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Twelve Christmas memories of Castle Hedingham (Part One)

Updated: Dec 7, 2020


We hope you enjoy the first six of 12 festive memories of Castle Hedingham - uncovered by heritage researchers from the St Nicholas Church Voices from the Pews project.


With thanks to Rob Worley, Charlie Bird and Tim Nash, and to the Essex Records Office for the transcribed oral memories of Jean Beasley, David Bettinson, Michael (Joe) Brown, Don Darkins, Jackie Hart, Monica Nash and Nellie Plumb.


Wishing you a happy and safe Christmas and all wishes for 2021.


Martin Crowther (Heritage Engagement Officer) and the Voices from the Pews project team

Reproduced from Pictures from the Past, Castle Hedingham

in Old Photographs by Charlie Bird.


1. A St James’ Street Christmas window


Wrapped up warm against the cold in a thick wool coat and over-sized flat cap (but still wearing shorts in winter) little Neville Mortimer stands proudly beside the Christmas window of his father’s draper’s shop in St James’ Street, Castle Hedingham in this charming image from 1922. Perhaps he’s been involved in putting together this impressive display?


Look closely to spot a bauble and tinsel-covered Christmas tree, three angels, boxes of crackers, a toy soldier banging a drum and several dolls, all surrounded by a snowstorm of home-made paper chains.


Drapers’ sold cloth and fabrics by the yard, mainly to women, who in the days before mass-production and affordable prices, made most of their clothes at home. From the items on display in the window, it appears that as Christmas approached Mortimer’s also sold a few toys and festive items to bring in extra income.



2. Carol singing and a very confusing tune!


‘My dad was churchwarden and organist/choirmaster at St Nicholas for many years and I was in the choir from mid-1960s to the end of the 1970s. As you might imagine, I have many memories of Christmas in and around the church. There are two I thought worth sharing…

The first was carol singing. Every year the church choir went carol singing and it took 2 evenings to cover the whole village. The final stop was the castle where we were greeted by Miss Majendie (the owner) and shown into a drawing room to sing to the residents. I remember that we were always positioned in front of Christmas cards from the Queen and other members of the Royal Family.

The second memory is Tivvy. If you look in the music cupboard in the chancel, the chances are you will find a few copies of While shepherds watched their flocks by night to an unusual tune called Nativity or Tivvy for short. Tradition was that this tune was sung at the carol service, with the better-known tune used on Christmas day.

In the early days I think that most people knew what was coming on carol service evening, but as the village changed, so did the level of confusion in the congregation.


Tim Nash Former choirboy at St Nicholas Church


Did you know? While shepherds watched has had many tunes over the years. In Victorian times it was widely sung to the Methodist hymn tune Cranbrook, composed by Canterbury shoemaker Thomas Clark. Today Cranbrook is much more famous as the tune of the popular Yorkshire folk song On Ilkley Moor Bar T’at. Why not see if you can sing While Shepherd’s Watched to this tune? It’s not as easy as you think!


3. Goose Club and the pickled walnut tree!


At the Elms every Christmas time they had Goose Club… saving ready for Christmas each week… and paid out on Goose Club Night. Mum would do some sandwiches and Ned would always have jars of pickled walnuts out that he’d done from last year. He’d bring them out the following year and they’d be well pickled by them… and mum put one of the walnuts in and grew this tree. Jackie Hart, born 1952, recalling a favourite childhood memory of Christmas in Castle Hedingham. As a child she lived at 8 Crouch Green. Ned and Nellie Steadman lived at the Elms. Ned Steadman worked as a gardener at Hedingham Castle for Miss Majendie. The tree planted by her mother from a pickled walnut, was in 2012 the biggest tree in the area and providing a bumper crop of black walnuts.


This memory is transcribed from an oral history recording at the Essex Records Office. Ref SA54/44/1 Side A, Part 10.


4. The Castle Hedingham Scout Post John Ridgewell said ‘Let’s start the Scout Post. We’ve got to do it properly and we can raise an awful lot of money. Stamp collectors will buy first day covers if you do it spot on. We need proper stamps, and nice envelopes with a picture of the castle in the corner.’ We had the stamps made special. We did a special Christmas morning post for £1 if you wanted to send a card to your lover or boyfriend! We had people come from miles for our special first day covers. We designed the stamps differently each year. We opened it up for the Guides and Scouts to design a stamp.


Don Darkins, interviewed in 2011, recalling the origins of the Castle Hedingham Scout Post. This memory is transcribed from an oral history recording at the Essex Records Office. Ref SA54/29/1 Side A.



5. Father Christmas decorates the tree


Father Christmas always came and did the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve night after I’d gone to bed. I can always remember coming down the stairs in that cottage and my big dolly in a big box lying on the hearth rug.


Monica Nash, interviewed in 2011 by Gillian Jackson, recalling childhood Christmases in Swan Street, Sible Hedingham just before the Second World War. Her family moved to Castle Hedingham in 1939. This memory is transcribed from an oral history recording at the Essex Records Office. Ref SA054-63 Side A, Part 2.


6. Winter snows There have been many bleak winters in Castle Hedingham.


Edward Bingham, writing in 1894, recounts villagers memories of a frost of 1813 lasting from 27th December to the 21st of March, [and] of the heavy snow that winter of 12 feet deep in January and lying till April.


Jean Beasley, interviewed in 2004, recalled winter snow piled up well over head height. Perhaps this was during the harsh winter of 1963. I’ve been along that cemetery road [Sheepcot Road) and there was a little path that you could walk through and the rest was snow, and you wouldn’t see your head above it… and yet nothing was held up. And now there’s just a sprinkling of snow and everything stops!


Jean Beasley’s memory is transcribed from an oral history recording at the Essex Records Office. Ref SA54/11/1 Side A, Part 2.

Watch out for the next six memories coming soon....

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