Blickling Hall trims up for Christmas

They are decking the hall with bows and holly at a Norfolk stately home.

Blickling Hall is trimming up for Christmas in an operation that puts the average home's 'doing the decorations' session well into the shade.

An army of 50 volunteers flower arrangers is busy putting colourful creations into the rooms, staircases and corridors of the National Trust's regional flagship property.

Themed displays range from a Tudor feast and Victorian Christmas to a Venetian masked ball and the fairytale story of Cinderella, while others pick up on the history of their setting.

And the decorations have to be fashioned to protect the surroundings - meaning the drawing pins and sticky tape used by most families to fix their tinsel, baubles and balloons are a non-starter for the arrangers.

Fresh flowers and water are also limited to save spillage damage and stop changes to the controlled humidity levels which preserve the priceless furniture and furnishings.

The displays feature in three weekends of events at the hall near Aylsham in the lead up to Christmas, beginning on Saturday.

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Visitor services manager Patricia Murfin said preparations for decorating the 14 rooms began back in March with flower clubs from Norfolk and Suffolk invited to do designs and send their ideas to her for approval.

Clubs then began collecting materials and making props - such as a fireplace and coach for Cinderella, and a life sized angel which dangles in a stairwell.

More recently Blickling garden and grounds staff have been collecting a mountain of foliage from the estate, ready for when the club members arrived this week to install the displays.

Room guide Jenni Cross, who has led the project, said: 'There are some restrictions. The challenge is overcoming them using our creativity.

'We cannot use sticky tape, but we can put things on doors using wreath hangers.

'We also have to work with our slippers on to save damaging 17th century carpets. There are no fresh trees because of the humidity content. It's not like doing the usual display in church.'

In the Upper Ante Room Bungay Flower Club members have trimmed the room with artificial roses, carnations, and made their own decorations for a centrepiece Victorian Christmas tree, such as soldiers, drums, candy sticks and sweet cones.

Chairman Yvonne Organ said 'We have enjoyed the challenge. We started months ago and it has taken quite a lot of research.'

Yesterday work was under way decorating trees in the main staircase, where the bannisters are draped with white poinsettias, holy and ribbons.

Elsewhere in the house red amaryllis flowers blaze away in the serving room fireplace, and three kings in the Lower Ante Room are made from cane, poppy heads and moss.

In the dining room a Tudor feast includes displays of fruit and vegetables including artichokes made from eucalyptus leaves pinned to oasis balls - and no Christmas trees which were not 'invented' until the Victoria age.

In the Peter the Great Room the Norwich flower club has done a Venetian ball tableaux using flowers, masks, mannequins donated by Jarrold and customers from the Maddermarket Theatre.

Member Liz Ollerenshaw said: 'It has been exhilarating and stretches you.'

The Christmas at Blickling events begin this weekend with a craft fair in the courtyard marquee. On December 11-12 there is locally-sourced food and drink. On December 18-19 the theme switches to a vintage, with clothing, collectables, jewellry and household wares.

Each weekend there are donkey and carriage rides in the grounds, which have illuminations, including ships on the lake.

Entrance to the marquees is free, with normal fees for the house and gardens For more information call 01263 738030 or visit