Christmas past in Brixton – Victorian balloons, Pantos, 70s cravats, The Clash and a juvenile paradise

Christmas past in Brixton - balloons and a juvenile paradise

With Christmas Day upon us, here’s a selection of Christmas memorabilia from over a century of Brixton life, starting with a photo from 1930 showing the grotto at the Bon Marche department store on Brixton Road.

A Santa stands in front of a pile of well-stuffed gift sacks, while several fancy dress characters lurk in the scene. In the background, tin foil seems to have been applied liberally to the props.

Christmas past in Brixton - balloons and a juvenile paradise

In late Victorian times, there was a feast o’fun on offer to the ‘young folks’ of Brixton, with Bon Marche delivering the “eagerly awaited” Bazaar and Fancy Fair with an “unequalled display of toys, games, fancy goods etc.”

The advertisement for the 1890 Christmas show promises a “Juvenile Paradise” and – yes – “Balloons will be given away as usual.”  Hooray!

[Bon Marche pics ©]

Christmas past in Brixton - balloons and a juvenile paradise

Above is a beautifully atmospheric scene of Electric Avenue, showing off the new, state of the art electric lights. See more here: An Edwardian Christmas in Brixton – Electric Avenue in photos.

With two major theatres in central Brixton – the Brixton Theatre (next to the Ritzy Cinema) and the Brixton Empress – there was a long tradition of Christmas pantomime shows.

Such was Brixton’s theatrical reputation, many of the productions rivalled the West End.

Christmas pantomime shows

Above: ‘Book of Words’ for the Robinson Crusoe (1897) and Sleeping Beauty (1931) productions at the Brixton Theatre.

Built in September 1896, the theatre had a capacity of 1,504 on three levels; Stalls and Pit, Dress Circle, and Gallery, plus several Boxes.

Christmas past in Brixton - Victorian balloons, 70s cravats, The Clash and a juvenile paradise

Detail from St George and the Dragon pantomime at the Brixton Theatre (1927).  The theatre was badly damaged by a bomb during the blitz in November 1940, and was subsequently demolished.

More: Then and Now: Brixton Theatre.

Brixton Empress Theatre

Jack & The Beanstalk at the Brixton Empress, 1937. Located in Brighton Terrace, the Empress Theatre had a seating capacity of 1,260 on three levels, stalls and pit, Dress Circle and Gallery, and boasted a large stage 60 foot wide by 40 deep.

With audience numbers falling, the Empress was converted into the Granada Cinema in 1957, and then a bingo  hall in the 1970s. It suffered its last years as a furniture store before being demolished in 1992.

More: Then and Now: Empress Theatre, Brighton Terrace.

Christmas past in Brixton - balloons, Santa and a juvenile paradise

This evocative scene from the Lambeth Archives shows the Spurgeon’s Boys’ Choir and Bellringers singing Christmas Carols at the Stockwell Orphanage in the 1930s.

Christmas past in Brixton - balloons, Santa and a juvenile paradise

Legendary local photographer Harry Jacobs poses with a Christmas tree in his studio at 152 Landor Road, SW9.

Setting up his Brixton portrait studio in the 1950s, Harry went on to create an archive of nearly 60,000 photos of local residents.

Christmas past in Brixton - Victorian balloons, Santa, 70s cravats and a juvenile paradise

A cravat-toting stylish chap next to a rather shabby looking Christmas tree poses in Harry’s studio, circa 1970. ©

Christmas past in Brixton - Victorian balloons, 70s cravats, The Clash and a juvenile paradise

The Clash headlined Arthur Scargill’s Christmas Party benefit for the miners at the Brixton Academy in December 1984. Now that’s a gig we would have loved to have been at!

Christmas past in Brixton - Victorian balloons, 70s cravats, The Clash and a juvenile paradise

Christmas 1985 produced another fantastic bill, with the Ramones and the Damned playing two nights in December.

Christmas past in Brixton - balloons, Santa and a juvenile paradise

Skipping forward to 2003, here’s the scene outside Brixton tube station, which looks positively festive compared to the bleak vista currently greeting visitors.

Christmas past in Brixton - balloons, Santa and a juvenile paradise

Am impressively large Christmas tree was erected outside Brixton Village, 2003.

Christmas past in Brixton - balloons, Santa and a juvenile paradise

Christmas lights inside Brixton Village at closing time.

Christmas past in Brixton - Victorian balloons, 70s cravats, The Clash and a juvenile paradise

Last year, we celebrated Christmas with Brixton Offline’s Club at the Prince Albert. Live onstage was the Mrs Mills Experience who round off this feature rather nicely because some of their music hall songs date back to the beginning of the 20th Century.

Even more topically, one of the songs they performed, My Old Man, deals with a couple having to leave their house because they can not afford to pay the rent.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

More about Brixton’s theatres and cinemas:
Lost Brixton: Theatres and cinemas . Celebrating lost landmarks of Brixton

See more Brixton history:
On this blog
On the boards
On the comprehensive urban75 Brixton history archives