Peter Holme has been trawling through The Westmorland Gazette archives to find how people decorated their homes and gave out presents in the 1800s.

ALTHOUGH Christmas trees had been around since the 7th century it was only when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were pictured in a magazine in 1846 that they started to become popular in Britain.

There was little mention of ‘Father Christmas’ and the presents, particularly to the children ,were given from the Christmas tree.

Looking through the Gazette archives I have found some descriptions of children’s Christmas and present giving in the 1800s.

(From the Gazette of 1873): “The young folk attending the day and Church Sunday schools, at Staveley, had a great treat in the shape of a Christmas Tree, prepared for them by ladies who take great interest in the children.

"The tree brought from one of Mr Buckley’s wood was set up for the occasion in the new wing of Staveley School. After the numerous tapers had been lit and the gas in the room had been turned down, the tree presented a very beautiful sight, attractive even to the elders, but doubtless like a glimpse into fairyland to the eyes of the young ones.

"After the whole assembly had sufficiently enjoyed the brilliant sight the work of distributing the presents began. This was done by lot and owing to the large number of children was rather a long process. The excitement of the children, however, their eagerness in drawing and the pleasure with which they received their presents to which each had an orange added kept the proceedings from being wearisome.”

There was another method of presenting the presents. (From the Gazette in 1880): “The Christmas Ships are even prettier than the tree, and the yard-arms, bow spit and tops of masts are good resting-places for the tapers. A common box, narrower than it is long, with two pieces of thin wood fastened at one end and joined to form the bows, answers the requirements; it wants, in addition, masts sails and a small amount of rigging; the bottom of the box must be hidden by a mimic sea of tissue paper, much crumpled. The rigging and sails may be covered with small articles and the outside of the box, or hold, will carry the larger presents.”

Meanwhile the poor of the Parish were not forgotten. (from the Gazette of 1893): “The distribution of the endowed charities at the Parish Church took place as usual during the Christmas season. On St.Thomas’ day after the morning service ‘Ianson’s Charity’ was distributed.

"Six men called Bedesmen received each the sum of twenty shillings, their age averaging 85 years. Twelve men each received a blue coat and a pair of trousers, and twelve men each received a pair of trousers and calico for three shirts whilst seventy other men each received calico for three shirts.”

It was not just the church but the lords and ladies of the manor houses also did their bit. (From the Gazette of 1824): “On Christmas Day, thirty-seven girls belonging to Lady Howard’s charity school were entertained at Levens Hall with a most excellent dinner and each presented with a new dress.

"The Hon Colonel and his Lady have gone round the neighbourhood themselves inspecting the dwellings of their indigent fellow beings and bestowing such relief as appeared necessary.”