'100 years ago - times were tough at Christmas time...'

A Christmas card from the past

A Christmas card from the past - Credit: Honiton Museum

One hundred years ago, times were tough for the people in Honiton at Christmas time.

Millions of people had been killed in World War One. Several families were still mourning the loss of one or more of their family members.

Men did return home to Honiton, but some had been gassed, many had shell shock or suffered life changing injuries which they had to endure for the rest of their lives. Millions more died in the Spanish influenza pandemic.

In December 1921 there was not much to celebrate. The average life expectancy for women was 59 and for a man, 55. The average labouring wage was eighteen shillings a week (less than £50 today).

The school leaving age had been raised to 14 years and one in 10 people were unemployed.

Following a prolonged drought there was a shortage of food for both humans and animals.

Food prices at Honiton market were expensive that year. Potatoes cost a penny each and the only fruit available were grapes at two shillings a pound and oranges at one shilling a dozen.

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The Post Office announced that there would be a delivery of letters and parcels on Christmas Day, but there would be no deliveries or collections on Boxing Day.

The inmates at Honiton workhouse had a good Christmas dinner. They enjoyed roast beef, potatoes, parsnips, Christmas pudding, beer, oranges, apples, and sweets. After dinner, gifts that had been donated by the Mayor, Juanita Phillips and other dignitaries were distributed. 

Harriet Tratt, of Pine Park, lent her cabinet gramophone and records for entertainment and at 10.30pm the inmates went to bed refreshed following a glass of port given by Major Weldon.

On the following Wednesday, the British Legion gave a party for the children of ex-servicemen. Two hundred children sat down to a tea and afterwards, gifts from under a Christmas tree, donated by Major Weldon were handed out. 

Games were played and when the children left at 7pm they were given an orange and a packet of sweets.

Later that evening, a masked ball was held in Allhallows School to help defray the costs of the children’s party.

This year, as is the tradition now, the media has shouted for weeks that this festive season will be the most wonderful time of the year. 

Christmas is an exceptionally busy time - for some it is also sad, lonely, and stressful. Everyone is busy – but not too busy to be kind, tolerant and polite to others. 

Wishing you and yours health, happiness, and peace for all your tomorrows.

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