Christmas in the E.H. Shepard Archive

As we approach the winter vacation our thoughts turn to warming ourselves by a roaring fire, indulging in comforting food and spending time with friends and family. All these themes can be found in our E.H. Shepard Archive and we are delighted to share some seasonal highlights from the collection with you.

Ratty and Mole from Wind in the Willows sitting by the fireside. Ref No EGM/4/14.
Line illustrations © E.H. Shepard, 1928
Colouring of the line illustrations © E.H. Shepard and Egmont Books UK Ltd, 1970 and 1974

E.H. Shepard served in the First World War as a member of the 105th Siege Battery, and the collection contains letters he sent back home to his wife Florence and his children Graham and Mary. Although the armistice was agreed on 11 November 1918 Ernest was not to return home in time for Christmas that year. In the letters Ernest sent to his family in December 2018 he writes of how much he misses them all, but there are also mentions of turkey, plum pudding, presents and attending church on Christmas day.

Excerpt from a letter sent by Ernest to Florence dated 18 December 1918
(Ref No EHS/C/9/39/11)

….[Second Lieutenant] Hey pushed off on leave this morning leaving here about 10 en-route  for Vicenza to catch the train – he was rather like Father Christmas, being laden with small parcels from us all to post in town. I hope he reaches Town on the 23rd so that you get your parcel before Xmas day….

Excerpt from a letter sent by Ernest to Florence dated 22 December 1918
(Ref No EHS/C/9/39/14)

….. I hear we are getting our ration of Xmas pudding again this year ½ lb per man, not so bad – and if its as good as it was last year all will be well.
I’ll tell you what we are going to do on Xmas day – that is, the men breakfast at 8.30 – tea, rissoles bread + butter & jam, porridge.
Dinner 1 o’clock – I shall go round & wish them all a Happy Xmas & say a few words before the meal – and the sergeants are going to observe a time honoured custom by waiting on the men.
Roast beef (all the choice bits have been kept back from the rations for the last 4 days). –
Turkeys, potatoes, greens
Plum pudding
apples, oranges, nuts (provided by the officers) ……….’

Excerpt from a letter sent by Ernest to Florence dated 25 December 1918
(Ref No EHS/C/9/39/16)

Xmas day
My darling – a Happy Christmas to you & my darlings, I’ve been thinking about you all the morning & what you’ve been doing I s’pect you all went to Church, so did I – to the little wooden Church army hut, it was quite a nice little service ……..’  

The letter continues for four more sides and touchingly ends:

‘…. Now sweetheart enough for Xmas day love + love + best of loves
from your own husband Kip’

Excerpt from a letter sent by Ernest to Florence dated 26 December 1918
(Ref No EHS/C/9/39/17)

‘….. the men all say they’ve not had a meal like it since they left England – their plates were simply bursting with turkey + stuffing etc. Then there was beef to follow, how they managed it all beats me, the Padre announced that he was distributing cigarettes free at the Church army hut in the afternoon which caused a sensation, but, such was the effect of the dinner, that comparatively few men turned up to claim them most being laid out, utterly comatose ….’

As a cartoonist for the satirical magazine Punch E.H. Shepard contributed many Christmas themed illustrations to the publication over the years. Drawings have featured Father Christmas in various amusing situations, pantomime scenes, children in front of Christmas trees and Christmas shoppers. The illustration titled ‘Granny Gets Busy at the Christmas Bazaar’ was published 100 years ago on the 21 December 1921 (pictured below).

Top row: Letters from Ernest Shepard to his wife Florence dated 18, 22, 25 and 26 December 1918. Ref Nos: EHS/C/9/39/11, EHS/C/9/39/14, EHS/C/9/39/16, EHS/C/9/39/17
Bottom centre: Illustration by E.H. Shepard ‘Granny Gets Busy at the Christmas Bazaar’. Punch 21 December 1921 p486-487
Bottom left: Christmas Poems, by John Drinkwater. Ref No EHS/B/5/2
Bottom right: The Holly-Tree and other Christmas Stories, by Charles Dickens. Ref No EHS/B/5/1

E H. Shepard is probably best known for his illustrations of Winnie-the-Pooh and Wind in the Willows, but he also wrote and illustrated his own books and provided the illustrations for a variety of other publications, including ‘Christmas Poems’ by John Drinkwater and ‘The Holly Tree and other Christmas Stories’ by Charles Dickens.

And let’s not forget ‘The Pooh Cook Book’ which features E.H. Shepard’s illustrations of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends. Unsurprising there are a lot of recipes that include honey as an ingredient but there is also a ‘Christmas Specialities’ section that includes recipes for mincemeat pies and marzipan dates. (Ref No EHS/B/2/23).

From all of us in the Archives and Special Collections team…

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Ratty and Mole from Wind in the Willows listening to carol singers Ref No EGM/4/43
Line illustrations © E.H. Shepard, 1928
Colouring of the line illustrations © E.H. Shepard and Egmont Books UK Ltd, 1970 and 1974