for 1909 shows that he was working in that capacity for the Rev L V Yonge. Sadly, Robert passed away at the age of 42 on 29 June 1911; he was buried at Waters Upton (see Memorial Inscriptions: Tompkin).
The Misses Davies would have been the Rev John and Mrs Susan Davies’ daughters Annie May (born 1879) and Alice Elizabeth (1880); with the two Davies boys “S. H. and R. W.” being Stephen Harris (1883) and Reginald Wynard (1885) – all of them were recorded on the 1901 census at Waters Upton. I will be devoting several future stories to this family, in which I will explore their lives in and beyond Waters Upton in more depth. But, as you are about to find out, that doesn’t mean they won’t get any further mentions in this one.
Rev John Bayley Davies saves Christmas
I freely admit to over-egging the (Christmas) pudding a little with that heading. However the Rev Davies, in his capacity as a member of the Wellington Poor Law Union’s Board of Guardians, did help to ‘save Christmas’ for the inmates of the Union Workhouse in Wellington in 1882.
John was present at the fortnightly meeting of the Board which took place on Thursday 14 December that year, at which the subject of “the paupers’ Christmas dinner” arose…
The Clerk of the Board then “read from the minute book the allowance of beef and pudding sanctioned by the Board for the last Christmas dinner”, after which further conversation took place. I imagine, but can’t say for certain, that the Rev John Bayley Davies of Waters Upton contributed to that exchange of views, supporting the principles of Christian charity which had become a part of the Victorian Christmas. I don’t doubt at all that he was heartily pleased when Mr Lawrence’s proposition was, eventually, carried.