STAFF at the National Civil War Centre are hedging their bets this festive season by putting up a Christmas tree in Newark, Nottinghamshire, with bare branches on one side, and baubles and tinsel on the other.
It reminds visitors how, depending on whether you were a Royalist or a Roundhead, Christmas was celebrated 350 years ago. The Puritan authorities banned it, and supporters of the monarchy and the Church of England were forced to take festivities underground.
The centre’s academic adviser, the Revd Dr Stuart Jennings, said: “The Parliamentary Act abolishing Yuletide as a ‘popish superstition’ was passed in 1644, and Cromwell must have sympathised with the clampdown, as during his period as Lord Protector, the legislation was enforced.
“Here, in Newark, Christmas was observed openly up to 1646, but much more quietly and secretly over much of the 1650s. You had to be careful. Things got more dicey in 1655, as Edward Whalley, the Major General for Nottinghamshire, was based in Newark. He was committed to the new regime, had signed the death warrant of King Charles, and was an efficient soldier who sternly imposed the new rules on Christmas.
“Even eating mince pies was banned, and churches were raided to ensure they were not holding services. Shops and markets were forced to open, and we have records of Nottinghamshire shopkeepers being fined for transgressing. Some culprits were whipped.
“Elsewhere, frustrated revellers rioted in Canterbury, London, and Bury St Edmunds. Not until the restoration of King Charles II, in 1660, did the festive good times roll again,” Dr Jennings said.