A Jacobean Christmas at Dorfold Hall, near Nantwich
- Credit: not Archant
Dorfold Hall is about to celebrate its 402nd Christmas, and as ever, it’s going to be a combination of family, tradition and fun.
Aside from the years of the English Commonwealth, when Puritanism held sway and rather put the kibosh on fun in any shape or form, Christmases at Dorfold Hall have been big family affairs. Dorfold is a glorious example of Jacobean architecture which was built in 1616 by the current residents’ distant ancestor, Ralph Wilbraham.
Now under the careful stewardship of Charles and Candice Roundell, the Hall has been (pretty much) held in the family since it was built, with just a slight wobble when it was sold to a Nantwich lawyer, following which (three generations later) it was brought back to the Wilbraham bloodline through marriage. Usefully, there has never been a title attached to the estate, meaning that it can be passed through the female line. This means that the marvellous oil paintings on the walls of the dining room are portraits of the long-passed relatives of the family that dines there now. Five-year-old Danson will be able to admire the image of his handsome namesake from ‘the olden days’ when he tucks into his Christmas lunch.
‘We’re the fourth generation of Roundells here,’ says Charles, ‘and our twin boys are the fifth. The house was built by Ralph Wilbraham as a place to stay for King James I, as he progressed around the country after uniting England, Wales and Scotland. Unfortunately he only stayed here once, as he died the following year.’
There is a fabulous monument to his Dorfold Hall sleepover however, in the form of the King James bedroom, with his coat of arms in magnificent plasterwork over the fireplace.
Charles and Candice took official ownership of Dorfold Hall in 2015, although the knowledge that it would be theirs one day meant that they were more than ready to take on the mantle.
‘We started renovations in 2010,’ says Candice. ‘We completed one wing of the house and then one major project every year since. We dredged the lake, for example, and removed 20,000 tons of silt. This was to allow us to lay the pipework for a new water and ground heat source system, which now heats the entire house and the cottages too.
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‘It keeps the house at a steady 21 degrees,’ says Charlie. ‘We had to update the plumbing throughout the Hall and replace 36 radiators. In the last 12 months we’ve restored and redecorated 40% of the interiors, the main rooms and bedrooms. It was Candice’s vision to remodel the house and redecorate in a contemporary style while respecting the historic fabric.’
‘The boys’ room was the first one we did,’ says Candice. ‘We didn’t want them to feel like they were living in a building site.’
It has been quite a change of lifestyle for the Roundells, since stepping into their new roles at Dorfold Hall.
‘Charles works full time in London, for now,’ says Candice. ‘But we’re planning for him to be able to move back to Cheshire full time within the next two to five years. We spend part of each week in London, then come here at weekends. Except in wedding season, when I am here four days each week.’
Ah, wedding season. It is the English love of a big wedding that, Candice and Charles hope, will enable them to maintain the estate and live permanently in Cheshire. Candice was a veterinary surgeon, working for the RSPCA and Blue Cross in London, a career that couldn’t be more different to her role now, as chatelaine of one of Cheshire’s most beautiful wedding venues.
‘We needed to find a way to make the estate self-sufficient,’ says Candice. ‘I researched it for 12 months first. I looked at it like a surgeon does: put Plan A in place, then have a Plan B and Plan C, just in case, then started in 2017 with 16 weddings. We had 36 this year and next year we’re almost fully booked already, with 41.’
So, what is Christmas like at Dorfold? In terms of décor, it’s very traditional, with a huge wreath on the front door and flowers everywhere in a dozen shades of red and deep green, created by local florist Jacqui O.
‘It’s very traditional,’ says Charles. ‘When I was growing up we would write our wish lists for Father Christmas and my father would get a huge fire going in the Drawing Room. The draw on this is so strong that when we put the letter in the fireplace it would shoot straight up; as a child we’d see it as being delivered straight to Santa. We do that now with our boys too. Christmases have always been big family affairs; my mother relishes the occasion. We usually have between 10 and 15 people here for Christmas and have the full traditional lunch, roast turkey and all the trimmings.’
‘I was born in the US,’ says Candice. ‘My parents are Belgian and Swiss-British and I grew up in France, so turkey is not my idea of Christmas. And we celebrate on the 24th of course. I have brought that tradition here, so we have a big dinner on Christmas Eve – then do it all again on Christmas Day!’
Dorfold is one of the most beautiful houses I have visited in Cheshire. The Drawing Room has a breathtaking plasterwork ceiling with intricate, lacy ‘stalactites’ dropping down into the room. It was created in 1621, to celebrate the unification of England, Scotland and Wales, each of which is represented in the ceiling with thistles, the Tudor rose and leeks.
Everywhere you look there is stunning art, from the portraits of Ralph Wilbraham, his wife, son and grandson in the Drawing Room, to the magnificent oils of the dining room.
Candice and Charles are doing their bit too, adding to the collection paintings and sculpture from world-renowned contemporary artists, such as Nick Jeffrey, Wolfgang Tillmans and Nic Fiddian-Green.
You could spend hours here just admiring the artwork, never mind the rich oak panelling, which is being stripped back to its original glory, one room at a time, or the huge fireplaces, the diamond-paned windows, the elegant gardens or the massive sculpture of the mastiff with puppies, brought back from the Paris Exhibition of 1855 and recently restored and protected for future generations.
It must be glorious to be here at any time of year, but Christmas, with the generations of history all around as you float letters to Santa up the chimney, well, that must be just magical.