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Christmas at the National Trust properties of Hampshire

Father Christmas' writing desk is recreated at Mottisfont. Image: Dave Hughes
Father Christmas' writing desk is recreated at Mottisfont. Image: Dave Hughes

There really is nothing more magical at Christmas than a beautifully decorated National Trust property. Here we discover just what it takes to get the county’s stately homes festively dressed.

Great British Life: Sue Laws loves bringing the outside in at Christmas, and working with natural materials. Image: Vicky HandSue Laws loves bringing the outside in at Christmas, and working with natural materials. Image: Vicky Hand

The National Trust’s Mottisfont is renowned for its spectacular Christmas transformations. Here, Senior Programming & Partnerships Officer Sue Laws reveals her tips for decorating one of Hampshire’s most popular historic houses as it prepares for ‘A Christmas Journey to the North Pole’.

How do you create the perfect Christmas tree decor?

If you want the wow factor, you have to go big. Think how many lights and decorations you need then quadruple it! Christmas trees ‘eat’ baubles, and you can never have enough lights. New members of our team are amazed how much we need to put on a tree to create that impact.

Colour wise, I love throwing something a little unusual into the mix. Last year we had traditional red and gold decorations, and I added purple which really elevated the look. This year we’re adding flourishes inspired by the rooms’ themes. For instance, in Father Christmas’ office we’re hanging bunting made from miniature envelopes.

What are your top tips for dressing a Christmas table?

Our dining room table is a real showstopper at Christmas and always gets lots of visitor feedback. We’ll weave in fantastical elements for that bit of magic, but people will definitely be able to take home ideas for their own Christmas table.

This year, it’s the focal point for the polar bear’s ball. It’ll be laden with frosty branches and baubles – a look that’s easy to replicate on a smaller scale with the help of eco-friendly snow spray. This is a party too, so we’re going to have some fun with it – glitter balls might be involved!

One of the most useful pieces of set design is glass domes; they look wonderful catching the light on a table. Use different sizes and fill them with battery powered clusters of lights, silver pinecones, or anything miniature. Don’t forget to incorporate height into your display too; that can work just as well on a small table as on a big one.

Great British Life: Much of Mottisfont's decoration is foraged from nature or made by the staff. Image: NT ImagesMuch of Mottisfont's decoration is foraged from nature or made by the staff. Image: NT Images

Do you make your own decorations?

We buy the tree baubles but many of our decorations and props are handmade or adapted. Our creative volunteers wrap hundreds of presents and make magnificent floral installations too, and they always produce something miniature for kids to look for. This year its tiny elf shoes made of felt; they’re adorable.

We also work with local props team Tin Shed. They created last year’s magical Narnia wardrobe, and this Christmas they’re producing a train carriage for people to walk through - the Mottisfont Express. It’s going to be amazing.

What are your favourite Christmas moments?

Well, I loved the Flower Fairies Christmas we did a few years ago; that was when we realised we could build really substantial displays. The nature theme became very strong too, with winter greenery trailing down mantelpieces. It looked terrific so we’ve continued like that, filling every space. This year we’ve got presents flowing down the long gallery for instance, and greenery climbing the banisters.

What’s the best moment for you?

It’s when I feel we’ve given visitors a day to remember. The build-up and delivery is a daunting and exhausting time but hearing someone say ‘wow!’ as they enter a room is the best thing. A visit to Mottisfont at Christmas is a tradition for many – we know families that have grown up with us. Recognising the joy we’re giving and the part Mottisfont plays in people’s festive traditions is just priceless.

COMING UP FOR CHRISTMAS 2023

Great British Life: Traditional scenes at The Vyne form part of families' Christmas memories. Image: Virginia LangerTraditional scenes at The Vyne form part of families' Christmas memories. Image: Virginia Langer

The Vyne

The Vyne’s luxuriously decorated ground floor rooms tell the story of this famous festive tale. Follow heroes Clara and the Nutcracker as they try to defeat the villainous Mouse King. Explore The Land of Sweets where you’ll find sweet ‘thrones’ for family selfies. Indoors and out there’s so much to take in, from ballerinas, swans and swirling snowflakes to gingerbread men, candy canes and an army of nutcracker soldiers.

25 November – 1 January, house open daily 11am-3pm (closed 24 & 25 Dec). Normal admission plus 1.50 for family trail.

Mottisfont

Step into Mottisfont for a magical journey to the North Pole. The house is full of sparkling trees and presents. Father Christmas’ study is piled high with letters and children are asleep in their beds. Follow their festive dreams and collect your ticket to board Mottisfont’s ‘Christmas Express’, arriving just in time to join the polar bear’s ball and experience the wonder of the Northern Lights. Outside, you can become an honorary elf and visit the Elves’ Sorting Office. Peek inside a postbox to discover the secret behind the Christmas postal service, and experiment in the elves ‘invention realm’. You’ll be creating stocking designs and testing your stocking-stuffing skills too. In the winter garden large installations of winter foliage and flowers create unique festive photo opportunities.

25 November – 7 January, house open daily 11am-4pm (closed 24 & 25 Dec). Usual admission plus £3 per family trail

Hinton Ampner

Hinton Ampner is transformed into scenes inspired by J.M. Barrie’s story of Peter Pan, with the help of light, sound, movement and a sprinkle of fairy dust. Journey through the house to discover the ticking crocodile, the Lost Boys’ camp and Tinker Bell’s mystical hideaway. Watch out for Captain Hook and his band of pirates, and encounter the source of all magic, the fairies. In the gardens you’ll find the Wendy House, the Mermaids’ Lagoon and Nana’s doghouse where visiting pooches can pose for pics. In the courtyard is Tink’s Tuckshop, packed with traditional sweets, and Hook’s Books vintage bookshop.

Presented in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. 25 November – 1 January, house open daily 10am-3.30pm (closed 25 & 26 Dec). Usual admission, pre-booking essential, on 0344 249 1895 or visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/hampshire/hinton-ampner.

Great British Life: Head to Uppark to discover Christmas above and below stairs. Image: Chris LaceyHead to Uppark to discover Christmas above and below stairs. Image: Chris Lacey

Uppark

Head to Uppark to discover Christmas above and below stairs. The mansion is filled with festive scenes and scents - Christmas trees covered with lights and traditional decorations, winter greenery, pinecones, citrus fruit and cinnamon. Below stairs Uppark’s servants are busy preparing food and drinks for the guests, alongside their own Christmas celebrations.

18 November – 31 December, house open Thursday-Sunday, 10.30am-3.30pm (closed 25-27 Dec). Normal admission charge.

Winchester City Mill

This ancient mill is decked with festive garlands and Christmas trees. Visit Father Christmas’ workshop where you can dress up as an elf, then track down mischievous elves around the mill. In the café you’ll find delicious seasonal treats, plus there are festive workshops for adults on set dates, from ceramics classes to wreathmaking.

11 November – 31 December, mill open 10am-4pm, Wed-Sun (closed 25 & 26 Dec), free.

Find out more at nationaltrust.org.uk/hampshire



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