Christmas Shopping. London 1860

An extract taken from “For Every Lie” by J E Seaward

The Christmas tree in Mme Goosen's shop window

The Christmas tree in Mme Goosen’s shop window.


‘Violet, I have to do some Christmas shopping, why don’t you come? The shop windows are bursting with beautiful things, sparkling silver and china…’

‘What would I want with all that stuff?’ Violet raised her eyes to the ceiling and continued measuring flour into a large mixing bowl.

‘Sweets and candied fruit in beautiful boxes,’ Mary coaxed, ‘even you would like those – and you can see the Christmas tree in Mme Goosen’s window. It’s covered in silk flowers, lace and ribbon from her shop and lit up with gold candles. You must think that’s worth a look?’

‘The Atkinsons’ would have a fit if they saw us sauntering off, neglecting our duties.’

‘They’re not here!’ Mary shrugged her shoulders in protest, but the pleading twinkle in her eyes melted Violet’s heart.

‘What a soft touch you must think I am!’ complained Violet, concealing her amusement.

‘Well my concern is for you, Mrs K, having to wait another whole year before getting the chance again. You can listen to the church singers and yesterday, when I went to the post office, I saw a banner saying there’s going to be a Punch and Judy show. Let’s put on our diamonds and fur stoles and grace King Street with our honourable presence!

Violet and Mary in King Street.

Violet and Mary in King Street.

‘Heavens almighty girl! How much time do you think I can waste in one day?’ Violet could no longer contain her smile. Mary knew the battle was won and she ran upstairs to fetch her coat, reappearing bundled in enough layers to protect her from the coldest weather. While Violet got herself ready, Mary took a spade from the garden store and scraped the ice away from the steep kitchen steps.

During their walk up to King Street, arm in arm with their baskets swinging, they were overtaken by a fit of mirth and childish feelings of excitement for Christmas. Violet’s description of a scarf that she’d knitted for her husband made them howl with laughter. The shop windows and Christmas slogans could have easily tempted them to lose all their savings so they had to be strict and leave money in their purses for other things. Once their presents, paper and coloured string were bought and the Christmas sights fully taken in, they treated themselves to a hot cup of sweet coffee from a stall. They stood watching the world go by in all its very best humour; rubbing shoulders with the poor and the rich, the plain and the beautiful, the happy and the sad alike.

Hot potatoes and chestnuts

Hot potatoes and chestnuts



Before returning to St Peter’s Road, Violet bought a bag of chestnuts and two crispy skinned potatoes from a street vendor for their lunch. The smell of the chestnuts roasting on hot coals had been enticing them all morning.

‘We’ll have a bit of ham and pickles with those,’ said Violet.






My love of Christmas shopping started as a small child with the yearly trip to visit Uncle Holly in Selfridges, followed by an exciting visit to the Harrods toy department. This was not to buy… just to look, marvel, and sometimes touch the wonderful toys that would definitely not end up in our Christmas pillowcases. They were generally, and predictably, filled with a new satchel – or shoes, a comic Annual and new vests and pants.

From a victorian Christmas card

From a victorian Christmas card

There would be a couple of satsumas and an envelope containing a one pound note from great Aunty Ivy which, over many years, never went up with inflation. Grandma knitted us each a size-too-big school jumper and finally, the obligatory Cadbury’s selection box. Every year, without fail, I managed to finish the lot before the Queen’s speech and throw up. My Christmas lunch went down the pan with it!


I loved the smell of the Christmas tree, mince pies, turkey roasting with all the trimmings and sherry sipped illicitly from grown-up’s glasses.