Christmas in Staffordshire, England, 1585

From A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, in which Penelope lives a divided life between the twentieth century and the fourteenth century at Thackers, a rural farmhouse where the Babington family used to live and where they planned the rescue of the doomed queen, Mary Queen of Scots. As Penelope moves through time, she senses the tragedy that is coming inevitably in the lives of the Babingtons and of Queen Mary.

“The great kitchen was decked with boughs of fir and scarlet-berried holly and many a branch of bay. From a central hook in the beam hung a round bunch of holly and mistletoe intermingled with ribbons and garlands swung in loops across the walls. ‘The Kissing Bunch’ Dame Cicely called the ball of berries and bade me beware of standing under it, for at Christmas every one, young lords and all, would clip and kiss those maids they caught under its shadow.”

“‘Come and see the Yule log Penelope!’ He showed me an enormous log which four men had dragged up to the barn. All the village would come to Thackers on Christmas Day, he said, to eat the roast beef and drink the mulled ale, and they would be asked to the hall to watch the Yule log burn and drink healths, the poorer sorts in barley ale, the farmers in sack and canary wine.
Then there would be gifts of food and woolen stuffs, and some of them would bring presents to Anthony. All would be on equality, with singing and music and play-acting, dressed in garments from the oak chest where I had found my tunic, he added.
There would be church in the morning, and then the great feast, and I must come too, he said, no slipping away.”

“The room was beautiful with leaves and berries hanging in circular wreaths and long twining garlands along the walls, symmetrical and correctly even, unlike the freedom of the boughs in the kitchen. At the far end of the room was a table laid for the Christmas Eve feast, spread with a white linen cloth and set with silver and glass and shining pewter plates, each engraved with the Babington arms. On a raised dais was a table lighted with red candles . . .
MIstress Babington smiled and signed to me to stay still, while she went on with her singing.

In that hall there stands a bed.
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring.
It’s covered all over with scarlet so red,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.
………….
Under that bed there runs a flood,
The bells of paradise I heard them ring,
The one half runs water, the other half blood,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

At the bed’s foot there stands a thorn,
Which ever blossoms since He was born,
Over that bed the moon shines bright,
Denoting our Savior was born this night.

The sweet notes of the plaintive air and the tinkling of the virginal flowed through the timeless world where I stood, and I thought it was the ringing of bells of ice high in the winter sky.”

2 thoughts on “Christmas in Staffordshire, England, 1585

  1. Really enjoying the festive look and posts.

  2. I love to read about Christmas in England or at least the England of long ago. That is beautiful. I’ve never heard of that book.

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