Memories of Christmas

Memories of Christmases gone by are always fascinating.  In the Norfolk Sound Archive, which is part of the Norfolk Record Office, we hold a sound recording of the memoirs of Hon. Lady Smith, daughter of Savile Brinton, first Baron Somerleyton. In these memoirs, Lady Smith, whose forename was Monica, recalls her Christmases as a child at Somerleyton Hall in the early years of the twentieth century.

Somerleyton Hall. [images/photographs]

Somerleyton Hall by Willison. Photo used with permission from Picture Norfolk. Click on the photo to visit Picture Norfolk’s online catalogue

 During the build-up to Christmas there was plenty of shopping to be done, as she explains:

The cousins must have arrived for Christmas before the other guests, and there was an expedition to Lowerstoft in the brake.  The brake was an open vehicle with two horses, with seats along each side, facing inwards, for late Christmas shopping.

I used to budget pretty carefully … the cousins generally received a beautiful little copy of the classics bound in pretty coloured suede at a shilling each, the inside meant little to me, but the price was right, it might be …  extracts from the book of proverbs or some poetry or other. Then there were always block calendars or some small article of stationary from Floods. Possibly a cup and saucer for some special person, such as Nanny, from the six pence ha’penny bazaar.

On the drive home in the dusk, we used to sing the latest songs brought home from school by Frank. One time, it was so cold that we all sat in the floor of the break with a rug over our heads. Poor old coachman had no such protection, sitting bolt upright in the box….  Someone would run ahead on the arrival home to see what was on the dining room table and come rushing back with the good news “hot stuff”. This was a slightly sweet tea cake well soaked with butter, a great favourite.

The few days leading up to Christmas also brought back fond memories:

On Christmas eve, the Salvation Army Band used to come from Lowestoft and play the old carols whilst I was in bed, how I loved it.

For Christmas day, the family made sure that their employees were looked after first.

On Christmas morning all my father’s employees came for their Christmas boxes…The outside people walked from the back passage,  through the hall, and out of the front door, while mum handed them their presents and dad and we children stood behind her calling “Merry Christmas, Harry”, “Merry Christmas, Jimmy” and so on. Then came the house servants,  who turned round the butler and went back kitchenwards.

Once the employees had received their presents,  the family would go off to church, before coming home in

pleasant anticipation of roast turkey and plum pudding.

However you choose to celebrate your holidays this year, we hope you have a great time,

The Norfolk Record Office Team.

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