(December 2008) Memories of Christmas in the Sibfords during the 1920s

The Sibfords Society are currently transcribing the memoirs written by Anthony Oddie who was the grandson of Robert Brearley Oddie and his wife Elizabeth – Robert was the second Superintendent (headteacher) at Sibford Quaker School in the late 1800s. He and Elizabeth had seven children – their eldest son, Sydney and his wife Mary Ethel had two sons, Hugh and Anthony and the family used to return to their grandparents home – Sibford House (known now as West Town House on Woodway Road) to spend Christmas during the mid 1920s.

Anthony’s father ran a pharmaceutical chemist’s business in Uckfield in Sussex. Christmas Eve was the busiest day of the year and the shop did not close until 8pm. The family then caught the train to London Victoria, crossed London to Paddington Station where they took the midnight express to Birmingham. This had a ‘slip coach’ which was dropped off at Banbury – ‘a miracle to a small child as the coach stopped at Banbury station while the main express hurtled on to Birmingham without even slowing down.’

Anthony remembers and writes ‘Here we were met by Tom Kyte and his pony and trap. Hugh and I would be snuggled down on the floor under a rug for the seemingly endless drive out to Sibford. 7 miles and 8 hills…. We would arrive at Sibford House at about 3am to be met by two Aunts, Edith and Helen – in their dressing gowns and with their hair down. A warm drink and Hugh and I would be bedded down on camp beds on one of the landings but not before we had been through the ritual of a) shouting up the chimney to Father Christmas to tell him what we wanted as presents and b) hanging up our stocking at the foot of the bed. . . .’

The many presents were distributed to all the family members by the grand-children… ‘An endless procedure – or so it seemed as we would have to wait until the end before we could undo our own presents. They were mainly simple little parcels wrapped in coloured crepe or even brown paper and tied with red string.’ …No Christmas wrapping paper or sellotape in the 1920s!

‘One did not appreciate all the backroom work that had been carefully organised and efficiently executed for by one o’clock the full Christmas dinner would appear. Grandfather R.B.O. at the head of the table would carve the enormous turkey and all the trimmings would be piled high on the plates. (All the Oddies were excellent trenchermen!) Subsequently Grannie at the foot of the table would dispense the Plum pudding. Being a Quaker household this would be served “straight” i.e. with custard! Certainly no flaming brandy or brandy butter. Even for the adults Christmas dinner would be washed down with lemonade or barley water!

‘There followed another tradition – the mince pies. Each daughter and daughter in law would contribute their own home-made variety and a sample of each would be presented for Grandfather’s inspection and selection. To have one’s mince pie selected by RBO on this occasion was the equivalent. of an “Oddie Oscar”. There was one famous occasion when after a thorough inspection, he selected the one cooked by my mother. Murmurs went round the table “Ooh, he’s chosen Ethel’s.” He picked it up and parting his beard and moustache, took a large bite. The assembled company waited for his verdict, – but instead he turned livid, disentangled the mince pie from his beard and held up the offending article – the little circular tin baking dish in which it had been cooked, but which by oversight had not been removed! ’

Anthony goes on to describe the beautiful Christmas tree lit with a cascade of coloured candles which was such a hazard to the paper decorations and party frocks – the tree in the bay window was constantly ‘policed’ by two adults. He describes the Christmas tea using the best china removed from the glass fronted china cupboard in the drawing room and also his most dreaded event – the family concert…’

As we prepare for Christmas in our own homes this year we can reflect on the many traditions and customs which still hold good today whilst reflecting on the vivid memories of a young boy who used to spend Christmas with his family in Sibford. How fortunate we are that, later in his life he found the time to share his wider observations and memories of the happy times he spent in the village, at Public School, Medical School and during the Second World War. His brother Hugh, who as a Flying Officer was killed during World War II is remembered and honoured in a memorial window in Sibford Church.

Once fully transcribed, Anthony Oddie’s memoirs will be archived and provide a most valuable document, which together with the Rev Stevens diaries recount, in detail, the social history of our village in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What, I wonder will we leave for the early 21st century?

Maureen Hicks
Chair, Sibfords Society