Frae the archives: Christmas buyin
I wis rakin aboot the British Newspaper Archive and fund a wheen columns frae the early-tae-mid 20t century anent Christmas shoppin. Thocht yese micht enjoy readin them.
In the first airticle, frae the 25 Dezember 1947 Forfar Dispatch, we hear aboot Mary Ann and the scriever gaun their Christmas shoppin. Gaun by the notices she dictates tae gae alang wi her praisents, this Mary Ann soonds like quite the character.
Chronicles of Mary Ann
I wiz trysted tae kep Mary Ann at Pool’s corner on Friday efternune at half-three for tae dae wir Christmas buyin. As it wiz akindo blawy, I joukit roond the corner ooten the wind and teetit roond and teetit roond, but feint a sign o’ her cud I see comin yont the Spoot. At lang and last, I teen a dander roond the Butter Market tae warm mysel up—and here’s her standin at Keillor’s wi a face like a month o’ rainy Sabbaths. Wrathfully she telt me she’d been standin there like a lost bag o’ sawdust for half-an-hoor.
“I’ve been haudin up Pool’s shop for the same period,” I answers, “and it’s your wite. You misteen the place.”
So, ye see, we wirna juist in the best o’ humours fin we set oot as understudies for Santa.
Wir first port o’ call wiz Bel McJingle’s Emporiam throwe the Pend. The cairds and books, calendars and blauds o’ writin-paper wir a’ ower dear for hez.
“I’m dizzy squintin at a’ thir,” she says. “C’wa tee Post Office and I’ll buy some registered envelopes and set siller tae Erchie and wee Ditie, and we’ll see efter that fat we can rake oot for Merrin and Bob and the lave.”
So we hied we doon tee Post Office and stuid in a queue. Fin wir trick cam, there wizna nae registered envelopes.
“We’ll need tae buy a postal order,” Mary Ann decides syne. So we stuid in anither queue for them. The place wiz gaein like a market. Suddenly, Mary Ann alarms the hale clamjamfry be screechin oot: “I’m daft!” Naebody argeed wi her. “Look you,” says she, “I’m the dozentest bruitess on the face ee airth.” We wan ootside afore I got the raison. “I got akindo scarifeed I’d be burglared efter you telt a’ the warld aboot me haein Erchie’s treasure lyin aboot the hoose, so Wednesday wiz a fortnicht, I teen’d doon tee bank and opened a savings accoont. The banker chiel gae’s a cheque-book and telt’s hoo tae fill in the paperies, so I’m no needin tae stand or my feet’s yarkin. Come-on hame wi me and we’ll hae rare fun.” We did.
I wrait the notices tae her dictation while she filled in the cheques. Here’s a sample o’ her Christmas mail:—
“Dear. Erchie,—Here is five bob for you. See and no’ spend it a’ in ae shop. Gin ye feel like retaliation, I cud dae wi anither parcel like yer lest ane. See and no’ lat nae sharks tak a bite o’ ye fin ye’re sweemin aboot the Reid Sea, &c.”
“Dear Wee Ditie,—Half-a-croon’s no’ muckle but it’s a’ ye merit, for the lest time the bananas wir in ye never gae’s a bite. The lick o’ the skin ye offert me wiz juist the sign o’ a fel grippy body,” &c.
The McNeedles, Lizzie Rosity-Ruits and a’ the lave o’ wir cronies got a cheque for a tanner. Their notices ran some’at like this:—
“Dear So-and-So,—I cudna get a weise-like caird nae chaiper, so I’m settin ye the siller. Gin ye think it’s no worth cashin, there’ll be a’ the mair for me, but I dinna begrudge you it.”
The only deeficulty she hed wiz that her cheque-book gaed dune afore she’d dichted aff a’ her freends. But ye never hae lang tae queue at a bank. Fin she gets the lave o’ her cheques awa, she’ll juist hae me and Bob tae sattle. Isn’t she lucky? Hers a’ dune, and me no yokit!
—J. C. R.
Meantime, this column frae the Aiberdeen Press and Jurnal, datit Seturday 19 Dezember 1925, sees oor correspondent Jeems fashed wi hivin tae gae oot Christmas shoppin whan he’d raither be at hame, warm and content…
THE LETTERS OF JEEMS.
Christmas Shopping Under Difficulties.
Dear Maister Editor,
I dinna need a calendar, or a keek a the date or contints o’ the “Daily” t’ remin’ me ’at anither Chris’mas is near. A sma’ relashun o’ Kirsty’s, in’s early teens, vrites t’ ma only twice a year. The first time is a little afore the festiv’ sizzon, fin he mak’s a p’int o’ speirin’ very kin’ly aboot m’ health; an’ the secon’ is fin he acknoledges the result o’s diplomatic hint — the reseet o’ a Chris’mas praisent. I got the first letter this week.
But that’s nae th’ only reminder I get o’ the near approach o’ Chris’mas. Ilka ‘ear Kirsty mak’s a byordnar shoppin’ expedeeshun, gaitherin’ in aboot mair or less sootabel gifts for her freen’s an’ relatives, an’, weather an’ health permittin[’,] I’ve aye t’ gyang wi’r t’ pey for the stuff, an’ ack as a kin o’ porter.
It’s a humeeliatin’ bizness weel awat, espeeshally for a J.P. an’ a reglar peyer o’ sooper-tax. Sma’ winner ’at I gey af’an try t’ riggle oot o’t. This ’ear I struck oot in a nyow direckshun. “Kirsty,” said I, “Fit need ye fash yersel’ aboot trailin’ doon the toon for praisents? I read i’ the peypers th’ ither day ’at the first prize in a whist drive was a year’s hairdressin’ free. Foo nae offer the same t’ some o’ yer lady freen’s?”
“Or fit aboot a year’s subscreepshun for the ‘Press an’ Journal,’ a tram, ’bus or railwye sizzon ticket, half-a-dizzen polis coort fines, a motor car leeshence, a Pittodrie sizzon ticket plus a volyume o’ ‘The Beauties o’ Patience,’ or a subsereepshun t’ th’ ‘Express’ Shelter Fun’ for Bairns?”
“Neen o’ they things wad tak’ ye doon the toon. A puckle letters an’ checks wad suffice, an’ I’m perfeckly willin’ t’ defray a’ costs.”
Kirsty, hooever, was as determin’d as ever t’ cairry oot the time-onner’t custom. She cudna bear the thocht o’ my sittin’ kwately at the fireside maleen, toastin’ m’ taes, at peace wi’ a’ the warl’. Sae there was naething for’t but t’ cairry oot ’er instruckshuns, an’ pray for the paishuns o’ Job, the wisdom o’ Solomon, an’ the bravery o’ Daniel.
Efter an oor an’ a ha’f’s weary wait till she got ’ersel’ riggit oot, the campain begood th’ ither efterneen. There was something vrang wi’ oor ain motor, sae we traivell’d b’ Suburban and Corporashun tramcars, th’ objective bein’ a shoppy ’at Kirsty fancies, far they sell jumper ’oo a bawbee cheaper nor ither fowk. She was aye carefu’ wi’ my siller, sae that’s the wye she has sae muckle o’r ain.
First she said the shop was in Keeng Street, an’ we gaed hyne oot as far’s the Brig o’ Don. Syne appawrently it was Georges Street she meant, an’ we’d back t’ gyang t’ the Queen, an’ mount a Widside car. Aboot the Fountain she suddenly mindit th’ emporyum was in Union Street. Thinks I, this is the best shoppin’ expedeeshun I’ve ever been on, an a failin’ memory has distinct advantages.
In Union Street Kirsty checkit the shop signs on ae side, an’ I did the same on the tither, but athoot sucksess. I’ th’ hinner en’ we’d t’ try a bobby—a richt obleegin’ chiel—fa direckit me t’ the place. It was on the side ’at I’d carefully examin’d, an’ Kirsty was sair tempit t’ gie me in chairge.
At last we reach’d the de-pot; the search was at an en’. An’ a mair glorious feenish t’ a mair glorious day there cudna hae been. The shop was clos’d for the Wednesda’ ha’f holiday,
Here we hae an advert frae the 10 Dezember 1925 Southern Reporter for W & A Gilbey Ltd, ventars o wine, whisky and ither spirits.
The main bit reads:
McNab on Christmas Gifting
“Gie him somethin’ he’ll really appreciate,” says Mister McNab.
Dinna fash yoursel’ aboot presents this Christmas. It’s an awfu’ job conseederin’ whit’s for this yin an’ that yin, and it’s verra likely it disna matter whit ye gie’m he’ll hae it already.
Mind ye, I’m no saying there’s onything wrang wi’, say a tie for a present but maist men already ha’e a conglomeration o’ ties and things.
Gie him somethin’ he’ll really appreciate—a bottle o’ Scotch or some rale guid Wine; somethin’ warm an’ comfortin’—somethin’ that sort o reflects your message o guidwill.
Lastlins, we hae ane o Jean Duncan’s accoonts — this ane frae 1931 — o aw the shop windaes in Arbroath at Christmastime. The airticle is lang: ower 12,000 wirds by my coont, and that’s wi a page tint frae the scan at the BNA wabsite. Sae I winna gie the hale ’hing here.
The last twa paragraphs I will gie, hooiver, as they conteen some wise wirds that we can tak tent o the day. 1931 wis a puckle year intae the Great Depression, and I dout times wisna easy. I ’hink we ken a bit aboot that the day, what wi the cost of lívin crisis and the weir in Ukrain.
Afore I haund it ower tae Jean, I’d like tae wiss aw readers o this wabsite a Christmas that’s “no sae bad”, and I’ll see yese in 2023.
ARBROATH’S ATTRACTIVE SHOP WINDOWS
Weel freends it’s no’ sae lang syne that I was hae’in a wird we ye aboot oor shop windas. That was when oor merchants held their “Shoppin’ week,” an’ noo here we are wi’ juist six shoppin’ days afore Christmas, an’ a’ wonderin’ hoo we’re tae get feenished a’ that we wad like afore the Noo Year. If I was openin’ a sale o’ work I ken fine ae thing the Chairman wad say. He wad tell the folk that I needit nae introduction. Weel, I’m no likely tae open a sale or onything else, but I can say that aboot my Christmas story aboot Arbroath’s shop windas I dinna need an introduction, nor does my story.
There’s ane o’ my assistants shud be introduced though. That’s Kirsty Tamson wha bides oot at Marywell noo, an’ has a fine knack o’ writin’ aboot what she sees. The Editor, decent stock, thocht Mysie and me wad be the better o’ a bit help, an’ it was himsel’ that askit Kirsty tae gie’s a hand. I think mysel’ he was in an awfu’ haste tae get the writin’ dune, for, of coorse, this is a busy season wi’ the newspapers. I’m telt the newsagents are needin’ a day aff on Christmas Day, an’ I’m sure they deserve it, an’ I’ll be awfu’ gled tae think the laddies and lassies tae, wha deliver the papers day efter day a’ the year roond, will get a lang lie an’ their breakfast in comfort on Christmas mornin’. Noo, here I am, no’ gettin’ startit withoot a screed aboot naething ava. Sae I maun get startit tae my job.
We a’ fower met an’ arranged whaur we were to go lookin’ at shops, so as tae divide the toon up in sic a wey as folk wad ken whaur tae look for ony shop they wantit specially in a hurry, for of coorse we expec’ oor readers tae read it a’, every word o’d. That’s speakin’ plain. The bit I was responsible for mysel’, was the High Street, frae the Abbey tae the sea, though I did it frae the sea tae the Abbey, an’ plenty o’ fine windas I cam’ across. O ay, an’ ony number o’ grand suggestions for folk that hae mair money than ideas—there’s a puckle o’ sic like—an’ there’s a lot mair o’ them. But the beauty o’ gift buyin’ frae oor shops is that they select a stock that offers nice things at sma’ cost an’ that pleases a’ body.
Up and Down the High Street
Afore I started on my shoppin’ expedeetion I had a peep ower the Protection Wall at the gulls fleein’ aboot, an’ wha shud join but my auld freend Tam. “Hoo’s a’ body gettin’ on at the fit o’ the toon?” I asked, an’ Tam, takin’ the weel-seasoned clay pipe oot o’ his moo’, replied—“Juist workin’ awa’, Jean, takin’ the guid wi the bad. We had a gey lean livin’ lest month wi’ heavy seas, an’ mony a day we didna mak’ as muckle as get sa’t tae oor kail, but things are no sae bad noo, lass, an’ we’ll get oor roast an’ bottle o’ cordial yet,[”] he adds, which nearly knockit the pencil an’ the bookie the “Herald” editor gaes tae write doon my impressions o’ the shop windas.
“Oh, that’s fat ye’re efter, Jean,[”] Tam remarked, as I pickit up the book frae a dub o’ water. “We aye look forrit here at the fit o’ the toon tae readin’ your havers aboot the shop windas.”
Juist then a voice soonds roond the corner o’ Seagate—“Come awa’ tae yer denner, Tam, an’ no’ stan’ an’ blether a’ day there tae that wumman.”
I felt richt refreshed efter the sniff o’ the caller air, an’ set aff at aince on my tour o’ the shops. I halted first at Charlie Whitton, the grocer’s, and noticed he was tae the fore again wi’ his hams an’ bacons, which he has lat doon in price. This is an awfu’ handy shop for the fisher fowks. John Stormont, the butcher, across the wey was busy when I keekit in at his winda, an’ I noticed lot o’ bonnie pork an’ temptin’ cuts for the broth pot, as weel as richt guid steak an’ stew. His hame-made steak pies shud also prove popular again this year.
I aye see an awfu lot o’ things I wad like fine for mysel’ in G. R. Thomson & Son’s big display. When it comes tae Christmastime there’s an added interest, for his kind o’ wares are the maist welcome gifts ye cud offer onybody. Juist think o’ a fireside chair, or a warm down quilt, tae mention twa things that [are] very suitable as gifts. They’re shown here in a variety o’ styles an’ colourings an’ the best bit o’ it is that they are priced at a figure far below what ye micht expect, for this is a first-class establishment as we a’ ken. Artistic decorative furnishin’s, like picters an’ ornaments an’ curtain materials are ither gifts that mak’ Christmas givin’ a rale pleasure. Next I cam’ tae John Lamb’s imposin’ corner. I often think it’s a shop that shud a’ be prood o’, for it mak’s a fine set aff tae an important point in the High Street. The Christmas fare in butcher meat, poultry, cooked specialties—a handy dish for this time o’ year or ony ither—and parteeklar, turkeys and steak an’ kidney pie for the Christmas feast.
A. Hogg, the stationer, has a fine show o’ novelties for the young fowks, an’ is specially mindfu’ o’ grown-ups wha smoke. His gramophones an’ records should also find mony admirers at this time. Carcone at his refreshmen shop next door was hustle an’ bustle. I peered in at the shop, an’ found workmen busy transfigurin’ his place into a big lunch an’ tea rooms, tae be opened for the Christmas trade.
R. Shaw manages tae please a big clientele, for wi’ the skilled help o the younger Mr Shaw, he can gie fowk genuine foot comfort. My, isn’t that worth a lot? I sometimes winder if laskit-sided buits were mair easy-like in the feet, or did fowk juist thole discomfort better? I canna say for that, but I can say Mr Shaw can mak’ ye baith braw an’ comfortable, though oor freend, J. M. Barrie o’ Thrums, said that wisna possible. I like the colour effects o’ the electric lichts here.
The windas o’ J. & R. B. Eddie, the jewellers, fairly dazzled my een. This enterprising couple o’ brithers have fairly improved the corner at the Pend by their braw electric lichts. One winda was fu’ o’ real British manufactured goods o’ silverware an’ electro plate, an’ this should be an awfu’ popular gift this Christmas. He has some awfu’ nice an’ cheap wrist watches for baith men and weemen. Hood, the bookseller, is tae the fore wi’ calendars an’ [books], Christmas cairds, an’ sic like. David Ramsay & Co., specialise in men’s wear in his doonmaist winda, an’ some richt an’ sensible gifts he offers. He was busy inside when I passed, showin’ gentleman some o’ his real home-spun claith for suits o’ claes. This is a shop that is worth the attention o’ the men. James Jack, the chemist, displays some richt bonnie things for milady’s dressin’ table. There was a set o’ Yardley’s specialties that I was fair trickit wi’ an’ minded me o’ the days when my auld auntie laid sprigs o’ lavender in her linen chest. It’s wonderfu what a fine gift can be got here at this auld-establishment.
James Soutar Limited is a household word in Arbroath an’ a’ roond, juist as it has been for three generations I suppose. This is a display like a big city store, an’ something tae appeal tae a’ kinds o’ buyers. In the men’s department[, the] ties an’ gloves an’ scarves are evidently selected wi’ care an’ carefu’ thocht for the taste o’ oor men fowk. The dressin’ robes here are very attractive an rich-lookin’, yet in nice quiet taste. Embroidered linens in bridge sets, tray and tea cloths[,] coloured guest towels, juist tae mention a few, mak’ a lovely display o’ what wad mak’ ideal gifts. Gloves, necklaces, hankies, an’ scarves are the principal features in anither department an’ what I thocht bonniest o’ a’ was the furnishin’ display — coffee tables, fireside chairs, cushions, pouffles, quilts, coffee sets, tinted glassware—that’s only a’ the best, an’ it disna suggest hoo bonnie everything is, but tak’ it frae me, it’s juist what ye wad expect at Soutar’s.
The End of The Road
My freends tell me that I have tae pet the feenishin’ touch tae what they’ve sent in, but I pointed oot tae them that this is no’ the feenish o’d a’ yet. As we find oot year efter year there’s aye a puckle mair shops that has tae be noticed. I wish I cud say that that means mair stir in the toon, but I canna truthfully say that yet. But it dis mean that even the wee shops in the back streets try tae dae their bit, wi’ pettin’ in fine new lichts, an’ deckin’ their wee windas wi’ muckle care an’ thocht as if they were a city arcade. Ay dae they. An’ they deserve some notice tae be ta’en o’ what they dae. It’s a’ helpin’ tae mak’ a cheery toon. But the Editor pets his fit doon when we get a certain length, an’ he says “That’ll ha’e tae dae for this week, Jean, my lass. Ye see we’ve a Toon Cooncil meetin’ tae report, wi’ a great lot o’ important things discussed, an’ we’ve a heap o’ ither stuff a’ needin’ a bit o’ oor valuable space, as the billies that like tae write letters tae the Editor ca’ it. […] So if it’s a’ the same,” says he, “we’ll gie them the conclusion o’ the maitter next week, an’ that’ll still be in time for Christmas, for the Herald’s gaen oot on Thursday tae gie the fowk that see tae the sendin’ oot o’ oor paperie, a kind o’ an easier time on Christmas day.”
I think that’s an awfu’ guid idea mysel. But for a’ that I’m takin’ the chance i’ the noo tae wish ye a’ a rale happy time this Christmas. Efter a’ it’s no’ in the multitude o’ oor possessions that happiness dies. Na, na, it’s that kennin’ within’ yer ain hert that ye’ve dune a turn or twa. So if some o’ us feel that we’ve raither less than usual tae spend at Christmastime this year, let’s jist try the harder tae spend it wise-like. An’ if some o’s are no sae hard hit, an’ are lucky in bein’ that, let’s dae a bit mair than usual tae help ither fowk. Sae the best o’ guid wishes tae oor merchants that mak’ Christmas shoppin’ sae interestin’ an’ enjoyable, an’ tae the shoppers wha are gaen tae dae their utmost tae mak’ this season, “no sae bad.” They say that’s a’ the length we Scots fowk get in the maiter o’ praise. Weel-a-weel, if ye ken what’s meant that’s the main thing. Noo that’s a’ for this week.