2,900 copies published quarterly and delivered FREE to all households in Barrow upon Soar


Winter 2010

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Barrow Voice is published by Barrow upon Soar Community Association. Opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed by the editorial committee or the Community Association.

Barrow Community Association is a registered Charity No: 505692.

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Christmas cards: how did it all begin?

I'm sure you will all be familiar with the seemingly endless array of different Christmas cards available to us each year. That evening set aside to sit and write them out to everyone on the list, and make sure you post them on time, has become just another part of the Christmas ritual and routine for most.

Where did it all start though? You may be surprised to learn that the sending of commercially printed Christmas cards is a relatively recent phenomenon, which originated in London in 1843 with wealthy British businessman, Sir Henry Cole.

Cole was a prominent innovator in the 1800s. He modernised the British postal system, managed the construction of the Albert Hall and played a key role in both the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the inauguration of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Above all though, Cole sought to bring beauty to life, and in his spare time he ran an art shop, specialising in decorative objects for the home. In the summer of 1843, he commissioned John Calcott Horsley to design an impressive card for that year's Christmas. Cole wanted a card he could proudly send to friends and professional acquaintances to wish them a "Merry Christmas".

John Calcott Horsley, a respected illustrator of the day, took up the challenge and designed a triptych, dividing the card into three panels. Each of the two side panels depicted a good deed - clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, with the centrepiece featuring a party of adults and children with plentiful food and drink enjoying themselves. The card's message read, "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you". Merry was then a spiritual word meaning "blessed".

One thousand copies of the card were published by Joseph Cundall, the mid 19th century children's and illustrations publisher, and sold at Felix Summerly's Home Treasury Office in Old Bond Street, England for one shilling each in 1843. Neither Cole nor Horsley had any idea of the impact it would have on Britain and later in America. Even the early Christmas card manufacturers believed Christmas cards to be a fad that would soon pass. However, by 1880 their manufacture was big business, creating previously unknown opportunities for artists, writers, printers and engravers.

Of the original 1000 cards produced for Henry Cole, 12 exist today in private collections. In December 2005, one of these designs was auctioned for nearly £9,000