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Behind the scenes at Derbyshire's stately homes at Christmas

The hall really comes to life at Christmas and it's a special place to be Photo: Haddon Hall
The hall really comes to life at Christmas and it's a special place to be Photo: Haddon Hall

Many of us enjoy visiting Derbyshire’s stunning stately homes over the festive period – but what’s it actually like living in one at this special time of year? We speak with the custodians of some of our county’s finest estates.

Great British Life: Lord and Lady Edward Photo with their children: (c) Ian DaisleyLord and Lady Edward Photo with their children: (c) Ian Daisley

HADDON HALL

Lord and Lady Edward

What makes living at Haddon Hall so special at Christmas?

As Haddon is open to the public, the hall is always decorated beautifully for the festive season and we feel incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy it on a daily basis.

From twinkling lights to magnificent wreaths and Christmas trees in every room, the hall really comes to life at Christmas and it’s a special place to be.

Is there a part of Haddon Hall you're particularly fond of at Christmas?

Over the centuries, the Banqueting Hall has always been, and still is, very much the heart of the home and that’s definitely the case at Christmas.

With a spectacular tree, beautiful decorations and a roaring fire, it’s where we meet with friends and family, sit to enjoy a mince pie, snuggle on the sofa in front of the fire and where we hang our stockings on Christmas Eve.

What does a typical Christmas day look like?

A typical Christmas Day at Haddon is very much focused on the children. They are still at the magical age of believing and first thing on Christmas morning, they rush to the Christmas tree in the Banqueting Hall to check if Father Christmas has been.

Every year, they focus on where Father Christmas will park his sleigh, and due to the restoration work that’s taken place in recent years, we were able to say the scaffolding was the perfect parking spot.

Now that’s gone, we may have to make a sign to redirect Father Christmas to make sure he still finds somewhere to land!

We don’t put any presents under the tree until the children have gone to bed on Christmas Eve – so it’s always wonderful to see their faces when they see the presents there on Christmas Day morning.

Our Christmas Day always involves a Panettone in the morning before church, a lovely walk to get some fresh air, and a long Christmas lunch. There’s lots of family games and it’s just wonderful to be able to spend some quality time together as a family.

We often have family from both sides over, so there’s always lots of noise and laughter and a wonderful atmosphere.

There is only one downside to Christmas Day at Haddon, and that’s the cold! There is no central heating in the hall so a lot of layers are required to stay warm – it’s not unusual for us to sit eating our Christmas lunch with our coats on!

Great British Life: Christmas has been celebrated at Haddon for centuries Photo: Haddon HallChristmas has been celebrated at Haddon for centuries Photo: Haddon Hall

Are there any family traditions that take place over the Christmas period?

We have a lot of traditions in place that we’ve come to cherish in recent years. We always hang our stockings up on Christmas Eve, everyone in the family has one, including the dogs!

Every year we host a Christmas event for everyone involved with the Haddon estate. It’s a lovely way to see everyone and ensure they know how much we appreciate their support and hard work over the course of the year.

We never cook a turkey for Christmas dinner (there actually isn’t room in the oven for one!), we revert to medieval traditions and instead cook a lamb.

We’re big believers in a traditional Christmas. We love to create an authentic experience for the children and hope we can keep the magic alive for them for as long as possible.

How do you balance the public and the private at Haddon over the festive season? It's a beautiful and popular place for people to visit but also a family home.

While Haddon is open to the public in the run-up to Christmas, we have two days where we close to visitors.

It gives us a chance to spend time together in the hall, we move our sofas into the Banqueting Hall and sit next to the fire and enjoy the calm and the quiet.

That being said, we love having people visit Haddon during the festive season. It’s wonderful to see peoples’ reactions to the decorations and we regularly host choir performances, which fill the hall with music.

Our candelight tours are also a lovely experience, giving visitors the chance to see the hall after dusk, when it takes on a totally different atmosphere.

It must be an amazing feeling knowing people have celebrated Christmases at Haddon for centuries. Do you follow a

Over the centuries, Christmas has been a wonderful time of year to be at Haddon, and it is truly humbling to think of all the people who have celebrated here before us, and the parties that must have taken place!

We’re very proud that Haddon continues to be a place that people hold dear, and we look forward to welcoming them again this Christmas.

Great British Life: Rick Hayward and Alexandra SitwellRick Hayward and Alexandra Sitwell

RENISHAW HALL

Alexandra Sitwell and Rick Hayward

What makes living at Renishaw Hall special at Christmas?

Renishaw lends itself very well to Christmas - full of surprises and intrigue and the house comes alive.

Is there a part of the hall you're particularly fond of at Christmas?

As one steps into the Front Hall one is immediately captivated by the atmosphere and excitement with the first big Christmas tree in all its splendour.

What does a typical Christmas day look like at Renishaw Hall?

Like all family Christmases a bit of chaos with lots of wrapping paper, celebration, shrieks of delight and champagne.

Great British Life: A snowy and magical-looking Renishaw Hall Photo: Renishaw HallA snowy and magical-looking Renishaw Hall Photo: Renishaw Hall
Are there any family traditions that take place at Renishaw Hall over the Christmas period?

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas stockings opened first thing before everyone then dresses up in their best for the opening of presents at midday.

This is followed by a big family Christmas lunch in the dining room. We’ll definitely watch the Queen’s - now King’s - Speech on the TV in the library.

How do you balance the public and the private at Renishaw over the festive season?

We are very lucky as the house is ‘dressed’ for Christmas by Carrie-Anne, Christine Beevers and many of the guides and volunteers.

Our visitors love coming to see the house with fires lit in the Front Hall, Library and Drawing Room. It’s all very atmospheric.

How traditional/modern do your Christmases tend to be?

We prefer a traditional Christmas. We also have a goose for Christmas lunch and then a flaming Christmas pudding followed by crackers.

Great British Life: Emma and Jim Harrison Photo: Thornbridge HallEmma and Jim Harrison Photo: Thornbridge Hall

THORNBRIDGE HALL

Emma and Jim Harrison

What makes living at Thornbridge Hall special at Christmas?

Thornbridge comes even more alive at Christmas with the lights and rather strange decorations alongside the more traditional (for example we have skeletons sitting around one vast dining table waiting for a meal that never arrives!).

The best bit is all our visitors loving the house as much as we do. It’s a fantastic time to share the stories of our home and a tradition is that our house tour visitors get to pinch my chocolates - just like my family and friends do!

Is there a part of Thornbridge Hall you're particularly fond of at Christmas?

The gold sitting room holds the most memories for me. It’s where every year we sit as family and friends and do the presents. I have seen the children go from babies to adults in that room. So much ooohing and aaahhhing and ‘thank yous’.

What does a typical Christmas day look like?

Chaos! We never know final numbers until we do - anyone might ring and say their plans have changed and they want to come us. We just squeeze up and tell David - my long-term friend who lives on the estate - that he is now cooking for about 35 people! He has a bit of a mumble, asks someone to pass him a beer, and cracks on.

Jim always takes charge of trying to lay a forever expanding table. I like to do the gravy. We do presents in the morning, with a glass of something, then Jim will make the best scrambled eggs – a bit of smoked salmon too.

Great British Life: 'Jim always takes charge of trying to lay a forever expanding table' Photo: Thornbridge Hall'Jim always takes charge of trying to lay a forever expanding table' Photo: Thornbridge Hall

Are there any family traditions that take place?

Family traditions include a whole series of ridiculous competitive made-up games.

Flying homemade paper aeroplanes across the gallery in the great hall; rolling malteasers down a long tape measure from the top of the gallery to the person (victim) lying on the hall floor where they try to catch the malteaser in their mouth. Oops. Often doesn’t end well.

Not being allowed to dive into lunch until you have thrown a rubber duck against the gong is another and then Jim’s quiz.

It’s far ranging and legendary - and if you get caught cheating he burns all your answer sheets without even marking them. I know - it happened to me. I can still see him standing on the bar in the billiard room announcing the ‘Flame of Shame’. It lit up the room!

How do you balance the public and the private at Thornbridge over the festive season?

We love people. I love interacting with folks, learning about them, hearing their stories, and I get to do that in my own home - that is perfect.

When any of us want alone time we just find a quiet corner and for me the distraction is a cryptic crossword. For Jim? Reading the papers and he loves to tidy and organise forgotten corners of the house.

How traditional/modern do your Christmases tend to be?

I don’t know whether people would think our Christmases are traditional or modern - they just represent us - quirky and free from fuss. Right now, we’re just doing ‘our thing’, which involves a lot of laughter and fun.

But who does the mountains of washing up? Our only rule is that it is everyone apart from David. Understandably by this time he is exhausted - physically and emotionally - and we applaud him for yet another spectacular Christmas Dinner and pass him another beer.

Oh, and as the night goes on there’s always unregulated, incompetent dancing - mostly by me. My favourite time. Time to dance and embarrass the children. Christmas done.

Great British Life: Sir Richard and Lady Fiona of Tissington Hall Photo: Richard FitzherbertSir Richard and Lady Fiona of Tissington Hall Photo: Richard Fitzherbert

TISSINGTON HALL

Sir Richard and Lady Fiona Fitzherbert

What makes living at Tissington Hall special at Christmas?

Knowing that many generations of the FitzHerbert family have enjoyed Christmases at Tissington over the last 414 years since the hall was built in 1609 is an incredible feeling.

Is there a part of Tissington Hall you're particularly fond of at Christmas?

The Library is a special room with the tree, the presents, the vast history and of course the roaring log fire in the inglenook.

Great British Life: A Tissington Christmas Photo: Richard FitzherbertA Tissington Christmas Photo: Richard Fitzherbert

What does a typical Christmas day look like at Tissington Hall?

Up for breakfast and then church at St Mary’s for 9.30/10am and a long walk (if the weather permits).

We’ll possibly head to the Old Dog at Thorpe for a sharpener before returning to the Hall and the Dining Room for a long family lunch around 4pm – port and a zizz!

Are there any traditions that take place at Tissington Hall over the Christmas period?

My mother always used to eat the candles off the Christmas cake. From time to time, I follow that odd tradition!

What is life like in the village at Christmas?

Tissington is a special place and the community, if not meeting for the church service, is to be seen walking their dogs in the village and bumping into others.

We even get ‘serial Christmas day visitors’ who, despite none of our operations being open, walk or meet in Tissington to share the glory of Christmas Day.

 

HOPTON HALL

Chris and Andi Harvey

We moved to Hopton Hall in February 2023 and are looking forward to our first Christmas here.

Living at Hopton Hall is special as we appreciate that we are surrounded by history and it’s our responsibility to preserve it.

We are currently in the process of a large project with a team investigating and understanding the history of the hall as part of our plan to renovate and restore it.

Part of this is understanding the history of the Gell family at Hopton Hall and we hope to find more information about the way they made use of the Hall, including at Christmas.

Andi has always enjoyed decorating at Christmas. The entrance hall has high ceilings, so we will be adding a large tree to our collection. We are renovating the Hall so will only decorate a few of the main rooms.

One of these is the dining room that already had a large dining table. We will fill it with family and friends for Christmas dinner.

As we work in hospitality, we will spend a lot of the Christmas holiday working. When not working, we intend to make use of the bar that is part of the Hall to entertain friends over the Christmas period.

Before moving to Hopton, we only lived two miles away near Bradbourne. The friends we met there will be over for Christmas Day so we will be building new traditions at the Hall with old friends.



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