This week I have invited Alan Power from Wycombe Library to take a look back at how the Bucks Free Press has reported Christmas events in the last 100 years and at some of the typical advertisements which featured in the newspaper.

Copies of the newspaper from the first edition in December 1856 can be viewed on microfilm at the library.

Alan writes:

The ways we celebrate Christmas have changed over the years, as a glance back through some earlier issues of the Bucks Free Press will indicate.

Twenty-five years ago (1996) Christmas was celebrated much as today.

The Bucks Free Press carried adverts for electronic gadgets, including some on their way out (pagers, anyone?).

There was also the tempting prospect of foreign holidays in the New Year.

The pantomime at the Wycombe Swan was Peter Pan, starring Robert Powell as Captain Hook, Warwick Davis as Smee and Jessica Martin as Peter Pan.

There were several pages of photos showing school nativity plays, and a feature that asked youngsters what they wanted for Christmas. Matthew Rose, 11, wanted roller blades, a hockey set and computer games. Irfan Ally, 11, as a Muslim, did not celebrate Christmas, but was a keen footballer and expected to do some training on Christmas Day (and watch TV with cousins). Poonam Kumar, 9, came from a Hindu family, but still celebrated Christmas “because everyone else does”.

She expected presents, some good food and a trip to see her gran. Nina Prentice, 11, liked spending time with her family, receiving presents and eating. She really hoped it would snow. Eleanor Porter, 5, hoped for a Mr Frosty machine, which made slushy drinks and lollies. Jason Savin, 5, wanted a Buzz Lightyear action figure and a bubble lawnmower that didn’t run out of bubbles.

I wonder if these people are still around, and if they received what they wanted.

Sixty years ago (1961) the pages of the Free Press carried many Christmas adverts (who says that the commercialisation of Christmas is a recent phenomenon?). Remember Brylcreem? The celebrity promoting this essential styling product was Denis Compton, who played cricket for England and football for Arsenal.

The pre-Christmas issue ran to just 24 pages and included a list of Christmas church services and a cinema listing which showed the Grand presenting the Warlord of Crete and Three on a Spree; the Palace presenting Petticoat Pirates, the Odeon Babes in Toyland (apparently the only nod towards the season); and the Rex showing Young at Heart and Springfield Rifle.

A children’s party at Desborough Engineering Works was nearly ruined when Father Christmas was suddenly taken ill. Fortunately, a substitute Santa was secured (I suspect with a severely twisted arm!) and the party went ahead with a feast of 200 sausage rolls, 200 sausages and 250 mince pies. I wonder if the original Father Christmas had got too much into the Christmas spirit.

The issue from December 29th reported a Christmas of bitter cold, icy winds and deep frosts: the biggest Christmas freeze-up in Buckinghamshire for more than 30 years, and probably the second coldest Yuletide of the century. Were you there?

Only Castlefield School had a photo of their nativity play, although there was also a photo of Holtspur Primary School’s ambitious production of Swan Lake.

One hundred years ago (1921) the Bucks Free Press ran to just eight pages in tiny print, still with several adverts from local shops. Although many of these have by now gone out of business, Curry’s is still going strong. Their advert shows the most popular presents of that year, including:

• Hornless gramophones (from 59/6d)

• Clockwork model train sets (from 2/3d)

• Magic lanterns (from 4/6d)

• Clockwork cats (from 4½d)

• Fretwork outfits (from 3/-)

I don’t suppose many of these would feature in Santa’s list this year!

A number of local organisations put on special events before Christmas, including jumble sales. The Phoenix Harriers held a successful Whist Drive and Dance, while the Wesley Church attracted a “large and appreciative audience to hear a thrilling lecture by the Rev. Owen S. Watkins C.M.G. C.B.E, Assistant Chaplain-General, Eastern Command, on the subject In the Ypres Salient”. I guess an event like this would maybe not feature highly on Christmas entertainment lists today.

High Wycombe was still a market town at this time, and agricultural events in December included the Seventeenth annual Christmas Show and Sale of Fat Stock at Marlow, the High Wycombe and District Fanciers’ Society 19th annual show of poultry, pigeons, rabbits and cage birds, where entries numbered between 1500 and 1600; and the Wycombe Christmas Fat Stock show, after which “It had been customary to hold an annual dinner at the White Hart Hotel in the evening, but owing to so many being unemployed, the Committee wisely decided to abandon the function for the year” It sounds like the effects of the First World War were still being felt, and Christmas would have been hard for many families.

Looking even further back, you can get a taste of the way the Tudors and Stuarts celebrated Christmas by coming along to a talk by Dr Catharine Grigg of Wycombe Museum at High Wycombe Library on Thursday December 9th, starting at 11am. You will need to book a place in advance by coming into the library, or by booking online: go to and book your place there. The cost is £3 per person, payable on the door.”