One sign that Christmas was approaching in Charnwood Street was the display of cakes in the window of Parnell’s baker’s shop at 263. Derek Parnell remembers that his father Joe would make the Christmas cakes in late October and early November, then wrap them in greaseproof paper and leave them to mature – ‘to get the fire out’. The first week in December would be spent adding the marzipan and decorating them, before displaying them on glass shelves with two spotlights to light the window: ‘It was something that people came to expect as one of the treats, to see the window full of cakes’. They also made chocolate logs, gateaux and mince pies in the last week before Christmas:
‘until you didn’t ever want to see another mince pie! All the factories would come and say “Can I have two dozen mince pies, can I have three dozen mince pies, can I have half a dozen mince pies” – because there were no canteens, it was sort of a treat for them. They never took anything to cut… they always wanted things they could just pick up and eat’.
Paddy’s Swag Shop and other local toy shops did a good trade at Christmas, of course, while the adults often treated themselves to a bottle of ginger wine, port or sherry. When she was a child, Jalna Edwards’ father used to take her to Hynard Hughes at 189, on the corner of St Saviour’s Road, to get a bottle of British port and cowslip wine on Christmas Eve. She was allowed a small drink to celebrate the occasion – and he always had a glass of port to see in the New Year.
Earlier memories of Christmas in Charny include the game and poultry hanging outside the butcher’s and fishmongers’ shops up to midnight on Christmas Eve, with people leaving it late to shop for the Christmas dinner in the hope of getting a bargain. Robin Titley’s father kept the butcher’s shop at 163 in the 1940s, and used to buy a crate of oranges from the greengrocer across the road at Christmas ‘so he could give one to each of the children who came into the shop’. Jean Smith (nee Raynor) recalled the Christmas Bazaar at St Saviour’s church, with a fancy dress competition and stalls like ‘Roll a Penny’ – and the Christmas treat for the children of members of the North Evington Working Men’s Club on Green Lane Road: ‘a kids’ show plus the best bit, you got an apple, orange, crisps and a bottle of pop’.
An apple, an orange, a few nuts and a small toy were often all that children from poorer families would get for Christmas – but it was still an exciting time. One former resident of Charnwood Street who was born in the 1920s recalled that the Salvation Army band would play carols on Christmas Eve on the corner of Charnwood Street and Preston Street, and ‘I with my friends would take a candle and go house to house singing carols, for which we usually got one penny. The wind would be blowing the gas lamps in the streets in and out, which all added to the excitement’. (H. Dare, Leicester Mercury, 28 November 1983).
All the better if it snowed as well… No snow this year – but many thanks to everyone for their memories of Christmas in Charny, and I wish you all a very happy festive season.