Category Archives: Archive Updates

The place for news and announcements about the Archive, or for drawing attention to something interesting.

Christmas @ the Archives: house sales, a flaming santa and reindeers!

On Christmas day in 1347 John Baker sold a house in Mitcheldean to Thomas Wodeward. He was able to gather seven people to witness the sale of the property – they must have received enough food and drink to make it worth their while!

The first reference to Christmas in its shortened form Xmas appears in 1647. In a lease of a ‘messuage and appurtenances’ made between Arthur Weaver and John Bowyer the rent for the property included ‘a fat goose and a couple of capons at Xmas’ (D2153/3/61).

The first reference we have to a Christmas tree is in 1868, when the wife of the Rector of Edgeworth gave a tree to the church (P133 VE 2/1), while the first Christmas carol reference occurs in 1847 when a songwriter (thought to be E. Hodges of Stretton on Fosse) wrote a special carol for Christmas. 

As for Christmas presents, the earliest reference that hints at presents being bought comes from the archive of the Clifford Family of Frampton-on-Severn in 1678, when John Clifford, in his personal account book, lists ‘payments at Christmas’ (D149/A26). By coincidence this volume also gives us the earliest direct reference to another Christmas tradition, that of mumming and mummer’s plays. The same John Clifford also records making payments to mummers and a trumpeter, at New Year, 1677.

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without Father Christmas however and, within the remarkable diaries and notebooks of W T Swift (schoolmaster of Churchdown School in the latter half of the 1800s), is a somewhat bittersweet reference to the great man.  In his diary entry for the 4th February 1885, Mr Swift records that he had “Met Mr. Webb who had been severely burnt about the face and hands while playing Old Father Christmas at Sunday school tea party.” (D3981/14)

Finally as for the creatures that Santa could not do without on Christmas Eve – his reindeers – we have just one reference; the sale of the ‘Reindeer Inn and adjoining house, at Bearland’ in Gloucester in 1884 (GBR/L/6/4/7).

Merry Christmas, and happy New Year!