Making Christmas Crackers
D: A.E. Coleby. P: Cricks & Martin Films. UK 1910
“This seasonal interest film shows the girls and women of Messrs Clark, Nickolls and Coombs factory making Christmas decorations (probably at the company’s licensed Clamico Works, at Victoria Park, London). It illustrates the various processes involved, with some work done by hand and some with the aid of machines.
The workforce that we see consists exclusively of women. The girls are all very neatly dressed and orderly – in marked contrast to some other films of industrial processes such as the same year’s A Day in the Life of a Coal Miner, in which women are seen doing very heavy physical labour. As was usual for interest films of this type, the finished product is seen being enjoyed by a bourgeois family round the Christmas tree, with Santa putting in a special cameo appearance. Presumably the producers were aiming at this respectable middle-class audience and at those a bit further down the social scale who might aspire to join it.”
“This is an interesting film for a number of reasons. Its production was sponsored by Clark, Nickolls & Coombs, the company who were responsible for making the crackers, and it shows that their workforce was almost entirely made up of women. These working class women stand in distinct contrast to the middle-class family shown enjoying the fruits of such factory labours around the Christmas tree – suggesting this was a form of advertising and possibly education, demonstrating both the processes of manufacture and that the company sold (or at least aimed to sell) their products to an aspirational middle-class market. The idea of consumerism and consumption at Christmas is clearly not a new one!”
Another Kind Of Mind
“The Christmas cracker was invented by London-based confectioner and baker Tom Smith (1823 – 1869) who set up shop in Goswell Road, Clerkenwell in the 1840s. Smith initially produced wedding cakes and sweets. On a trip to Paris he discovered the French ‘bon bon’, a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper. Bonbons proved a hit at Christmas time and to encourage year-round sales, Smith added a small love motto inside the wrapper.
The inspiration to add the explosive ‘pop’ was supposedly sparked by the crackling sound of a log fire. Smith patented his first cracker device in 1847 and perfected the mechanism in the 1860s. It used two narrow strips of paper layered together, with silver fulminate painted on one side and an abrasive surface on the other – when pulled, friction created a small explosion. To stave off competition, the company introduced a range of cracker designs, which were marketed as a novelty for use at a wide range of celebrations. Tom’s son, Walter, added the elaborate hats, made of fancy paper, and sourced novelties and gifts from Europe, America and Japan. The success of the cracker enabled the business to grow and move to larger premises in Finsbury Square, employing 2,000 people by the 1890s, including many female workers.”
The Christmas cracker