How Hailsham celebrated Christmas a hundred years ago

Western Road at Christmas

As we approach Christmas, our local historian, Paul Endersby has been taking another look at some past Hailsham Christmases as reported in the Sussex County Herald, to find out more about Christmas and events in the town 100 years or so ago.

It is evident that the Christmas holiday break was very brief, probably just Christmas Day and Boxing Day only. Also, the Herald was published on a Saturday and this continued irrespective of whether or not Christmas Day was a Saturday. 

Unsurprisingly there were many Carol Services on the days running up to Christmas Day and there are regular reports of these in the paper. One such was on 21 December 1919 at the Congregational Church (now the Free Church). The orchestra was conducted by Arthur Green of Green Brothers, Ropemakers. 

There were of course many widows and orphans in the town as a result of the war. Regular parties for the them were held throughout the town. One such party took place in the Church Rooms on Thursday 2 January 1919. The paper reported that the party was for, “the widows (or near relatives) and children of local soldiers, sailors and airmen who have fallen in the war.”

The report records that “the arrangements made for the happiness of the guests were of the most complete and generous order.” In total 26 widows attended plus 28 girls and 17 boys. The room was beautifully decorated and the guests enjoyed a, ”sumptuous tea.” Games and amusements followed. A similar event was held on 29 December 1921 when about 100 were entertained in “The Hut” (the premises of the Comrades Association which was located behind the war memorial). A conjurer entertained the children who were all given a present from the Christmas tree before they left.

Hailsham Workhouse

Another group who weren’t forgotten were the residents of the Workhouse which was located at the junction of Hawks Road and Upper Horsebridge. In 1919, under the heading, “Happy Christmas for the inmates,” the paper reported that “nothing was left undone to ensure a happy Christmas for the inmates of the Hailsham Workhouse.”

On the Sunday before Christmas, there was “an enjoyable service of carols and on Christmas Day a sumptuous feast of roast beef, plum pudding, beer, tea, tobacco, oranges and sweets were arranged.” most of these items were donated by local clergy and shopkeepers. Similar events were reported in 1920 and 1921.

Slate clubs were very popular in the post-war period and the paper regularly reported on the Christmas distribution. The 27 December 1924 edition included one such report. The clubs involved included the Hailsham Self-Aid Society; Hailsham Brotherhood; Hailsham Fire Brigade; Hailsham and District Ex-Servicemen; Hailsham Slate Club; The Grenadier Equitable and The Hailsham Coffee Tavern.

Stephen Blackmore

On 20 December 1919, the paper reported on the Death of Stephen Blackmore, “the last of the old race of Southdown shepherds.” The paper described the Southdown shepherd as, “ a man apart from his fellows; one who had his own customs; followed traditions and was full of wise saws and homely wisdom that came largely from a life of lonely contemplation among the hills. Such a man was Stephen Blackmore.”

On the 4 January 1919, the paper reported that Hellingly School had re-opened on the previous Monday, 29 December, after nine weeks holiday and, ”it is hoped that the influenza epidemic will be sufficiently slight to allow regular attendance.”

The paper had many pages of advertisements for staff. Interestingly very few were for places in Hailsham. One exception was an advert in the paper published on 4 January 1919 when Mrs Harvey, wife of Rev. Clyde Harvey, Vicar of Hailsham, advertised for a Housemaid.

In the 1 January 1921 edition the paper reported on a “heatwave” during the Christmas period.  Temperatures were described as “spring-like” and were recorded as between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.” 

There was an evening of “Fun & Frivolity at the Drill Hall on 17 December 1919. On the following Saturday, 20 December the Hailsham Memorial Institute was opened. In the same week Hailsham, Rural District Council approved plans at their meeting on 19 December, for the proposed cinema in George Street. This was a reversal of the decision which had been taken at the previous meeting when the application was rejected on the grounds that, “houses were more urgently needed.”

On the following Wednesday, Hailsham Police Court refused an application for a drinks license for the cinema on the grounds that they could not grant a license for a place that was not yet built! On 31 December 1919 Kingswood, North Street was sold at auction for £750.

Christmas Day and Boxing Day was a time for many sporting events, particularly football. The paper covered these with many accounts of individual matches. In 1919 Hailsham team played five matches winning four and losing one. This included a match on Christmas Day between Hailsham Reserves and Hailsham Trade Branch. The reserves won 6-2. There was extensive coverage of the Boxing Day 1921 match between Hailsham and the Gas Co. in the Bexhill Charity Cup at Hampden Park.

Hailsham effectively lost two players through injury within the first 30 minutes. The players however continued on the field, (no subs then!). Towards the end of the match, there was, “considerable rough play several uncalled fouls by the gasmen and the visitors’ adopted retaliatory tactics.” Despite this coverage, the final result is not recorded other than it was a draw! On the Saturday after Christmas 1921, Hailsham beat Bexhill 4-1 and on Boxing Day they beat Heathfield 14-3. 

The paper dated 25 December 1920 included a piece headed, “Professional maiden aunts” which it described as a “novel employment.” Mothers were seeking to, “recruit middle-aged women of refined appearance and firm character, who will call for their daughters and escort them home from dances. They will be exonerated from the arduous duties of the obsolete chaperone.” Her occupation will not begin until the small hours of the morning when she will call for her charges and escort them to the safety of the maternal roof, heedless of arguments or protests.”

Hailsham Petty Sessions met on Wednesday 28 December 1921 where it was reported that there had been no arrests for drunkenness in the division during the whole of 1921. 

A General Election was held on 14 December 1919. However the votes were not counted until 28 December. The Paper reported that the results in Hailsham were, “quietly received.”

And finally, in the issue dated 25 December 1926 the paper reported on the Hailsham Petty Session held on the previous Wednesday, 22 December. The bench comprised four people including Douglas Hogg, (who later became the first Lord Hailsham). The paper reported that “the Court sat from 10.30am to 4.15pm and they had to adjourn the remaining case for 14 days as it was too dark to see. There are no lights in the Court Room.”

The Wealden Eye Magazine | November/December 2020 Issue
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