Ted Gosling remembers what Christmas used to be like in Seaton

PUBLISHED: 15:43 24 December 2009 | UPDATED: 00:43 16 June 2010

Sometimes I think that our minds are like photographic plates on which childhood impressions are printed and memories, such as the smell of a bonfire, autumn leaves or an old Christmas card can send us back in time to develop that plate.

Sometimes I think that our minds are like photographic plates on which childhood impressions are printed and memories, such as the smell of a bonfire, autumn leaves or an old Christmas card can send us back in time to develop that plate.

Those Christmas cards that came in the postman's sack, carried through the snowy lanes and roads in those far-off days were not reckoned in earthly money, or by any ordinary standards of value.

They were endowed with the properties we gave them, the fragrance of summer flowers, music of carols and bird song, the cold of icicles and frost. They were not bits of cardboard with poor pictures and bad verse. I gazed into them and saw what others did not perceive. To me, they were celestial gifts from another world, the world of imagination and fancy. My mother always told me that the words inside were even more important than the pictures and I believed her. From the time that I could read, I was hungry for words and, although I left school at the age of 14, I was lucky that my schoolmaster was an outstanding man. He drilled me and caned me, but from him I got a faint comprehension of things unfathomable and unknown.

Sometimes, an older type of Christmas card with the music or carols and glittering icicles and sparkling frosty bells, takes me back to pre-War Seaton when, with my brother and mother, we paid a visit to the World Stores in Fore Street.

In those days, the Christmas display we saw would put to shame any of our local shops today.

There were great boxes of crystallised fruits, sugared apricots and peaches and boxes of chocolates with pictures on their covers.

There were slender boxes of dates and figs and French plums tied with dark ribbons, jars of ginger and sacks of Brazil nuts. I well remember the enormous cheeses and, if you were well-behaved, the grocer would give you a small slice to taste.

My mother always dealt with Louds the Butchers and, at Christmas, they always had a fine display of dressed poultry and meat carcasses hanging outside the shop.

This would have horrified the jobsworths we now call food inspectors, but, in those pre-war days, we were free from the endless regulations that are the despair of 21st century England.

We always loved to visit the draper's shop of Ferris and Prescott in Sidmouth Street to see if we could find a new shirt for father's Christmas present.

One of the fascinations of Mr Ferris' drapery establishment was the overhead tramway which whisked the money across the shop to the cash desk.

The assistant took the cash and screwed it into a little wooden casket, together with the bill. A smart pull at a handle and the casket would fly across a miniature railway system.

In a minute or so it would make the return journey, with the change arriving back, notifying its presence with a bell-like clang.

On busy days, this system, working from all departments, was a wonder to see.

Opposite the Town Hall, the Smith family had a shop which sold all sorts of stationery ware and daily papers. In an upstairs room they had a special display of toys, wind-up cars, model trains, dolls, whips and tops, hoops, marbles, skipping ropes and shuttle-cocks. For me, it really was a wonderland and for a short time they all seemed to be endowed with life.

I know that many of my old school friends will remember the annual Christmas visit to our school of Mr Gould, Chairman of Seaton Urban District Council and local businessmen. We all lined up to receive an orange, a piece of Christmas cake and a sixpence - not a lot in modern terms, but, in those days of our youth, it seemed a fortune. By the way, Mr Gould, always a generous benefactor to Seaton, paid for this out of his own pocket.

Those days are long gone, dissolved like a dew and mist, but December can still be a season of surprises, so why not try to recapture the Christmas spirit and start this month, of all months, by showing goodwill to all and try to remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Happy Christmas to you all.


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Midweek Herald. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Midweek Herald