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Experience a Victorian Christmas at Oxburgh Hall

PUBLISHED: 10:47 06 December 2018

The Library retains its cosy, family charm throughout the festive season. Picture: Ian Ward/National Trust

The Library retains its cosy, family charm throughout the festive season. Picture: Ian Ward/National Trust

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Christmas doesn’t just happen overnight – find out how this 15th century moated manor house gets ready for the festive season.

As dusk falls, Oxburgh's courtyard twinkles into life. Picture: Ian Ward/National TrustAs dusk falls, Oxburgh's courtyard twinkles into life. Picture: Ian Ward/National Trust

With hidden doors, rooftop views and a secret priest’s hole, Oxburgh Hall boasts over 500 years of history.

In the summer months, this National Trust estate is teeming with visitors as almost 70 acres of land, including a walled garden and woodland walks, blossom into life.

But come December, the estate offers an entirely different experience as the house, chapel and gardens are dressed for a traditional celebration. “This is the fourth year dressing the house for a Victorian Christmas, set during the period of the 6th baronet, the mid 1940s,” says Alice Cramer, assistant business support co-ordinator and marketing officer at the National Trust.

In fact, much of what you see at the estate today is thanks to the 6th baronet, Sir Henry Richard Paston-Bedingfeld. After marrying Margaret Paston in 1826, he quickly invested in the estate, reviving an interest in its medieval past and creating a Golden Age of interior design.

Nowadays, preparations for the festive season begin early. “We order the Christmas tree in February,” says Alice, although the traditional spruces, which come from the Elveden Estate, will not arrive until much later in the year. “The staff and volunteers come together to put decorations on the big 14ft Christmas tree in the saloon, which happens a couple of days before the Hall is opened for the Christmas weekends.

At Christmastime, Oxburgh's tearoom resembles what it would have looked like for the servants during Victorian times. Picture: National TrustAt Christmastime, Oxburgh's tearoom resembles what it would have looked like for the servants during Victorian times. Picture: National Trust

“But from around mid November until December 3, volunteer flower ladies begin putting up the beautiful, festive arrangements in the hall and in the family chapel, and the outdoor team begin putting up the Christmas trees in the courtyard and on the north terrace,” continues Alice. Further lights are also put up around the gardens and in the estate’s historic courtyard, and the tearoom is decorated to represent what Christmas was like for Oxburgh’s servants during the period.

Getting the estate ready is a combined effort from the whole team. “Everyone is involved,” says Alice. “Father Christmas and his elves, volunteers – including the flower ladies, room stewards, garden volunteers, costume volunteers and choir – as well those from our outdoors team, house team and in administration.”

Throughout the Hall, traditional decorations are used, featuring assorted arrangements of fresh florals. “We reuse some decorations but a lot is newly prepared each year – in particular the flower arrangements and trees,” says Alice. “We have new fresh Christmas trees every year, and fresh flowers for the swags, wreaths and kissing boughs, which are actually a Tudor tradition.”

Of course, it’s no surprise that dressing the estate helps to connect visitors to the property’s rich history. Among its collections, Oxburgh has an alabaster nativity scene, which originally belonged to the Bedingfield family before it was sold to the National Trust and brought back to the Hall in 2004.

In addition, Alice says that Mrs Greathead, daughter of Lady Bedingfield, widow of the 8th baronet, is quoted as saying: “On Christmas Day we used to go and wait on the servants with their Christmas dinner, and they all sort of giggled.”

Volunteers and staff putting up the Christmas tree in the courtyard. Picture: National TrustVolunteers and staff putting up the Christmas tree in the courtyard. Picture: National Trust

Throughout December, the house retains its cosy family charm. “There is a magical feel to the place once the hall has been beautifully decorated for Christmas,” says Alice. “It really is truly special.”

The festive celebrations will get well and truly underway this week, as Father Christmas sets up home in the Hall for the first of his two weekends at Oxburgh (Saturday, December 8-Sunday, December 9 and Saturday, December 15-Sunday, December 16). His elves will be decorating the King’s Room and transforming it into a wintry grotto especially for the occasion, while the volunteer choir will sing traditional Christmas carols in the estate’s atmospheric family chapel.

For more information, visit the National Trust website.

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