Food, folklore, tradition and legend are all included in this Christmas blog, in which we explore some of the festive archives found within the collections at Hampshire Record Office.
(Photograph of housekeeper with Christmas food at Ditcham Park House near Buriton, 1904) (Ref: AHH1/10/30)
Hampshire’s very own Charles Dickens is famous for bringing us the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future in his novel ‘A Christmas Carol’, but these aren’t the only ghosts to be associated with the festive season. Have you ever heard of the Mistletoe Bough?
‘At length an oak chest that had long lain hid,
Was found in the castle, they raised the lid,
And a skeleton form lay mouldering there,
In the bridal wreath of the lady fair.
Oh! Sad was her fate, in sportive jest
She hid from her lord in the old oak chest,
It closed with a spring, and her bridal bloom,
Lay withering there, in a living tomb.
Oh! The mistletoe bough!
Oh! The mistletoe bough!’
Final verse from Thomas Hayes Bayley’s 1828 poem ‘The Mistletoe Bough’ The Folklore of Hampshire and The Isle of Wight’, Boase W, 1976 Local Studies Ref: H390.094227
Legend has it that on the eve of their wedding, which just so happened to be Christmas Eve, a young bride challenged her husband to a game of hide and seek. She made her way up to the attic and found a chest to hide in, what she didn’t know however was that once the lid closed, she would not be able to open it from the inside. Alas, the poor bride was not found and only when the chest was discovered many years later, the mystery of the missing bride was solved. It is said that she now haunts her former home, still holding her mistletoe bough. Many stately homes have laid claim to the legend including Owslebury’s Marwell Hall and Bramshill House at Eversley. The newspaper article below makes a connection between The Mistletoe Bough and Malshanger in Basingstoke.
Series of three newspaper articles in connection with the residence of Malshanger at Oakley. Ref: TOP242/3/4
Newsprint sketch of Bramshill Hall. Ref: TOP45/2/3
Next we head to the New Forest where the unusual occurrence of a budding oak tree in the middle of winter (traditionally Christmas Day) caught the attention of William Gilpin. It is rumoured that the Cadenham Oak could have been a descendant of the Oak at the spot where King Rufus was killed, as this tree is also said to bud prematurely. On 29th December 1781, Gilpin, who had heard the story of the Cadenham Oak many times, decided to pay it a visit:
‘It is a tall straight plant of no great age, and apparently vigorous, except that its top has been injured, from which several branches issue in the form of pollard shoots. It was entirely bare of leaves, as far as I could discern, when I saw it, and undistinguishable from the other oaks in the neighbourhood; except that its bark seemed rather smoother, occasioned I apprehend, only by frequent climbing.’
Gilpin made an arrangement with the keeper of the White Hart alehouse to send him some leaves the next time they appeared on the tree. On the fifth January 1782, a mere week after his initial visit, Gilpin received the leaves and again went to inspect the tree:
‘The leaves were fairly expanded, and about an inch in length. From some of the buds two leaves had unsheathed themselves, but in general only one.
Through what power in Nature this strange premature vegetation is occasioned, I believe no Naturalist can explain.’
“Remarks on Forest Scenery and other Woodland Views” by William Gilpin, Volumes 1 & 2, 1834. Ref: 84M70/PZ8
A newspaper report from 1929 also tells a tale of New Forest trees; the article below describes the custom of offering spiced ale and hot cake to apples trees! Although customary further West of England, Hampshire has it own take on the tradition;
‘The spiced ale is thrown over the fork of the apple tree, and the hot cake, dipped in liquor, is placed on the fork.’
Newspaper cuttings etc relating to Hampshire in general, 1838-1973. Ref: 93M94/115
We move away from folklore with the next few items, and although not restricted to the realms of Hampshire, the festive season would not be complete without Christmas pudding and mince pies! The image below is a recipe from Knowle Hospital, for which there are two sets of ingredients listed; one for the ‘Good Xmas Pudding’ and another for ‘Xmas Kitchen Pudding’. Both list similar items, albeit in slightly different quantities, and require the mixture to be boiled for six hours, however the ‘good’ pudding does seem to contain rather more sugar than the ‘kitchen’ pudding! Amongst the ingredients are raisins, suet, breadcrumbs, candied peel, baking powder and beer.
Photograph of a recipe for Christmas puddings on Knowle Hospital notepaper, c.1960. Ref: 48M94/G50/31
Sergeant A Barker’s notebook of Sergeant’s Cookery Course no 52, Buller Barracks, Aldershot, 1930s. Ref: 170A12W/D/2755
Amongst our Royal Green Jackets collection is notebook belonging to Sergeant A Barker, in which he details the ins and outs of preparing and cooking meats, soups, sauces, puddings, pies, vegetables and a whole host of other foods. His Christmas menu can bee seen below and includes roast turkey, braised parsnips, Brussel sprouts, blanc manges, jellies and beer. To feed 100 men Sergeant Baker needed 40 pounds of sprouts at 2 pennies and 100 mince pies at 1 penny each!
Steff Palmer, Archives Assistant