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TIME TUNNEL: Winter walk raised ghost of Scrooge; ...A SEASONAL JOURNEY INTO OUR RICH HERITAGE.

Byline: David McGrory

THIS week DAVID McGRORY looks at a Dickens of a Christmas inspired by the author's celebrated short story

CHARLES DICKENS and Christmas go hand in hand. His short story A Christmas Carol - with Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim - is as much a part of the festivities today as it was in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Dickens himself came to Coventry on December 15, 1857, to read his haunting tale of Christmas to raise funds for the Coventry Institute in the newly- built Corn Exchange in Hertford Street.

The Coventry Institute was a society founded to promote social and intellectual welfare and had a library and reading rooms. It later became the Empire Cinema and is now the site of a sports shop.

The Coventry Standard at the time reported: "Popular as this little book is, and easily understood upon the whole by the general public, still it can only be fully appreciated by those who have had the pleasure of listening to the admirable reading of it by its author.

"He, of course, with whom the conception originated, is most competent to give full effect to its best passages and points, its pathos, its beauties, and its humour."

Among the packed and appreciative audience was Sir Joseph Paxton, Coventry MP, and famed gardener and designer of the Crystal Palace.

Dickens's reading raised pounds 50 for the institute and plans were afterwards made to present him with a Coventry-made gold watch, which took place in the city a year later.

Charles Dickens and Christmas were also in the mind of Frederick Arthur Weston, co-founder of the Association of Coventrians, who wrote in Coventry Remembered, published in 1968, of his own recollections of a Christmas past in 1913.

Fred described it as the "last Christmas of the Golden Age" before the Great War.

He worked at the office of Burbidge and Son, printers of the Coventry Standard, and described how he took himself off to a bookshop in search of one particular tome - Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

"With my precious Dickens stowed away in my pocket I returned to my desk ... where between tasks I could plunge into those living pages of an earlier Christmas.

"Christmas Eve came and the carriers (men who transported people and goods by horse and cart) who served outlying districts began to arrive, their vans gaily decorated with holly and mistletoe, and themselves wearing an infectious smile."

The carriers always stopped at certain inns and in the yards of "the Old Baths, Bull's Head, Rose & Crown, Thistle, and so on", where they would remain until the business of securing and loading bales and parcels had been completed, then depart for their respective villages in the late afternoon.

Walking from his office Fred saw in his Coventry a reflection of Dickens's Christmas Carol, and says: "Through those quaint city lanes might be found the chambers of gentlemen of the legal profession, mercers' establishments and counting houses, provincial counterparts of those portrayed by Dickens, and all surrounded by a quiet serene air of a traditionally Cathedral-like city."

"Pepper Lane, Bayley Lane, Derby Lane, the splendidly picturesque Trinity Lane, the peaceful charm of the Belfry area and the Spicerstoke. To the creative imagination, Dick Swiveller, the Cheerybie brothers and, of course, Bob Cratchit, with maybe, yes, dear old Ebenezer Scrooge, might be seen in counterpart here.

"So I bent my footsteps thither as the peal from the tower of St Michael's church rang out a Christmas hymn. An occasional unknown passer-by would give me 'Merry Christmas' to which I would suitably respond."

He continued: "Retracing my steps, passing half-timbered houses which had doubtless sheltered half a score of generations, I wended my way via the Butcher Row to the top of the town - here a hive of industry."

"Market Square a mass of evergreens; Blythe's, the poulterers, excelling in a time-honoured show of table birds and for those who desired 'a drop to keep out the cold' Waters in High Street or Johnson and Mason a few yards removed.

"Everyone looked happy and touched by the spirit of Christmas. Re-entering the office I became aware of strains of music, Waits [musicians employed by the council, but at this date probably carol singers] of course; and the carol a decided favourite:

It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old; Of Angels bending near the earth, To touch their harps of gold. Peace on earth, goodwill to men, From Heaven's all gracious King; The world in solemn stillness lay, To hear the Angels sing.

He concludes: "With the true spirit of Christmas within me, I listened as the carol continued until the last verse rang out upon the busy town."

Merry Christmas one and all!

When toll road cost 1d - for a horse

FOLLOWING the opening of the M6 toll road, I was asked where Toll Bar Island got its name.

The area above the island was known as Toll Bar End and there once stood a group of cottages, one called Tollgate Cottage, and Ryton Tollgate Cottages.

At the junction of the London Road and Brandon Lane stood a tollgate with its bar (thus Toll Bar). It was a square building with a sandstone base and a stable door so the keeper could pop his head out to take money.

In 1837 he charged a penny a horse to pass through the gate. It fell from use in 1872 as a result of an Act of Parliament abolishing such tollgates.


QUAINT: Priory Row (left) in the snow in the early part of the last century and (above) Charles Dickens, a writer forever associated with Christmas; MODERN VIEW: Tollbar End roundabout in the mid-1990s
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Dec 20, 2003
Previous Article:WEEKEND: BYTE SIZE: You'll leave the lights on for this scary game; Review.
Next Article:celebrations... the happiest pictures.

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