A tale of two Christmases

Living Magazines Skating Berkhamsted Castle Christmas 1890

Christmas can be a very different beast depending on how much money you have, and that was certainly true in the 19th century…

In the 1800s the wealthy and the poorest people in the land were worlds apart, as this tale of two festive seasons shows.

A report in the Bucks Herald in January 1887, entitled New Year Benevolence, described how the Berkhamsted Volunteer Band played ‘suitable music’ on New Year’s Eve as ‘the bells ushered in the year 1887 with many peals’. The poor of the area received a number of gifts from their wealthier counterparts. Captain and Mrs Curtis at The Hall had donated coals, flannel, beef and money to ‘work people and others’, while Mr and Mrs Lucas of Ashlyns Hall had given their servants Christmas dinner, a piece of beef and ‘useful’ presents.

Meanwhile, at Potten End, Mr Pethybridge gave his tenants a piece of beef while he ensured that many poor widows and others had seasonal gifts.

At the other end of the social scale a Royal visit to Ashridge House on New Year’s Eve 1887 was described in great detail:

‘The Prince and Princess of Wales left the station by the 10.46 up train. Earl and Countess Brownlow [the Brownlow family inherited the estate in 1848] accompanied them to the station in an open carriage drawn by four horses and a couple of outriders. A considerable company assembled at the station and gave a royal cheer. The Ashridge waiting room [a private room at Berkhamsted Station used only for the Earl and his guests] was brought into use and the approaches to the train laid with scarlet cloth. Lord Randolph Churchill [Winston Churchill’s father] left by an earlier train.’

On Sunday their Royal Highnesses attended divine service in the private chapel in the house, a service officiated by the Rev G.C. Lane. The Princess of Wales took the opportunity to visit the Ashridge Convalescent Home and the Home Arts and Business School during her visit, ‘manifesting much interest in both these institutions’. The Prince was said to have had some excellent shooting’.

Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales, later became King Edward VII. His wife was Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

Interestingly, Prince Albert was mostly excluded from political power during his mother Queen Victoria’s reign and travelled extensively in Great Britain and abroad, performing ceremonial duties. However, he had a reputation as a playboy prince, which did not go down well with the monarch. He was said to have had many mistresses, and one of the women he socialised with was Alice Keppel, whose great granddaughter is Camilla Parker Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall! King Edward VII is the great great grandfather of Prince Charles.

Image: Skating at Berkhamsted Castle in 1890. The Ministry of Works, which controlled the Castle at the time, gave permission for skating to take place.