Kay Ashton’s artificial Christmas tree has survived three monarchs, one world war and now two global pandemics having been bought from Woolworths for six pence her grandmother in 1920
Britain’s oldest Christmas tree – bought while the world was still in the midst of the Spanish flu pandemic – was erected by the same family for the 101st year.
Kay Ashton, 67, faithfully decorates and erects the two-foot-tall tree that has endured three monarchs, one world war and now two global pandemics.
The artificial spruce, considered the oldest in the country, was bought in Woolworths for six pence by Kay’s grandmother, Elizabeth Naylor, in 1920.
The tree survived Hitler’s bombs in World War II and has remained in the family for three generations and eight moves.
And now, lovingly decorated with the bells of Kay’s childhood, she takes pride of place in her kitchen in Sheffield, South York.
Dan Rowlands / SWNS.com)
Dan Rowlands / SWNS.com)
Kay said, âYear after year it gets more fragile, it has been crushed over the years.
âI try not to handle it too much. I put it in the kitchen because if it was in the living room and the door opens, the slightest gust of wind will blow it.
âPeople ask me why I never fix it, but I wouldn’t want to have it fixed, that would take away its history and its history.
“It really turned into a joke, every year it comes out and it looks a little more fishy, ââbut it makes people smile and even laugh out loud.”
Kay, a grandmother of three, says her own grandmother would be “absolutely flabbergasted” to learn that things were still going so well.
Elizabeth called it “William’s tree” to mark her newborn baby’s first Christmas that year.
Kay Ashton / SWNS)
William sadly died prematurely in 1940 at the age of just 19 and the tree has become a cherished family memorial to him.
Elizabeth – known as Nanan – died in 1981 at the age of 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, âIt’s not a darling tree. People laugh because I say it’s ugly. But I like it because it’s so ugly.
âHe saw generations of my family and the social history of working class people and how they changed over the years from 1920.
âThe most recent decorations are from the 1960s, I wouldn’t want to spoil it with something more modern than that.
âIt’s special that he did it for so long that I don’t know how because he was never really taken care of, he was just always there.
âWhen my mother passed away, it was passed on to me. I was discussing what to do with it with my sister and I said ‘I’m going to take it and I’m going to put it in place’. I couldn’t see it thrown in the trash.
âIt’s amazing he outlived my mom to be honest, she was known to throw things away.
“She threw away my dad’s World War II medals, so it felt good to survive her throwing in the trash.”
The tree incredibly survived a Sheffield steelworks blitz in December 1940 when the city was bombed by the Luftwaffe for three consecutive nights.
Elizabeth kept the tree in the kitchen, but the impact of the bomb explosion was such that it knocked it into the living room.
It was hit by shrapnel and duct tape was used to fix it, which still holds it together.
True to tradition, Kay picked up the holiday favorite from the attic this week and put the tree in place to go with her other decorations.
Kay added, âMy sister tells me every year ‘Have you ever pulled that twig out?’ and I say ‘yes’.
“She says ‘does this look better’ and I say ‘no’.
âI couldn’t imagine not putting it in place, it reminds me of Christmas memories and loved ones we have lost.
âFor me, it’s not about the tree itself, but about history and its history.
âIt was never the main tree, it still isn’t. I have a bigger tree. But I always put that in place.
âThe only bells on it date from the 1920s or 1950s, they are bells that I remember from my childhood. It’s like a link to the past, it’s cool.
âMy nanan is absolutely flabbergasted that this was going on. “
Kay, who retired last year, said her grandmother didn’t talk much about the Spanish flu pandemic, which lasted from 1918 to 1920.
She added: âIt’s like it’s the forgotten pandemic, it’s only recently that people have thought about it with this pandemic that it’s happening.
“My nanan had bronchial asthma, so she did well to survive it.”