Ghost of Greenwich Christmas Past Part Four


You know, of all the periods of Greenwich’s past, comparatively modern times are the most difficult to pin down. I can find stuff out about Henry VIII with virtually no bother, but try winkling out anything at all about how ordinary people celebrated during, say, Edwardian times or the Blitz, and all you meet is a blank. Twenty years are a virtually empty book. At some point, I’ll trek all the way up to Colindale and trawl through crusty, yellowed copies Ye Olde News Shoppere c.1830, but for now, we’ll just have to content ourselves with snippets…

Once the King had left Greenwich for palaces west of here, the town started to become more industrialised. Now servicing Greenwich Hospital and The Observatory rather than the court, the town became more commercial too – as well as doing what it had always done – fishing.

I can’t find much out yet about how the pensioners celebrated Christmas (try googling “pensioner,” “Greenwich” and “Christmas” and you’ll see what I mean) so More Research Needs To Be Done. But for now, I’m assuming they got an extra tot of rum (the authorities reckoned that since these old sea dogs had lived on rum for their whole lives it would be unfair not to let them continue to live a sozzled life on land) and I did find reference, from John Evelyn’s diary 1705, to Christmas carol songsheets in pensioner’s cabins. Images of hearty sing-songs, possibly not with all the original words, gladden my heart.

There’s a slightly sickly picture from a 1905 Pears Annual to be seen here, which depicts a Greenwich Pensioner saluting a bust of Lord Nelson – somewhat fancifully, since they were disbanded in 1865 – and presented with the same gooey sentiment that brought us Bubbles. Rather oddly, the accompanying description doesn’t seem to fit the picture at all, telling us the pensioner is in front of Nelson’s funeral barge and only has one leg. There are two legs. Count ‘em, Jim. Two.

After the pensioners got booted out, the place became a royal naval school. Again, not much on Christmas, but I did find this, from the Illustrated London News 1848:

Great attention is paid to the dietary, which consists of cocoa and bread for breakfast; for dinner, meat and pudding on alternate days, with beer and potatoes; and bread and milk for supper. On each of the four annual festivals, and on Christmas Day, the Boys have roast beef and plum pudding.

But of the ordinary people? Nothing. Not a bean. Zilch. But here’s a suitably Dickensian picture until I can find out some more…

One more snippet of Christmas trivia before I have to draw a veil over my research capabilities. On Christmas Day, 1886, at a meeting in the Royal Oak pub next door to Woolwich Arsenal station, it was decided to change the name of the Dial Square Football Club to Royal Arsenal.

But of the 20th century, so far, I have nothing. If any of you older folk out there have any fab Christmas memories to share, I would LOVE to hear them.


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