Nostalgia: Trying to get into festive spirit

Front page advert from the Scarborough Mercury's December 24 edition  in 1915 for Mr W Boyes advertising his 'Great Christmas Bazaar'.
Front page advert from the Scarborough Mercury's December 24 edition in 1915 for Mr W Boyes advertising his 'Great Christmas Bazaar'.

In the days leading up to Christmas, Scarborough’s local press tried hard, with only limited success to pretend that the war should not be allowed to pre-empt the traditional peacetime celebration of the festive season.

On December 17, 1915, The Mercury produced a special Christmas number at the extraordinary price of twopence. A series of “illustrated articles” included lengthy pieces with titles such as Some Yuletide Yarns, Merry Christmas Stories, Yuletide Fun and Frolics and The Adventures of Father Christmas. Lighter reading (!) consisted of Parlour Puzzles and Games and Jolly Pastimes for the children. A glance at any of these literary gems only sharpens and widens the enormous distance between 1915 and 2015.

Local shops and stores were handicapped by coastal lighting restrictions in mid-winter, but they recommended their “useful Christmas presents” for potential customers in prominent, front-page advertisements. Mr W Boyes, as usual, was offering his remarkable bargains: 68 Ladies Dressing Gowns, “mostly woollen”; Fancy handkerchiefs; Paris samples of Ladies Fancy Blouses “at absurd prices”; children’s fancy socks, scarves, petticoats and gloves. At its “Great Christmas Bazaar” at the re-located Remnant Warehouse on St Nicholas Street, Boyes’ also advertised “a remarkable clearance of boys’ and girls’ jerseys and boys’ knickers and socks”. Meanwhile, George A Pindar, at 45 St Thomas Street, was hoping to sell some of his sample books of Christmas cards and calendars.

But it was Taylor’s, the chemist shop at 109 Westborough, which remembered that Scarborians might want to buy “useful and reliable gifts for troops”. They offered “military hair brushes”, “trench powder to kill vermin”, “unbreakable metal mirrors, ideal for the front”, “safety razors for our fighting men” and an “ambulance set” at one shilling which “should be in every soldier’s kit-bag”. It makes you wonder whether anyone at Taylor’s 100 branches had ever seen the inside of a front-line Tommy’s kit-bag.

Not that it was really possible to forget that the country was at war in a life and death struggle without a foreseeable end. Now more than 2,000 of the town’s young men had volunteered for active service, at least a hundred of them had been killed and many more wounded, and Scarborough was host to soldiers billeted in its hotels and lodging-houses as well as at the Burniston barracks. However, should Scarborians need to be reminded, on Christmas Eve The Mercury published a full list of the names of local men who had volunteered for and were now serving with “C” Battery, 161st Yorkshire Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. Of its 151 members, 139 were from Scarborough.

The Mercury could never be accused of parochialism. Its Christmas Eve edition contained several wide-ranging stories of many contrasting kinds.

First came a report of an all-night sitting of the House of Commons. The debate there was about the government’s proposal to raise another million men for war service. By 4.30am there were only about 20 MPs still in the Chamber. Sir Arthur Markham, an outspoken thorn in the government’s side, was on his feet to complain about the “gross intimidation” suffered by young men who had not volunteered. Also, he asked, why give incompetent generals more troops when they had failed with those whose lives they had squandered?

At this point, Sir Arthur questioned whether the Irish MP who was snoring noisily was snoring at him. There then followed a sharp exchange concerning the BEF’s shortage of machine guns. Had the new order made by the War Office for many more of these infantry weapons come before or after the Prime Minster’s recent visit to the Western Front? No one on the government bench knew or was willing to admit that he knew the answer. As a point of order, Sir Arthur then drew the Speaker’s attention to one Member who was fast asleep and another who was asleep and snoring loudly. Apparently, this was far from uncommon or unparliamentary and proceedings continued until the vote was finally taken and the House rose at 5.32am.

Nearer home came an account of a recent land auction that had taken place at Helmsley. In fact, it was the second in a series of three offering for sale much of the estate of the Earl of Feversham. Only three years earlier, the Earl of Londesborough had auctioned his estate at the eastern end of the Vale of Pickering at the Pavilion hotel in Scarborough. The Denisons had owned their property for 125 years, but the Duncombes had come to Helmsley 230 years earlier when they bought all the land for £90,000 from the profligate Duke of Buckingham. The first of the Duncombe Park auction had been held at Harome and the third would be at Kirkbymoorside.

So just as the Denison departure in 1912 marked the end of an era for Scarborough, so these auctions in 1915 registered the conclusion of a long chapter in the history of Helmsley district. In both cases, death duties had come as a final blow, though for the Fevershams, where a grandson succeeded a grandfather, the blow was twofold.

From one extreme of the feudal, landowning aristocracy to the urban poor at the other end, The Mercury also reported a coroner’s inquest held at the Court House, Castle Road. Robert Malton, 76, of 4 Wheelhouse Dwellings, Dean Road, had died suddenly at his home on December 21. His widow gave evidence of her husband’s last hours. He had got up at 8 that morning to light the [coal] fire, but had called out to his wife: “Be sharp, and fetch me some brandy.” After she had borrowed some from a neighbour, he complained of chest pains and went to bed without his food. As she prepared some hot water for his feet, she heard a thump in the bedroom and found him dying on the floor. The previous day he had worked two or three hours climbing ladders and cleaning windows. The coroner accepted Dr Rhodes’ verdict that Mr Malton had died of “heart failure, due to over exertion and flatulency”.

Finally, there was good news from Buckingham Palace. While he was inspecting his army in the field on October 28 King George V’s horse, “excited by the cheers of his troops”, reared up and fell. The King-Emperor was severely bruised and put to bed. However, on Monday December 20 he was seen walking in the grounds of the palace, reduced in weight, but clearly much better. “As soon as the King’s health is quite restored, HM will resume the total abstinence which he has imposed upon himself for public reasons.” So ran the official bulletin. It seems that George had been persuaded to take a little stimulant during his convalescence and he was now all the better for it, unlike Mr Malton of Wheelhouse Dwellings.