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Family’s fond memories of Christmases past

PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 December 2019

The Wilson family Christmas celebration. Picture: Jacqueline McPake

The Wilson family Christmas celebration. Picture: Jacqueline McPake

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The fondest of memories have remained with me of the many times our family spent together at Christmas, with my grandmother and grandfather Wilson, our many aunts and uncles and cousins.

Sisters Pat, Rose, Doris, Flo,Lil and Maureen. Picture: Jacqueline McPakeSisters Pat, Rose, Doris, Flo,Lil and Maureen. Picture: Jacqueline McPake

Christmas day I would wake early, too early for the rest of our house.

I would kneel at the end of the bed looking out of the window, after scraping a smiley face in one pane and a spy-hole in another with my fingernail in the heavily frosted windowpanes.

There were no lights in any of the other houses on the other side of Connor Road, just the sulphurous glow of the street lamp on the sparkling frosted hedges and road surface.

I knew I had to wait until a light appeared in another house before getting up from my bed.

Nan and Grandad - Dick and Lil. Picture: Jacqueline McPakeNan and Grandad - Dick and Lil. Picture: Jacqueline McPake

After what appeared to be an eternity it happened, two lights shone in two different houses.

I scrambled downstairs into the back room and there they were, three heaps of presents had magically arrived from Father Christmas (I still innocently believed), one pile for my brother, one for my cousin and there in all its splendour was my magnificent spread of toys.

A beautiful walkie-talkie doll standing high in its box, books, crayons, painting sets, colouring books, a cardboard cut out doll with cut out clothes to dress her in and many, many more presents. My parents worked hard and were always making sure we had the things they never had.

After the Second World War we were a generation of children who were loved and protected.

Back row, L-R: Johnny, Dickie, Freddie, Lennie, Arthur. Bottom row, L-R: Terry and Kenny. Picture: Jacqueline McPakeBack row, L-R: Johnny, Dickie, Freddie, Lennie, Arthur. Bottom row, L-R: Terry and Kenny. Picture: Jacqueline McPake

Gradually, everyone else awoke, we had breakfast but the highlight of the day was yet to come.

We dressed in our best clothes and walked from Connor Road, down Northfield Road into Oxlow Lane, down Heathway into Alibon Road and then into Sterry Crescent.

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My father would wish a Merry Christmas to everyone we met and they would happily respond in the same manner. I used to ask him how he had so many friends!

Retired manager, Jacqueline McPake, was born and raised in Dagenham. Picture: Jacqueline McPakeRetired manager, Jacqueline McPake, was born and raised in Dagenham. Picture: Jacqueline McPake

The excitement would build as we walked up the path to No 5 Sterry Crescent, the door would open and the first thing we saw was granddad peeling a large sack of brussels, then into the back room in which the dividing doors had been opened leading into the front room.

There were family everywhere and the atmosphere was happy, full of joking, mickey taking and laughter.

My grandparents had moved from Peter's Lane in Holborn to Sterry Crescent in the early 1920s and remained there all their lives.

Twelve of their children were born in Dagenham. My mother Ellen and her sister Lil were born in Holborn and stayed with their grandmother until my mother was five, they then joined their parents.

My mother was the eldest of the 14 Wilson children: seven girls and seven boys.

I was the eldest grandchild with two of
 my uncles younger than me.

By 1952 several of the older Wilson children, like my mother Ellen, were married so there were already cousins (and two uncles) to play with.

After our meal, presents were handed to the younger children, including myself, so we had another pile of presents to open and take home.

In the evening my father would play the piano in the honky-tonk style of Winifred Attwell (playing only the black keys), some of the family would dance and some would sing along.

The flames of the candles on the Christmas tree sparkled in the corner of the room and to this day I do not know how the tree never caught fire, or how any one of us were not burned.

Although I did once trip over the hearth and sit in the fire, I was pulled out so quickly I don't think I fully realised what had happened!

You can see, from the photos taken in 1952, what a happy time it was and who would have believed that so many people could have all been seated around a table, enjoying Christmas teatime, in such a small space, but what wonderful memories we have.


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