A look at how people prepared for Christmas in the last 100 years

Many people in St Neots would have bought meat from Ekins

Many people in St Neots would have bought their turkeys from Ekins in New Street. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

What sort of Christmas presents will you be giving this year? People in Huntingdonshire are being urged to ‘shop local to help local businesses recover from the pandemic and St Neots Museum will be holding its winter craft and gift fair which showcases items made by local crafts people, but here museum curator Liz Davies looks at the history of present-giving through the ages. 


The Victorian tradition of homemade Christmas presents carried on into the First World War. The Home Companion magazine of 1916 recommended that when the "season for cotton frocks is ended, the embroidered parts of an old summer dress can be made into a teapot cosy, a tray cloth or a nightdress case".

In 1916 there was lots of advice about making your own gifts.

In 1916 there was lots of advice about making your own gifts. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

In 1921, Christmas gifts ideas were advertised on the front pages of the local paper. Mr Gordon, the St Neots watchmaker and jeweller, advertised watches as well as solid silver and silver mounted goods, while John Bull & Co. in Bedford advertised a gold ladies watch for £6.6s. 

The Market Square draper's shop, Armstrong’s (now Haart’s estate agents),  also advertised Christmas gifts in December 1921, including ladies tan leather gloves from 5s 11d (30p) and pretty crepe-de-chine jumpers in all colours only 10s 11d (55p).

Larkinson’s on the High Street (now Molby’s) claimed to have a suitable gift for any member of the family, from toys, books and fancy goods to calendars, china and glass. In their window they had a display of Meccano models built by the boys of the St Neots Meccano Club.

If you were looking for a turkey or goose for Christmas lunch then Ekins livestock auction yard in New Street held their Christmas sale on Thursday, December 15 in 1921. The prize show and sale featured bullocks, sheep, pigs, and, of course, turkeys, hens and geese.

Plum and Son, the High Street bakery and café, offered their customers   "a splendid assortment of chocolate boxes, crackers, plum puddings, Christmas cakes  and mincemeat".

Orders for Xmas poultry were also being taken.  Alternatively, the International Stores (now Costa Coffee on St Neots High Street) was selling ‘good things for old and young’ including; dates at 1/- (5p) per box, mincemeat at 1/1d (6p) per jar, Xmas cake at 2/6 (12p) and Xmas crackers from 1/- to 5/6d (5p – 27p). 

Most Read

The world had hardly recovered from the Great War when the Second World War broke out and between 1939-1945. The people of Britain were plunged into fresh crisis with limited supplies of raw materials reaching the UK and, once again, people had to reuse, recycle and repair as they had in the past.

The Government launched its ‘Make-do-and-Mend’ campaign in 1943 and locally, in June, 1945 Mrs Sew and Sew urged everyone to patch their clothes carefully to make them last longer because cotton and wool were needed for military aircraft and uniforms.

In June 1945, Mrs Sew and Sew was offering 'make do and mend' advice.

In June 1945, Mrs Sew and Sew was offering 'make do and mend' advice. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

In the Christmas edition of Woman and Home magazine in 1942 there were simple instructions for making a wooden boat as a child’s Christmas present and in summer 1944 instructions were given for making a doll's pram from a wooden packing case with a pillow and coverlet made in patchwork from fabric ‘unsuitable for salvage’. The magazine also suggested making a dolly for the pram from an old stocking. 

Woman and Home magazine gave some tips on making toys.

Woman and Home magazine gave some tips on making toys. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

Woman and Home magazine in July 1944.

Woman and Home magazine in July 1944. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

However, if your ingenuity did not stretch to remaking your old clothes into new costumes or transforming a wooden packing case then local businesses advertised Christmas presents in the local newspaper.

In December 1940, the Barratt’s store offered ‘useful’ presents including, gloves, scarves, socks, overalls and aprons, while jeweller C. C. Spencer urged locals to ’Say it with Diamonds’ with gifts priced from 30/- (£1.50) to £50. 

Christmas advertsing in St Neots in 1940.

Christmas advertising in St Neots in 1940. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

This Christmas there is no world war but instead we are facing a new global problems so we can all try to shop locally or perhaps make our gifts, or even drop into the St Neots Museum, Winter Craft and Gift Fair which runs until December 24, from 11am till 4pm. Check the museum's website for full details.