A sad Christmas story

Merry Christmas, and I hope it’s a happy season for you and those you love.

Picture of Old Father Christmas with a holly crown, yule log and wassail bowlThat’s a much older (and slightly sinister) version of Father Christmas from 1855, before he turned into jolly red-faced, red-hooded Santa.

Old Father Christmas

His yule log is strapped to his back, he’s crowned with holly, and he carries a wassail bowl. I’d guess he’s dressed in green. Very pagan.

I’m not sure I’d trust him popping down the chimney into a child’s bedroom. But then, he comes from a time when Christmas was more for the grown-ups than for children, which it became later in the 19th century.

My Christmas post this year is a short one. I’m moving away from my other Christmas tale, about the murder of Celestina Christmas by her mother.

But it’s still on a sad note.

Baby Christmas

Now that it’s the holidays, I’ve got some time for genealogical research (yayyy!). I was looking for my great-great grandfather, George Richard or Richards. He was the father of Elizabeth, who married Griffith Owen from Anglesey. As far as I know George was not a relative of my other Richards family.

George Richard was born in St Dogmael’s, also known as St Dogmell’s, on the border of Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire and sometimes in one county, sometimes in the other. It’s on the other side of the river Teifi from Cardigan/Aberteifi.

Old map of St Dogmael's, Ordnance Survey, 1885-1900

OS map, 1″, 1885-1900 *

And I came across a record in the Pembrokeshire Burials at FindMyPast. Very simple, very short, it told a sad story.

St Dogmells death record for five month old Christmas

St Dogmells burials for 1848 *

A five-month old baby called Christmas, buried on 5 May 1848. No surname. And looking at where she or he (we don’t even know that) spent their short life… it was the workhouse.

Close-up of old map showing Cardigan Union workhouse, St Dogmael's

Cardigan Union workhouse, St Dogmael’s/St Dogmell’s *

The old workhouse still stands. It’s now called Albro Castle and is a private property with holiday lets.

I checked the baptism records and couldn’t find any babies who matched.

So… no surname, no recorded parents, died at the workhouse. Would I be right in picturing a desperate woman abandoning her newly-born illegitimate child at the workhouse in late December 1847, where the staff named the little scrap after the Christmas season? Or perhaps Christmas’s mother was already in the workhouse and died in or after childbirth.

I hope this hasn’t saddened you – it just seemed such a poignant story I wanted to share it.

May you be surrounded with the love of family, friends or whoever is dear to you this festive season.

Picture credits:
Old Father Christmas: Forrester’s Pictorial Miscellany for the Family Circle, 1855, via Sherurcij for Wikimedia
Map of St Dogmell’s: OS Great Britain, 1″, 1885-1900, via National Library of Scotland
St Dogmael’s burial records: FindMyPast, Pembroke burials

About rebelhand

A Rebel Hand is: about Nicholas Delaney, Irish rebel of 1798, transported as a convict to New South Wales, roadbuilder, innkeeper and farmer. My great-great-great grandfather. Other ancestors transported to Australia, like Sarah Marshall, John Simpson and James Thomas Richards, pop up as well. This blog's also about the historical background to their lives, in England, Ireland, and Australia. My respectable Welsh ancestors sometimes get a look in.
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5 Responses to A sad Christmas story

  1. cassmob says:

    Very poignant…poor wee mite. Registers have so many sad stories within them. While the child’s name could have arisen from different circumstances, I find your theory very credible. Pity the poor mother who left her child on Christmas Day….if she’d died I feel they have given a surname.


    • rebelhand says:

      That’s an interesting point, Pauleen. It’s heartbreaking all round, for the mother and the baby, isn’t it?


      • cassmob says:

        Absolutely! I remember reading the church registers for north (or south?) Leith and seeing far too many babies abandoned on the shore. Quite horrifying and tragic and yet the poor women probably had almost no choice…disgrace, loss of work, poverty, abandonment by family and lovers.


      • rebelhand says:

        That’s pretty much it, for an unmarried (and even some married) woman. I may be fascinated by the past, but I wouldn’t like to live there. And that’s just in ‘the West’.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. kristin says:

    That is a sad story and also, as you showed, a story that could have come about in several ways but there the poor little baby ended.


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