05 December 2015

Spode, Christmas Tree and Margery Allingham

Dinner plate, Christmas Tree  1986
Spode's famous Christmas Tree pattern comes into its own at this time of year. The pattern was first introduced in 1938 specifically for the US market. To find out more about its history go to my Spode & Christmas page by clicking HERE> and follow the links.

Christmas Tree pattern enthusiast Pamela L. Poulin Ph.D., Professor Emerita, Johns Hopkins University in the US, kindly contacted me about descriptions of Christmas traditions recorded in detective stories by the much-loved author Margery Allingham.

In 'The Allingham Case-Book' in the short mystery story, 'The Snapdragon and the C.I.D.' there are several mentions of Christmas trees and parcels.

'The Brigadier and I will cut the presents from the Tree [sic] and Fiona will be handing them round.'

Later, in the same story: 'As Mr. Campion [Allingham's celebrated protagonist] glanced at the company, ranged in a full circle round a magnificent tree loaded with gifts and sparkling like a waterfall, he saw face after familiar face.'

And, a passage which I think conjures up a lovely moment,

'Armed with a swagger stick, she merely prodded parcel after parcel hanging amid the boughs while the task of detaching them was performed by the Brigadier who handed them to Fiona.'

All of these presents were wrapped as described here:

'All Mr. Taunton's little gifts are in the very distinctive black and gold paper I bought from Millie's Boutique...'

These mentions all add to the 'debate' whether presents were hung from the boughs (British) or were placed around the base (American) of the Christmas Tree! See my blogpost Spode's Christmas Tree Pattern. 

Pamela Poulin says 'In all my reading of British cosy mysteries... I've never seen presents hanging on the Christmas tree mentioned before.'

She continues, 'The debate, as I understand it was whether or not Harold Holdway [the pattern's designer] had never seen a Christmas tree or he had never seen an American Christmas tree, under which Americans piled their presents, rather than hanging presents on the tree as in the UK.

Even on Spode's Christmas Tree pattern, there are items Americans might consider 'presents': doll, bird house, pail and crackers. However, 'crackers,' if used in America, would be placed on the dinner table aside the silverware...  I find it fun to know differing traditions among various countries!'
Plate (detail) Christmas Tree with crimson border
I am grateful to Pamela Poulin for her contributions. Perhaps we will never sort out the debate between presents on the branches and presents round the base of a Christmas tree. It may all be down to family tradition and era, irrespective of continent! Born and bred in the UK (some years after the creation of Spode's Christmas Tree pattern I hasten to add) my family never put presents on the tree, only baubles and tinsel, and presents were wrapped and piled around the base...

Here is a catch-up on the latest thoughts behind the history of the Christmas tree in the home: Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), is often credited with introducing the Christmas tree into the UK but it seems this much-quoted 'fact' is not quite right and the tradition goes back further. Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of George III (1738-1820), should be the one to be credited. Queen Charlotte, incidentally, shopped at Spode visiting the London showroom in 1817 when it operated as Spode & Copeland.
Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) by Joshua Reynolds 1799
It is recorded by her biographer, Dr John Watkins, that in 1800 at Windsor Castle 'there was in the middle of the room... an immense tub with a yew tree placed in it, from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles. After the company had walked around and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets which it bore together with a toy and then all returned home, quite delighted.' 

More from other researchers to whom I am indebted, can be found HERE> then go to the bottom of the page.
Cup & saucer, Christmas Tree 1986
Backstamp 1986