Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office looks back 100 years to discover seasonal advertisements of yesteryear, promising the perfect Christmas
Finding the perfect Christmas of yesteryear
What makes Christmas, Christmas? And how has this changed over the years?
Delving into 100-year-old newspapers at the Essex Record Office, we find some surprising things. Then, as now, newspapers were packed with adverts for food, drink, gifts, clothing and even furniture, which readers were encouraged to purchase for the festive season.
So what was being marketed to our ancestors as the perfect Christmas present? Before the days of music downloads and streaming, one ideal gift being advertised in Essex was a gramophone. Walker’s Music Warehouse in Clacton advertised their gramophones as, ‘A most suitable and lasting present for the Festive Season’, and promised the machines would bring, ‘to the home absolutely the very best vocalists and instrumentalists procurable’. Prices began at 34s (about £130 in today’s money), and went up to 12 Guineas (about £980 today).
Large department stores offered a huge range of consumer goods, such as those advertised by JR Roberts in Stratford in the run up to Christmas 1911. For children, there were books and toys, such as dolls’ houses or toy trams. For ladies there were silk and lace blouses, fur wraps and muffs, handbags and wool and kid gloves. Men seem to have got the raw end of the deal, with only handkerchiefs being mentioned in this particular advert as gifts
for men. Customers could order by post, and Roberts offered free delivery to any address within 20 miles of the shop or on orders of over 5 shillings.
If after a trip to Roberts you were still in doubt as to what to get for the lady in your life, JG Bond Ltd in Chelmsford had the perfect answer in the shape of ‘Baker’s Celebrated Chelmsford Lavender Water’.
After presents had been chosen, what did shops suggest people might purchase to eat and drink over the festive season? The Clacton Stores on 22 Pier Avenue offered a huge range of luxury food items, from Seager’s Best Sausages to Stilton and Roquefort, plus everything needed to make and decorate a Christmas cake. Also available were crystallised fruit sweets and ‘Fancy Boxes of Chocolates’. To drink, the Chelmsford Chronicle advertised Glen Spey Whiskey, made from finest barley malt, and Gilbey’s Invalid Port, a ‘Pure Health-giving Wine’.
While adverts abound for luxury, or ‘fancy’, items, there were also plenty of adverts for more practical gifts. 100 years ago, people were getting ready for the first peace time Christmas in five years. While luxury goods were still available, there were more adverts such as the one from Bolingbroke & Sons Ltd in Chelmsford, promoting ‘useful and moderate’ presents, ‘the very thing for this memorable Yule Tide’.
‘While adverts abound for luxury, or ‘fancy’, items, there were also plenty of adverts for more practical gifts’
ABOVE: Chelmsford Lavender Water is advertised in the Chelmsford Chronicle on December 15, 1911LEFT:Glen Spey Whiskey and Invalid Port, a special Christmas tipple to be enjoyed, as seen in the Chelmsford Chronicle on December 15, 1911
ABOVE: Christmas presents at JR Roberts’ Stores in Stratford, featured in the Chelmsford Chronicle on December 15, 1911 ABOVE RIGHT: Bolingbroke & Sons promote a peace-time Christmas in the Chelmsford Chronicle on December 20, 1918 The Clacton Stores offers fine produce via the Clacton Graphic on December 16, 1911