Christmas was always a special time for us, especially when
we lived on Kerridge. Not because we ever had anything very special
to celebrate - money was always scarce in our house. Somehow,
Mother made it a special time.
In those days the lavish giving of presents had not begun and
the Christmas gifts we had were usually those from our parents.
They consisted mainly of books: they were cherished, read and
re-read many times over. Books for children came out annually
in time for Christmas and any unsold for that year were put out
at a cheaper price the next year. Mother generally chose these
annuals for us and paid weekly for them, thus ensuring the longed-for
So we had a fairly good idea that Father Christmas would be
bringing the usual annuals and we looked forward eagerly to receiving
our books. Aunts and Uncles rarely brought us anything, they
were all, like us, hard up. During the four or five weeks leading
up to Christmas, Mother always put us on a 'plain diet', "because",
she said, "of all that rich food you will be eating at Christmas."
Our daily diet was always plain, so I can't think how much more
plain a diet could be. I realize now that she was a clever psychologist
and knew that the more build-up she gave Christmas, the more
likely we were to enjoy it. Another of her preparations was to
give us doses of Turkey Rhubarb, about two weeks before the holiday.
This was a foul-smelling, revolting-tasting, cathartic type of
home remedy, the taking of which she believed would help enhance
our enjoyment of the Christmas feasts. Much as we hated Turkey
Rhubarb, we knew that by taking it cheerfully, we were bringing
closer the much heralded holiday.
It was Mother's custom to make a new rug in time for Christmas.
It was 'pegged', an old craft, fashioned from cutting up old
woollen garments - trousers, coats, dresses, in fact anything
that could be salvaged for this purpose. A piece of canvas, rectangular
in shape, was needed and a flour sack, unpicked down the sides,
and washed and dried, Made the perfect foundation. The colours
of the cut pieces were sorted into piles and a rough design was
chosen. Mother collected suitable garments all year long, and
towards the end of the summer the work of making the rug would
Dad loved to read aloud to us in the winter evenings and whilst
he did this, we would be busy pegging away at the rug. It had
to be ready for Christmas, so everyone worked with a will. When
it was completed, another washed flour sack was stitched on to
the back as a lining- This gave the rug a bit more strength.
Several weeks before Christmas, Mother would start assembling
the dried fruits necessary for the pudding, Christmas cake and
mincemeat. She would, on the appointed day - usually in October
- clear the large square kitchen table, making sure the already
spotless top was thoroughly clean, then assigning us to help,
would begin to prepare the fruits. Currants, sultanas and raisins
were delivered to the shops in bulk then, and weighed out by
the assistants. So, all this fruit had to be cleaned before it
could be used. We would roll it all in flour, then wash and dry
it. Nuts had to be shelled and chopped, cherries chopped, and
stale bread grated to provide the crumbs for the puddings. Once
all these preparations had taken place, the real work got underway.
By this time we were all excited and felt that Christmas had
When Christmas Eve day finally dawned, Mother cleaned the house
from top to bottom. Brass shone, the floor was newly scrubbed
- we didn't have carpets - the fireplace gleamed from black lead
and elbow grease, the steel fire irons reflected the flames from
the fire and the fender, also steel, was burnished inside and
out. Mother always made a potato pie for supper on Christmas
Eve and our aunts and Uncles were invited to join in the fun.
At the last minute, she would put down THE RUG. Never did anything
look more attractive, the pristine colours bravely reflecting
all the hard work of the cold winter nights. The little house
shone and sparkled and though the winds might be howling outside,
all was cosy and warm inside.
We children, were of course, in bed earlier than usual to await
the coming of Father Christmas. Dad loaned us his old socks to
be tied to the bedpost and we would lie awake listening to the
merriment, laughter and talking downstairs. Then Dad would start
to play the old familiar carols on his organ and everyone would
take up the refrain. No-one stayed out late and soon the Christmas
quiet reigned over the house.
We tried, many times, to stay awake to catch Father Christmas,
but never succeeded. During the early hours of the morning, the
stillness was broken by the sound of Christmas music, coming
from a brass band, who assembled at the Bull's Head to bring
the age-old tidings of good cheer to everyone.
This was our signal for us to open our stockings, now looking
so important with bulges here and there. Mother or Dad would
come in to light the gas burner - or candle - can't remember
- and whisper that as it was so early, we must be quiet and read
our books. This was what we wanted most to do, and so by breakfast
time we'd usually read our own books and were ready to swap with
each other. The remainder of our presents were, generally, an
orange, an apple and a threepenny bit! We were quite happy.
One year auntie Cissie bought us each a pair of bedroom slippers
- a rare treat. I can still see the pretty slippers - blue trimmed
with some kind of fur. After the initial stocking opening that
year, Mother said we all had to go back to sleep as it was much
too early. Joan and I put away our slippers but Peggy insisted
on wearing hers and nothing would induce her to take them off.
So we were all tucked in again and went back to sleep. When we
got up at the proper time, Peggy's slippers had moulted! All
that was left of the trimming was a pathetic little grey band
to which the fur had been stuck, and a bed full of feathery fur!
Christmas Day for us was spent quietly - the days of huge family
parties hadn't begun. We enjoyed our books and the unexpected
treat of having a bowl of nuts to crack and raisins, the huge
muscatel variety, to eat with them. The fruit (apples and tangerine
oranges) had been collected and put into a bowl to be enjoyed
by everyone after the Christmas dinner.
Another lovely Christmas gift I particularly remember took place
five days after Christmas. In the Redway Lane house where we
then lived, we had a door at the foot of the stairs and it was
Mother's custom to open this door when it was time to get up
and call us. This particular morning the call came and I remember
us saying to each other "it's auntie Cissie! What is she doing
here so early in the morning?" So we hurriedly dressed and rushed
downstairs to investigate. She was there, laying the table for
our breakfast. "Go in the front room and see what your Mother
has got for you" she said. and there in a dear little cot at
the foot of the bed, lay our new baby sister. What a surprise,
and how excited we all were! There had been no hint of this coming
arrival and though Joan was turned thirteen, I was nearly ten,
and Peggy was almost seven, none of us had guessed that an addition
to the family was imminent. We were much more naive then than
children are now. We were very thrilled with our new baby and
loved the name Patricia that Mother had chosen for her.
I think this must have been our last Christmas on Kerridge as
I remember Pat still only being a baby when we moved to Greenfield
Road in Bollington. The house we moved into had three bedrooms,
which with a family of four girls, was badly needed. It was nearer
to the station and to the shops, though not much difference in
the distance from school.
Two Christmas memories I remember clearly whilst living in this
house. The first one happened on a Saturday and it has remained
in my mind for several reasons, chief of which I feel sure, was
that it was the first time that Joan and I had ever travelled
to Manchester alone. Dad, who worked for the Manchester Corporation,
was to meet us at London Road Station after he had finished work.
Everybody worked a five and a half day week then.
Mother escorted us to the train at Bollington station, leaving
just before noon, and found a suitable lady with whom we could
travel. Sure enough Dad was on the platform as our train drew
into London Road and he was to take us on a tour of the shop
windows in the City, so that we could see and enjoy the wonderful
and artistic work of the window dressers.
I recall walking along Piccadilly towards Lewis's. The pavements
were packed with Christmas shoppers and each small shop had it's
exotic and colourful display for all to see. These were the days
when kerbside traders were in their heyday.
Lewis's was the big attraction, having 6 or 8 windows facing
onto Piccadilly. Each window portrayed a special theme relative
to Christmas. One window would represent a family sitting round
a Christmas tree which was decorated with beautifully coloured
balls and gaily striped parcels. The display that I recall most
vividly was the one window which had, set against a perfectly
plain black background, a swan, larger than life, which had been
made from thousands of white or pastel coloured handkerchiefs.
No doubt there was a wire frame underneath, but the sight of
this huge, graceful bird covered with all these handkerchiefs
was to stay with me for a long time as a masterpiece of creative
The other outstanding memory is of being asked to a private
party by one of the neighbours. I shall have to go back a little
to give a clear picture of why this particular memory meant so
Our removal to Greenfield Road was significant in that we left
the small and intimate house on Kerridge for one of a different
setting. A small housing estate had been built after the war
by the local council - a great breakthrough following the long
years of privately owned houses. This complex of houses all built
of local Kerridge stone (a soft beige colour) was much sought
after by semi-professional people. So headmasters lived there,
and the clerk of the council was another tenant. So it was quite
an elevation for a family like ours to live there. I'm sure we
had no more money than before, but Mother was never one to let
that worry her if she wanted something badly enough.
Our neighbours across the road were a Mr. and Mrs. Guy Walker.
He had a jewellery shop in Macclesfield (some said a pawn shop
too). Mrs. Walker was obviously of a different social class,
much higher than her husband. Many were the efforts of the local
social class to scrape acquaintance with her, but she would have
none of it, and remained aloof. We, living across from their
house, had a unique and free observation post. There was a family
who lived at the end of our row of houses who were named Clark.
He was a delightful man, but she was common - even I knew that.
The fact that she used rouge and powder dammed her. The Clarks
had one son, Horace, who was about twenty-five years old, on
whom they doted and who was very handsome and eligible. Somehow
there was, as they say now 'something going' between Horace and
Mrs. Walker. It may have been something quite platonic and harmless,
but Mrs. Clark tried hard to cash in on it to gain entry to the
Walker house - without any success.
Mrs. Walker came across to our house once and set everyone's
tongues wagging as to why she wanted to visit us. Mother, who
went along in her own sweet way, radiating charm and being completely
herself, had no aspirations in the race for friendship with the
Walkers, so she had nothing to gain or loose.
The story was that Mrs. Walker had a sister who lived in Singapore
(I think) with her husband who was a top official in a British
bank there. The Deacons had two daughters - Dorothy and Elise,
who were roughly the same age as Peggy and me. They were, like
most children of foreign-based English people, at boarding school,
School holidays were imminent and the girls were to spend the
time with auntie Daisy (Mrs. Walker) in Bollington. Dorothy was
taking piano lessons and as the Walkers had no piano, she had
come to ask if Mother would let Dorothy use our piano to do her
daily practice. She must have seen me going out each Tuesday
to my piano lesson and had deduced that we had a piano.
Of course, there was no objection and it was all arranged. Mrs.
Clark was furious when she found out and let it be known that
her piano could have been used and she was a friend of the Walkers
and why had we been asked, etc. etc.
The girls arrived and in no time Dorothy came to do her practice.
Mother, as always, went about her daily duties and Dorothy became
more and more friendly. She would practice for about fifteen
minutes and then spend the rest of the allotted time talking
and generally enjoying the freedom of our family. We all became
good friends and spent much time together during that first summer.
Although we played together I never remember going into the Walker's
Christmas came around and again Dorothy and Elise arrived in
Bollington and our summer friendships were renewed. To listen
to their accounts of life in boarding school was, to us, like
a glimpse into an enchanted world. Every school story I had ever
read (and I had read plenty) was a re-inaction of the stories
that Dorothy and Elise told to us. They both went to finishing
school in Switzerland after they left the school in Bournemouth,
but that was a long way ahead.
Just before Christmas came, we received an invitation to a party
to be held on Christmas Day at the Walker's. No doubt we had
new dresses for such a fitting occasion but these details did
not stay in my mind. What did stay was the contrast between their
house and ours!
To see a house carpeted in every room and with all the little
luxuries, like fires burning in both downstairs rooms, the lovely
deep red of the curtains and the wonderful spread set for us
to eat was like a book coming to life. After tea we were taken
into the sitting room where a splendid Christmas tree, laden
with gifts, was the centre of attraction. We were given toys
and I also had a little octagonal celluloid box, which wasn't
useful at all, but all the more precious for that, and a silver
pencil. I lost the pencil but still have the little box.
Mrs. Clark, who with her husband and son were also guests, was
not at all pleased to see the Oldfield children there and more
than once asked Mrs. Walker if it wasn't time for us to go. Auntie
Daisy, ever master of her own mind, just prolonged our stay, and
more and more games were added to the program, while Mrs. Clark's
face got longer and longer. It was a lovely party and one which
I shall always remember as my first glimpse into the 'other' world.
© 1985 Enid Simpson