With the country shivering under a blanket
of early snow we were pleasantly surprised to see 23 people turn out for
the November meeting. The meeting was a talk by regular speaker Ken Goor
on the history of Christmas traditions with particular reference to those
specific to Leeds or Yorkshire. The weather was certainly a suitable backdrop
for the talk.
Ken, who has been a Leeds guide and speaker for many years, usually treats
people to this talk whilst guiding them round the Leeds Christmas Lights.
And it was with the history of Christmas lights that he began the talk.
He told us that the first town in Yorkshire to officially set up Christmas
Lights was Heckmonwike, in the late 1800's and these were powered by gas.
However Leeds did host a light display of oil lamps in 1813 as a celebration
after the end of the Napoleonic War, but they were not regarded as Christmas
Lights. He regaled us with a long list of celebrities who have performed
the switch on ceremony over the years. But the most amusing anecdote was
in 1989 when Danny La Rue was destined to switch the lights on, but refused
to do so when he was not allowed to appear dressed as Margaret Thatcher.
He went on to describe some general Christmas traditions such as coffin
shaped mince pies, originally made of meat, and millie boxes (effigies
of the Virgin Mary which were paraded round the streets in order to collect
a few pence). Describing Christmas food he told us that goose was the
traditional fare until the advent of the railway when other foods such
as turkey became available. He also said that during the Puritan period
all the fun activities and rich food we associate with Christmas were
banned but these gradually came back into fashion, and it was during the
late Victorian period that the sumptuous festivities really came into
about Leeds in particular he told us that Ralph Thoresby, Leeds' first
historian, used to spend his Christmas Day reading the effigies on the
graves in local cemeteries, and Benjamin Gott, one of the largest mill
owners, insisted his workforce sang Christmas carols to him in order to
be given Christmas boxes. Leeds also has a claim to fame in that the longest
running pantomime in England was held during the last year of WW2 at the
Theatre Royal. He finished the talk by telling us that the German Christmas
Market which the people of Leeds have enjoyed since 1991, originally began
in Frankfurt in 1393.
Theatre Royal, Lands Lane-1950s, reproduced with permission
We thoroughly enjoyed Ken's talk and it was good to be reminded of Christmas
traditions and, as ever, to hear information about Leeds which we perhaps
were not aware of.
The next meeting on Monday 31st January 2011 will be a
talk by Tom Dixon, entitled 'Sweet Fifties - Life on a Liquorice Farm'.