FATHER Christmas arrived early in 1923, thanks to Lanham’s department store in Winchester Street.

On November 17, Lanhams announced in the Hants and Berks Gazette that Father Christmas would arrive by motor car at Cliddesden at 2.30 on November 21 later that afternoon, followed by visits to Fairfield Schools, Brook Street School and St John’s School, before going to his home at Lanham’s Great Xmas Bazaar, where he would arrive down his big chimney every day at 2.30 to play the piano and talk to the children.

On December 8, he visited Overton, Worting, Dummer and several other villages.

During his visits, he gave away free coupons for the lucky dip in the expectation that the children who received them would badger their parents to take them to Lanhams where they could see “The Biggest Display of Toys in the County”.

Basingstoke Gazette: Lanham's Departmental Store circa 1923Lanham's Departmental Store circa 1923 (Image: Contributed)

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The advertisement from Hallsworth of 16 Potters Lane gave a list of Christmas presents “For the Kiddies”.

They included steam engines from 2/6d and Pedal Motors from £2 2s, which in many cases was more than a week’s wages.

Timothy Whites in 4 Market Square provided a list of what they described as “Perfect Christmas Presents”, which included vacuum flasks and India Rubber Hot Water Bottles.

Basingstoke Gazette: Father Christmas's visitsFather Christmas's visits (Image: Contributed)

I hope the person who received a hot water bottle as their perfect Christmas present was truly grateful.

Entertainment in the town included dancing until midnight at the Town Hall to Broad’s Syncopated Orchestra on December 20.

Broad’s also provided the music for the dance at the Oddfellows’ Hall on Saturday, December 22, where poultry prizes were given for lucky numbers.

Basingstoke Gazette: Broad's Syncopated OrchestraBroad's Syncopated Orchestra (Image: Contributed)

On Boxing Day about 100 people went to the Grand Carnival Night Dance at Flaxfield Dance Hall where the music was provided by the Oriental Dance Orchestra.

There was a second Grand Carnival Night Dance at Flaxfield Hall on New Year’s Eve.

There were performances of J M Barrie’s comedy, Quality Street, at the Basingstoke High School for Girls on December 15 and 17.

Basingstoke Gazette: Grand Cinema, now the HaymarketGrand Cinema, now the Haymarket (Image: Contributed)

The London Street Congregational Church hosted A Christmas Mystery Play on December 19 and 20.

Thornycroft’s Entertainments Committee put on performances of the farce, Beauty and the Barge, in the Canteen on December 26, 27, 28 and 29.

On January 3 the Basingstoke Amateur Dramatic Society performed a comedy called The Cheerful Knave to a full house at St John’s School with music by the Swastika Jazz Orchestra before the play and between the acts. (If that band was still in existence in 1939, I hope it had changed its name.)

Basingstoke Gazette: Hants and Berks Gazette, 5 January 1924Hants and Berks Gazette, 5 January 1924 (Image: Contributed)

For those with completely different tastes, on December 17 the Rev. T Biltcliffe gave a talk on Demonology at the Lecture Hall of the Wesleyan Church to “a large attendance and the utmost interest was evinced in the lecture”.

Christmas Day at the workhouse started with a breakfast of boiled ham, bread and butter and tea.

Christmas Dinner was served at noon and consisted of roast beef, potatoes and swedes, followed by plum pudding and custard. apples and oranges, mince pies and sweets, and pipes and tobacco.

In the afternoon the inmates gathered round the Christmas tree where toys for the children and presents for the women were distributed.

For tea they had bread and butter and celery and cake.

From six to nine o’clock they were entertained by an amateur variety show which included a performance by Broad’s Syncopated Orchestra.

Festivities at the Cottage Hospital included a visit by Lanham’s Father Christmas on December 21 with gifts for the children, in the afternoon on Christmas Day the vicar held a short service accompanied by members of the church choir singing carols.

And on Boxing Day the patients were entertained by a concert of songs and piano solos given by six members of a local troupe called the Diamond Concert Party.

The big events of the season were the live performances by visiting companies at the Grand Cinema and Vaudeville Theatre, formerly the Corn Exchange, now the Haymarket.

In the week beginning December 24 there were two nightly performances of “Down South” a revue with “25 Coloured Performers” (“You must bring the children to see these happy folk in Plantation Pastimes”).

There were film shows during the following week. In the week beginning January 7 a company from the Metropolitan Theatre entertained children and their parents with a play called The Home of the Fairies with “Beautiful Illuminated Fairy Fountains and Artistic Posing”.

The entertainment included Fred Carr’s Novel Electrical Speciality, “The Giant Chicken, who lays Eggs and hatches Chicks whilst you wait”.

The main Christmas Attraction was the pantomime, Aladdin, during the week beginning January 14 starring May Royal in the title role “who made a big success of the same part at the Palace Theatre, Newcastle-on-Tyne last year” and featuring Fame and Fortune, “the famous comedians from the Lyceum Theatre, London”, who played the Chinese policemen.

It may seem strange to us that the pantomime, the main Christmas entertainment, didn’t arrive until the middle of January.  

But looking through earlier years’ copies of the Hants and Berks Gazette, 1923 was not unique in that respect.

The Christmas Pantomimes usually were not staged until mid-January.