Yorkshire Diary: Post of Christmas past

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens serves as the archetypal vision of the festive season, with its snow-covered streets and story of the redemption of its central character, Scrooge.

When it was published in 1843, the first Christmas cards were just being sent and the Victorians were busy creating yuletide themes which still stand strong today: snow covered landscapes, roaring log fires and a benevolent Father Christmas.

Yorkshire Diary looks at what made the headlines at Christmas in the years when four seminal literary works were published: A Christmas Carol (1843), Charlotte Bronte's Jayne Eyre (1847), T S Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) and J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954).

A Christmas Carol (1843)

The Leeds Mercury was a weekly publication, coming out every Saturday.

On December 21, it reported that according to the Leeds Improvement Act, Section 27: Any person "who shall make or use any slide upon ice or snow to the common danger of passengers" in any street, is liable to a penalty of not more than 40 shillings.

Extreme frost caused corn prices to rise, the cold was so intense some northern ports closed due to ice, precluding the possibility of bringing supplies from abroad.

The shortest day was December 22, when the sun rose at 8hrs 7m and set at 3hrs 51m, making it a minute shorter than the previous day, which is normally the shortest.

Jayne Eyre (1847)

December 24: The Leeds Mercury published a poem on its front page, which started: "Farewell to the year, which will soon disappear, May the next with success be attended, Through the universe wide may Dame Fortune preside, And commerce and trade be extended."

There were numerous adverts for circuses, ink, almanacs, coffee houses, tea, Ford's pectoral balsam (to ward off colds), shoe sales, stationers, Wesleyan missions and one by Acme of Fashion, Boar Lane, Leeds, which began: "What is hair? Hair is a lightly organised substance requiring for its production a delicate apparatus of capillary vessels, nerves, glands and tubes. It is formed from a fluid secreted from the blood..."

There was also a report of a murder trial in which one Patrick Reid forced his way into a Mirfield home and struck a servant girl a violent blow to the head, felling her, then did the same to the woman of the house and then the man, before he was disturbed by a caller at the front door. Having got rid of the caller, he returned and cut the throats of all three victims, before ransacking their drawers and making off. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The Waste Land (1922)

YEP, Saturday, December 23: One story started: "Is there anything in the popular grumble that Christmas is not what it was in the good old days?" Dr Charles Richardson, said to be among the oldest practising GPs in Leeds, exclaimed: "Why, Christmas is nothing nowadays. When I was a boy it was one big round of parties, the whole community abandoned itself to fun and jollity. Of late, it seems to me people make little difference between Christmas and any other time, except to the extent of sending those abominations, Christmas cards – a horrible invention!"

He wasn't done there, either: "We never get a prolonged, dry, healthy frost now. That was the sort of weather you could enjoy."

The format of newspapers was much different than today, the front page given over mostly to advertisements, while page 2 contained official announcements.

Page 3 carried an article on 'The use and abuse of car headlights in nocturnal motoring', which ruminated: "accidents is not a very profitable task, though a tempting one, because philosophic contemplation of the misfortunes of others is a weakness of human nature." It went on to call for road users to install rear red lamps and not just a "lantern slung under the back giving a fitful and uncertain gleam."

The Lord of the Rings (1954)

On Christmas Eve, the YEP ran with the headline 'Last minute shoppers jam Leeds streets' and predicted a mild, green Christmas – one official from Bawtry RAF Station Meteorological Office bemoaned: "I am afraid it's going to be an unglamorous Christmas."

Many Yorkshire folk decided to go away for Christmas, with an extra 550 holiday trains being run during the day. The West Yorkshire Road Car Company ran an extra 35 buses from its Wellington Street base.

Pope Pius XII, 78, broadcast a Christmas message from his sick-room, gravely ill with a year-old illness, giving his solemn blessing to the world's 400m Roman Catholics.

In Dewsbury, the Rev H R H Coney, Rector of Thornhill, took to horse and cart to tour the parish collecting donations toward the church organ, announcing his passage through the streets on a hunting horn.

The Yorkshire Evening Post toy appeal supplied 100 hospitals and 6,000 children with toys. And Tan Hill, the highest inn in England, at 1,732ft, was fully booked, according to landlord Harry Earnshaw.

Long shot for Burley walk

Your letters

THIS is a very long shot indeed, it goes back many moons in my life but my late father George used to take me (on mother's advice) on Sunday morning to walk from Burley, Leeds 4 up through Gotts Park to Armley Hill Top. Every big smart house had a large garden (not like our back to back, with four or five of us). I was about eight or nine at the time.

Was the gentleman there called Mr Blakey? I have thought over the years could he have been connected to Blakeys big factory that produced Blakeys Seggs, metal rivets we used to hammer into shoes and boots in those far off days to save on wear and tear. Money was a lot scarcer in those times and I wonder if any of your reading public may throw any light on this at all. It would be a miracle if anyone out there has any photos of the Blakey family. It's a tall order but worth a try.

Gordon Allen, Bank Gardens, Horsforth

HOW lovely to read the letter about the 7th Leeds Company of the Boys Brigade at the Presbyterian Church in Cavendish Road, Leeds 2.

I was a Brownie and Girl Guide at the same church. I knew Professor McLeod and his family very well as his daughters Catriona, Mona, Heather and Mary were our mentors and took us to their home in Mount Preston to win our badges to sew on our uniforms.

Their son Billie was also an officer with his father and Mr Turner, Dr Brook, Captain Boyd and many others, including my husband Howard Clark (bugler). What great fun going around our local streets – Tonbridge Street, Caledonian Road, Willow Terrace Road on Sundays. My family stood outside our house cheering,

One of the happiest times was when we gave a concert about the life of Bonnie Prince Charlie (me) and Flora McDonald (our Captain Jessie Armstrong, who was a teacher at Thoresby High School). Oh, such happy days.

Jean Clark, Rosemont, Breary Lane, Bramhope

Guess the year

This week's question: Goathland Station in North Yorkshire doubles up as Hogsmeade Station in the popular Harry Potter films. In the first film of the franchise, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, it features in the final scene of the film, as the train pulls out of the station – it has also featured in Heartbeat. In what year was the enigmatic station built? Answer next week.

Last week's question: The idea of creating an underground railway system in Leeds has been around since the 1930s. Indeed, as long ago as 1887, two engineers proposed a rail system linking New Briggate to Roundhay, proposing the whole link be raised up on pillars, similar to a system in New York. The plans for an underground were drawn up in detail and proposed seriously by Leonard Hartley, vice chairman of the Leeds Association of Engineers, at their annual dinner, but in what year? Answer 1933.

Did you know?

Did you know it is 18 years since the famous 'golf balls' of Fylingdales on the North Yorkshire Moors were replaced by a giant pyramidal structure? The 'golf balls' housed three radar dishes which were used by the US to monitor radio signals and as an early warning system for a possible missile strike. It was replaced in 1992 by a new structure containing more advanced technology which has a tracking range of 3,000 miles.

EP 18/12/10

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