Christmas in Preston in 1957

Rationing was finally at an end and there was a mood of optimism in the air as the people of Lancashire put the finishing touches to their Christmas preparations 60 years ago. Local historian Keith Johnson reports

Friday, 22nd December 2017, 2:01 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd December 2017, 3:05 pm
Queen recording her Christmas Day message to the Commonwealth in the Long Library at Sandringham in 1957

In 1957, the Prime Minister Harold MacMillan famously declared ‘We have never had it so good’, after all,

rationing was finally over following the Second World War and there was a feeling of prosperity in the nation.

On the second weekend before Christmas there was a spell of freezing weather, but early on the frosty Sunday morning more than 1,000 young people braved the chilly air to as they queued four or five deep outside the Public Hall.

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Father Christmas at RHO Hills, Blackpool, in the last 1950s

They were there to purchase tickets for the Preston Corporation’s three Christmas and New Year dances. By mid-afternoon sold out notices would be posted for all the events. That day Mayor Coun Charles Hearn was busy at the Queen’s Hall where, in a tradition dating back to 1697, he was handing out 10s bank notes to all Prestonians over 71 years old, who also received a cup of tea in the bargain.

Throughout the days leading up to Christmas there were many more official engagements for the Mayor, with his wife the Mayoress usually by his side, including 20 Christmas parties and festive gatherings galore at the hospitals and the hostels of the town. Carol singing nurses and doctors toured the wards and trees, tinsel and trimmings were the order of the days. Even on Christmas Day the civic couple were the busiest folk in town. Their day started at 7am at the Shepherd Street Mission where they opened the doors to eager youngsters ready for a Christmas breakfast. Next stop was the Deepdale Isolation Hospital and the festive tour only concluded at 2pm at St Joseph’s Hospital in Mount Street.

Holiday dancing at the Regent Ballroom was as popular as ever with Eddie Regan and his band only having Christmas Day off as they entertained until midnight if you had a 4s ticket. While the carnival atmosphere

underneath the mistletoe was enjoyed by those who had obtained tickets for the Public Hall as Les Marsden’s band played on.

Father Christmas at RHO Hills, Blackpool, in the last 1950s

Unfortunately, that essential Christmas turkey was in short supply, although some butcher’s shops were displaying plump birds in their windows. If you wanted a freshly plucked turkey ready for the oven it would cost you over 7s, according to one trader who had got his stock of turkeys from a Goosnargh farm.

The advice from the Lancashire Evening Post’s own Christmas recipe contributor was baste that turkey in butter and hang the cost!

Christmas for the Post Office was a hectic time. On the Saturday before Christmas more than 350,000 Christmas cards were posted in Preston alone. More than 800 additional staff had been recruited for the seasonal rush and with almost 4m cards and more than 1m parcels to be handled all were kept busy. The congregation of the Parish Church, where the Vicar of Preston was Canon Gordon Fallows, enjoyed carol services, prayers and messages of hope. Indeed there was a great diversity of church services ranging from masses at midnight on Christmas Eve to communion services on Christmas morning.

The warmth of the Christian Christmas was reflected in the music charts with the Christmas number one belonging to Harry Belefonte, who sang ‘Mary’s Boy Child’.

Father Christmas at RHO Hills, Blackpool, in the last 1950s

It was the year of the Queen’s first televised Christmas message and also the first Christmas many Preston families had owned a television. For less than 10s a week you could have one installed by Telehire, which operated from Church Street. Both of the available broadcasters, the BBC and ITA, started their Christmas Day programmes with a religious service and only after the Queen delivered her Christmas message did the entertainment begin with Billy Smart’s Circus on the BBC and the film ‘Lady From Boston’ on ITA.

In the evening at peak viewing time there was a pantomime on BBC and the film ‘You Were Never Lovelier’ on ITA and then all was over with the epilogue broadcast well before midnight.

Despite the closure of the Royal Hippodrome theatre in May 1957, the local cinema scene was certainly prospering. In keeping with tradition, the cinemas were closed on Christmas Day, but for the rest of Christmas week they provided delightful entertainment.

At the Palladium Burt Lancaster was starring in ‘Gunfight At The O.K. Corral’ and across the road on Church Street a queue formed to see Maureen O’Hara in ‘Everything But The Truth’. Elsewhere in the town it was ‘Jet Pilot’ at the Gaumont, Marlon Brando starring ‘In The Teahouse Of The August Moon’ at the Empire, the Prince’s Theatre on Tithebarn Street screening ‘Botany Bay’ and the Star Cinema on Corporation Street showing ‘Union Station’ as their main feature film. Double bills were the order of the day and if you headed out of town lots more were on offer at the Empress, Carlton, Rialto, Picturedrome, Queen’s, Savoy, Lido and the Guild on Geoffrey Stree, where the mystery of the ‘Spiral Staircase’ was awaiting.

Father Christmas at RHO Hills, Blackpool, in the last 1950s

Although this was the year when the steam train to Whittingham Hospital had ceased running after 70 years of service, the enthusiasm for train sets was unaffected with the popular Hornby- Dublo, Trix and Rovex electric trains and clockwork engines on offer at Mears on Fishergate and at Merigolds and Marsdens on Church Street.

As were Meccano, Bayko and Hornby construction sets, chemistry sets, conjuring tricks and other mechanical toys. All over town there were dolls and their prams, cars and their garages, bicycles and tricycles, games like Totopoly and Monopoly and Cluedo and Lexican, all of which made a Christmas list or two for Santa to deliver.

They were also popular days for yo-yos that ended up in many a Christmas stocking along with that apple and orange.

For the man of the house chances were you got a pair of slippers or indeed socks, scarves, gloves or a tie or two, many made of

Terylene. While the adverts assured us ladies would love a nylon nightie, or a petticoat, or even a sewing box complete with tape measure and threads.

No Christmas would have been complete without its football and 1957 was no exception. This year it was a trip to Sheffield Wednesday on Christmas Day with a morning kick-off, meaning leaving home on Christmas Eve and a railway journey.

Once more the comfort of the Christmas fireside was denied as Tommy Docherty, Tom Finney and all would not be at home to ensure their youngsters hung their stockings up and to share their Christmas morning joy.

The Hillsborough match turned out to be a football feast, sharing the spoils in an eight-goal thriller served up before lunch to a crowd of more than 25,000.

On Boxing Day the two sides lined up again at Deepdale and an even bigger crowd of 28,000 saw PNE romp to a 3-0 win. It was their 10th win in 12 league matches at Deepdale. Two goals either side of the interval put Preston on top, firstly Thompson converting in a goalmouth scramble and then Finney shooting home. Thompson netted his second goal to complete the scoring.