Christmas with the Greg family

Back in October you may remember that the cataloguing volunteers unearthed a letter which shed new light on the Greg family’s home life. The letter was from Mary Philips, wife of Robert Hyde Greg, to her son Robert, and explained the plans for their annual winter play.

The team have uncovered yet more of Mary’s letters at Christmas, three years later in 1843 at Norcliffe Hall.

Norcliffe Hall
Norcliffe Hall, where the Greg family celebrated Christmas in 1843

Mary’s letter is once more to her boys at boarding school, Robert and Edward, now 17 and 16 respectively. Mary missed her boys and begins by apologising for writing to them on Christmas day, rather than them receiving her letter on the 25th.  She wrote “How I long you 2 could be with us today on such a family day”.

Mary Philips
Mary Philips

Mary’s description of how the Greg’s spent their Christmas day brings images of opulence and merriment. They began the day by attending the chapel to hear a Mr Smith of Macclesfield preach, followed by a dinner with 17 people, the party composed of family and friends back at Norcliffe Hall at 5 o’clock.

Norcliffe Chapel
Norcliffe Chapel, which is still a place of worship

“As soon as dinner is ended, we are to adjourn to the library, when we shall find ‘the Tree’, & upwards, Caroline says [her daughter], of 200 presents – the tree lighted with tapers. After the Tree – tea – then games till bed time.”

I can picture them all, aglow from the light of the tree, the women in their best dresses made from silk shimmering softly, lost in a sea of expensive wrapping paper and ribbons, with the smell of pine from the tree permeating the air. Hopefully Robert Hyde Greg stopped being his grumpy self for once…

Caroline Greg in one of her finest dresses
Caroline Greg in one of her finest dresses

The festivities continued beyond Christmas, and the family performed “Henri Quatre” once more, this time without Robert and Edward, which was “followed by ‘Alfred’… in the Dining Room”.

Ally and I shrieked with laughter at the conclusion of Mary’s letter to her boys, who were also performing in a play at school;

“Please behave discreetly at your play and like gentleman – & don’t be too familiar with the young ladies, even in fun – no good comes of it, & a little Dignity and Restraint will be needed in such occupation…spend your Vacation well, honourably and as Your Parents would like to see and know.

I bet any of you that these words were read with an accompanying eye-roll from her sons and did nothing to stop these two teenage boys flirting with young ladies!

Mary further exhorted her sons to “Read your Bibles a little everyday and look within your own hearts and reflect” – reminding us that religion was still very much a part of everyday life for Victorians even during times of feasting, plays and games.


I’ll be continuing the wintry theme on the blog next week with an object from the collection that used to belong to a villager…

Remember you can still come along to our Victorian Christmas event this weekend and find out more about Christmas at Quarry Bank.


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