Christmas heave is here (already) at Chatsworth

Gardener Lucy Wharton helps decorate the Sculpture gallery. Picture by Chris Lawton
Gardener Lucy Wharton helps decorate the Sculpture gallery. Picture by Chris Lawton
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THE day before Bonfire Night may seem early to be putting up the decorations for Christmas, even for the most ardent fans of the festive season.

But for a dedicated team of almost 50 workers on the Chatsworth estate, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, yesterday had all the excitement and anticipation of December 24.

As the final touches were put on the estate’s 10th Christmas extravaganza, housekeeping staff were joined by house guides, gardeners and joiners to get ready for today’s official opening.

From Three Kings in the Painted Hall to the shepherds in the west sub-corridor, every detail had to be checked an checked again by Chatsworth’s “Mrs Christmas”.

Head housekeeper Christine Robinson actually starts working towards the next festive season in January, days after the decorations have been taken down.

She and a team of three others then visit trade fairs in February to buy what is needed to make the magic happen all over again come the following November.

Meetings of the estate’s “Christmas Committee” are held throughout the year to ensure the scheme remains on course, with a final plan of action drawn up as early as July.

Mrs Robinson, who has worked on the estate since 1977, taking on her current job in 1982, has overseen each year, but admitted she still gets nervous.

She said: “I slept quite well last night, but I haven’t been sleeping. I get a bit anxious but it’s at this point when everybody and everything all comes together.

“We meet in January to decide what sort of theme would work for the following November. The Duchess is very involved.

“Once we get the go-ahead we start researching trends and buying decorations.

“Next Christmas for us is now Christmas 2012. We already have the theme arranged and will be working on it as soon as the New Year comes. It really is a twelve-month effort.

“It is a lot of hard work, but it is so nice to stand around incognito and listen to what the visitors think when they come in for the first time.”

In all, 16 areas of the house, including an exterior courtyard, have been dressed, each one representing a traditional Christmas carol or song.

Last year, about 80,000 people arrived to look at the displays and it is hoped that more will be attracted to the estate this time.

As well as the areas which represent Christmas carols the visitor route also includes a “wishing tree” which last year saw more than 10,000 people write a wish on a card and attach it to the tree.

Mrs Robinson said that last year some of the wishes were extremely poignant, and included hopes that servicemen in Afghanistan would return home safely and a message from a couple who had got engaged while on their visit.

According to the staff, 10,000 fairy lights are used in the displays, as well as 15,000 baubles, and a total of 41 trees, which this year have come from a company which grows them in Barnsley.

While some of the decorations used are new, many of them are dusted off year after year, and even magnificent focal points of the Painted Hall the Three Kings, have had another life.

Susie Stokoe, the estate’s textiles supervisor, designed the 15ft high creations and was dressing them yesterday.

She said: “Two of them were Cossacks in last year’s display, so we dragged them out, and this year we made another so they could be kings.”

Chatsworth’s Christmas Carol event will be open to the public from today until December 23.

Normal entrance fees will apply, and a series of other events will take place at the estate in the run- up to Christmas.

Carols represented at Chatsworth this year include:

Deck the Halls – entrance lobby.

Ding Dong Merrily on High – north sub-corridor.

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night – west sub-corridor.

O Little Town of Bethlehem – chapel

The Holly and the Ivy – Oak Room.

Star of Wonder – chapel corridor.

We Three Kings of Orient Are – Painted Hall.

I Saw Three Ships – Inner Court.

Jingle Bells – Oak Stairs.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Library.

See Amid the Winter’s Snow – Dome Room.

Good King Wenceslas – Great Dining Room.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing – Vestibule.