A reassuring message about Santa
Among the archives of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society are a number of bound volumes of Sunderland Echoes from many years ago.
They give an insight into the manner in which Christmas was enjoyed on Wearside long ago.
The society’s Philip Curtis reports.
In 19th Century Echoes, the front page was made up primarily with adverts for local stores, shops as well as the theatres.
On Christmas Eve in 1873 the pantomime at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Lambton Street was advertised as follows: “Mr Davis has the honour to announce that he has been preparing and will produce Aladdin The Scamp. New scenery will serve to make the enormous outlay which has attended this gigantic production!” Impressive stuff indeed.
But an adjacent news item indicated that goodwill to all men that day was limited with an announcement by the Board Of Guardians of the Sunderland Workhouse.
It read: “A special meeting was held to decide whether the inmates of the workhouse should be allowed a glass of beer on Christmas Day.
“It was decided by 13 votes to 10 that they should not after a member had pointed out that beer had been the cause of most of the inmates finding their way into the workhouse anyway.”
Moving onto 1900 when the Garrison Field seemed to provide the main point of interest.
The star attraction that year was a display of waxworks tableaux which, according to the Echo was ‘worthy of a liberal patronage.’
Remember there was no television and radio in those days.
Echo adverts at that time show remarkably low prices for Christmas items. Cigars in boxes, perfect condition from 1 shilling (5 pence) upward, currants 4d (2p) a pound, preserved ginger 6 pound for 1 shilling 9d (9p), upright grand pianos ‘Roker’ model for £18 cash or 15s (75p) a week. The ‘Wearside’ model was £20.
For 6d you could go to the Avenue Theatre (on the corner of Gillbridge Avenue) where you were assured of an evening of merriment, said the Echo critic. The occasion was claimed to be the first public performance of the pantomime Babes In The Wood.
By the beginning of the First World War, theatres were closing over the Christmas period. The Theatre Royal in Bedford Street closed for five nights and re-opened on Boxing Day with the The Sin of Her Childhood whilst at The Palace in High Street West, handkerchiefs were no doubt required whilst watching Xmas Without Daddy.
A letter from the Front, written by an army lieutenant, was reported in the Echo.
“An extraordinary thing happened between us and the Germans yesterday. We became quite friendly…..after a lot of shouting we decided that one of our men and one of theirs should meet halfway between the trenches and there was to be no shooting. They met and shook hands amid cheers from the trenches…”
The adverts that day included household coal for 18s 6d a ton and gents’ watches from 2s 3d (11p).
Sans Street Mission held a grand cinematography exhibition which included ‘A Lucky Elopement’ and ‘Withering Roses’ whilst the Victoria Hall was presenting a Grand Patriotic Concert for the relief of sufferers of the Bombardment of Hartlepool.
On Christmas Day that year a crowd of 40,000 attended the Tyne-Wear derby at St James where Sunderland beat Newcastle 5-2 (yes, games were held on Christmas Day then).
These musty old editions certainly bring to life the Christmases enjoyed by our grandparents and great grandparents.
Finally on a lighter note; in the 1920s the Echo reported that rumours were rife amongst children in Sunderland that Santa Claus was dead.
These were categorically denied from the stage of The Havelock cinema during a film for 3,700 children.
One can only imagine the cries of relief and the cheers that followed.