Stepping back in time to stately Christmas through the ages at Yorkshire's Nunnington Hall

A merry tale is told through festive traditions and how they have changed over centuries.

At Nunnington Hall such customs are explored in Christmas Through the Ages, shining a light on gifts given, feasts held, and celebrations along the way.

Each room at the Ryedale country house has been transformed to signify a different era, from Georgian cakes to Tudor feasts and the arrival of the Christmas tree.

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It’s taken quite some doing, with a team of volunteers to craft some 50m of paper chains and wrap a 10ft tower of gifts.

Nunnington's imposing Victorian Christmas tree in the Stone Hall. Writer: James Hardisty

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To Hannah Highsted, visitor experience officer at the National Trust property, it adds a touch of “sparkle”, she said, to see the house at its best dressed.

Miss Highsted said: “Christmas is so important to so many people, celebrating this festive season. At Nunnington it really brings the hall to life, especially as we move towards the dark nights.

“Nunnington has been around for so long, so it’s interesting to see how it might have been through all periods of history. Also it makes us all happy to see these beautiful decorations.”

Pictured Hannah Highsted, Visitor Experience Officer, for Nunnington Hall, next to the Tudor feast laid out in the Oak Hall. Writer: James Hardisty

Nunnington Hall dates mainly from the Elizabethan and Stuart periods, but its oldest surviving parts were built around 1580 for Henry VIII’s physician Robert Huickes.

Today, the large manor house retains many original features, with panelled walls and carved chimney pieces and a great staircase hung with 17th century tapestries.


For Christmas, a 13-metre lit garland winds its way up the old oak stairs alongside seasonal floral displays, while handmade paper chains detail a festive trail.

Pictured Hannah Highsted, Visitor Experience Officer, for Nunnington Hall near the imposing Victorian Christmas tree in the Stone Hall. Writer: James Hardisty

In the stone hall a 12ft Christmas tree is laden with Victorian decorations, oranges, ribbons and cinnamon sticks, all brightened by candle lights. In the smoking room there is a ‘Twelfth Night Cake’, as was common in the Georgian era, while the oak hall hosts a Tudor feast, complete with a yule log and kissing bough in lieu of mistletoe.

There are more modern touches – the nursery is set in 1950s style, while the drawing room features a display of Sindy dolls alongside a tapestry from Grayson Perry, and there are songs from 80s’ pop duo Wham!.

In the oak bedroom, meanwhile, children from local schools have decorated dozens of paper Christmas trees, strung with fairy lights for festive appeal.


Nunnington Hall's Oak bedroom that features a community forest, with paper Christmas trees decorated by pupils from Slingsby Community Primary School, Helmsley Community Primary School, Norton Community Primary School and Rosedale Abbey Primary School. Image: James Hardisty

Miss Highsted said the festivities give some sense of what the country house has seen over the centuries, and for how long it has been standing.

She said: “People have always, in winter months, brought a little bit of joy through the festive season, whether it was the Tudors or in Georgian times.

“They may not have been celebrating exactly the same way, but there was always a celebration in the winter months.”

Nunnington Hall’s festive display of Christmas Through the Ages is open to visitors on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until December 19.

Miss Highsted said that after a Christmas where the house was unable to open to guests last year, it feels “wonderful” to see such celebrations return: “This year is really special. It’s really magical to have Nunnington Hall open, and to see it so beautifully dressed.”


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