The humble life of England footballers a century ago has been demonstrated by the discovery of a 1930s Woolworths Christmas tree found under the stairs in a Derbyshire home – still in its original box.
The basic tree, which retailed for the equivalent of 6p and stands just 69cm (27 inches) high, belonged to former professional footballer and England international Clive Staley and his family.
It may only have a few sparse branches but the tree, one of the first mass-produced artificial versions, was at the centre of Clive’s family celebrations for more than 60 years.
Clive, who was born in Newhall, South Derbyshire, in 1899, was a forward for Newhall Swifts, Sunderland, Stoke and Burton Town. He represented his country in matches against Scotland in 1926 and 1927 – as the surprise discovery of two England football caps revealed.
Footballer Clive Staley, his Woolies Christmas tree, decorations and England caps.
The tree and football caps were found at the Swadlincote home of one of Clive’s three daughters, Margaret Staley, after she passed away earlier this year at the age of 91. The tree, together with a selection of vintage Christmas decorations found with it, are due to be sold in Hansons Auctioneers’ Fine Art Auction on December 7 with a guide price of £100-£150.
A friend of the family said: “I found the tree, complete with its original box, under the stairs after offering to help clear items from Margaret’s home. It was fascinating. Everything was carefully packed away in original boxes. Later, I was emptying an old blanket chest and right at the bottom were the two England caps. I didn’t know Margaret’s father was an England international. Margaret was a lovely person who never married and lived with her mother until she died at the age of 103 in 2005. Neighbours and friends rallied round to help Margaret as she got older but she was very independent.”
Margaret’s sister, Dr Frances McIntrye, said: “Our mother bought the tree in the late 1930s and it was our main family tree. I remember it being decorated every Christmas right up until I left home in the late 1960s. My mother and sister continued to decorate it every year right up until the late 1990s. It was always placed in the front window of our family home.”
The tree was found in its original box from the 1930s.
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “What a wonderful story. This humble Woolies Christmas tree has rekindled festive nostalgia and transported us back to less materialist times. These trees were made just before the Second World War. Money was scarce and ordinary families didn’t have much, even if they were former England footballers!
“People were happy and grateful to own a tree like this. The fact that Clive and his family used it for decades demonstrates that.
“These days it’s easy to update and replace Christmas trees every year with the latest designer looks. This wasn’t an option back then. Consequently, this tree became part and parcel of the Staley family’s celebrations, as did the decorations that are being sold with it. One item, a wooden decoration with three figurines, was bought by Dr McIntyre in the 1990s as she thought it was indicative of the three sisters of the family.
Vintage decorations being sold with the tree; Rik Alexander, of Hansons, with the tree.
“We occasionally uncover this Woolworths classic. In 2017, Hansons sold a Woolies 1930s vintage Christmas tree to the American Christmas Tree Association for £420. They truly value the historical importance of finds like this. Thanks to the wonderful back-story, and the fact that the Staley tree has its original box, it deserves to excel at auction.”
Department store Woolworths started selling some of the first mass-produced artificial trees in the 1920s. In 1930, the British-based Addis Housewares Company created the first artificial Christmas tree made from brush bristles. The company used machinery utilised to manufacture toilet brushes.
The very first artificial Christmas trees were developed in Germany during the 19th century and were made using goose feathers dyed green.
The 1930s Christmas tree and decorations, lot 307, are due to be sold in Hansons’ Fine Art Auction on December 7. View and catalogue and bid at www.hansonslive.co.uk. To find out more, email [email protected].