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Friday, 22 December 2017

The girl who longed for a carpet sweeper, the 1980's dolls house boom and one very big Hannah Montana fan: Letters to Santa that reveal just how much childhood has changed.

  • Three long-serving Santas told the Mail about demands children make on them 
  • The tradition of writing letters to Santa can be traced back to the 13th century 
  • The Mail compares the results to show how much childhood changed over time

  • Last week, three long-serving Santas told the Mail about some of the eye-watering demands modern children make on them.
    They were left spluttering into their white beards by the unflinching requests for tablets, smartphones and laptops.
    Each struggled to remember the last time a child asked for something simple like a doll or train, far less a token gift like a satsuma.

    Three long-serving Santas told the Mail about some of the eye-watering demands modern children make on them. They were left spluttering into their white beards by the unflinching requests for tablets, smartphones and laptops
    Three long-serving Santas told the Mail about some of the eye-watering demands modern children make on them. They were left spluttering into their white beards by the unflinching requests for tablets, smartphones and laptops

    And letters can be just as blunt and mercenary. Sometimes, today’s missives to Father Christmas even feel like they have been written with the Argos catalogue by the child’s side.
    Some will even send their parents a link to an Amazon wish-list to pass on, or as one cheeky youngster (whose parents couldn’t resist posting it online) wrote: ‘Dear Santa, Please text my Dad. He has my whole list. I love you xxxx.’
    No wonder those old enough to remember get nostalgic about a less commercialised, simpler time.

    The tradition of writing letters to Father Christmas can be traced back to the 13th century, when a girl wrote a letter to the real Saint Nicholas, a bishop, who lived in Myra, now Turkey.
    In 1963, the UK Post Office stepped in to officially ‘manage’ Santa’s mailbag, and launched its Letters To Santa service, with an address at the North Pole, and special stamps that could be bought by Mummy and Daddy. It’s still going strong today, although numbers are dwindling, with most children switching to email. 
    Jenny Johnston digs into the archives — including the Royal Mail’s historic collection — to look at how letters to Santa have changed over the years and how it reflects on the ages. 
     
    Space race toys in the Sixties
    While cash-strapped, post-war children longed for an orange and a piece of coal in their stocking, the Sixties heralded a period of renewed prosperity in Britain, and children started getting a little bolder in their demands, as shown in this letter from a lad in Falmouth, Cornwall, in 1964.
    It reads: ‘Dear Father Christmas. I’m writing to ask you please to bring me a tractor you can ride on and a trailer for behind and a garage please because I have lots of cars and I would like somewhere to put them. I have a brother called Paul. He’s a baby and would like a baby walker please as he’s nearly a year old.’

    Bolder demands: This 1960s letter saw a boy in Falmouth ask for a tractor from Santa. He also asked for a baby walker for his younger brother
    Bolder demands: This 1960s letter saw a boy in Falmouth ask for a tractor from Santa. He also asked for a baby walker for his younger brother

    And not only did children write to thank their relatives for presents, but Santa, too.
    One little lad, who signed off simply as ‘Adrian’, wrote: ‘Dear Father Christmas, I was pleased to get your card. Thank you very much for all the lovely presents you brought me and my brothers. We had a lovely Christmas. Thank you, Adrian. PS: Daddy has helped me write this on my typewriter you brought me for Christmas.’
    At the old Rolls-Royce plant at Barnoldswick, Lancashire, a host of letters written by children attending Christmas parties there between the Sixties and Eighties were recently recovered. They provide a snapshot of an age when everyone was excited by the ‘space race’ between the Soviets and the U.S., culminating in the moon landing in 1969.
    Adrian sent Father Christmas a note saying thank you for all the presents he was given, including a typewriter
    Adrian sent Father Christmas a note saying thank you for all the presents he was given, including a typewriter

    Nine-year-old Michael Stansfield, of Burnley, told Santa he had been a good boy helping with the chores.
    ‘I have looked after the baby while my mother is in the shop, and I get the coal. Please may I have a Johnny Astro because you can fly it round the room and land it on the fake moon.’
    The letters also demonstrated that the Sixties was still very much an age when girls were girls and boys were boys. Gender fluidity was still a long way off. 
    In 1963, a nine-year-old girl called Dorothea politely wrote to Santa saying she would ‘very much like’ a carpet sweeper. Also ‘some dolls’ clothes and a book about ballet.’

    Dorothea politely wrote to Father Christmas asking for a carpet sweeping, some clothes for her dolls and a book about ballet
    Dorothea politely wrote to Father Christmas asking for a carpet sweeping, some clothes for her dolls and a book about ballet

    You can sense she feels she is pushing her luck when she adds one more item for Santa’s consideration. ‘And perhaps a game,’ she suggests, before signing off ‘in hope’.
    Little Iain Greenhalgh, of Barnoldswick, meanwhile asked politely: ‘Do you have any second hand bikes?’
    Ann-Marie Barnes, also of Barnoldswick, revealed how some problems for rural folk never seem to change, when she expressed concern for Santa’s reindeer, hoping they didn’t catch foot and mouth disease when they visited the county.
    Perhaps the most touching letter of all was from nine-year-old Paul Trench, who wrote to Santa. It came to light in 2015, 48 years after Paul’s death, when his brother Ray found it tucked away in an old children’s encyclopedia.

    Touching: Paul Trench, 9, sent this letter to Santa asking for Subbuteo and torch. It was found by his brother in a children's encyclopedia 48 years after his death in 1967
    Touching: Paul Trench, 9, sent this letter to Santa asking for Subbuteo and torch. It was found by his brother in a children's encyclopedia 48 years after his death in 1967

    Charitable: Children in the 1960s often sent postal orders with money for charity and also asked Santa to make Christmas happier for poorer families
    Charitable: Children in the 1960s often sent postal orders with money for charity and also asked Santa to make Christmas happier for poorer families

    Paul died in 1967 from a viral infection not long after the letter was written. Understandably, the letter was a bitter-sweet find for Ray, a retired teacher from Hartlepool in Teeside.
    ‘He had a school medical one week and was gone the next,’ said Ray, now 67. ‘He’d asked for a Subbuteo game, a “Toch’” (torch) and toy cars and buses.
    ‘It’s not fair to tar all children with the same brush, but it is fair to say expectations now are much higher. What strikes me is how modest his demands were compared to the expectations of some of the Veruca Salts of these days and the gimme, gimme, gimme culture.’ 
    World peace in the seventies 
    An era of strikes and power cuts culminated in the election of Britain’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher in 1979.
    This was also the era when every child wanted a Space Hopper (price £1.95 — about £12 today) and dreamed of getting a Chopper bike (which cost £34, a whopping £200 in today’s money, making them around the same price as a basic computer tablet nowadays). Needless to say, it was a very brave, or wealthy, child who put a Raleigh Chopper on his or her letter to Santa.

    The end of the 70s and and 80s was the era when every child wanted a Space Hopper (price £1.95 — about £12 today)
    The end of the 70s and and 80s was the era when every child wanted a Space Hopper (price £1.95 — about £12 today)

    During the Sixties, the preferred method of writing to Father Christmas was to send the letter ‘up the chimney’ (most households still relied on a coal fire).
    In the Seventies, houses began getting boiler-controlled central heating systems installed. It meant more fireplaces were bricked up, causing a lot of angst for children, who worried how Santa was going to cope without a chimney. A little girl called Jo-Anne, from South-East London, urged him: ‘Please don’t come down the chimney because they are blocked up alright’. Her letter was featured in the Daily Mail in December 1970, among a bundle written to department store Selfridges.
    The letters showed parents then, as now, found Santa a very useful tool for getting some peace and quiet. Timothy assured Santa he was a good boy because: ‘I do stay in my own bed and I do not go into Mummy in the night.’
    Sharon, from Clapham Junction, also in London, had a much bigger challenge for Santa, however, writing: ‘For Christmas I would like to see everyone in the world to stop quarrelling and make a peace pact.
    ‘Also all the little children with no mummies and daddies to find someone who loves them.’ 
    Eighties' dolls house boom  
    Affluence reached new heights in the Eighties when disposable income nearly doubled for the wealthy and increased significantly even for those on average incomes.
    Many people invested heavily in flash cars and prestige homes. Santa had a very expensive decade.

    Amy Finlayson sent this letter in 1985 asking for a dolls's house for her Sindy collection. It came to light in 2011 after new owners of her childhood home found the letter
    Amy Finlayson sent this letter in 1985 asking for a dolls's house for her Sindy collection. It came to light in 2011 after new owners of her childhood home found the letter
    Council tenants were encouraged to buy their own homes under Mrs Thatcher’s 1980 Right To Buy scheme and dinner party talk was all about property prices.
    The mood was not lost on those writing letters to Santa. In 1985, seven-year-old Amy Finlayson, from Church Stretton, Shropshire, wrote asking for a dolls’ house for her Sindy collection.
    ‘Please will you bring me a Syndy (sic) house, and some furniture because I have lots of Syndys and lots of Syndy clothes but the poor Syndys have know (sic) where to live. So could you bring them a house. Thank you very much. Love from Amy xxxx.’
    Imagine her surprise when, in 2011, Amy was contacted by the subsequent owners of her childhood home who had found her letter. Some 26 years on she got to read it again and said she remembered writing it ‘as if it was yesterday’.
    ‘I really wanted that Sindy House,’ she recalled. ‘Children often ask for lots of toys, but the house was all I wanted.’
    And did Santa deliver? He certainly did. ‘I was over the moon when I ripped the wrapping paper off that morning,’ she recalled. 
    Nineties arrive... with a beep 
    This was the era when computers started invading our homes, the World Wide Web was invented as were satellite and cable TV.
    Christmas Day started ‘beeping’ for the first time as Tamagotchis, Game Boys and Furbys topped children’s wish-lists.
    The power of television is perhaps summed up by the 550,000 letters to Santa received by Royal Mail in 1993 — a huge proportion of which were requesting pink and yellow spotted toys of Mr Blobby, Noel Edmonds’s sidekick on the hugely popular Noel’s House Party. There was one quirky letter singled out by Santa’s helpers at the Royal Mail, though. It was written by seven-year-old Heidi Lewis, from Birmingham, and tugged on the heart-strings.

    Naughty: In 1995, the story of Laura Goffin made it into the newspapers, after she wrote to Santa telling him not to bring any presents, pictured 
    Naughty: In 1995, the story of Laura Goffin made it into the newspapers, after she wrote to Santa telling him not to bring any presents, pictured 

    She wrote: ‘Dear Father Christmas, can you help my sister Samantha please? Samantha is blind and someone has stolen her calculator out of her schoolbag. Without it, she cannot do her sums. ‘Can you lpease (sic) send her one for Christmas, the one she had talked when you pressed the buttons (sic). Love from Heidi Lewis.’
    Heidi was invited to London with her family, where then Post Office chief executive Bill Cockburn presented Samantha with a calculator — and Heidi with a doll. 
    ‘Heidi has reminded us that Christmas is about giving to others,’ he said.
    It seems that sometimes children themselves question whether they deserve the gifts that Father Christmas brings. In 1995, the story of Laura Goffin made it into the newspapers, after she wrote to Santa telling him not to bring any presents.
    ‘Dear Santa, don’t come to me as I have been very naughty and I told my mummy I don’t want toys for Christmas and I don’t want Christmas. Laura. PS. Please come to Abigail and Alfie but not me.’ 
    Millennial mercenaries 
    Hannah Montanna fan: Ashley made it pretty clear she wanted presents from the Disney TV show
    Hannah Montanna fan: Ashley made it pretty clear she wanted presents from the Disney TV show
    Rude or ingenious? In 2011, the blog List25.com which compiles interesting collections of things, put together a list of the most jaw-dropping letters children had written to Santa.
    Highlights included a request from a girl called Ashley who wanted (deep breath): ‘A Hannah Montana movie, Hannah Montana clothes, Hannah Montana shoes, A Hannah Montana ear microphone, Hannah Montana CDs, Hannah Montana wig, Hannah Montana jewellery, Hannah Montana books, Hannah Montana colouring books, Hannah Montana stickers, Hannah Montana pencils, Hannah Montana backpack, Hannah Montana bed, Hannah Montana CD player, Hannah Montana pictures, Hannah Montana laptop, Hannah Montana poster, Hannah Montana journal and pen and a Hannah Montana rock star guitar.’
    We think young Ashley might have been a fan of Disney TV show Hannah Montana, which starred a still-innocent Miley Cyrus. At one point, its global audience was put at 200million viewers and it had a huge influence on young girls.
    Children were riding the crest of the wave of mobile phone usage in the UK too: 47 per cent of the UK’s youngsters owned one in 2000/2001, and with it came the ‘selfie’ generation, as phones started being added to wish-lists.
    Learned his lesson: One child asked Santa to bring batteries for his toys
    Learned his lesson: One child asked Santa to bring batteries for his toys

    Still, some children managed to keep their requests simple — and brief. One letter in this hilarious collection simply said: ‘16in bike.’
    One cheeky chap didn’t seem too bothered about what Father Christmas brought, but urged him: ‘Please would you bring our presents early?’
    While another had clearly learned his lessons from previous years. ‘Dear Santa,’ it read. ‘If you are bringing presents with batteries, bring batteries.’

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