Memories of Christmas past

Nativity at Winterton-on-SeaIN the digital age many of us are using the internet to make a lot of our preparations for Christmas.

Gifts, food and all the festive fripperies we like to include are being ordered online and delivered to the village using couriers. Some of us will be girding our loins for shopping trips into Great Yarmouth or Norwich.

Christmas movies are already showing on TV services like Netflix and the terrestrial stations are offering tantalising clips of their seasonal offerings.

And after the disappointment of last year, when Covid rules prevented gatherings, it will be in the hope that we can celebrate with our families around us.

But whatever this year brings us it will be very different from Winterton Christmases generations ago. Here are just a few of the memories handed down by Chitterrunner Keith Laws’ mum Joan and grandmother Elsie…

It was always a very busy time for the church, not just because of the usual services, but because so much of the village’s social and family life revolved around it.

Everybody, young and old, took part in rehearsals for the nativity plays. They were a social highlight and the cast members surnames, like Pratt, Green and Empson, were familiar through the generations.

With no TV until the latter half of the last century and no radio in the early part, people relied on events for entertainment much more than they do now.

Back in the days when the Methodist chapel was open, canny village children would make the most of the fact both places of worship hosted a Christmas party, going to both and deciding which they liked best. 

The fishing fleet would be in port and the amount of money people had to spend was dependent on how good the season had been. It was often poor because the weather prevented the fishermen from going out and as a result things were tight. In fact for that reason, as far as presents were concerned, Valentines Day was a bigger event. 

Couples took advantage of the fact the fleet was in and going nowhere for a few days to get hitched. The church register records the fact that in 1900 there were two weddings on Christmas Eve and three on Christmas Day. In one of them George R E Green tied the knot with Annie E Hovell.

John King’s Winterton diary recorded many of the happenings in the village over the decades, from family news to major events. 

He noted in 1903 that the school was closed for the whole of December because of an outbreak of measles.

In 1904 he wrote that Will Larner Jnr appeared at the Petty Sessions in Rollesby on December 27, charged with misconduct in church and was fined £2 10s. And at Christmas in 1910 Jas Moll was appointed second coxswain of Winterton lifeboat.

There was great excitement in January 1912 when a large quantity of oranges washed ashore – something that happened more than once. That same year the village was cut off by snow.

Because life was tough people had to work hard for their enjoyment. Much of the burden was carried by the women who had to keep everything going while their men were away at sea. 

Families were generally larger and that put extra pressure on the purse strings. Luckily most grew their own vegetables and some raised livestock. It was noticeable after the holiday how much quieter it was at the allotments, many of the resident chickens having graced Christmas lunch tables. 

People made their own Christmas cards and decorations and relatives often made toys for younger members of their family.

Two savings clubs ran in the village for many years allowing mums to put money aside for special treats and food. In the grocer’s shop in the Market Place, run by the Kings family into the 1960s, an upper room was used to display Christmas wares. The butcher ran a similar savings scheme.

Electricity arrived in the village in the 1930s, making life a little easier for some. But in 1937 it must have been a tough winter for the fishing fleet because the Church Room – then called the Mission Room – was taken over by the labour exchange.

The Second World War began less than two years later and the fishing boats were requisitioned while their crews were called up by the navy to serve in minesweepers. Soldiers arrived to man the coastal battery, defending against the threat of invasion. There were dances at the Church Room and they made regular use of the two village pubs – the Three Mariners and the Fishermans Return. 

As public transport improved it became easier to get into Yarmouth. Children were taken to see Father Christmas in his grotto at Palmers department store or at the Co-op.

Now, possibly hastened by the pandemic and changing shopping habits, those memorable childhood experiences could also be passing into history.