Shops dare to close on Boxing Day!

Fred Swift's  Hairdressing Saloon in the Market Square
Fred Swift's Hairdressing Saloon in the Market Square

Back to the Past with historian Ed Grimsdale

Have a look at the December, 1859 advert for a shop.

1859 advertisement

1859 advertisement

I imagine that over a garden fence in ‘All’s Not Well Street’, Mrs Baker may have observed: “Well, I never! what a liberty!

“I was going to buy my son a pair of school shorts on Boxing Day, and now I see that Mr Mail is shutting his store.

“Whatever has happened to goood service?

“You won’t believe this, Gertrude, but I popped to my butcher’s the other evening at 7pm and his young assistant addressed me in a haughty tone: ‘Sorry, Ma’am, I’m locking up and all the meat is in the safe. Will one of Mr Town’s Best Buckingham Pork Pies do you?’”

Traditionally, Buckingham shops were ‘Open All Hours’, and you will not find opening hours mentioned in advertisements in early copies of the Buckingham Advertiser.

Hours weren’t contentious as shops kept ‘curfew hours’ governed by morning and evening rings from the church bells – ie open with the lark and close with the wren.

My picture, kindly supplied by Jennifer Manning, shows Fred Swift’s Hairdressing Saloon in the Market Square that, into the 20th century, opened until midnight on Saturdays so Buckingham men could say: “Good Morning, Vicar,” of a Sunday morning whilst being clean­shaven and smelling of Eau de Cologne.

When the Buckingham Advertiser started publishing in the 1850s, it liked to campaign.

It took an interest in the hours worked by shop assistants and printed a letter before Christmas 1855, encouraging shops to close on Boxing Day: “because holidays in Buckingham are few and far between”.

The next edition of the Advertiser reported: “On Monday (Christmas Eve) all the drapers, the banks (& etc) in Aylesbury were closed to give assistants an opportunity of visiting their friends for three successive days.”

Slowly, Buckingham’s Christmas holiday lengthened and in 1870 the Advertiser suggested: “Drapers in this town are making arrangements to close on the Monday and Tuesday following Christmas Day.

“We hope that other employers will take this matter up, and allow their assistants the same privilege.”

Three years later, shops were following the ‘Bank Holiday movement’, which ensured in 1874 that the Christmas holiday started with a market on Thursday followed by holidays until the following Monday.

The first suggestion that Thursday should have an early closing time (2pm during the summer months) came in the Buckingham Advertiser during 1887. The idea gradually caught on, and was made law in May 1912.

Most shops in Buckingham closed early on Thursdays for a century. Anthony Houghton-­Brown, the distinguished local historian of Tingewick, asked me a few days ago whether any still do so.

I wasn’t sure but felt the answer to be No.

Am I correct, I wonder?