Throwback Thursday: How did Brentwood celebrate Christmas in the 1930s?

PUBLISHED: 12:00 05 December 2019

Brentwood's Odeon

Brentwood's Odeon


This week Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent looks back at how Christmas was celebrated in the borough in years’ past.

It's beginning to look like Christmas now that Brentwood's High Street is officially 'lit up'.

The shoppers are making their way there in droves. But the spending has been going on for months now, so it's interesting to listen to the memories of older residents to discover how Christmas was celebrated in years' past.

The contrast of a Brentwood Christmas a century ago is mind-blowing.

Then, working-class folk had very little money to splurge on gifts. Housewives saved up for months to pay for festive food.

Many of the presents for children would have been made by hand and decorations were much less sophisticated than we see displayed on TV today and Christmas preparations in the town did not really start until the first week of December.

During the Christmas of 1919, the Great War was over, but the rationing wasn't.

From the local newspaper we read that there was a benevolent feeling for those less fortunate.

We discover that the more upper class folk in Brentwood got together and worked hard to make sure that there would be treats for the children and old folk providing extra cheer over the Christmas period.

The local church charities that existed then seemed to go out with their collecting boxes.

In later years, Christmas cheer was helped when the cinema-craze hit Britain.

With three cinemas thriving in Brentwood, the managers of each vied every year to provide the best children's parties and decorated Christmas trees in their foyers.

Two early cinemas which some older people may remember were the Palace - known earlier as the Brentwood Electric Palace in the High Street and the Parade, built in 1921 both designed by the Dorin Brothers.

The Parade Cinema, built close to Brentwood station, was the local 'fleapit'.

It was closed as a cinema in wartime 1941, but the building remained for some years after. Now, Kingsgate offices occupy the site. Then there was the Brentwood Odeon - where now stands WHSmith.

This popular cinema opened on 18 May 1938, and was designed by George Coles (who had already built 20 similar cinemas).

Brentwood resident the late Terry Parsons recalled during an interview: "I was a big picture-house fan. I liked the Odeon which was in such a central place in Brentwood High Street. Programmes changed mid-week and on Sundays there could even be a fresh programme with several films, cartoons and you got real value for your shilling when I was young.

"Frank White, the Odeon manager always put up a wonderful Christmas tree in the cinema foyer, decorated with beautiful lights and presents for the kiddies gifts.

"On Christmas Day morning, he would turn up at the local hospital with bags of presents for the local children's wards."

This cinema was demolished in April 1974 to make way for the Chapel High Shopping Centre (now Bay Tree Centre).

Another cinema was opened in 1974 known as Focus l and 2, but is now merely a memory. So, with or without our silver screens, modern day revellers will still enjoy their Christmas season.

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