Glamorgan’s Christmas Past

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

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As we enter the final few Christmas shopping days it’s interesting to look back at what our forebears were buying for their Christmases. The papers of Sybil Rolley of Fairwater, Cardiff (ref.: D790), held at Glamorgan Archives, shows what one family were purchasing for their Christmas celebrations.

One volume records their budgets for every Christmas from 1951 to 1965, documenting their meal and the cost of ‘extras’ such as decorations and presents! Of course it also records the increase in the price of Christmas over the period, and the variety of food and presents people received. The Christmas food recorded included, among other things, Ideal milk, tins of tongue, blancmange, and Turkish Delight. More familiar to our current Christmas shopping lists would be Cadbury’s Chocolate Biscuits, Tango and boxes of Milk Tray.

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Presents that are shown on the list include chisels, the record ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, cigarettes, and a nylon slip with a £1 note. There are none of the more familiar items we might ask for nowadays, like toys or electronics.

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This is not the only Christmas themed archive we hold. Amongst others are the records of the David Morgan Department Store (ref.: DDM), which include many photographs of the shop during the festive season. From the themed ‘Old Woman who lived in a Shoe’ of the 1930s, to the bunny girl elves and burly Santa of the 1960s, and the famous ‘wall of crackers’, we have a selection of photos documenting the history of the store at Christmas.  They illustrate the changing styles and fashions of the Christmas period while David Morgan traded in Cardiff.

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We hope all our followers have a wonderful festive season.

Merry Christmas!

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‘Humorous Entertainment of Artistic Magic’: Cardiff Naturalists’ Society Supporting the War Effort

One of the more usual items in the records of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society held at the Glamorgan Archives is a poster (28cm by 43cm) with accompanying postcard size flyers advertising an afternoon of ‘Humorous Entertainment of Artistic Magic including Sleight of Hand, Novel Magical Effects and Oriental Magic’. To be held at the Cory Hall in Cardiff, on January 6 1919 at 2pm, the show was to be provided by Mr Douglas Dexter, ‘The well-known entertainer of London’. In addition, ‘musical items’ were to be provided by Mr Shapland Dobbs’ Party.

Poster

While the subject matter covered by the lectures provided by the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society was wide and varied, this was, without a doubt, a new departure for a Society created for the study of the natural sciences. The explanation was provided on the back of the flyers.

Ticket

Ticket reverse

This invitation is issued by the members of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society who desire to give a pleasant afternoon to members of the Forces who happen to be in Cardiff.

Although the war had ended with the Armistice of 11 November 1918, there were thousands of men and women serving in the armed forces waiting to be demobilised. In January 1919 Cardiff was a major hub for troops returning to south Wales. There were also a number of military hospitals in the town and the surrounding area. The Cardiff Naturalists’ Society was clearly looking to play its part in helping to provide entertainment for the armed forces. The concert may also have been a contribution to ‘Gratitude Fortnight’, a series of events organised by the Mayor of Cardiff, in January 1919, to reward the troops and raise money for charities including the King’s Fund for Disabled Soldiers and Sailors. The entertainment was provided free of charge for ‘Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen (whether British, Colonial or Allied). On leave or in Hospital’. The Society was anticipating a large turn-out for the Cory Hall was a much bigger venue than that used for most of its public lectures. Even so, the flyers warned that:

It is regretted that the accommodation will not permit the admission of others than men in uniform.

Dexter was indeed well known. Born Arthur Marks in Eastbourne in 1878 and a teacher by profession, Douglas Dexter made his mark as both an accomplished magician and as an international class swordsman who was selected for the British team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. On the afternoon of 6 January those present would have witnessed the skills of a leading figure in the Magic Circle. Dexter’s repertoire included tricks, such as the Triple Stab, that he guarded jealously, so much so that he sued a fellow magician for allegedly stealing his ideas. The reference to artistic magic was probably to a trick that Dexter was developing at that time that involved white silk scarves being placed in an empty bowl and mysteriously emerging coloured as if they had been dipped in dye.

In the Transactions for 1919 it was reported:

… an entertainment was held at the Cory Hall under the auspices of the Society, to which all of the wounded sailors and soldiers in the Military Hospitals were invited. Over 700 attended and had a thoroughly enjoyable time [Transactions of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, Vol LII, 1919, Cardiff, 1922].

No doubt Douglas Dexter was well received by the service men and women. Dexter went on to perform in a number of Royal Variety Performances and for King George V at Windsor Castle in 1928. He was awarded the Gold Medal by the Magic Circle in 1926. For the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, however, it was back to business later in the month with a lecture by Dr A E Trueman, on 23 January 1919, ‘A Geographical Study of the Cardiff Area’.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

‘Olla podrida with Nescio quidquid Sauce’: The Transactions of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society

The Report and Transactions produced annually by the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society provide a treasure trove of material on all aspects of the natural sciences. By 1900 the Society was flourishing, with over 500 members and separate sections for archaeology, biology, geology, physics and chemistry. The reports and papers produced by the sections were collated each year and published as a record of the Society’s activities and as a contribution towards the wider understanding of the natural sciences. Bound volumes of the Report and Transactions from the creation of the Society in 1867 through to 1970 can be found on the shelves of the searchroom at Glamorgan Archives. Dipping into just one of the books (for example, the volume that draws together reports for 1897 to 1902) you are struck, immediately, by the range of material produced by members of the Society. There is something for most tastes and interests with papers on:

The Excavations carried out on the site of the Blackfriars Monastery at Cardiff

The Birds of Glamorgan

Effects of a lightning flash

The Great Flood of 1607

Notes on the Psalter of Ricemarch

Notes on the hatchery and fish hatching at Roath Park

The Geology of the Cowbridge District

Meteorological observations in the society’s district.

However, if you are looking for a recommendation why not try a piece provided by Robert Drane in Vol. 33, ‘Olla podrida with Nescio quidquid Sauce’? Drane was one of the leading lights of the Society from its creation in 1867 to his death in 1914. He was the first life member of the Society and its President in 1896-97. His interests were wide ranging and he was a regular contributor to the Report and Transactions. In the article titled ‘Olla podrida with Nescio quidquid Sauce’, first delivered as a lecture to the Biological section of the Society on 15 December 1898, he set out the findings from one of his many visits to the islands off the Pembrokeshire coast.

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In the report Drane provides detailed observations on the wildlife and the local flora and fauna that he found on the islands in June 1898. His writing is characterised by an unerring eye for detail, whether assessing the stomach contents of a Herring Gull, the physical characteristics of the Skomer vole or the varieties of Broom found on Ramsey Island. He evidently delighted in attempting to debunk existing theories and local folk lore and, in particular, the suggestion that ‘nothing can be false that’s once in print’. For example, in the paper he contends that the Skomer vole was most likely a new and distinctive species and, therefore, challenging the view of …an authority at the Natural History Museum… that they are a local variety of the common bank vole. He also concludes that the Herring Gull on Skomer prefers a diet of eggs, including Puffin eggs, rather than local reports that its staple diet was rabbit.

The core of the paper lies in his investigation of three areas. In Drane’s words he set out to:

…determine the question of the specific difference of the Ringed and Common Guillemot, to find out what the Shearwater feeds on, and obtain some specimens of a large Vole, abundant there, which I am disposed to regard as an Island variety.

He reports in detail on each subject. However, as always with Robert Drane, you are provided with much more. For example, he condemns the …rapacious egg collectors… on Grassholm, praises the owner of Ramsey for his care of the island’s population of Choughs and quizzes the keepers of the South Bishop’s lighthouse on the range and number of birds observed.

The report is also peppered with titbits of information from his observation that a Puffin on Skomer had 39 sand eels in its crop to the sighting of a Dew moth on Ramsey Island. Drane, who was 65 at the time, and his travelling companion, a fellow member and later President of the Society, J J Neale, must have amused and alarmed the local people as they edged out over cliff faces to observe Guillemot nests and carried off puff-ball fungus to be cooked and eaten. With regard to the latter he reported:

We took it home and, sliced it, fried it, and ate it for breakfast much to the doubt, if not to the disgust of the natives, who subsequently finding that we suffered no harm regarded us as gods…

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Robert Drane and Joshua John Neale, both members of Cardiff Naturalists Society, c.1900 ref.: DXIB23d

For a rich and detailed account of the wildlife on the Pembrokeshire Islands with a slice of humour and local colour ‘Olla podrida with Nescio quidquid Sauce’ is well worth a read. As for the title, Drane enjoyed setting his audience a challenge. A previous paper titled ‘A Pilgrimage to Golgotha’ had evidently left many mystified as to its possible content. Robert Drane explained that ‘Olla podrida with Nescio quidquid Sauce’ had, therefore, been carefully selected …so that everyone here tonight perfectly understands… what I am going to talk about…  Perhaps I will leave you to work it out for yourself. Drane’s explanation is at page 59 of Vol. 33. Why not have a look?

If you are interested in finding out more Robert Drane and the many and varied reports produced by the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, bound copies of the Annual Report and Transactions for 1867 to 1970 can be found on shelves of the Searchroom at Glamorgan Archives.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer