When Christmas Went Very, Very Wrong

By M@
When Christmas Went Very, Very Wrong

Yes, the pandemic Christmases weren't much fun. But Christmas past could also be quite bleak.

Christmas can be a time of tragedy as well as cheer. London newspaper The Illustrated Police News, which ran from 1864 to 1938, presented yuletide horrors with shocking illustrations. Here are a few of the more intriguing stories.

A carol singer shot at Clapham

Illustrated Police News, 8 January 1887

A frustrated householder takes his anger out on a noisy bunch of carol singers beneath his window. One man, Robert John Janeway, was fatally shot in the exchange. The event took place at the Rising Sun public house in Larkhall Lane, Clapham. The building still stands, but is no longer a pub. The incident recalls Hogarth's 'Enraged Musician' print.

Attempted murder at a Christmas party

Illustrated Police News, 4 January 1896.

An argument between two brothers-in-law almost spilled over into murder during a Christmas party in Goring-on-Thames. The gunman narrowly missed the bagatelle-playing merry-makers, smashing a mirror behind.

Christmas fire tragedies

Illustrated Police News, 4 January 1896

The same edition reports on an horrific incident in Birmingham. A seven-year-old boy was burned to death after his dressing gown caught fire. The illustrator doesn't hold back, showing the boy aflame beside the Christmas tree, his mother unable to save him.

Illustrated Police News, 9 January 1897

In an era of billowy clothing and open-flames, scenes like the one above were all too common. Mrs Sarah Uridge was burned to death following the explosion of a paraffin lamp at her home in Clerkenwell.

And on to a more light-hearted side...

Illustrated Police News, 31 December 1898

The Victorian era was perhaps more racy than many would credit, if this 'Christmas Frolic' illustration is anything to go by. In a scene straight out of Benny Hill, a 'jolly huntsman' is whipped with holly by four maids.

Have yourself a martial little Christmas

Britannia and Eve, 1 December 1942.

What did Christmas look like during the second world war? Fashionable families might decorate their tables with this delightful barrage balloon centrepiece. The six 'realistic' sandbags hold small favours for the guests.

A sinister, stingy gift

Lincolnshire Echo, 8 December 1933

And finally... we're not sure who Roger was, but we're guessing he had a disappointing (and slightly sinister) Christmas in 1933.

All cuttings found in the British Newspaper Archive. (c) The British Library Board. All rights reserved.

Last Updated 01 November 2023