Photo gallery: What was Christmas like in bygone days? Blickling Hall unwraps the answer

The Lord checks the cooking below stairs in a 1930s kitchen at Blickling Hall, near Aylsham where re-enactors and seasonal adornment gave visitors a festive treat. Photo: Steve Adams The Lord checks the cooking below stairs in a 1930s kitchen at Blickling Hall, near Aylsham where re-enactors and seasonal adornment gave visitors a festive treat. Photo: Steve Adams

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
7:44 AM

Trees twinkle with baubles and flashing lights. Lounges are adorned with garish garlands and cute robins.

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Greenery trimmings in the Long Gallery at Blickling showing Christmas in Jacobean times.  Photo: Steve AdamsGreenery trimmings in the Long Gallery at Blickling showing Christmas in Jacobean times. Photo: Steve Adams

Cupboards get ready to store mountains of food, drink and indigestion tablets.

Cards are written, crackers bought, and gifts hidden away in secret places.

The family home is gearing up for the modern day Christmas.

But a stately home in Norfolk has been showcasing glimpses of the festive period stretching back over the past 500 years.

Georgian dancing in Blickling Hall's dining room.  Photo: Steve AdamsGeorgian dancing in Blickling Hall's dining room. Photo: Steve Adams

Although the lifestyle of the gentry bears has little in common with everyday folk of the time, or now, - Blickling Hall’s journey back through times shows the changes and similarities in festive food and fashions over the eras.

From its Jacobean beginnings onwards feasting and games have always been part of Christmas.

Georgian times saw bewigged gents and ladies partying hard, amid a whiff of scandal, and in rooms looking very different those today

The Victorian era set the mould for modern day Christmas with the arrival of the first Christmas trees, crackers and carol singing.

In the 1930s and 40s the festive period was rather more austere in the great hall - until wartime years brought an influx of 1400 RAF men billeted there to liven things up.

Hall events coordinator Sue Price said the recent series of weekend Taking Back Christmas tours, using re-enactors to highlight the various eras in key rooms, were designed to highlight the history of the venue and the season.

More than 2,000 people attended each day, enjoying talking to the characters from the times - from the cook, scullery maid, and footman to the Lord himself.

CHRISTMAS THROUGH THE ERAS

JACOBEAN

Back in 1630, shortly after the hall was built for £10,000, John Hobart - the MP for Thetford - and Lady Frances enjoyed eating drinking and games at Blickling.

The hall would have been decorated in Pagan-like fashion with lots of greenery, holly, ivy festoons.

The hosts would have 20-30 people to dine, probably on beef, and with sweetmeats such as candied fruits on the table.

Entertainment would include cards, dice, and a Fox and Geese board game, with betting adding an extra spice.

Children were kept amused by puppet shows, dancing dolls, and simple games similar to Ludo.

GEORGIAN

The 18th century Blickling Hall looked very different to today’s dark stained panelled rooms - with white walls and pink furnishings.

The flamboyantly-dressed women and menfolk would feast, dance, make merry, play cards and gamble.

Christmas would last from December 6 - when small presents would be exchanged - until January 6.

There would be hunting parties, with the constant flow of guests munching on a large selection of cold meats - venison, duck, pheasant and rabbit - pre-prepared to take the pressure off the kitchen,

The hall was then the home of the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire, whose tomb is in a mausoleum in the grounds.

Guests were likely to include his aunt Henrietta Howard was one of six women of the royal bedchamber where she caught the eye of the Prince of Wales, later George II, and became his mistress.

VICTORIAN

In 1870 Christmas as we know it was being created by the arrival of Christmas trees, crackers and carol singing.

Widowed Lady Constance was coming out of mourning for the loss of the 8th Marquess who died from polio in his 30s. A seriously high minded woman she still encouraged Christmas festivities.

There would have been a nativity at the school she built, carol singing, and the hall decorated by trees from the estate thanks to them becoming fashionable after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around one.

1930S

In 1938 it was probably a quiet Christmas at the hall, with Lord Lothian the 11th Marquess, an influential diplomat, likely to have been in London - having hosted VIP friends such as royalty, the prime minister and Lady Astor to his Norfolk home at other times during the year.

Below stairs things were livelier however with staff dining on goose and plum pudding cooked specifically for them rather than finishing the upstairs leftovers. The higher ranking staff such as the butler and footman would wait on table in rooms decorated with paper trimmings and gingerbread snow flakes.

And during the wartime years there was an extra buzz when the hall became a billet for 1,400 RAF airmen. Rooms were converted to dormitories and part of the house was the sergeant’s mess. The hall’s Lothian Barn hosted a home spun entertainment, including men dressed as women, while the men’s main Christmas dinner would have been on the nearby airbase at RAF Oulton.

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