While today’s festive marketing is schmaltzy, piano-laden stuff, in 1909 Sainsbury’s was taking a different tack. Namely, they wrote Santa into a plot involving a terrible air crash, and claimed to be flogging toys from the wreckage at their Lewisham branch. A John Lewis Christmas ad this wasn’t.
“TERRIBLE MISHAP TO SANTA CLAUS” runs the clickbaity headline (although you couldn’t click it back then), followed by a brief but bewildering account of how the man in red lost control of his aeroplane over the Obelisk in Lewisham, plummeting from a “great height” and scattering toys hither and thither.
The whereabouts of Mr Claus (or his remains) are not mentioned. By Sainsbury’s kindly waives any entrance fee to snap up his toys at a reduced price — even though presumably they’re now evidence in an air crash accident investigation.
The Obelisk area of Lewisham — or Ladywell to be precise — takes its name from the war memorial, but what initially confused us is that this memorial didn’t exist till 1921 — 12 years after Santa’s accident. Apparently, another area of Lewisham was known as the Obelisk beforehand. So it wasn’t a collision with the war memorial (still there today) which brought down Santa’s aircraft.
What else could have caused the crash? Drink flying? Waiting for Croydon Aerodrome to be built so Santa could land? Maybe we’ll never discover what caused Santa’s aerial mishap, but at least we know why he now travels by sleigh.
While an ad of this gumption seems shocking now, perhaps it wasn’t for readers at the time; after all this was an era when you could buy a nice bit of radium for your wife.