Laidlaw’s Copyright Christmas and New Year Novelties

From Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, December 24th 1865.


Never do we remember having seen so many exquisite novelties as are this year offered to the public, in the shape of Christmas presents and articles for the decoration of the Christmas tree &c., &c. Mr. Laidlaw has issued, amongst a variety of novelties, “an invisible mirror”, which is a very artistically designed bijou fairy casket in which, on pulling out a drawer to its full extent, an oval top ascends and discloses a magic mirror, underneath which is a removable panoramic scene with a space for a carte de viste; emitting at the same time the choicest of the perfumes of Araby, the fragrant and the beautiful.

We have also from the same manufactory (3, Bury Court, E.C.) a profusion of recherché  Christmas tree ornaments; also three sheets of comic heads and characters of twenty-five of famed London’s funny celebrities, which will afford a Christmas party ample joking facilities for half the evening. Perfumed panoramas; photo-sachets, intended evidently from the very pretty style in which they are got up, for very special portraits only. The will-o’-the-wisp paper, with a variety of novel parlour fireworks, with sensational names; but to avoid creating any feelings of alarm in the breast of mamma, the maker guarantees them free from gunpowder and quite harmless; whilst they produce wonder in the minds of the young, and philosophical conjectures as to their peculiar component parts from papa.

A variety of comic cards, with appropriate verses, for Christmas, the New Year or Valentine’s day, have also been issued by the same house, to which ample sources of fun and amusement we now refer our readers


Christmas Pantomime at the Theatre Royal, 1842: Baron Munchausen

From the Birmingham Journal, December 31, 1842.



On Saturday, December 31, 1842, will be performed Sheridan Knowles’s admired play of the

To conclude with a new and original Comic Pantomime, which has been four months in preparation, adapted expressly for the well-known resources of this Theatre, with new Music, splendid Scenic Illusions, appropriate Costume Tricks, Properties and Transformations, founded on one of the oldest German nursery legends extant, wherein are narrated the truly wonderful and extraordinary Travels, Campaigns, Achievements, Adventures and Exploits of that renowned and illustrious individual, who gives the title to the present production, to be called


The Music of the Introduction to the Pantomime, entirely composed by Mr. A. Mellon, leader of the band; the remainder selected by him from well-known authorities, ancient and modern.
The magnificent Scenery, designed and executed by Mr. Laycock; the Machinery and Changes by Mr. T. Watson; the Tricks and Properties by Mr. Wyatt; the Dresses by Mr. Grindell.
The Pantomime written by Mr. De Hayes, and produced under his direction, who, in propounding this, the third Production of his Pen, trusts it may Prove as fortunate as its Predecessors, and Pants to Place the Present Peculiar and Particularly Pleasing Pantomime ‘Pon the Pinnacle of Public Popularity; Praying the Plaudits of the Pleasure Preferring Public,

at this Pastemious Period.

Programme of Persons Personated
Baron Munchausen [of high renown] Mr. H. Webb
[afterwards, Harlequin] Mr. W. Rignold
Hoppitikikinyjumpo [attendant imp on the Green Wizard] Mr. Atkins
Green Wizard [afterwards Clown] Mr De Hayes

Pantomimic Scenes and Incidents:
Mystic appearance of

The Green Wizard in his Magic Temple of Ice, attended by
the Demons of Hail, Frost, Snow and Sleet

Magical Thaw of Enchantment from Winter to Summer
German Village Church and Steeple


View of the Green Island
Munchausen shoots the Flying Pig!
The abode of the Queen of the Morning Star

Welcome now, the Follies of Fun and Pantomime!

*** The Theatre Royal archives can be found at the Library of Birmingham. Read more about them here:

Boxing day entertainment, 1867: the Imperial Japanese Troupe

Japanese Troupe

On Boxing Day, 1867, Birmingham welcomed the opening of ‘an important addition to the stock entertainment of the town’ with the launch of the Curzon Exhibition Hall. The ‘capacious and handsome building’ was designed to be a permanent and prominent feature in the town and the opening performance suitably spectacular. The public notice below is transcribed from Aris’s Birmingham Gazette of December 27 1867. Birmingham’s historical and extensive archive of newspapers is available to view on microfilm in the Local Studies Centre at the Library of Birmingham.

Curzon Exhibition Hall
top of Suffolk Street, Paradise Street, Birmingham

This day (Saturday) at Two p.m.,
Doors open at half past one.
THIS EVENING at half past seven p.m.,
Doors open at half past six.

from the Court of Jeddo, Japan.

Directors of the troupe, Messrs. THOMAS MAGURE and
Professor RISLEY

This is the most extraordinary assemblage of Oriental Artistes, who have at any time visited European Shores. The Company number


Selected from the Imperial Troupe attached to the Japanese Court. Artists as celebrated in their own land as the most renowned Operatic performers would be in London or Paris.
They have nothing in common with any small company of Japanese who may have preceded them in this land, and have never been seen anywhere in Great Britain. Arrangements had been made for their appearance in London, and so great was the confidence of the Directors in their power to attract the largest and most fashionable audiences that they had secured for three months, 


When the unfortunate destruction of that edifice, by fire, rendered it requisite for them to seek another place for the début.  Unable to obtain one of sufficient magnitude in the Metropolis they have engaged CURZON HALL, Birmingham, which has been newly fitted up and especially decorated for the occasion. Brought from Jeddo, in Japan, to California, by Professor Risley, the well-known Artist and Traveller, after his sojourn there of four years, being the only Imperial Artists ever permitted to leave their own land, this wonderful Corps of Artistes were taken to the Atlantic States of America. They performed at


To audiences of 3,ooo nightly, and during the past summer were the chief attraction of Paris, next to that of its Great Exhibition, being the occupants of the


For three months, and appearing to assemblages of nearly 4,000 persons at each performance. 

They will make their bow to English audiences at CURZON HALL tonight (Saturday) December the 28th in their SINGULARLY ORIGINAL, ORIENTALLY FANTASTIQUE and MARVELLOUSLY BEWILDERING ENTERTAINMENT.

Doors open each evening (during Christmas week) at half past Six, commence at Seven.

at Two o’clock

Today (Saturday) December 28th                   Monday December 30th
                       Thursday January 2nd

Admission: Side seats and promenade 1s. Centre seats, 2s.  Stalls, 3s.

*****Curzon Hall became a cinema almost as soon as moving pictures became popular (it was showing ‘Living Picture Shows’ as early as 1899). During the First World War it became a military recruitment centre, but after the war, in the later 1920s it was taken over by the Gaumont  and the building became the locally popular ‘West End Cinema’. The doors were finally closed in the late 1960s when it was demolished to make way for Alpha Tower.


Comfort and Joy: an institutional Christmas


Oliver Twist (1948): Photograph: Rex

Life in early Victorian Birmingham was hard for the majority of the community, but as the post on the visit of Charles Dickens showed, there was a great deal of hope that life for the working classes was beginning to improve. For some, life could be even harder. The extracts included from this 1854 article reveal that there was at least some attempt to bring ‘comfort and joy’ to the whole community. There is a sense of poignancy, especially I think in the brief description of the dinners he at the workhouse, as it is clear that the children ate separately to the adults.  No big Victorian family Christmas for the poor. This is in sharp contrast to the visitors ‘and their families’ who attended the General Institution for the Blind.

The various Guardians appear to have been well dined over Christmas, as some of them appear at both the asylum and the workhouse dinners!

From Aris’s Birmingham Gazette January 2nd, 1854

The asylum:

On Monday evening the inmates of the Borough lunatic asylum at Winson Green were entertained at their usual Christmas treat, under the direction of the Surgeon Superintendent, Mr. Green. The patients indulged in dancing and various games, and the proceedings were considerably enlivened by the musical performances of a band, some of whom were patients. During the evening fruit was supplied to the guests, and buns and coffee having been served the National Anthem was sung and the company separated. Amongst the visitors present were Alderman Cutler, Councillor Blews, Councillor Brookes, the Rev. T. C. Onion, Chaplain to the asylum, Mr. James Corder, Clerk to the Guardians, and others.

The Workhouse:

On Monday last the inmates were regaled with an abundance of roast beef, plum pudding and ale. The dining hall of the adults was tastefully decorated with evergreens and several emblems of loyalty. At twelve 0’clock the adults sat down to an excellent dinner, which was well served under the superintendence of Mr. Ogden, the Master and Mrs. Cooper, the Matron. A band which was provided for the occasion by the liberality of some of the Guardians, was stationed in the hall, and played a variety of lively airs, which contributed to the enjoyment of the day. In the children’s dining-hall, the boys and girls were also most plentifully regaled, and after an excellent dinner, treated with oranges, nuts &c. In the evening various parties were formed in the house, consisting of attendants and servants and the utmost harmony and good humour prevailed throughout the entire establishment. A number of Guardians were in attendance, among whom were Messrs. T. Aston, Benton, Biddle, Bowker, Blews, Brookes, Corbett, Guest, Hill, Kenton, Lingard, Mason, Maher, Parish, Poultney, Sawker, Simkiss and Street. The Rev. T. C. Onion, the Chaplain; Mr. Corder, the Clerk to the Board; Alderman Cutler, with several visitors, and some strangers, including Mr. Liversege, from Nottingham, were also present.

The General Institution for the Blind:

The pupils from the General Institution for the Blind, forty-six in number, were regaled with the usual Christmas dinner on Tuesday last; and in the evening a selection of music was given, in which twenty-three of the pupils performed upon the organ and piano-forte accompanied by the choir. The Superintendents had the pleasure of being able to report to the meeting, which consisted chiefly of the friends of the pupils, together with the Committee and their families, that three of the children had received only five months’ instruction and that nine had been taught exclusively by their fellow blind pupils.  The visitors appeared to be much gratified by the performance, especially the parents, many of whom expressed in the most grateful terms their sense of obligation to the friends of the charity.  An examination of the pupils was then conducted by the Chaplain, the Rev. George Lea, who addressed them, as well as their parents and friends, in his usual appropriate and affectionate manner, and the evening was concluded with prayer. 

A Christmas Carol for Birmingham’s working men

Christmas Carol

George Alfred Williams

On Tuesday, December 27th, 1853, Charles Dickens famously gave his first public reading of A Christmas Carol in Birmingham’s Town Hall. The event was organised as a fund raiser for the proposed Birmingham and Midland Institute, of which Dickens was to be  president and which was established by act of parliament the following year. The audience for this first reading is reported to have numbered almost two thousand ‘notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather’ and only a few left before completion of Dickens marathon three hour reading.  Dickens rendition was lively and animated and received great acclaim in the press. On Thursday 29th December, Dickens again packed the Town Hall with a reading of The Cricket and the Hearth.

A second reading of  Christmas Carol was given by its author on the following Friday (30th December), also at the Town Hall. For this presentation, Dickens had requested that the majority of the audience should comprise of the local working men and women of the town.  Before commencing the reading, Dickens gave the following short speech:

My good friends, when I first imparted to the Committee of the projected Institute my particular wish that on one of the evenings of my  readings here, the main body of my audience should be composed of working men and their families I was animated by two desires: first by the wish to have the  great pleasure of meeting you face to face at this Christmas time and accompany you myself through one of my little Christmas books; and second by a wish to have an opportunity of stating publicly in your presence and in the presence of the Committee, my earnest hope that the Institute will from the beginning recognise one great principle – strong in reason and justice – which I believe to be essential to be essential to the very life of such an institution. It is – that the working men shall, from the first unto the last,  have a share in the management of an institution which is designed for his benefit, and which calls itself by his name. I have no fear here of being misunderstood – of being supposed to mean too much in this. If there was ever a time when any one class could of itself do much for its own good and for the welfare of society, that time is past. It is in the fusion of different classes without confusion; in the bringing together of employers and employed; in the creating of a better common understanding among those whose interests are identical, who depend upon each other, who are vitally essential to each other and who never can be in unnatural antagonism without deplorable results, that one of of the chief principles of a Mechanics Institute should consist. In this world a great deal of the bitterness among us arises from an imperfect understanding of one another. Erect in Birmingham a great Educational Institution – properly educational – educational of the feelings as well as the reason – to which all orders of Birmingham men contribute; in which all orders of  Birmingham men meet; wherein all orders of Birmingham men are faithfully represented – and you will erect a Temple of Concord here which will be a model edifice to the whole of England…You will judge for yourselves if I promise too much for the working man, when I say that he will stand by such an enterprise with the utmost of his patience, his perseverance, sense and support; that I am sure he will need no charitable aid or condescending patronage; but will readily and cheerfully pay for the advantages which it confers; that he will prepare himself in individual cases where he feels that the adverse circumstances around him have rendered it necessary; in a word, that he will feel his responsibility like an honest man, and will most honestly and manfully discharge it.

At the close of this reading, Captain Tindal took the stage to express the appreciation of the public for Dickens ‘delightful entertainment’, expressing also an awareness of Dickens ‘desire to do good for all classes’. During several rounds of applause a working man rose and proposed three cheers, with three times three, the call having been responded to with the utmost enthusiasm.

The information in this entry is taken from Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, January 2nd, 1854. Birmingham’s local newspapers are available at the Library of Birmingham on microfilm, in the Local Studies Centre.