Christmas in the Dales 1914

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Just over four months into the greatest conflict the world had ever seen, Christmas 1914 may have seemed a little colder than usual for Dales families whose sons, brothers, fathers and husbands were fighting abroad.

The Matlock Visitor – the four–page broadsheet newspaper, which predated the Matlock Mercury – had been printing news of the conflict to anxious readers since the outbreak of The Great War in August that year.

The New Year’s edition of the paper published on January 2, 1915, featured articles about how various communities and groups celebrated the Christmas season.

A report of Christmas in Beeley remarked on the sombre feeling among residents.

It said: “A marked feature this year has been the absence of the usual mirth and festivity. This is due to the fact that neither local nor national life has been normal.

“The sight of so many uniformed soldiers, privates and noncommissioned officers attending the service of their old parish church on Christmas Day was most unprecedented, and was a reminder, if that was necessary, of the grave crisis through which the nation and empire are passing.”

A large advert taken out in the paper called for male residents of the Dales to make a New Year’s resolution to ‘be a man and enlist’, featuring the catch line ‘God Save the King’.

Many chose not to hold Christmas parties in light of the war, however there was some merriment to be had.

Pupils at Wirksworth Church of England Infants’ School enjoyed a festive tea before having a visit from Santa Claus, who gave them presents.

An article on the party remarked: “It is interesting to note that the usual Christmas tree was dispensed with, since it is of German origin.”

Likewise, a report into the festivities at the local workhouse showed the 138 ‘inmates’ were able to keep their chins up despite the situation.

It said: “The workhouse master and matron (Mr and Mrs Robert Atkinson) made splendid arrangements for this special occasion.”

In describing Christmas Day in the workhouse, the article said: “The Duke of Devonshire, as usual, sent a large Christmas tree from his Chatsworth estate, and it was well laden with toys for the children at the dinner, which consisted of roast beef, mutton, plum pudding, followed by mineral waters – but no beer.”

Dales people did not only give up their loved ones to the war effort, but also their homes, which they opened up to Belgian refugees.

The paper featured a letter from F C Arkwright of Willersley, which stated: “I have received the following Christmas greeting written in English, French and Flemish, and signed by all the (24) families now resident in the district - ‘The Belgian refugees of Matlock and district present to Mr F C Arkwright, president of the Belgian Refugees’ Committee, their sincere and best wishes for a Happy Christmas and New Year.’”

Mr Arkwright added: “I know it would be the wish of all who have signed theses addresses that their kind greeting should be conveyed through me to all who have given their time, money, and sympathy to their comfort.”