click to close window








No. 8: CHRISTMAS 1987

  1. Christmas as it used to be: The preparations..........................................................p.1
  2. Christmas cards.......................................................................................................p.3
  3. Christmas recipies....................................................................................................p.4
  4. Christmas recollections: presents, food, carol-singing, new year............................p.6


The whole of this edition is devoted to memories of what Christmas in Heeley used to be like - and because there is so much to say, we have made this a 'bumper' Christmas edition. Even so, we have had to leave a lot out. If you have any Christmas memories of your own, we would be very pleased to hear from you, so that we can include some of them in a future booklet.

Meanwhile, we are still collecting additional memories about Meersbrook Park in the old days, in response to our very popular "Meersbrook Park Centenary" Booklet - an enormous amount of work by many of our regular members. We hope to include these - along with many other contributions which we have had to hold over since our last regular "Old Heeley" booklet of July 1987 - in our next regular booklet, in January or February.

By the way, we still- have a few copies of the special Meersbrook Park Centenary booklet (price 50 pence), if you haven't got your copy yet (they'll he collector's items in a few years time!). We also have back-numbers of most of the 'Old Heeley' booklets (10 pence each).

For the benefit of new readers, much of our material comes from the hundred-plus hours of memories collected at the meetings of the "Heeley's History Workshop." This is organised by Heeley Adult Education and has weekly meetings at Heeley Bank School every Monday afternoon - newcomers especially welcome.

We are always very concerned to see that the information we publish is as correct and accurate as possible. As can be expected when different people are recalling memories from 50 or even 80 years ago, differences of recollection are bound to crop up from time to time. Usually it turns out that both people's memories were correct on most points, but that they were talking about different dates, or slightly different places.

We are also always on the look-out for anything you can add to what we print. So please keep the new information flooding in - don't keep it to yourself while you're still around to tell us! Either tell one of our regular members, or write or telephone to Heeley's History Workshop at the address below. Best of all, come along to Heeley Bank (see below) and join our conversations about old Heeley. You'll be very welcome.


Meetings: Heeley Bank School, Heeley Bank Road (at the junction with Myrtle Road), Sheffield 2. Every Monday, 1.45-3.45pm, except school holidays. PLEASE NOTE NEW STARTING AND FINISHING TIMES.

Open to anyone - newcomers especially welcome.

Extra Copies: Community Snack Bar, Heeley Hank School, Mondays, 10.00am-3.00pm, every week except school holidays.

Holidays: Please note that the last meeting before Christmas was on 7th December. First meeting in the Now Year: Monday 11th January.

Enquiries and Messages: Oliver Blensdorf, Tel. 553587 or c/o Mount Pleasant Community Centre, Sharrow Lane, Sheffield, S11 8AE.



"Christmas isn't like it used to be" seems to be a continual comment from the older members of our families. When asked for the reasons they find it difficult to explain how the attitudes to Christmas customs and the changes in the patterns of life leading up to and during the Christmas season came about. Many feel that the .war made a difference in several ways-not only did men go overseas to countries with other customs but many, women were, out working and earning money, so they no longer had the time to make and bake all the puddings and cakes and pies, but they could now buy more things like presents and Christmas decorations and even bakery-made cakes and puddings.

Many older people of Heeley look back to a childhood in which money was scarce so there were few toys or bought presents, but their memories of Christmas preparations and activities and their joy at having a 'Christmas stocking' with its small contents highlights the significance of this festival in their lives. Their anticipation would increase as the weeks passed, from the gathering of the apple harvest in September through all the preparations involved, until the "big day" arrived heralded by the groups of carol singers from the local Sunday Schools, Chapels and Churches.

Before the puddings, mincemeat and cakes could be made all the fruit had to be obtained, cleaned and trimmed. Mr. Chapman remembers his mother insisted that only the best dried fruit must be used for the Christmas food - the currants must come from Greece, the sultanas from Valencia and the almonds from Jordan. The raisins were large and had to be cut open and the seeds removed, similarly the muscatels had to be seeded. Many of the fruits had little stalks attached which had to be removed. The almonds had to be soaked in water for several hours and then skinned before they could be chopped finely with a sharp knife. The candied peel was bought in large curved pieces like quarter spheres, the colours orange, yellow and green showing through the sugared surfaces. You had to ask for a mixture of orange, lemon and citron candied peel, and all the pieces had to be sliced thinly and then chopped.

These preparations all took time and all the children in the family could help, with their excitement mounting as the fruit was finally all ready and cleaned to be added to the other ingredients. Fortunately, all the recipes involved a "thorough mixing" of the ingredients, so every member of the family, in turn, could stir each mix with the big wooden spoon. If "surprises" were to be added to the puddings then the little silver "threepenny bits" were individually, wrapped in greaseproof paper and added to the final mixture before putting it into the basins. At least five lots of "mixing" were involved and in many families it was a custom to make a wish as you stirred - but you mustn't tell anybody what it was or it wouldn't come .true! The apples from the autumn harvest were used to stir into the mincemeat, which was bottled, covered and stored. Then the puddings were mixed and covered in basins, to be boiled in a large pan, when the fire wasn't otherwise being used, or in the copper, and they also were stared. At least three or even four were made for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day - the fourth often being saved for Easter Day. Then the Christmas cake was mixed and baked in a "slow" oven - to be stored in a large tin until the mixing of the almond paste, and later the mixing of the icing for final decoration.

In between the cooking sessions, the children could start preparing to make the paper decorations including paper chains, streamers, lanterns, and artificial flowers for the house. For example, pieces of white and coloured crepe paper were obtained and cut into narrow strips. The long lengths could then be plaited or twisted to make long multi-coloured streamers. Using flour and water paste, short lengths of ordinary coloured paper could be glued together into inter-locking rings-to make long paper chains that could be hung across the room at the beginning of the Christmas holidays. This would occupy the children on a wet Saturday afternoon, or in the evening, while on a dry day a walk to the woods nearby would enable them to bring home some holly and ivy for further decoration, or to make a makeshift Christmas tree afford to buy one. At school, the - children would have been making Christmas cards and these would be given pride of place ton the mantlepiece, or "cornish" (Cornice) - and whenever the cellar door was opened they all blew off.

Meanwhile, mothers and fathers would start to make presents for the children, e.g., a rag doll - which also had to be dressed - for a girl, or a sledge or go-cart or garage for toy cars made in wood, for a boy. For older children, socks, gloves, scarves or jumpers would be knitted, or dresses sewn. The Christmas cards had to be chosen and the envelopes addressed.

With all these activities going on, no wonder everyone eagerly anticipated Christmas with its rich fruit cakes and puddings instead of bread and dripping and rice or bread pudding! The Christmas hymns and carols were learned at home, at Sunday School and at day school, so that the groups from Chapels and Churches needed little rehearsal before setting off on their rounds to bring the familiar tunes and words to many homes as they went round late on Christmas Eve and in the early hours of Christmas Day. It is not surprising that most families were "up and doing" most of that night. Providing mincepies and hot cups of tea for a party of twenty to thirty carolers at 2.00am would be no mean feat, but in addition there might be a rabbit to skin or a bird to pluck and stuff for the following day, as well as more mincepies to make and the children's stockings to fill. Often, also, the final stitching was needed to a dress or jumper, and there was much preparation needed for the special day ahead.

The flavour of "Christmas-as-it-used-to-be" is evident in the memories of members of the Heeley History Workshop, (their ages range from 86 years down!) and we hope that the recipes as well as the recollections give you some idea of the ways in which Christmas was celebrated in Heeley earlier this century. Do have any Christmas memories to add to these?


Although the first Christmas card was designed in 1843 by an artist called John Calcott Horsley at the request of Henry Cole, who was the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was not until much later that the cards became popular. In the late 1860's quite a few were being designed but the introduction of the ½d post for a card in 1870 saw a big increase in the numbers produced. Some of these cards were very ornate, with lace or "frosting" effects, gilded edgings and printing, as well as tinsel, silks and satins, in the designs. Many had ribbons and bows and some were hand-painted with intricate flower designs - but many were expensive and not available to most people.

In the Edwardian years at the beginning of this century more cards were mass produced and so the prices became lower and more people could afford to buy them. Many local people, setting up as part-time "agents", would visit their friends with catalogues of card designs in which the sender's name and address and a suitable greeting and/or a verse could be printed. Local tradesmen also added this to their business before Christmas. That these cards were available at very reasonable prices is evident from a collection of pre-Great War Christmas cards recently discovered by one of our members in a long-unopened drawer - cards mostly from 1908 onwards sent by Heeley people to their friends in Heeley - in this case 'Grandma Johnson' and her family. We reproduce here some of the designs and verses from those cards - from people with addresses still in existence or only recently demolished e.g., Gleadless Road, Nicholson Road and Springwood Road. Most of the cards are small, e.g., 4¼" x 3", 4" x 2¾" or even 3" x 2", and all of them were double with an inner folded sheet on which the verse, greeting, name and address were printed, the whole being held together by delicate ribbons or coloured and tasseled threads. The outer fold was often of waxed paper or parchment, or smooth card with an embossed design, sometimes with a photograph or flower painting or an intricate colour design added, or ornate initials, or even dried holly leaves and berries.

Some of the verses sound very quaint to our ears - a small card with the word "Remembrance" across a pattern of green clover leaves had an inside inscription "from Nellie to Aunt and Uncle" as well as the following verse:

"May Christmas bring happiness to thee and thine,
Pray wish the same blessing for me and for mine."

"There used to be quite a bit of mumming and also singing songs like:

‘Here come me and our owd lass,
Short of money and short of brass,
Hands up lets sup, we’ll have a Derby, lass’.

There were another bit what I can remember:

‘As I we going to Derby,
Upon the market day,
I met the finest lady
That over ydu could see,
Singing Larum, larum, tiddly umpty arum (etc.)’

The other parts of It went:

‘All all the women in Derby were asking for a skin,
To make a little napkin to wrap the baby in.
- Singing larum, larum, (etc.)’

Another one was sung carrying a sweeping-brush and pretending to sweep:

‘Here comes little devil Doubt,
With his shirt hanging out,
If you don't give me money
I'll sweep you all out!’"

"Children went round in groups chanting:

Happy New Year, Happy New Year,
Plenty of money and a cellar full of beer,
A horse and a gig and a good fat pig to kill next year.

Hole in my stocking, Hole in my shoe,
Please can you spare me a copper or two?
If you haven't any copper, silver will do,
If you haven't any silver, God bless you.’"

"We knew that one, its the only one I ever know."

"These are bits I remember from my Father, my Father used to do it, but you know bulk of it has gone, I’ve only got parts of it, I can’t put it all together."

"You’d knock at the door then, and they'd perhaps give you two pence or something like that wouldn’t they? When you’d said your piece, I suppose it was a continuation of carol singing, a way of getting money."

"Most of the churches had watch night services."

"Mind you, you got as many drunks as sober at watch night services, it’s the only time a lot of them ever went to church." .

"It was just a sort of service for the end of the old year, and into the New Year. It started about 11.30pm and went through to the New Year."


Christmas Pudding
("economy" recipes)


3 oz Flour3 oz Candied Peel (chopped fine)
4 oz Breadcrumbs2 Eggs
4 oz Suet (chopped)1 Apple (grated)
4 oz Large Raisins (seeded)1 Large Carrot (grated)
2 oz SultanasRind and juice of 1 Orange and 1 Lemon
4 oz CurrantsPinch each of Salt, Ground Ginger, Nutmeg and Spice
5 oz SugarMilk to mix


Sift together in a pancheon, the flour and breadcrumbs. Mix in chopped suet then add all the other dry ingredients and grated apple and carrot. Stir in the beaten eggs and enough milk to make a moist mixture. Transfer to 1 large or 2 small pudding basins, cover and boil for four hours. Store in cool dry place.

Note - This economy recipe includes extra breadcrumbs and less fruit, the grated carrot adding extra sweetness and dark colour to make up for the missing fruit.

Quick "1-2-3-4" Cake Recipe
(to eke out the cake and mincepies if many visitors unexpectedly arrive)


1 Egg3 oz Butter or Margarine
2 oz Sugar4 oz Self Raising Flour


Cream the fat and the sugar, then add the egg and the Flour and mix together, with a little milk if needed to make a moist cake mixture. Place in a greased 6" tin, bake for 1 hour in a moderate oven (around 350°F or Reg. 3). When cool coat with icing made with lemon juice.

Many variations are possible with this cake e.g., make into a banana cake by adding a pulped banana to the creamed fat and sugar. Make into a mixed fruit cake by adding a cup full of mixed dried fruit. Make into an apple cake by adding one finely chopped and peeled apple to the final mix. My mother used to make it into a coffee cake by adding 2 teaspoons of coffee essence (I use 2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder) to the mix and adding coffee flavoured icing as a topping.

Oatmeal Biscuits


5 oz Flour3 oz Sugar
5 oz Oatmeal3 Tablespoons Milk
3 oz MargarinePinch of Salt


Thoroughly mix the flour, oatmeal, sugar and salt. Rub in the margarine, mix to a stiff paste with the milk, turn onto floured board, roll out and cut into rounds, place on greased baking tray and bake for 20 minutes in a moderate oven (350°F).

(with method added by members of the Heeley’s History Workshop)

Christmas Cake (1 loaf)


5 oz Butter and Lard10 oz Flour
5 oz SugarFew Ground and Chopped Almonds
2 Eggs2 oz C. Peel
4 oz Currants½ teasp. Baking Powder
4 oz SultanasMilk


Sieve the baking powder and flour to mix well. Weigh all the cleaned dried fruit and chopped candied peel and almonds and add to the flour. Beat the butter, lard and sugar together to a cream then add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Add the flour and fruit mixture and use enough milk to mix to a cake batter consistency. Bake in a round or square well-greased and lined cake tin for 3-3½ hours in a "moderate" oven for first ½ hour then "slow" oven later.

Almond Paste


4 oz Ground AlmondsWhite of one Egg
5 oz Icing SugarLemon Juice


Mix the ground almonds and icing sugar thoroughly, add the lemon juice and egg white and mix to a firm paste. Turn the mixture onto a board dusted with icing sugar and roll out to a round or a sqaure the size of the cake, place on top of the cake and smooth into place.



½ lb Currants1 Orange
½ lb Raisins (stoned and quartered)1 Lemon
½ lb SultanasGinger (a pinch)
1¼lb Apples (chopped fine)1 oz Almonds (chopped fine)
1 lb Sugar½ lb Suet
6 oz Peel (chopped fine)Pinch Nutmeg, Salt and Mixed Spice


Thinly peel the orange and lemon and extract their juices. Simmer the rinds in a little pound them, or rub through a very fine sieve. Mix all the dry ingredients together, add the juices and pulped rinds and finely chopped apple and stir very thoroughly. Transfer to jars, cover closely and keep in a cool dry place for at least one month before using.

from conversations at meetings of Heeley's History Workshop

"Well I know we used to get spice, nuts, a new penny, orange and apple in our stockings."

"And a small book or two."

"We were a pretty poor family, we didn't get books ."

"I got a pillow slip, but there was always the stocking with the new penny, the apple and the orange."

"Feeling all the bulging shapes in your stocking in the dark was part of the excitement, on Christmas morning."

"You always got new pennies for Christmas then, as well, but you don’t always now. Life changed after 1st World War after 1918, things started changing then. Although there were't slump in 1926, they still changed from what they were pre 1914. My recollections were good after I started working which was 1916. I along with my sisters, we used to look forward to Christhmas because what we were going to do were preparations, and my Mother used to say it must be Jordan almonds, it must be Valencia raisins and it must be muscatels, which we used to have to soak in water and open and fetch seeds out. And the Jordan almonds, they were put in water and they were skinned, and of course then there were mixing it and mixing plum puddings."

"Everybody had to have ‘a stir and a wish didn't they?"

"I think that was Christmas, that part, not so much the Christmas itself but the anticipation, such as making mincemeat about the September or October when the apples were plentiful."

"You got all chocolates you know, popular brands, Heather chocolates, Heather mixture - Cadburys. Alpine mixture, they were Packer’s. There was root-cross nougat that was in squares, and coconut squares."

"Do you remember those plain chocolate coins we used to get, ‘oh: it was horrible chocolate, in gold foil and in a little mesh bag, chocolate coins. The chocolate tasted horrible, it had all grit in it hadn't it?"

"I've got an idea they were Dutch am I right?"

"I don't know."

"There was better variety in Cadburys than what there was in other chocolates, but they were all run out at 4oz for threepence halfpenny, threepence halfpenny a quarter. But Alpine mixture, they were more common, they were 2 oz a penny, they were Packer’s."

"We had sugar mice and sugar pigs in the stockings as well."

"I don't think we had turkeys and that kind of thing."

"We had pork, or sometimes a joint of sirloin something like that."

"I don’t remember much about that side."

"We had a chicken and a piece of pork "

"Well we had, for donkeys years, rabbit and spare rib pie, because all the family used to come Christmas morning, you know, for mincepies and what have you, and then any who couldn't go home or wanted to stay they stopped, because you can always get another helping out of a pie, you see. And then perhapsif we had a bird we 'd have it at New Year. But for donkeys years we had spare rib pie, because we had 2 rabbits sent us every Christmas, thats why. I were in a person’s company last Christmas and I was rather surprised, he is about as old as me (in his eighties), and, we, got talking about Christmas – nothing to do with the history of Christmas or any anything like that, it were only about food - and he says, ‘rabbit is Christmas fare, not turkeys and chickens, its rabbit what is Christmas fare’. And to this day he still has his rabbit, not turkey or anything else at Christmas day."

"I can remember the first time we had a turkey. Uncle Harry had been in the market somewhere and they were selling these, of course there wasn't this cold storage then, and he got a 30 lb turkey for 15 shillings, 6d a lb. Well, he knew he couldn’t cope with it himself you see, so he came up to my Mother, (his sister) and said, ‘Hey, will you have half this turkey with me?’ She says, ‘oh, how much?’ ‘Oh, 7 shillings and 6d.' 'Oh yes, alright.' Well, they started, I can see ‘em now, cutting this turkey in two with a saw! He was the most un-handy person you ever met!"

"I can never remember anything else but turkeys at Christmas, but I think we’d always. plenty of work at Christmas and money was plentiful at that time of the year."

"Rabbit was a cheap meat then. If you went to the fish shop for them, they had 'em at the fish shop - not the butchers. You had to ask for one that was trapped, not shot. Well you found the shot in it, you see, and it wasn’t as nice. My Mother would say ‘I’ll tell Charlie next time, this wasn’t a trapped rabbit it was gun shot."

"They’d come from Derbyshire, Derbyshire was over-run with rabbits. Oh you often got one with the skin on, they weren’t always skinned were they?"

"No, at one period you got threepence a piece for skins."

"Something you said a few minutes ago, Mr. Chapman, about Christmas changing after the First World War, what was the change, what was different?"

"I think it lost its whole Christmas feeling, it lost its own charm."

"Are you saying that what changed the Christmases was there was so much sadness from losing their sons, or what was it?"

"I don’t think it were that. Whether money made ‘a big difference, there were all the women that could work were working, and they were working in the factories and they were earning a lot of money. They could buy things what they never ‘used to bother with before because they hadn’t the money."

"What sort of things?"

"Well, pleasure what could be bought, instead of pleasures what had to be made, such as phonographs. They also got the chance to buy even puddings and cakes."

"So because they’d got a bit, more money they’d buy something, and they hadn’t the time if they were working full time?"

"Well I was going to say, that must be it as well. If they were working they hadn’t time."

"The other thing was that you had your carol singing going on Christmas Eve outdoors. You didn’t have your service in the chapel or the church because everybody was out doing their carol singing until 2 or 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning."

"Well, at Heeley St. Peters, round about 1930’s, we used to start at 11.00pm in the church and we’d have a practice, in the church before we went out. Then we’d set off. From St. Peters church we’d go up Gleadless Road, back to Nicholson Road, on to Chesterfield Road, up to Woodseats, Chantrey Road, and then right at the very top of Chantrey Road I think that was where we finished at Mrs. Allen's, and she’d give us mincepies and a cup of tea. We'd finish up back home about 4 o'clock int’ morning. That’s all on foot, walking and singing at different houses."

"And they made a lot of gifts for the church from the carol singing."

"Aye, they bought the communion table and the pulpit."

"Over the years, it was always something for the church what the carol singers made."

"Well, going back a few years, people would he up much later on Christmas Eve."

"Yes, you didn’t bother about it being dark because every other house was lit up. And at some of the houses you would be given a hot drink and a mincepie. There used to be three places where we always used to stop. There were hot mincepies and tea ready for you when you went in. Coffee weren’t drunk at that time, it were tea."

"We used to do it for Valley Road, they always used to make our house the last call and they all had a mincepie."

"I am just thinking if carol singers were coming round until 2 in the morning, that means that the houses you called at were up till 2 in the morning as well."

"Oh yes, then they got up at about 8 o'clock and started the turkey off. Or they were actually doing the turkey then, or the day before or overnight and preparing for the following day."

"Don’t forget, if you'd got 20 or carol singers coming, that moans that you’d got to have at least 40 mincepies ready just to cope with that lot, let alone with your own party afterwards. I mean if it was all home baked, you’d got to have plenty baked and ready, you know. I’ve been in a group of 20 or 30 carolers."

"Aye, we had 30 in our group."

"In some houses you’d only get one representative able to come because maybe they’d got young children and they couldn’t all come and so on, but you still had quite a tidy group doing the carols."

"Just before I started, around 1920, Heeley St. Peter’s used to go round with a lantern, you know, on a pole, and a harmonium. We'd still got them there but we didn’t use them. You could manage without torches a lot because you knew the words so well, you didn’t need that, you know."

"We didn ‘ t call at every house - people would perhaps ask you to call. Especially older people from the church congregation, who would no longer be able to go out carol singing themselves, they would ask you to call, and you’d go and sing for them, because the fitter ones would be taking part in it themselves."

"On occasions you’d be singing at one house and then next door would say ‘would you sing for us’, although they hadn’t asked for it, but they'd heard you."

"Sometimes, if there was a party at the house you called at, a small group could be given a ten-shilling note or even a pound note, but at most houses you’d only get coppers. Large church groups would got silver or notes."

"At New Year they always used to say that if a dark person was the first to go in then you had a successful year. I’d got black hair then, you know, I weren’t like I am now. You could got requests to go ‘first-footing’ if you’d got dark hair."

"It had to be one with dark hair before they’d open the door."

"You took coal, salt, bread and a new penny. Coal for heat, bread for food, new penny for money, salt for the flavour of life."

"I know my two grandfathers exchanged for one another for about twenty years, letting each other’s New Year in. Well if you let someone’s New Year in you were dark you see, and they used to meet out in the passage, the two of them, and they used to go and let each other’s New Year in. They used to take a piece of coal. You used to put your coal on and poke your fire."


click to close window