Once again we find ourselves in a festive season in strange times. Last year, as a bit of a diversion, we took a brief look at some of the Christmas ‘goings-on’ of Islington past in Pantos, Pageants and Puddings and we thought we’d take another dive into the Islington Local History Centre collection to find out more about Islington’s Christmas Past.
The First Christmas Card
Christmas cards are a great way to send a little Christmas cheer. Did you know that Islington has a connection to what is thought to be the first Christmas card? In 1843 John Calcott Horsley, at the behest of Henry Cole, designed the first Christmas card which featured a family at the centre raising a toast. One of these cards was sent by a “John Washbourn and his wife” of 22, Theberton Street, Islington.
The World’s Fair at the Royal Agricultural Hall
100 years ago on Friday 23rd December 1921 the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington held its 41st season of the World’s Fair. The Royal Agricultural Hall, affectionately known as the Aggie, opened in 1862 and for many years was host to a variety of events. The Aggie’s annual World’s Fair would open during the festive period with rave reviews in the Islington Gazette. “In this gigantic show of shows our borough once more lives up to its ancient title, “Merrie Islington.” and the villagers can enjoy skating and dancing, feasting and frivolity, innocent fun and care-free laughter to their hearts’ content.” (Islington Gazette, December 24, 1921)
Find out more about the Aggie in our online presentation “Meet Me at the Aggie”
A Christmas Ghost Story
On Christmas night 1898 the Islingtonian James Chant claimed to have encountered a figure in white at St Mary’s churchyard. He, along with another person who he bumped into who had also come across the ghost, attempted to chase the figure to no avail. However, not disheartened, he declared he had every intention of returning to resume the hunt. His letter, sent to the Islington Gazette on 30th December 1898, was published in the daily edition on the 3rd January 1899.
…A Christmas Hoax
The ghost sighting at St Mary’s caused a bit of a stir with someone writing to the Islington Gazette to assert that the ghost sighting was merely a prank played by someone running around the churchyard wearing white. The ghost sighting went on to become even more controversial as the story began to circulate and the Islington Gazette reported that a “disorderly crowd” began to gather on the Tuesday evening into the early hours of the following morning outside St Mary’s Parish Church. However, when a reporter attempted to find the originator of the ghost sighting at the given address, there appeared to be no one by the name of James Chant in residence.
Joseph Grimaldi and Mother Goose
Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) was an actor, pantomimist and clown. His style of clowning, including face make-up and colourful dress, is now what we associate with the image of a clown. He performed in many pantomimes all year round but one of his greatest successes was his performance in Harlequin and Mother Goose (or The Golden Egg), a Christmas pantomime written by Thomas Dibdin, brother of Charles Dibdin, and performed at the Theatre Royal (later Royal Opera House), Covent Garden, in 1806.
Find out more about Joseph ‘Joe’ Grimaldi
Islington has been home to a number of venues from music halls to theatres and pub theatres and we’re lucky that there are still many around today. Here’s some posters and programmes of Christmas shows of times gone by.
The Barry Manilow Christmas Tree
And to finish off this festive journey through the past here’s some photos of the “Barry Manilow Christmas Tree” that was a feature at the Lewis Carroll Library. Created by one of the librarians who obviously like him a great deal.
Islington Local History Centre and Museum wish you a safe and peaceful festive season and a happy New Year!
Researched and written by Marlin Khondoker
Islington Local History Centre (December 2021)