The fascinating story of how the famous Bettys Christmas window is designed and created

The annual unveiling of the Christmas window at Bettys in Harrogate is fast becoming an unmissable date in the town's calendar.
The focal point of this year's Harrogate and York windows is this stunning recreation of a cake from 1904The focal point of this year's Harrogate and York windows is this stunning recreation of a cake from 1904
The focal point of this year's Harrogate and York windows is this stunning recreation of a cake from 1904

This is the third year Yorkshire's favourite tearoom has hosted a 'window reveal' event, and hundreds of people turned out on Friday night to get their first glimpse of a display commemorating the company's centenary.

It was unveiled in the flagship Harrogate branch a day before windows at the brand's other sites in York, Ilkley and Northallerton were also transformed with their own versions of the showstopper.

Head of Beautiful Robyn Cox with this year's window cakeHead of Beautiful Robyn Cox with this year's window cake
Head of Beautiful Robyn Cox with this year's window cake
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This year the intricate installation - featuring beautifully-crafted Bettys products - is inspired by a century of baking. The centrepiece is a replica of a cake created in 1904 by Frederick Belmont, a Swiss confectioner who went on to found Bettys. 55kg of sugar paste was used to decorate the traditional street scenes.

So just how difficult is it to bring to life a display that captures the imaginations of thousands of customers of all ages? We met the Bettys staff who designed this year's windows to find out.

The Christmas showstopper

Robyn Cox has a fantastically evocative job title. The business studies graduate has been with Bettys since 2006, having joined on a placement in the marketing team, and is now the company's Head of Beautiful.

The window celebrates the Bettys centenary yearThe window celebrates the Bettys centenary year
The window celebrates the Bettys centenary year

Since 2008, he's been involved in the window displays, and leads a team spread across the six Yorkshire branches who come together to share ideas and implement their plans.

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Bettys' windows catch the eye all year round - the Halloween, Easter and Valentine's-themed displays are also popular, but Christmas is their chance to shine and employ a theatrical flourish.

"My role was a new one that was created because doing the windows is so important to us. They are getting more and more love now, and they've been iconic since 1919.

"I'm a creative person, although I don't actually have a visual arts background. The team meet throughout the year to discuss ideas. Halloween is much bigger for us now and gives us a chance to be unique and creative, but Christmas is our main window."

Crowds gather for the magical reveal event in HarrogateCrowds gather for the magical reveal event in Harrogate
Crowds gather for the magical reveal event in Harrogate

Informal planning for Christmas begins the previous December, when Robyn starts to gather ideas and inspiration, before meetings are held from April onwards.

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"At first, it's just looking round and seeing what other people are doing, taking photos of windows in the London department stores and looking at European displays. The centenary was so important this year, and we found an illustration of the cake from 1904 that we recreated in a contemporary way while using the skills that we have always been known for."

Past Christmas windows have featured a winter wonderland, ice snowmen, a sleigh and reindeer, and last year's centrepiece in the Harrogate and York branches was the Bettys Express. The smaller cafes have their own miniature versions of the main piece.

A close-up of a cake created for the Ilkley windowA close-up of a cake created for the Ilkley window
A close-up of a cake created for the Ilkley window

"We get inspiration from anything - it could be a piece of old packaging or a card. The detail in the reindeer was really intricate and came from a pattern we found in a book."

Most of the items on display come from the edible product ranges, and staff make the garlands themselves. Other decorations are bespoke and made to order - they can't be found on the high street.

Challenges and dreams

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Robyn happily admits he would love bigger windows to play with and compete with the displays created by the major London department stores.

"The main challenge is that all the branches have windows of different heights, widths and depths. We need something that fits in all of them.

Excitement as the display is revealedExcitement as the display is revealed
Excitement as the display is revealed

"I have been to Switzerland and Copenhagen and for the stores there, it's more than just a window, it makes the place a destination. There was one that had a giant advent calendar on the outside.

"We are quite a traditional business. Every year we come up with an idea that stretches us a bit and another that is more comfortable. Our customers love that nostalgic feel - the windows are still based around the products and bring back memories of their childhoods."

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The brand has also considered working with well-known artists and set designers and have been approached in the past. They decided to keep the project in-house for their centenary year, but will likely explore opportunities for collaborations in future.

Starting a tradition

Bettys began window reveal events in Harrogate three years ago and they have grown in popularity ever since.

"In London a lot of the bigger department stores do window reveals, but not many places up here do them, and our windows are more about the food. We have real Easter eggs in spring and real cakes. We utilise the skills and expertise we have for our centrepieces.

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"Each year the reveal has got bigger and bigger. We do Harrogate first and open the others a day later. We have thought about doing the reveal events at the York branch, but having it in one place keeps it special, and it is our most iconic branch - it's recognised instantly as Bettys."

The Bettys cake decorators prepare the cakes for the window displays, and the restaurant closes at 6.30pm the previous evening to enable the installation team to work through the night. This year, they finished at 4.15am.

"There were 10 of us, and we were dressing the Christmas trees as well. You've got to be quite Christmassy to do this job, but it's not just about Christmas - it's about helping the team and driving them on when it's 3am and everyone is tired.

"It's worth it for the moment when the blinds go up and you see everyone outside cheering."