CHRISTMAS AT PENARTH – THE WAY WERE IN 1887

A traditinoal Christmas Eve midnight mass was held at St Augustines Church (above) and at All Saints Church

A traditional Christmas Eve midnight mass was held at St Augustines Church (above) and at All Saints Church

Penarth Daily News wishes its  readers and contributors a Merry Christmas  and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Victorian journaliswt James Greenwood wrote using the pen-name "One of the Crowd"

Victorian journalist James Greenwood wrote using the pen-name “One of the Crowd”

For Christmas Day – we are re-printing a piece on Christmas at Penarth dated 1887 by  one of the earliest investigative reporters in Britain – James Greenwood – who wrote under the nom-de-plume of  ‘One of the Crowd’.  Now almost forgotten, Greenwood had become well-known for his graphic first-hand exposes of social conditions – including “A Night in a Workhouse” which lifted the lid on what Victorian workhouses were really like

Christmas at Penarth” however is a very different piece. It was originally published in the South Wales Echo on December 23rd 1887 – perhaps at the zenith of Penarth’s Victorian prosperity. In the language of the times, it paints a fascinating, gossipy, picture of a happy, bustling town  with a busy railway (a brand new town railway station had been opened that very year), and a thriving conomy. It evokes something of the spirit of the go-ahead generation who created Penarth –  the wonderful legacy which that generation left to ours.

Christmas at Penarth.

By ‘One of the Crowd’.

The header of the article "Christmas in Penarth" published in the South Wales Echo of December 23 1887

The header of  “Christmas in Penarth” published in the South Wales Echo of December 23 1887

We are getting ready for Christmas at Penarth.

Thrifty wives are sailing to and fro daily between the seaside suburb and Cardiff’ exchanging the hard-earned gold of the bread-winner for huge consignments of game and beef and all sorts if provisions drawn from. the bustling stores of Cardiff.

Penarth Railway Station in 1887 didn't look that different from the way it was in 1954

IN 1954 Penarth Railway Station was still almost the same as it was in 1887 when it was first opened . The passenger service from Cardiff to Penarth had commenced in 1878

The five o’clock train is besieged by small boys yelling at the top of their small voices, “Parcel for Mrs Smith!”, Parcel for Mrs Brown!”  Parcel here and parcel there, till the platform resembles a perfect pandemonium rendered horrible by the shrieks of parcel-weighted demons crying out for victims from Penarth.

But the signs of Christmas are not confined to the Railway Station.  Penarth is populated principally by children, and Christmas is essentially the children’s feast. Papa going to town in the morning has to stand the siege of the youngsters wanting all sorts of Christmas presents from cakes to jumping Jacks and hanging on to his legs and coat tails till, in sheer desperation, he promises them everything they want. But woe betide him if the five o’clock train brings him home empty-handed.

As the puffing and snorting of the locomotive coming up the hill resounds through the town, the nursery confines are broken through, an ambush is laid in the hall, and when at last papa enters, he is seized until examined by a tribe of searchers who would do honour to Scotland Yard, or the Cardiff Custom House.

Glebe St Penarth - circa 1910. Note the girl running with an iron hoop - a typical children's toy of the time the "National" telephone number on the horse-drawn cart

Children were still “scudding about” Penarth – in 1910 when this picture was taken of a  girl running with an iron hoop down Glebe St – a typical children’s toy of the time

What a place for children Penarth is! They seem to swarm along the roads and the beach; they are found scudding about the fields or flying through the woods. They are here, there, and everywhere, pictures of health and strength, and visions of future prosperity for the neighbourhood. No wonder, then, that children’s parties are just now the order of the day, or, rather, night.

I went to such a party the other evening. There must have been fifty children at least, perhaps more, all dressed to the nines and looking as pretty as paint. What games we had. “Hide and seek,” and “Blind-man’s  buff,” and “Hunt the slipper,” and such a magic lantern and then the dancing! I don’t know how it is, but I would rather see a set of lancers danced by children at a children’s party than the prettiest minuet ever produced on the stage, even if Miss Kate Vaughan and her company were dancing it.

The famous Victorian frieze of children on the front of the Albert School dates from 1886 the year before the article was written

The famous Victorian frieze of children on the front of the Albert School dates from 1886 the year before the article was written

There is an utter absence of self-conceit in the little dancers, and a dainty grace in their movements, which conveys the idea that the dance is for pleasure rather than show, and that assuredly constitutes its chief charm. I hear of a number of children’s parties on the tapis. May I be there to see them.

Thus the children of the villa residents are catered for, –  but the feast I am going to speak of now is not for them. I daresay, however, it will give far more pleasure to its recipients than any of the villa residence parties are likely to.

The Penny Concert Committee, which has done so much invaluable service in providing cheap amusement once a week for the people at large, has now undertaken a work of seemingly enormous magnitude, and one worthy of the greatest support from the public at large.

The appeal of Punch and Judy is as great today as it was for local children 130 years ago.

The appeal of Punch and Judy is as great today as it was for local children 130 years ago.

They are proposing to entertain at Andrews’ Hall no fewer than nine hundred of the elementary school children of the parish. A good tea is to be provided. All kinds of amusements, from a Punch and Judy man to a magic lantern, will be found, and, above all, a Christmas tree twenty feet high, from which each child is to receive a present of a toy or a useful article.

Amongst the decorations of this unique tree will be fifty pairs of good stout boots for the poorer children, and any amount of warm wraps for the little mortals to wear as they troop to school these cold winter mornings.

I dare say some good-natured people may be tempted to contribute to the feast either in money or in kind, so I may as well  mention that Mr F. P. Adey, Penarth, is prepared to receive anything that will aid the good object in view.

I need not say that the whole affair is unsectarian, and it is hoped that nearly every child attending the public schools in Penarth will be able to obtain admission.

Incidentally I may note that it is intended to provide a Christmas dinner for all the old folks so that. there is every reason to hope that –  to many in Penarth –  Christmas will indeed bring much rejoicing,

The Landsdowne building is substantially as it was in 1887

The Lansdowne building is substantially as it was in 1887

On the Thursday in this festive week there is to be a subscription Cinderella dance at the Lansdowne Boarding House, and, if half one hears is true, the proceedings are going to be very smart indeed.

All sorts of rumours are afloat concerning the dresses to be worn by the local beauties, budding and otherwise;  and I believe that we shall have some very pretty effects. The house is capitally adapted for dancing . There are two large rooms on the ground floor, each capable of accommodating at least sixty dancers.

There is a fine entrance hall, and a staircase— such a staircase—where merry souls may solace their merriment by flirtation ad lib. There is a capital billiard-room and any number of comfortable sitting-rooms, suitable for tea, refreshments, and cards. In fact a dance at  Lansdowne will be exactly like a dance at a private house, and everyone knows how much more comfortable a private house is for a dance than any public building, however well arranged.

Nevertheless, it will be a good thing when some philanthropist builds at Penarth a substantial public hall capable of dancing at least 250 persons if required. [ PDN Note The Paget Rooms was not yet built].  I am breaking no confidence when I say that the committee who have undertaken to arrange the Cinderella dance I am speaking of found that they would have to ask at least that number if they were to please everyone. They were in a difficult position, and they solved it in an excellent way. They sent a circular to everybody without attempting to distinguish clique from clique, and announced that, as the room was limited, a given number of tickets would be given on the “first come, first served” principle.

In this way they managed to avoid giving much offence, although I dare say that even now some folk are discontented. Penarth is a dreadfully touchy place, and one never knows who is likely to be offended by the simplest things. I believe that there is some talk of a Bachelors‘ ball, so that, taking everything into consideration, there will be plenty of dancing at Christmas time.

A Victorian poster advertising "Caste" - a popular comedy based on the class-system which was performed in Penarth by the local amateur dramatic society in 1883

A Victorian poster advertising the play “Caste” – a popular comedy based on the class-system which was performed in Penarth by the local amateur dramatic society in 1887

As a sequel to the dances, the amateur actors who played “Caste” last February, have arranged to play “Our Boys” about the third week in January, and I am told that they are likely to gain quite as much success.

I must say I enjoyed “Caste” more than I ever enjoyed  any amateur performance in my life. I hear that one of ladies who made such a success last season has decided to retire from the amateur stage. If this be true, it is a great injustice to Penarth, because people who possess such exceptional talent ought to be, like Archibald Grosvenor was in “Patience,” trustees” for it, to add to the enjoyment of their fellow creatures.

It is certain that the lady I referred to will not appear in “Our Boys”;  but I trust she will reconsider her determination when the little amateur company want to play a new piece, and I knew fifty people, aye, five hundred, who will agree with me.

It will be evident from all this that Penarth means to be merry this Christmas, and I think it is a healthy sign of growth that –  notwithstanding the perpetual cry that trade is falling off –  yet we at Penarth are able to enjoy ourselves in our own fashion, and keep things moving pretty generally. We take things up heartily, and carry them through with an elan which seems to be wanting in Roath. I suppose it’s the air. Wait till you see our, Baby Show!  It will take place shortly.  And then….

 

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8 Responses to CHRISTMAS AT PENARTH – THE WAY WERE IN 1887

  1. 249ers says:

    Thank you Santa!
    Happy Christmas

  2. Ann Other says:

    Excellent feature. Thanks.

  3. Paul says:

    An interesting (if introspective) insight into life, as it was then. Still no mention of “the reason for the season”:
    Celebrating the birth of our Lord an Saviour, Jesus Christ.

    So 130 yrs later, nothing has changed!

    Happy, er, Christ mas……………………..

  4. Peter Church says:

    Great Christmas story, I love the 1950’s photo of the steam train in Penarth station, makes it look like a big important hub in those far off day.
    Happy Christmas all at PDN

  5. Modom says:

    What a delightful piece. It is very much a flavour of the ‘pre-Albert’Christmas with the attendant rituals we have now adopted. the feasting, mummery, dancing and probably singing all speak of the Feast of Saturnalia that Christians wisely adopted as their own celebration.
    All reasons to be contented with our day.
    Happy Chritsmas and a Peaceful New Year.

  6. Lenny says:

    ‘Penarth is a dreadfully touchy place, and one never knows who is likely to be offended by the simplest things.’
    Ha ha, plus ca change!
    (Thank you for a great article, I really enjoyed it)

Comments are closed.