1918 - the 'Peace Christmas': with results of war still evident, Marlborough retailers made great efforts to stock up for seasonal shoppers

Written by Tony Millett on .

Wounded soldiers are given a Christmas lunch in Marlborough (Photo:  Marlborough History Society - with thanks) Wounded soldiers are given a Christmas lunch in Marlborough (Photo: Marlborough History Society - with thanks) As you take advantage of Marlborough High Street's late night shopping evening on Thursday (December 13), spare a thought for the town's shopkeepers at Christmas-time 1918.

It may have been dubbed the 'Peace Christmas', but the effects of the war that had ended on 11 November 1918 were still much in evidence. 

At the Wesley Hall in Marlborough soldiers recovering after hospital treatment for their wounds, enjoyed a Christmas lunch.  They all wore the blue suits with a red tie - 'hospital blues' - that were a 'badge of honour' for wounded soldiers.

Elsewhere in the town, the Christmas spirit was returning - if somewhat slowly.  One important Christmas person had found his way back to Marlborough.

After a wartime absence from Marlborough's Christmas shops, Father Christmas returned in December 1918 to Eggleton and Co's Christmas Fancy Fair and Toyland.  For Eggleton's fellow shopkeepers in the town there had been very little time to prepare for the 'Peace Christmas'.

However close the end of the war was, the Marlborough Times decided to publish an extensive Christmas shopping guide to the town - detailing the 'Tradesmen's efforts to meet the public's needs'.  It was obviously still quite hard to get the right tone between shopkeepers' joy that the war was over and, in many cases, their customers' sad bereavements:

"An ideal peace Christmas is fast approaching, and there is, it may be presumed, nothing speculative in the assumption that the inclinations of most people at the moment tend in the direction of making merry at the festive season in gratitude for the glorious and completely victorious triumph in the world of right over might."

The writer takes a deep breath: "And within certain limitations not altogether unassociated with the reverent respect with which we remember the fallen, and the sympathy everyone feels for the bereaved, we surely have a right to render Christmas this year the happiest and most memorable that we have ever known."

Three of the shops in the Marlborough Times article were being run by women whose husbands had been recruited or conscripted.  Mr Webber, a family butcher in the High Street was "...on military service, but his patriotic wife, who fell quickly into the breach, is 'carrying on' and the Christmas display which she is making..." was comprehensive - including "...chicken specially fed for the Christmas trade".

And there was Mrs Mack of Kingsbury Street "...another instance which the war has afforded of the way in which some women are 'carrying on' heroically during the absence of their husbands with the colours.  She may be said, to paraphrase a once popular song, to be shaping the destinies of 'a little shop well filled'. Her shelves are stocked with articles of British manufacture, including toothsome chocolates and similar goodies..." 

She had done better than A. Knapton, pastry cook and confectioner, who "...is doing his best to meet the needs of the public, but is experiencing a shortage in the supply of chocolates and other much sought after comestibles.  He is awaiting the arrival of consignments of these goodies, and hopes to have a supply next week."

It seems the Marlborough Times journalist had been ordered to include every shop that advertised with the newspaper!  Some were quite hard to fit into a Christmas article "...intended to solve as far as possible for our readers the problems of Christmas shopping" - not everything could be wrapped and ribboned for the big day: 

"Mr J.A. Pope of the Chantry Works, continues to stock all the best makes of agricultural implements, including the much-favoured Wiltshire Goldfinder harrows and drags."  There also had to room amongst the food, drink and toys for Albert Henry Hillier - Monumental Mason.

International Stores - "The Big Grocers with the Big Reputation" - had been major and devoted advertisers through the war years.  But their Marlborough branch got pretty short shrift at Christmas: "The International Stores may be relied upon to execute promptly all orders for the supply of such commodities as are likely to be required during the festive season."

By the issue of the Marlborough Times of December 27, International Stores were back to offering tinned fish - at bargain prices.

Some of the names of the Marlborough shopkeepers echo down the years: "The Marlborough Dairy (Mr James Duck) is fortunate in having an abundant supply of new laid eggs for the festive season..."

There were signs of normality returning: "Mr W.E. Salisbury of Kingsbury Street, has been released by the Ministry of Munitions, and desires it to be known that he is now resuming his connection as a pianoforte tuner" - making it possible once again to have a Christmas sing-song with a tuned piano.

Marlborough had several butchers eager to sell the increased ration of meat and any amount of ration coupon free turkeys, chickens and game of all sorts.  And there was a great emphasis around the town on those delicacies which were beginning to resurface.

Marlborough Times, 27 December 1918Marlborough Times, 27 December 1918The frequent call for savings showed how empty the nation's coffers wereThe frequent call for savings showed how empty the nation's coffers were"At Market Place and 129, High Street, Mr H.W. Pocock has a more abundant supply than of late of biscuits, especially the sweeter kinds..." 

There was always the possibility of Christmas disasters.  Marlborough might have days of solid rain or a chimney unused to Christmas 1918's heavy duty cooking, might catch fire:  "Many a good dinner has been wrecked by unconscious delay in requisitioning the services of a chimney sweeper."

"In order to avert such a catastrophe eventuating [sic] this Christmastide the housewife should at once consult Messrs J.Bull and Son, at 28, The Parade, who also undertake the repair of umbrellas."

With imports all but impossible due to enemy submarines, there was a distinct emphasis on British made goods.  Mr W. J. Mitchell's store proved British could be best - with "...an attractive selection of ornamental vases of that British manufactures which is so superb in point of quality compared to the foreign article to which we have become accustomed." 

One does wonder how Paris House emporium succeeded with imports where others had struggled: "Paris House, the prominent business establishment, in High Street, of Mr T H. Hawkins, could claim no better or fitter designation, for here assuredly in the show rooms are to be seen the latest Paris models in semi-evening dress and everything that is delicate and fashionable in pretty blouses in both crepe de chine and ninon...".  Perhaps they were merely copies - and 'Sewn in Britain'.

Finally, back to Eggleton and Co's display:  "...immediately on entering the showrooms one is completely mystified by the bulk and wonderful variety of toys that meet the gaze..." 

Among them: "Quite a seasonable novelty is a wooden device which goes by the name of 'John Bull and the Kaiser', the product of a factory so near home as Devizes."  There is a small reward for the first person to tell marlborough.news what on earth this 'device' was for.

It may have been the 'Peace Christmas', but at Eggleton and Co. military toys were still looking for buyers: "Perhaps the newest in things for the nursery are the mechanical submarines and torpedo boats, metal soldiers, forts, cannon, and Red Cross cars...and allied flags." 

If Christmas had proved too much for stomachs used to the restricted wartime diet, the Marlborough Times published a large advertisement in its edition of December 27 for A. H. Bingham, chemist of Hungerford.  It was headlined: "A bit of truth about dyspesia" - and extolled the virtues of "Bingham's indigestion and liver mixture."

A version of this article appeared in the marlborough.news Christmas Guide.