Christmas in Spencers Wood

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With Christmas almost upon us again, the theme this time is simply Christmas.  There was a workhouse at Grazeley, which we hope to research.  Prior to 1834, Christmas day was the traditional treat for most workhouse inmates when they would receive roast beef, plum pudding, good cheese and a pint of porter (dark beer) each. But after that date, the Poor Law Union ruled that inmates were not to have any wine, beer or spirituous or fermented liquors unless ordered by the Medical Officer.

Some Unions disregarded this and celebrated Christmas in the usual way.  Despite the lack of Christmas fare the inmates were always given a day off on Christmas day, as well as Good Friday and Sunday.  Once Queen Victoria married Albert then Christmas took off in a big way with Christmas trees, cards and decorations of holly etc.  Eventually the Poor Law Commissioners relented and gave all Unions Christmas fare.  The culinary highlight was the plum pudding and the recipe for 300 people contained the ingredients of 36lbs of currants, 42lbs of sultanas, 9lbs of dates, 9lbs of mixed peel, 26lbs of flour, 16lbs of breadcrumbs, 24lbs of margarine,26lbs of Demerara sugar, 102lbs of golden syrup, 102lbs of marmalade, 144 eggs, 2lbs of mixed spice, and 13lbs of carrots.  These recipes were often published in local newpapers.  To go with the pudding, the inmates would have roast meats such as beef, veal or mutton with ale or porter.  Some places the inmates were given extras of tobacco, snuff, oranges and sweets.  After tea, which consisted of bread and butter with cake there often followed a magic lantern show.  Sometimes they would finish up with a singsong and some dancing.

In the period when Christmas fare was banned the usual diet would consist of gruel made from oatmeal, a small amount of suet, treacle, and salt or allspice.  Breakfast was usually bread and sometimes cheese as was supper also, with broth or gruel.  Lunch or dinner as it was called then, would consist of vegetables and potatoes with meat appearing only once or twice a week.  Supper was similar to breakfast and mostly bread.

There was a recipe called scrap bread pudding which has survived the years made from bread, suet or dripping, currants, sugar, ground ginger, milk and eggs.  It sounds quite nutritious but the quantities of other ingredients, compared to the bread, belies this fact.  Eggs were only used in recipes or given to invalids.  Perhaps your Christmas fare will be better than above.

Happy Christmas from all of us in the Group.

Merry Christmas