New Years Past
By Dr Jonathan Oates
To many the beginning of a new year means a cause for optimism and for a new start. How have years begun for Ealing people in former years? How similar and how different have they been to those known to us?
These pages will survey a number of different local new years over the past century by using newspapers, diaries and parish magazines to tell the story. We shall work backwards, decade by decade.
New Year resolutions were the topic of a newspaper report this year. Fitness and weight loss were prominent stated targets, though Councillor Julian Bell noted it would be difficult for him ‘with my busy schedule’. Fellow councillor Gary Malcolm was keen to cycle more and to play tennis. The Rev. Richardson aimed to walk more. He was also concerned about his effect in the environment and was keen to recycle more and in ‘trying to stay green’.
Above: Photo of Rev. Neil Richardson
Politically, Bell wanted to better represent his constituents. He also wanted to write a book and to have discussion about it. Richardson wanted to love more people because there was so much hatred in the world. Perhaps more prosaically, a football fan looked forward to seeing Arsenal live as many times as possible and to visit the Emirates stadium more often. James Darbon also had the modest aim ‘to keep going and put one foot in front of the other’.
Kilted Pipe Major Willie Cochrane, a Scottish piper was in action in the Ealing Broadway Centre on this day, along with two Scottish dancers. We’ll come across the Scottish theme more often as we progress down the ages.
Several local public figures were asked to give their views on the year ahead. Predictably in a general election year, Labour politicians Piara Khabra and John Cudmore both hoped for a change in government. Interestingly their opponents, Harry Greenway and Ian Green did not mention their wish for another Conservative government, though at least Green and Cudmore could agree on one thing – their aim to take more exercise.
Police chiefs stressed both the need to continue and improve their force’s relations with the communities they served. Yet one officer stated, ‘There’s nothing I’m resolving personally that I can announce to the public’. Another odd statement was from Greenway, ‘I would like to see a 50 foot Christmas tree standing outside Tesco’s at the Hoover building next year’. Representatives of religious groups in Southall hoped for peaceful relations between different community groups and the Black Sisters hoped that Southall would receive more public money.
Above: Harry Greenway, MP
Acton’s Rector, the Rev. Jacqueline Fox, looked back on 1996 as a year of achievement, with a new parish hall finally being completed and progress being made on the church’s five year plan. She hoped that 1997 would bring about ‘a sense of fulfilment, an awareness of God’s mercy and faith for the future’.
The local press reported virtually nothing about the new year this year. The only issues they seem to be interested in were astrological. There were star sign predictions by Russell Grant. Gazette reporter Chris Johnstone paid Susie Johns of Chiswick to read the tarot cards for his new year predictions. The cards showed a smiling dolphin, a man with six cups, a bundle of sticks, a green monster and a swordsman.
These cards showed that the man was in the right job and that he needed to focus on creative writing. He was currently single but romance was looming, perhaps in the spring. The card with the cups showed that his goals were achievable but he would need patience. The monster represented his patron. It would be interesting to know if any of these prophecies came true.
There seems to have been a distinct lack of new year’s day festivities this year, after the economic gloom of 1976. The headlines of the Greenford newspaper were that the Southall Horse Market had survived a government inspection, following allegations of animals being mistreated there. The 1963 Austin Princess motor car was the mayor’s third official car and it was deemed no longer fit for purpose and would be sold.
It seems that only the Greenford Caledonian Society celebrated with a new year party. This was held at Greenford Hall. Bill Merrick was dressed as Father Time with a scythe and a hooded robe. Mr Ken Glasson brought in Shelia Dallis, a new born baby and Charles Bogart played the bagpipes. Members, about 100 in all, wore kilts and sporrans. They drank toasts and ate black buns. Auld Lang Syne was sung. The Brian Hamilton Band provided additional music.
The Rev. David Bronnert of St. John’s church, Southall, spent his new year’s message in referring to the church’s ‘Good News for All’ Campaign. He wrote that if something is lost, the loser searches for it if it is a valued possession. He urged his readers to seek God’s strength, not just when it was convenient but all the time.
Above: Rev. David Bronnert (centre) on racial equality march, c.1976
This new year’s news was dominated by the threat of a bus strike and the death of an Ealing man who had just been awarded the OBE for his services to women’s health. However, there seem to have been quite a few parties to celebrate the new year. At Ealing Town Hall Councillor and Mrs McCallum, the mayor and mayoress attended a dance to support the mayor’s charities. There were more festivities in Greenford, however.
The Greenford branch of the British Legion welcomed the new year at the branch’s hall on Oldfield Lane. There were streamers, balloons and music. Someone dressed as Old Father Time was there, too, to reflect the changing times. About 250 people were there. The Greenford branch of the Caledonian Association celebrated at Greenford Hall with the Lindsay band from Scotland. They also had a Father Time figure and a doll baby. Two hundred people came along and heard the bagpiper and ate black buns and shortbread. Finally, on a non-Scottish theme, the Starlite Ballroom on Allendale Road had a party for teenagers with two bands playing.
Above: Greenford Hall, 1967
The tradition for noting new babies being born on new year’s day was alive and well by this time. Three babies had been born on 1 January 1967, two at Perivale Maternity Hospital and one at the West Middlesex.
The Acton Chamber of Commerce President’s Message for the year was not entirely upbeat, as he wrote,
'With the Wage Freeze, Credit Squeeze, Selective Employment Tax and
increased Purchase Tax we are all going to find 1967 a more difficult
trading year. It will be the Year of the Challenge. A challenge for all of
us to be more efficient, Government departments included. I
understand they still have hundreds of thousands of horse-shoes!’
The next three entries will be taken from the pages of local diarists.
In 1957 Henry St. John was living in a room in a house near Horn Lane in Acton. A middle aged bachelor civil servant he was not a happy man. Although he notes that the 31st December was ‘Hogmany, New Years Eve’ and that the next day was ‘New Year’s Day’, he makes no other reference that these were significant in any way whatsoever. On the first day of 1957 he noted:
‘It was learned that Mrs D.M. Horder [an office colleague], whom we had
not seen since Friday, fell downstairs on Saturday, spraining her ankle
and breaking two small blood vessels’.
Poor Mrs Horder!
Her woe is recorded further on the next day, as she sent a letter to state that she has badly wrenched her ankle. A medical certificate was enclosed. She would be off work for some time. The next day another female colleague was off to buy flowers for a funeral and had been off the previous day for a hospital appointment.
On the fourth day of the new year, he noted,
‘My cousin in Maldon Road, Acton, whom I do not think I have seen for
over a year, said his daughter had been away from school for six weeks
following a burn on her leg from a hot water bottle which had turned septic’.
At the weekend he was able to drag himself away from the physical woes of others and go for rambles around west London and Surrey. Even here, misery was not far away. There was a note on a door at the Acton Green public toilets stating that the bolt on one of the doors to the cubicles was broken.
Erica Ford was a young woman living with her parents in north Ealing and was certainly busy in the first week of 1947. On its first day she had seen the new year in at Gwen Griffith’s. Later she recorded being ‘Very tired’. Later she iced a cake and ‘Did usual jobs’. The first week of the new year seems to have been a busy and sociable time for her. There were only seven other people at badminton that evening so she got plenty of games in before coming home at eleven.
Above: Erica Ford
There was much preparation for a party at the church hall on the fourth. Despite Christmas being over, she decorated a cake with holly leaves, berries and mistletoe ‘it looks very nice’ she wrote and it had taken her over three hours. There was dancing at the party and a fancy dress competition. She dressed someone as Nelson and the vicar judged this was the best costume. Erica stayed to clear up but then could not get rid of one Kenneth Symmonds who had also talked to her at length on the telephone on the first day of the year. Fortunately Ruth Sladen drove her home.
On the seventh it snowed heavily, but despite that she and her mother went to Ealing on foot (having driven down on the previous day) and did some clothes shopping. She delivered some parish magazines on the way home.
On the 1st of January 1937, Scots born Alexander Kay Goodlet (1900-1956), living with his parents near Ealing Common was having a grim time of it, as per usual, writing:
‘Up for lunch to find there had been a bitter explosion over the vile
question of finance, and since then the Mater has been upset and the
Pater in one of his dreadful, difficult moods. What an atmosphere of
tragedy and defeat in a house, and on New Year’s Day’.
However, he recorded a Scottish custom which he maintained, by arriving at his Aunts’ house for tea, recording that ‘I was able to be their First Foot’, meaning that he was the first non-resident to come into their house on that year.
Goodlet’s miseries were not merely financial, trying to find money for school fees for his younger brothers, but he was also dismayed by events internationally. Civil war was raging in Spain and there was intervention by both Germany and Italy. A few days later he added ‘French and English anger is growing over the German and Italian interference in Spain and it looks as if some explosion is just a matter of time’.
Above: Alexander Goodlet
The Southall-Norwood Gazette was published on 1 January this year. The editor wrote an upbeat comment in the front page,
‘General appearances make it reasonable to take an optimistic view of
the business outlook for 1927…The New Year opens with many signs
of improvement in several of the most important industries’.
The editorial inside the newspaper was titled ‘Starting Afresh’ and stated
‘Today everybody wishes everybody else a “Happy New Year” and there
will not be many of us who will not welcome the fresh start which a
change from 1926 to 1927 brings’.
This was a reference to the General Strike in 1926 when for a few days unionised labour, especially transport workers, came out on strike in support of the miners. This was seen as potentially very dangerous for political and economic reasons, but was called off after a few days. The editor likened a new year to a child having made mistakes in their exercise book, but on turning a new page was determined not to repeat these errors. Co-operation and goodwill on the part of all were deemed essential for the country’s economic well being in the new year, concluded the editor.
A similar message appeared in the Vicar’s letter of St. Saviour’s church in Ealing, where the vicar wrote that he hoped and prayed that 1927 would be an improvement on 1926, ‘a time of stress and anxiety’ being replaced by ‘the hope of a period of peace in the industrial world which will give our country a real chance of recovery’.
Above: St. John’s Church, Ealing
There were a few other signs that the new year was being seen as a cause for joy. The Vicar of St. John’s church in Ealing preached ‘Be of good cheer. I [Christ] have overcome the world’. There was a new year’s eve carnival at Girton Hall. This included a fancy dress parade, dancing, a whist drive and the revival of an Old English dance, titled ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’ which was very popular. There was also a new year’s day concert for the patients at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Ealing. Civic dignitaries and the MP attended.
This new year’s day occurred during the Great War and so naturally, with victory not yet in sight, optimism was not high. War news took up the front page of The Acton Gazette. There was a report of Private Jeffrey, an Acton man, being killed and there was the funeral report of Miss Harman who had died in an accident in a munitions factory in Acton. An army deserter who escaped from prison stole goods in Acton. More positively an Acton man serving in the RFC had been awarded the Military Medal.
However, at the Acton Magistrates Court there was some cause for celebration. On Monday 1 January, Messrs Kemp and Winterbotham were the JPs on duty. The newspaper reported,
‘When the magistrates were informed that there were no charges to be
heard, the chairman [Kemp] reported, “It is a very happy start for the
new year. We ought to have white gloves. White gloves, perhaps,
would not be appropriate in these times. Tan ones might be more
Businesses tried to capitalise on the new year. The Ferris Brothers, with premises on Churchfield Road announced ‘Do not waste money. Buy useful presents for new year gifts’. They suggested buying some of their cutlery, vacuum cleaners, kettles and other domestic goods that they stocked.
The only other reference to the new year was that there was a concert performed at the cottage hospital for the benefit of the wounded servicemen there.