Christmas in an Orphanage (Christmas History 1)

Monet snow

Snow at Argenteuil (Monet, 1875). Nothing to do with the article, but I like the painting!

American Quaker William Savery (1750-1804) was a notable abolitionist who travelled through Europe between 1796 and 1799.  His journal of travels was published posthumously, as A Journal of the Life, Travels, and Religious Labors of William Savery.  He spent one Christmas in Cork, Ireland, where he observed how the poor locals prepared for Christmas, and then visited an orphanage on Christmas Day:

It being near the time called Christmas, the people everywhere seemed preparing for it; most of the poor get some meat or poultry, and were bringing home on their backs plenty of broom, furze, turf, &c., to keep better fires than usual: most of the women and children were without stockings or shoes, and also many of the men at this cold season of the year, the air, being very chilling and wet. The verdure of the fields and meadows, and their prolific appearance is such as I have never seen in any country…

On the 25th, after dinner, observing a large gate near the house with an inscription, informing that the walls enclosed a foundling hospital, I felt an inclination to go over and see the children. The masters and mistresses soon collected the children, about two hundred and twenty boys and girls, from five to fourteen years old, tolerably clothed, though mostly without shoes or stockings. After a little time in silence, David Sands, Mary Dudley and myself, had something to offer to the company: many of the children were attentive and some in tears: the masters and superintendents expressed their satisfaction. The institution is principally supported by a tax on coals, and the children, when about the age of fourteen, are bound out apprentices to such business as they incline to. The city of Cork is large, and many streets wide, handsome and well built; yet a more dirty, disagreeable city to walk in, I have scarcely seen; it is built on both sides of the river Lee, and may contain one hundred thousand inhabitants.

From 1st to 24th December there will be a “Christmas History” article on Windows into History every day, exploring how people spent Christmas in the past through first-hand accounts in forgotten books.  Please come back tomorrow for the next article!

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9 Responses to Christmas in an Orphanage (Christmas History 1)

  1. Tinny Time says:

    Reblogged this on Tinny Time and commented:
    I am really excited to read all the interesting articles about Christmas on this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tinny Time says:

    This is such a great idea! I’m excited to read them! I shared this on facebook and on my blog! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting phrasing, “the time called Christmas”, as if it were an alien event.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does seem rather unusual doesn’t it, but I think it is really just down to how language has changed over the last 200 years – a more formal and verbose style of phrasing things. Thanks for your comment! 🙂


  4. Reminds me of just how well off we are. Thanks for sharing. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

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