Kay Ashton’s artificial Christmas treet has survived three monarchs, a World War and now two global pandemics having been purchased from Woolworths for six pence her gran in 1920
Britain’s oldest Christmas tree – bought when the world was still in the midst of the Spanish flu pandemic -has been erected by the same family for the 101th year.
Kay Ashton, 67, faithfully decorates and erects the two-foot tall tree which has endured three monarchs, a World War and now two global pandemics.
The artificial spruce, thought to be the oldest in the country, was bought from Woolworths for six pence by Kay’s grandmother Elizabeth Naylor in 1920.
The tree survived Hitler’s bombs during the Second World war and has remained in the family for three generations and eight house moves.
And now – loving decorated in bells from Kay’s childhood – it takes pride of place in her kitchen in Sheffield, South Yorks.
Dan Rowlands / SWNS.com)
Dan Rowlands / SWNS.com)
Kay said: “Year after year it gets more fragile, it’s been bashed in over the years.
“I try not to handle it too much. I put it in the kitchen because it if was in the living room and the door opens, the slightest gust of wind will blow it off.
“People ask me why I don’t ever fix it, but I wouldn’t want to get it repaired, it would take away from its story and history.
“It’s become a joke really, every year it comes out and it looks a bit more dodgy, but it makes people smile and even laugh out loud.”
Kay, a grandmother-of-three, says her own grandmother would be “absolutely flabbergasted” to hear it was still going strong.
Elizabeth called it “William’s Tree” to mark her new-born son’s first Christmas that year.
Kay Ashton / SWNS)
William sadly died prematurely in 1940 aged just 19 and the tree became a treasured family memorial to him.
Elizabeth – known as Nanan – died in 1981 aged 80 and the tree was inherited by her daughter, Joyce Ashton.
When Joyce died in 2012, Kay became the third generation to own it.
Kay added: “It’s not a cherished tree. People laugh because I say it’s ugly. But I’m fond of it because it’s so bloody ugly.
“It has seen generations of my family and the social history of working class people and how they have changed over the years from 1920.
“The most recent of the decorations on it are from the 1960s, I wouldn’t want to spoil it with anything more modern than that.
“It’s special that it has made it so long I don’t now how because it was never really cared for, it was just always there.
“When my mum died, it was passed down to me. I was discussing what to do with it with my sister and I said ‘I’ll take it and I’ll put it up’. I couldn’t see it thrown in the bin.
“It’s amazing it survived my mother to be honest, she was notorious for throwing things away.
“She threw my dad’s medals away from World War Two, so it did well to survive her throwing it in the bin.”
The tree incredibly survived a blitz of Sheffield’s steelworks in December 1940 when the city was bombarded by the Luftwaffe for three consecutive nights.
Elizabeth kept the tree in the kitchen, but the impact of a bomb blast was so much that it blew it into the living room.
It was hit by shrapnel and sticky tape was used to repair it, which is still holding it together.
In keeping with tradition, Kay has this week retrieved the festive favourite from the attic and put the tree up to accompany her other decorations.
Kay added: “My sister says to me every year ‘have you got that twig out yet?’ and I say ‘yep’.
“She says ‘does it look any better’ and I go ‘nope’.
“I couldn’t imagine not putting it up, it just brings back memories of Christmas and loved ones that we’ve lost.
“For me it’s not about the tree itself, but about the history and its story.
“It was never the main tree, it still isn’t. I have a bigger tree. But I always put this up.
“The only bells on it are from the 1920s or 50s, they’re bells I remember from my childhood. It’s like a link to the past, it is nice.
“My nanan be absolutely flabbergasted to know it was still going.”
Kay, who retired from work last year, said her grandmother didn’t speak much of the Spanish Flu pandemic, which ran from 1918 to 1920.
She added: “It’s like it was the forgotten pandemic, its only recently people have been thinking about it with this pandemic that it is happening.
“My nanan had Bronchial Asthma, so she did well to survive it.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.