Christmas memories from Carolyn Roly-Jones, Howard Franklin and Will Holland
PUBLISHED: 00:16 18 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:19 20 February 2013
Three well-known Shropshire people share their Christmas memories
Recalling Christmas gatherings of my childhood inevitably releases a twinge of nostalgia. Parties were held at my paternal grandparents home in North Yorkshire and were always a great success; with my bachelor great-uncle James the Master of Ceremonies, the fun never flagged. My grandparents house accommodated the whole family and stood at the end of a half-mile carriage-drive. It could be clearly seen across the moor, which was a bleak contrast to the welcoming blazing log fires in every reception room and bedroom.
My turreted bedroom was on the third floor, high above the front door, so I could see anyone arriving down the sweeping driveway. The room had its own private staircase which rose from the floor below. My clearest memory of Christmas Eve was falling asleep watching the shadows of the flames from the open fire dancing on the ceiling, the howling wind in the chimney, and the rain beating against the leaded window panes as a storm swept across the moor.
There was something almost Dickensian about Christmas Day at my grandparents house. My cousins would be staying too and we would shriek with delight as we discovered our stockings hanging at the end of our beds, which always contained golden foil covered chocolate coins, a tangerine, nuts and shoelaces of liquorice, and perhaps a small puzzle or game. Down two flights of stairs we would run for breakfast of porridge topped with Lyles Golden Syrup and cream, and then with much chasing and screaming we would return to our rooms to prepare for church.
My grandmother was a most imposing figure; she was over six feet tall whereas her husband was a foot shorter, and was a strict disciplinarian, especially where children were concerned. The chauffeur, called Tom, would be waiting to drive us, a carload at a time, to the village church, My grandfather had a rule that his grandchildren must only look ahead when seated in the back of the car; we were never to glance out of the side windows as we came out of the gates and through the village.
The Christmas morning service was always conducted by Canon Featherstone, a close friend of my grandfather, who appeared to me as old as Methuselah. He spoke in a curious high-pitched voice. The final hymn was usually Christians Awake and, after various social pleasantries, the younger members of the family would walk the mile home at a brisk pace; this was thought to sharpen our appetites for the luncheon which awaited us on our return.
The dining room was panelled, with a plate-shelf which ran around the whole room, and displayed a magnificent selection of Spode Italian plates and pewter salvers. The massive oak table seated 14 of us; the same familiar faces each year, with my grandmothers sister Ethel, known as Aunty Wood in a Victorian era reference to her surname, taking charge of the seating. It was my worst dread to be placed next to her, as she demanded the highest possible standards of good manners and was extremely stern.
The housekeeper, Agnes Fraser, cooked lunch. She was a bluff, plain spoken Yorkshirewoman who coped with the help of Mary the maid. The meal began with a soup, called Potage Miss Betsy, which was flavoured with diced celery and apple. Then came roast turkey, covered in slices of bacon, stuffed with sage and onions; with bread sauce and hot cranberry sauce. Vegetables arrived in huge china tureens, and gravy in matching sauce-boats.
The flaming Christmas Pudding was the highlight of the meal, because of the silver sixpences hidden within. This was served with white sauce.
After luncheon everyone adjourned to the drawing room, where glasses of port were already poured and waiting on a side table. Christmas Day afternoon was when adults all fell asleep in front of the roaring log fire and we children were expected to amuse ourselves, mostly outdoors, with adventures to the stable block, or the bothy.
Christmas Day Tea was served at 5pm and concluded with Christmas Cake, un-iced, the top being decorated with glazed preserved fruits and nuts, and accompanied by a slice of Wensleydale cheese. Teatime was also the time for present giving. My grandmother presided over this family ritual; gifts were sensible, never extravagant, but eagerly awaited.
After tea, it was time to rest, and return to our rooms to change before Supper. On Christmas Day this was served in the Morning Room, because my Grandmother, ever thoughtful, realised the staff needed time to enjoy their festivities. Supper was the same each year - Eggs en Cocotte with cream, followed by a Savoury Jelly which comprised Rabbit, Partridge and Pheasant set in aspic which was made with Madeira Wine.
Christmas Day concluded with great uncle Jimmy organising light-hearted party games in the drawing room, and perhaps a musical interlude when one of my female cousins would play the piano. Those were simple pleasures, when all petty family friction was set aside with the Christmas spirit of goodwill. The great thing about my childhood remembrance of Christmas was a feeling of family unity, security and permanence.
Memories of childhood Christmas for Will Holland, the young chef at the wonderful La Becasse in Ludlow, revolve around food. At Christmas we would all muck in and help prepare the food. We all had something to do and would prepare the Christmas meal together, which was really important for me. It helped instil a love of food and preparing food and made me appreciate what was involved in getting a meal ready.
Former High Sheriff of Shropshire Hugh Trevor-Jones and his wife Carolyn, known as Roly, are hugely popular stalwarts of Shropshire society and keen supporters of local charities, organisations and events. They have four grown up children. Here Roly shares her perfect traditional family Christmas.
I am sure there must be many Shropshire families who, like us, reach Christmas Eve with a huge sense of relief; the Christmas cards are finally written and posted just in time, we didnt quite run out of wrapping paper and enough food has been stockpiled to last well into the New Year. Most importantly, everyone has arrived home at last and we can now just enjoy this special family time together.
When the children were small our run up to Christmas was very much punctuated by various school Carol Services. Now that they have all left school, and we have moved on to the next phase, our celebrations really begin with the Carol Service at our local church, St Nicolas in Oldbury. We hugely enjoy this coming together of the community. Last year, in the freezing east of the county, we all refused to let the weather beat us and our Rector, Simon Cawdell, arrived in full mountaineering gear having trecked across the fields from nearby Bridgnorth. This year we are hoping that Bishop Alistair will not be snowed in and there is great excitement that he will be joining us.
Father Christmas always delivers his stockings on Christmas Eve. This is becoming increasingly difficult as members of the family refuse to go to bed, and in the end the threat that he may not come is still the only way we all get some sleep.
Each year we try to find ways of de-commercialising Christmas, but I fear we fail miserably. We all love giving and opening each others presents and knowing that our choices have been successful.
We always have roast turkey for Christmas Lunch and there is no question that we could possibly change from this routine. We have to have sprouts and Christmas Pudding too, although I am sure the younger members of the family only do so because it is what we always do. Other Christmas rituals include watching a James Bond film, and a family game, usually the Really Nasty Horseracing Game or Monopoly. On these occasions, family rivalry and competition is fierce, and as far as we are all concerned, the nastier the better! Christmas for us also means spending time with close family friends who also have four children, and who we have all grown up with. It is a time when we can all just be ourselves and let off steam. Last year it was decided that we should all go curling on our frozen pond, with giant chess pieces acting as impromptu curling stones, and brooms gathered from all corners of the house in order to sweep the ice.
So, for us, family is the key to Christmas and this really hasnt changed over the years. In this busy world, we all value this time together even more, and are perfectly content to enjoy the simpler things in life, to take stock and to recharge the batteries for the year ahead.