Hampshire Record Office is home to 8 miles of shelving, housing over a million items, containing everything from medieval pipe rolls to 1970s 8mm cinefilm.  Amongst these many miles of archive items nestle a host of festive gems, glimpses of a bygone era and insights into Christmas past.

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The custom of sending Christmas cards was begun in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole and has since become a mainstay of the festive period. 678.9 million Christmas cards were sent in the United Kingdom in 2010.  Hampshire Archives and Local Studies has an assortment of Christmas cards dating back to the mid-late 19th century.  Included in our collection are some beautiful hand-painted cards depicting flowers, butterflies, horses and Christmas messages.  There are also some wonderful original Christmas cards including a cat knitting next to a stocking with the message ‘Stock-in Greetings’.  The artwork for the card was created by Louis Wain, an English artist best known for his drawings of large eyed-cats and kittens with anthropomorphised features –perfectly displayed in this Christmas card. 

Christmas card relating to Acting corporal C.R. noble later awarded VC for bravery. Card from Lady Rawlinson and friends of the 4th Corps

Christmas cards have also been sent during more troubled times, such as the First World War.  Many are home-made with illustrations depicting life at the Front.  Letters and diaries were also written during the First World War which recorded Christmas spirit in action when soldiers on both sides stopped fighting and, in some cases, played football on 25 December 1914.  A letter home from William Smith remarks:

“This Christmas has been the most extraordinary one I have ever experienced…. Everyone was a friend, our boys changed cigs for cigars and rum for wine.  Our boys shook hands and talked together.  The regiment on our left was having a football match with them.  One Hun kicked an Englishman and he gave him a punch in the jaw, that finished that game.  The Germans all said they wished to get home again, so do we.”

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Not only do we have Christmas cards and letters to family members, but also letters to Father Christmas himself.  Bruce Rivers Butchart wrote his letter to Father Christmas at the beginning of the 20th century.   He asked for a toy shield and sword and signed the letter with ‘lots of love’ accompanied by plenty of kisses.

Furthermore, home-made films depict Christmas scenes from the past ranging from the delight on children’s faces when opening their presents to sledging down a snow covered hill. A small selection of these can be seen here.

There are also some more poignant Christmas records including three entries in the Steep parish register concerning the Christmas family. The family lived at Kettlesbrook Cottages during the late 19th century; however disaster struck when one of their children, Merry Christmas, who was only 14, died of diphtheria and was buried on 23 December 1885.  Caroline Ethel Christmas, who was only 6, was buried 6 days later and on 13 January 1886 Ernest James Christmas, only 3, was buried, both children dying from diphtheria. Such records make you comprehend what we should all be grateful for during the festive season.

Steep Parish entry

Last but not least, we have a photograph of Frederick Bowker, from the early twentieth century, getting into the Christmas spirit. He dressed up as Father Christmas in this superb coloured photograph including the traditional red gown and long white beard which we all know and love today.  He even has his initials FB in red on his slippers.

Frederick Bowker

This December why not come along and join us in exploring some of the delights of our historic collection? On 1 December, 6.30-8.30pm, guests will be given the opportunity to explore some of our seasonally themed treasures in our search room exhibition followed by a film show of archive material.  If that wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, there will be mulled wine and mince pies included in the entry price. Book before 17 November to take advantage of our early bird offer: £10 per person (£12 after 17 November).
To book call: 01962 846154 or book online.

Matthew Goodwin, Archivist

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