published in Local Reach December
Deck the Halls with Boughs and Holly
Christmas Day in the Axbridge Union Workhouse.
Whilst conditions in the workhouse were less than ideal those in charge do seem to have done their best to provide some Christmas cheer for the inmates.
Nineteenth century newspaper accounts such as this from 1883, describe the wards as being “draped in greenery, and festoons of evergreens, with various devices in holly, gave a cheery and seasonable look to each apartment. The entrance hall was suitable embellished and taken altogether the decorations may be pronounced successful and effective.”
More importantly for the inmates, I suspect, was the fact that their normal meagre and basic diet was replaced with a Christmas dinner. The Weston Mercury and Somerset Herald December 29th 1883 reports: “Christmas-day … at Axbridge Union Workhouse, was, in every respect, a signal success, and “the powers that be” may take unto themselves much praise for the admirable arrangement which undoubtedly made it so. In the first place, the meat was of such excellent quality, and so thoroughly well cooked by that extremely useful officer, who assumes the double role (no pun intended) of baker and chef-de-cuisine, that a gourmand to say nothing of an epicure, might have been satisfied with the result; and what has been written about the meat is applicable to the vegetables; potatoes and parsnips being done, we can hardly say, to a turn, so let us write to a bubble. The dining-hall was .. decorated in an attractive and cheerful manner; whilst garlands of flowers, and festoons of green leaves, interspersed with many brightly coloured flowerets, gave a finish to the seasonable “fit up” that was highly effective. Of the number of inmates who partook of, and who thoroughly enjoyed the repast provided, there were men,74; women, 50; and children, 31; making a total of 155 ….. As for the plum puddings, they were in every respect capital, and the full justice that was done to them proved, without a doubt, that quality and quantity were duly appreciated by the partakers thereof; everyone was loud in his or her praise of the good and ample fare provided for the occasion.”
Here’s hoping your Christmas meal is equally enjoyable.
Elizabeth Friend, Axbridge Archaeological and Local History Society www.aalhs.co.uk