We wish you all a very merry Christmas and share a snowy scene from 200 years ago. This little watercolour appears in a lady’s commonplace book, which records the author’s travels to Scotland and the East Indies, c. 1820-1825. It is filled with beautiful sketches and watercolours of places and scenes that she had visited. Perhaps these children were playing in the Scottish snow at Christmas?
The giving of gifts has always been a priority at this time of year – and not just in modern times – as shown by the following examples from the Broadlands Archives:
In 1797, Mary, Lady Palmerston, wrote a letter from her home at Broadlands to her husband, sending a list of Christmas presents that he might buy for their children in London. The letter is dated “Saturday night, 23 Dec 1797” so this was to be a last-minute shopping spree!!
“With respect to the children’s presents, the things they would like the best I believe would be as viz. – Harry a small tool box, Fanny a small writing box, Willy the same, and Lilly a little gold necklace. If these are too expensive, then Harry a Spanish Don Quixote, Fanny the same, Willy the Preceptor [a book of instruction] and Lilly an atlas …. with a clasp. They know nothing of your intention but we were supposing that if we were to have the offer of presents, what we should all like.
I will not trouble you to buy any thing for me except some shoes and a book which I shall write to Walsh about – without you see a nice plated nutmeg grater which would be a great treasure.”
The list gives an insight into the characters of Mary and the children. (Was the “nutmeg grater” the fashionable gift of the day?!) And we all know how difficult it is to buy the perfect present – and keep it a secret at the same time!
Twenty years later, the question of Christmas presents was also on the mind of Emily, Countess Cowper, (who later married the third Viscount Palmerston). This time it was her brother, Frederick Lamb, who had been charged with the shopping:
“My dearest Fred. I got a letter from you today and a large collection of cards, some very pretty, and last week I received a very pretty gold cup, the saucer of which puzzled us a great deal. We could not think what it was meant to represent till by daylight next day we saw the reflection in the gold. Thank you for all these things. I am sorry George sent my letter of commissions after you and that you should have taken any trouble about it for they were really not things I absolutely wanted but I could not let people go to Paris and return empty handed. I thought it was too good an opportunity to let escape and was obliged to sit down and think what I could want, however, if they come I shall be very glad to have them and particularly the ormoulu candlestick: three candles is handsomer but I said two because I had just then seen one of two which Lady Jersey generally uses….”
I wonder what he made of that letter from his sister – and how much trouble it had been to buy all the gifts?!
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a very happy 2018.