What Yorkshire's stately homes at Castle Howard, Harewood House and Treasurer's House have lined up for Christmas
For many people, visiting one of our historic houses over the festive season has become as much a family tradition as going to the panto, tucking into turkey on the big day and watching reruns of classic TV comedy shows. These Christmas displays and installations have become a popular fixture in our calendar and this year’s offer looks like being another yuletide extravaganza. Here are four from around the region that you might enjoy…
When it comes to Christmas trees, no one does them quite like Castle Howard, and this year is no exception. “It’s nearly 30 feet tall,” says Abbi Ollive, director of marketing and visitors at the country estate near Malton. “We think it’s the largest indoor Christmas tree of any Christmas installation in the country.” Visitor numbers over the festive season have more than doubled since 2017 – last year they sold 12,000 mince pies, 9,000 hot turkey rolls and 6,000 glasses of mulled wine.
Once again Castle Howard has tapped into a classic story, this time taking visitors on a Peter Pan-themed odyssey in the main house featuring decorations, installations and projections. “Finding a theme that is widely appealing to all our different audiences who come at Christmas is really important,” says Abbi. She feels JM Barrie’s timeless story, which begins with Mrs Darling reading bedtime stories to her children, is a good fit. “Castle Howard is quite unusual in its visitor experience in that it starts in a series of bedrooms. So once you come through the grand staircase up into the house you’re taken through a suite of four very grand bedrooms, so it fits the story perfectly.”
The estate has teamed up with CLW Event Design, which it has worked with since 2017, and has also brought in theatre company Imitating the Dog to help with the digital projections and sound installations.
“What we want audiences to feel is not like they’ve just been round a series of installations that are beautiful and Christmassy, but they feel like they’ve been inside a storybook,” says Abbi. “We try to make sure that we do something at Christmas that provides a wonderful day out for a broad mix of visitors.”
Christmas in Neverland runs to January 7. www.castlehoward.co.uk
Few Christmas installations include disco balls, drone-delivered presents and fluorescent turkeys – but you’ll find them all at Harewood House which has once again dared to be different. Harewood’s Great Time Travelling Christmas transports visitors to the country house near Leeds through Christmases past, present and future, evoking nostalgic memories, festive pop culture and imagining what Christmas might look like in years to come.
Designed by Studio MUTT, an architecture studio that has worked with big names such as The Tate and the V&A, it riffs on everything from a traditional 1950s family Christmas to the remnants of a festive party in the 90s and a futuristic Christmas dinner.
“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those memorable and nostalgic things that sum up our Christmases past, and it’s not what you’d initially expect,” says Graham Burn, director of Studio Mutt. “It’s the little things, like your gran’s decorations, the 90s Christmas disco, or sneaking in a drink while your parents weren’t looking. We’re really hoping that it will bring a smile to people’s faces and bring back memories for people.” They have transformed nine rooms with different themes in each one, taking their cue from the layout and design of the rooms as a starting point for each installation. “We’re encouraging people to interact with it. It’s not just about walking into a room and looking at something, you’re actually part of it,” says Graham.
“We’re showing nine or ten versions of what we think Christmas is, we’re not just giving one homogenous idea of it. We’re trying to make something that hopefully lots of people would see in their Christmas and hopefully it prompts a conversation of what their idea of a Christmas is. That’s what we’re trying to play on – our collective memories.”
Harewood’s Great Time Travelling Christmas runs to Jan 7. harewood.org
Few places do Christmas quite like Chatsworth and this year they’ve brought out all the festive bells and whistles with the historic estate transformed into The Palace of Advent.
Twenty-four rooms have been filled with the sights, sounds and scents of Christmas, with visitors encountering everything from candy cane-adorned archways to a giant exploding Christmas cracker. The festive celebration continues in the garden, where an illuminated light and sound trail takes in some of Chatsworth’s best-loved landmarks, including the historic Cascade, whose 24 stone steps have been turned into an illuminated, interactive musical instrument that people can play.
Susie Stokoe, Christmas design lead at Chatsworth House, says the idea was to make visitors feel like they’re walking through an advent calendar. “There are 24 rooms on the route and each one has an iconic feel that you associate with Christmas. It’s like opening an advent calendar so one room has angels in it and another has Christmas puddings in it. This year it’s a very classic Christmas advent and this just felt right. It’s about trying to make people feel happy.” Christmas is now one of the busiest times of the year on the estate with a core team of around 30 working in the house on the installations. “It’s a very homegrown project. It’s the last thing we do so it’s the swansong before we close for a couple of months. And having everyone working on the same project is rather lovely,” she says.
“I sometimes walk the route incognito and listen to what people are saying and when I hear grandchildren talking to their grandparents and pointing out things on the route that’s really special, because it’s something those kids will remember. And that’s what Christmas is really about.”
The ‘Palace of Advent’ runs until Jan 7. www.chatsworth.org
This popular National Trust-run property tucked away behind York Minster has turned to Frank Green, the man who transformed the historic building into an elaborate town house, for festive inspiration. Gifts from Afar is based on some of the stories and encounters from Green’s travels around Europe and takes in everything from bears and binoculars to a Swiss roll.
“Every year we pick a different theme based on something linked to the house, rather than just going for a generic Christmas theme,” says Rebecca Allott, visitor experience officer at the Treasurer’s House. There are ten rooms for people to explore, with influences from places like Greece and France, as well as some a little closer to home. “We’ve got a tiny Treasurer’s House that lights up with a beautiful set scene of the servants packing everything up to go travelling.” The decorations hark back to a bygone era at the same time as offering some modern touches. “Some of them are recreations of the stories and others are very much inspired by his tales,” explains Rebecca.
Many of the decorations have been made by their volunteers who play a crucial role in creating the festive decorations. “We have over 140 volunteers at Treasurer’s House and we have held crafting sessions over the last few months and they have been heavily involved in making things,” says Rebecca. “York is one of the most Christmassy cities in Britain, if not Europe, and being right in the centre behind the Minster people want to come to us and have that festive experience.The house is decorated for Christmas but it’s not just had a Christmas blanket thrown over it.”
Gifts from Afar runs to Dec 17. www.nationaltrust.org.uk