Tales of Christmas Past

Christmas celebrations often feature prominently in people’s recollections of their childhood. This is certainly shown in the memoirs of former choristers, held in St George’s Chapel Archives. Dating from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, these include diaries and letters written during boys’ time here as well as reflections of older men looking back on their youth.

These memoirs provide a unique perspective on the life and work of the College of St George, and some of the humorous opinions and priorities of small boys. Christmas, for example, is less often remembered for services and singing than for food and festivities.

For James Douglas, chorister 1847-1852, a Christmas tradition began at St George’s:
“We had a good friend in the Rev Lord Wriothesley Russel one of the Canons of Windsor… He was brother of the celebrated Lord John Russell… The first Xmas tree I ever saw was given by Lord Russell. It stood very high & laden with large useful presents.” [SGC M.1061]

From 1876, Rupert Hughes remembers:
“At Christmas time it was our rule to get up an Operetta. I might mention one year’s performance in particular, the piece being an adaption of the story of “Dick Whittington.”… The rendering proved so successful that we performed it before Royalty and also to the fair inmates of [a Ladies’ College near Windsor]. They in return retaliated with a splendid exhibition of Mrs. Jarley’s Waxwork Show. It was very rarely we were in the company of young ladies so it is needless to say the boys spent an interesting and enjoyable evening on that occasion.

“Mention should be made of Dean Wellesley who held office during my term in the Choir. It was understood he was a valued advisor to Queen Victoria in these days. He was the nephew of the Great Duke of Wellington and bore a striking resemblance to that distinguished soldier… At each Christmas time he and Lady Wellesley invited the boys to a sumptuous dinner at the Deanery. Before leaving we would gather around the old man and from a stack of new books nearby, the boys in seniority would each choose one to his liking. In it, he, the Dean, was careful to write the full name of each of us adding as a Christmas remembrance, ‘from the Dean.’” [SGC M.141]

F.C. Freeman, a chorister in the 1880s, remembers feasting with some relish:
“When it is realised that probably every boy had a Hamper sent to him and also that many good things poured into the School from the Deanery and other places it is somewhat astonishing that we got through the Festivities without any much worse occurrence than a boy or two having to come out of Chapel afflicted with a kind of mal de mer. It is feared that ‘Old B’s’ admonition ‘not to make beasts of yourselves’ was not too literally observed. I have a vivid recollection of one small boy (now in Holy Orders) with his supper of bread and butter adding a relish thereto by way of a sardine floating in pineapple juice!” [SGC M.1077/2]

And from the 1940s, James Owen remembers raucous party games enjoyed by all:
“The Dean (Dean Baillie) had the Choirboys into the Deanery for memorable Christmas parties, where we played Murder all over the Deanery. The greatest prize in that game was to remove Mrs. Carteret Carey’s (red) wig in the dark. A piercing scream usually signalled this event, and the lady herself (a considerable figure both in Castle and Town) entered fully into the spirit of the occasion.” [SGC M.105]

The Queen's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.