THE GRANDEUR of Chatsworth Country House has been given a Victorian Gothic twist for the festive season, as its many rooms and corridors have been transformed in a celebration of all things Dickensian.
The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, have set up home for the next few weeks, as well as actors portraying characters from Dickens’ most loved novels, as the stately home prepares for one of its busiest - and most crucial - times of year.
Around a quarter of the year’s total visitors will pass through the doors of Chatsworth over the next six weeks.
“Christmas is very, very important to us,” Sally Ambrose, head of visitor experience said. “As a charity, welcoming Christmas visitors helps to support our conservation and building works, and all sorts of other things that go on throughout the estate. We began opening at Christmas in 2001 and it’s got so popular that we now have timed tickets so it’s not so busy at a particular time and to give everyone a much better experience.
“It terms of visitor numbers, November and December are as important to us as the summer holidays.”
Project manager Janet Bitton, said planning for the elaborate displays begins a year in advance, and involves numerous departments across the estate, from textiles who have made over 50 costumes, to joiners, who have created fake walls to guide visitors and period street scenes.
“We have do our shopping in February, so we need to know well in advance what we want to buy in term of fabrics and decorations,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of planning involved.
“We already have next year’s in mind.”
Artist Su Blackwell has created paper sculptures in the ‘grotto’ area, all made out of copies of Dickens’ books, while windows have been transformed into shop fronts such as The Old Curiosity Shop, the drapers from Little Dorrit and Scrooge’s office.
Animated ghosts haunt the rooms of the house, and a animated sprite causes trouble, throwing paint bombs towards the art collection.
Scrooge can be found in one of the bedrooms while Fagin’s den includes a projection of the London skyline which changes throughout the day.
The Great Dining Room has been taken over by Miss Havisham, complete with wedding cake, and 25 Christmas trees are currently being dressed in time for opening on Friday.
Ms Bitton said: “There is a lot of serious graft - and until Friday we will all be surviving on adrenaline - but everybody loves all the things they have created, Seeing it all come together , and making this wonderful house even more magical is so worthwhile.”
This year Castle Howard in North Yorkshire has upped the festive stakes by drafting in creative producer and co-director of Oxford Shakespeare Company and Lamplighter Drama, Charlotte Lloyd Webber, and award-winning Canadian theatre designer, Bretta Gerecke to help transform the house.
Nicholas Howard said: “It’s about making the house more inviting and accessible and yes, if that means we get more people through the doors then it is more money in the coffers to carrying out vital maintenance and restoration work, a project which never, ever ends.”
Christmas at Chatsworth opens this Friday.