Atcherleys of Christmas Past, Part 2

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A world away from the privations of 20th century battlefields and POW camps, the well-to-do in early 19th century England had a wide range of delicacies from which to choose at Christmas. On 10 December 1828 Benjamin Jones of Shrewsbury, who had married Bell Atcherley of that town five years earlier, placed the following advertisement in the Salopian Journal:

Wholesale and Retail
Returns his most grateful Thanks to his Friends and the Public in general, for the very liberal Encouragement and Support he has met with since his Commencement in the above Situation; and begs Leave to inform them, that he has just received his Christmas Supply of fine, rich, new FRUIT, which consists of fine Zante Currants, large Valencia Raisins, fine Turkey Ditto, fine [Calabria?] Ditto, new Denia Ditto for Wine, fine Green Portugal Grapes, large Bunch Muscatel Raisins, fine Pulled and Flat Figs, Imperial French Plums and Prunes, Jordan and French Almonds, Lemons, and Oranges, Lemon, Orange, and Citron Candied Peel, with every other Article in the general Tea and Grocery Business, of the very first Quality …

Some sought to profit from Christmas in other ways, but fell foul of the law. In February 1894 William Owen, a grocer of Welsh Frankton in Shropshire, found himself before County Petty Sessions at Oswestry. The Justices of the Peace that day, all members of the local gentry or clergy, included Francis Robinson Hartland Atcherley. Owen was charged, by Superintendent Langford, with “selling tickets at the Frankton Club House in a lottery not authorised by Act of Parliament and called a Christmas draw.” For this offence against the Lottery Act, which had presumably taken place sometime during the previous December, he was fined one shilling, plus 6s. 6d. costs.

Frank Atcherley’s uncle David Francis Atcherley had also been a Justice of the Peace. On 20 January 1873 he sat with the Reverend C O Kenyon at the Baschurch Petty Sessions, where two of the defendants were each charged, in effect, with having had rather too merry a Christmas. Richard Jones pleaded guilty to being drunk and riotous on Christmas night and was fined 10s. and 6s. 9d. costs. George Jones meanwhile “was charged with being drunk and refusing to quit the Powis Arms, Ruyton, kept by Mrs Gorden, on the 26th December. P.C. Cole proved the case. Defendant was fined 5s., and 9s. costs, in default fourteen days’ imprisonment.”

Another example of unseemly behaviour during the season of peace and goodwill was complained of by the Reverend John Atcherley in 1805. John, who had been appointed Curate of the parish of Wednesbury in Staffordshire, found parish affairs in the firm grip of the church wardens and their ally the beadle. These men, he believed, “had been in office so long, and had become so cruel and oppressive to those whom they should protect” that they should be removed. He cited as evidence their “cruelty to a Mr. Foster, a schoolmaster” and “their barbarity to another inoffensive man, viz. the governor of the workhouse”. In a pamphlet which John had privately printed in 1806, he stated:

I returned unexpectedly to the parish, and just time enough to behold the distressed situation of the governor and his wife. On the 24th of December I returned from Shrewsbury, and on the following day, during divine service, the church wardens entered the workhouse with constables, bailiffs, and a multitude of men equally pious with themselves, and actually turned the governor and his wife, (who were sojourners in this iron-hearted land) into the snow-covered street.

Sadly, John found that challenging the status quo in Wednesbury simply brought the attentions of the church wardens upon himself. The Vicar of the parish, the Rev Alexander Bunn Haden, gave his Curate no support – according to John, Haden “seemed determined not to visit his parish” and stated “it is as much as my life is worth to come among them.” The Rev John Atcherley eventually left Wednesbury to take up the curacy of Market Drayton.

A far more charitable approach to Christmas was experienced by John Atcherley’s great grandnephew Walter Heath Atcherley in 1916. After the outbreak of the First World War, Walter (then residing at Ilfracombe in Devon) had volunteered as a Special Constable, as a member of the Volunteer Training Corps, and as Assistant Commandant of the local Voluntary Aid Detachment (or V.A.D.) Committee. In was in the latter role that Walter helped to organise a Christmas Fair to raise funds for the local V.A.D. hospital. The fair took place at Runnacleave Hall, and its successful outcome was reported on in the North Devon Journal:

There was a crowded attendance, and the stalls included all kinds of provisions—rabbits, fruit, meat, fish, vegetables, and household goods of many kinds. There were variety entertainments, competitions, illusions, palmistry, sleight of hand, and other attractions, and Mr. W. C. Hutchings, F.A.I., gave his services as auctioneer in disposing of many of the things for sale. The sale realised about £75.

The townspeople of Rhyl on the north coast of Wales, which towards the end of the 1900s included several members of the Atcherley family, also exhibited the true spirit of Christmas. On 3 January 1874 the Wrexham Advertiser reported:

Christmas Trees.—Several large Christmas trees, laden with useful and ornamental articles, were exhibited in the school-room, Wellington-road, Rhyl, on Tuesday, in aid of the funds of the new church schools and the improvements at the Ragged Schools. Mrs (Colonel) Atcherley, Mrs (Canon) Morgan, and Mrs Tudor Owen presided, and gave, in company with other ladies, much valuable property for sale. There was a large attendance of visitors, and a good sum of money realised.

Mrs (Colonel) Atcherley was Jane Louisa (nee Dickin), the second wife of Lt-Col Francis Topping Atcherley and stepmother to the Colonel’s four young children. Those children included Francis Robinson Hartland Atcherley (mentioned earlier in this article) and Catherine Emma Grace Atcherley, who was known as Grace. Grace was almost certainly the Miss Atcherley who, according to the Rhyl Journal of 4 January 1890, contributed to a “Christmas Tree and Sale of Work” at the Boys’ Schoolroom in the town on 20 and 27 December 1889. This event was held “in support of the day Schools, and the improvement and enlargement of the Church Organ”.

Colonel Atcherley’s younger brother Captain William Atcherley Atcherley also passed some of his later years in Rhyl. He is credited with writing the words for Corbet S Catty’s “Sleigh Song and Chorus” in 1879 (the song began “Light flakes of snow” but regrettably the rest of the lyrics remain a mystery to me). He also wrote the following “New Year’s ode” which was performed at a ‘Parish Gathering’ held at Rhyl Town Hall on 5 January 1888:


Hark : midnight chimes ! who’s yonder guest
The frozen pane that’s beating,
And his request in gentle tones
To enter in repeating ?
‘Tis the New Year with beaming face
His greeting hastes to bid us :
Welcome New Year, if thou dost pitch
Thy camp in peace amid us.
Welcome, if from our coasts thou scare
Depression’s leaden hue,
And commerce, agriculture, twin
Stars, reappear on view !
If a bright silver wedding on
Our Prince and Princess dawn,
And fields scarce tilled shall laugh and sing
With yellow waning corn.
If ne’er on thrones and dynasties
Ambition vaultings sit
On Danube, Drieper, Seine, Spree’s banks
With torch of war re-lit !
Such may thy omens be ! so may
Rose, shamrock, thistle meet,
Three peoples, yet one kingdom, and
One harmony complete.
W. A. A.
Xmas, 1887.

Picture credits. Holly, adapted from image of a Victorian Christmas card taken from Wikimedia Commons and in the public domain. The parish church of Wednesbury, from A History of Wednesbury, in the County of Stafford by John Nock Bagnall (1854), image in the public domain. Christmas tree, from The Christmas Tree, a Story for Young and Old (1866), image in the public domain.

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Atcherleys of Christmas Past, Part 1

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“Mrs SARAH ATCHERLEY, gave by will Thirty Pounds, to the Poor of this Parish, the Interest to be given in Bread on Christmas Day for ever” — Benefaction table, Baschurch All Saints.

Christmas is a time for giving, and that is exactly what Sarah Atcherley did through her will. Although she was referred to as Mrs Sarah Atcherley, this abbreviation for Mistress was originally used for both married and unmarried women. Sarah was, I believe, the daughter of John Atcherley and his wife Mary (Basnett), baptised at Baschurch All Saints on 28 July 1734 and buried there, aged 83, on 28 March 1818.

A report published in 1831 stated: “Sarah Atcherley gave, by Will, 30l. to the poor, the interest to be given in bread on Christmas-day … This sum is also in the Shrewsbury savings bank, and the interest, 1l., is given away in sixpenny loaves about Christmas-day.” It appears that by 1901 Sarah’s charity had been amalgamated with others to become “United Charities (Atcherley, Baker, Barnet etc.)”. Then, in 1991, charity 1004946 (Sarah Atcherley – United Charities) was removed from the Charity Commission’s register due to a further amalgamation. Hopefully Sarah’s bequest, in conjunction with other small charities established by gifts such as hers so long ago, is still benefiting people in need of support today.

Another Mrs Sarah Atcherley also made charitable gifts at Christmas time. Sarah (nee Barkley), widow of Manchester silk mercer John Atcherley, moved to Leamington in Warwickshire after her husband’s death. There, she contributed to the Police Christmas Fund, her donations (along with many others) being acknowledged by the Chief Constable in the Leamington Spa Courier in 1888 (10 shillings), 1891 (10s. 6d.) and 1896 (10 s.).

The Mr. Atcherley referred to in the following report of seasonal giving (from the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of 31 Dec 1859) was most likely Richard, brother of John and brother-in-law of Sarah Atcherley nee Barkley (though it may have been John himself):


Christmas was doubly observed in Manchester, as in most other places, in consequence of the great festival falling on Sunday. Business was almost entirely suspended on Monday, and the places of amusement were crowded both in the day and evening. The weather was mild and damp, and the streets were exceedingly dirty, in consequence of the thaw. The general prosperity and plenty, and the charitable deeds that are never forgotten at Christmas, made the chief holiday of 1859 an unusually happy one. Many ‘treats’ were given to the poor and employeés. Such as have come to our notice we record:—

A Christmas breakfast was given on Monday morning, by the kindness of numerous subscribers, to about 130 scholars of the Red-bank Ragged School, after which addresses were delivered by the Rev. J. Brown, B.A., Messrs. Jameson, Atcherly, and Councillor M’Dougall. …

Since the mid-1800s, Christmas has also been a time for sending greetings cards to friends and family. Fellow Atcherley researcher Barbara Lang has a Christmas card which was sent by Dr John Atcherley of Hawaii (son of the above-mentioned John and Sarah Atcherley). Probably sent around 1925, the card was “To dear Brother Bill & family from Jack & Mary & family, Ualapua Hospital, Pukoo P.O., Molokai I., Hawaii”.

Bill was John’s brother-in-law William Patterson, husband of John’s sister Lucy. The Pattersons had emigrated from England to Canada in 1908, and Lucy had passed away there, at Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1924. For Christmas 1900, when Lucy and her family were still living in England, her brother John had sent her, probably in addition to a card, a photo of his oldest child, Lucy’s niece Sybil Dorothy Kuliaikanuu Pai Atcherley (see copy, right).

David Francis William Atcherley, one half of the famous (or maybe notorious) Atcherley twins of the Royal Air Force, combined photograph and card for Christmas 1940. Earlier that year he had landed, unannounced, on the deck of an aircraft carrier. His plane, a Miles Magister, was wrecked when it fell down an open lift shaft. A photograph of the wreckage was the picture that adorned his Christmas cards the following December.

The exchanging of Christmas greetings was not always easy for members of the armed forces serving during World War Two, and was virtually impossible for those held as Prisoners of War. Harold Atcherley, held captive by the Japanese at Changi in Singapore, made the following entries in his diary in 1944:

24 December 44 Christmas Eve. Great excitement, not over Christmas but because we are at last to be allowed to send a 25 word cable. The first batch is due to go off today and I hope to send mine the day after tomorrow. Not a bad effort. It has taken the Red Cross three years to fix this up.

25 December 44 Christmas Day. Greeted at 9.00 am by a breakfast consisting of a pint of porridge, and sweet coconut sauce, angel on horseback (fried fish on a biscuit) and soya bean bread with lime jam, ½ pint of coffee and tea. Everybody is in great form with much coming and going with people wishing each other a happy Christmas …

Harold noted that the men were in far better spirits than they had been the year before. For lunch on Christmas Day there was “taogay soup, sweet potato pie, adzuki bean pasty, vegetable pie, savoury tart, cheese savoury and a sweet.” A “terrific meal” which left Harold “quite defeated” followed in the evening. What a contrast to normal rations, and in particular to the pitiful diet Harold and so many others had been forced to endure while working on the ‘Death Railway’.

Another Atcherley who experienced Christmas during wartime was my first cousin twice removed Samuel, who was serving with the Second Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry when the Great War began in 1914. Samuel’s Battalion, along with other units including Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), formed the 80th Brigade, which arrived in France on 21 December. The officers and men of the brigade were then billeted at Blaringhem on the 23rd.

The PPCLI war diary includes the following entry for the first Christmas Day of the First World War: “Spent morning overhauling packing of transport. Unluckily Christmas comforts not available. Very fine in morning, then misty, cold, frost.” Though ‘Christmas comforts’ were not available, the war diary of 2 Battalion KSLI shows that “Every Officer, N.C.O. and man received a Xmas Card from Their Majesties the King & Queen” on Christmas Day. Then on Boxing Day “Every Officer, N.C.O. and man received Princess Mary’s Gift” – a special tin (pictured below) containing a small selection of gifts.

Christmas 1914 was however probably soon forgotten by Samuel Atcherley and the rest of 80th Brigade. From 27 December onwards the men were engaged in digging trenches – usually in the rain.

> On to Atcherleys of Christmas Past, Part 2

Picture credits. Benefaction table at Baschurch All Saints, by the author. Sybil Dorothy Atcherley, picture courtesy of Barbara Lang. Princess Mary’s gift tin, copyright free image from Christmas Truce 1914 website.

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