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Friday, 31 October 2014

Hall decked out for Christmas

AS Holker Hall throws oepn its gardens and doors to the public for the first time at Christmas, Lord and LAdy Cavendish reveal what the festive season means to them.
SUSAN GOODSON reports

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Lord and Lady Cavendish in the Great Hall after Lady Grania spent over 80 hours decorating it. MILTON HAWORTH REF: 0461903

A LADY she may be, but Grania Cavendish is also a mother and Christmas for her is about family.
There is a warmth in her voice when she talks about the decision to open the halls and gardens of Holker Hall for the first time to everyone at Christmas, but her face especially lights up when she mentions the children and the events they have organised for them at the Cartmel estate.
From this Sunday (December 7) until December 21 the gardens are to be opened to the public from 10.30am until 4pm (the hall 11am until 4pm).
And people, young and old, will find themselves in a Christmas wonderland thanks to the hours of work from Lady Cavendish and the staff and workers on the estate.
Walking into the hall you cannot help but be brought to a standstill by the floor to ceiling Christmas tree decorated by Lady Cavendish after being chosen by the estate’s head woodsman Howard Milby.
The tree is covered in white, red and gold baubles and red bows and Lord Cavendish is the one who says to his wife: “You took about 80 hours to decorate it, I took none.”
Lady Cavendish doesn’t mind admitting that the tree just soaked up decorations and she found she had underestimated how many were needed.
Already she is thinking that next year she will go for bigger ribbons.
She only completed the tree late on Wednesday night – but had been planning the colours and decoration themes since the end of July.
Under the tree is where young visitors to the estate will hear about the myths and legends as well as the Christian message about Christmas.
They will also be taught the art of sugar craft and how to make their own decorations.
Lady Cavendish says: “We want them to know that you don’t have to buy everything, you can make your own things.”
Avoiding the commercial aspect of this time of year is something she focused on with her own children.
But she did speak with joy about how this year their grandson Hector, three, is soaking up Christmas and loves the tree.
Although it is a lot bigger than usual, Lady Cavendish says they have always had a real tree at Christmas.
Walking through the rooms of Holker Hall everywhere there are lights and Christmas decorations.
Even the busts have been adorned with festive greenery.
But this is also the home where the Cavendishes brought up their four children and in the library family photographs are scattered around the tables.
In one of the rooms Lady Cavendish points to the decorated fireplace saying: “The sliver twigs are from our daughter Lucy’s wedding.”
Asked how she felt about Christmas Lady Cavendish echoed the feelings of many parents: “It has always been family and that is very important.
“As more and more people get scattered it is the one time you can all get back together again as a family.
“When we were younger and stronger our children had 11 first cousins and they were all within three years of each other so there was a great bond.
“There used to be about 25 for Christmas every year because having a house like this they all descended on us.”
She did however, add later that she doesn’t like Christmas to linger and feels you should celebrate it and then move on.
But while family is the centre, Lord Cavendish adds that other people on the estate who may find themselves alone are far from forgotten.
He says: “We have a silver band here in the evening and we try and catch everyone who has not been caught by anything else.
“We keep a slight eye out for people.”
Lady Cavendish adds: “There are a lot of retired and widowed people on the estate.
“So we have mince pies and sing songs, it is a lovely event.”
Showing us the dining room where the family will sit down to Christmas lunch Lady Cavendish says: “We used to have turkey but now there are not so many of us I think we might have goose.”
But it is not just the house that has been given the full treatment, outside the garden is strewn with thousands of lights thanks to the work of festive events coordinator Alex Wilson who along with a dedicated team has spent months coming up with ideas and then putting them into action – after much consultation with Lady Cavendish.
To get some idea of the scale of work Alex casually mentions that in the sunken garden alone there are 4,000 lights.
While there has been much talk about the events for the children, Alex shows us to a lovely grotto very close to the house which is decked with hundreds of lights.
“This is so even the elderly and those with mobility problems can enjoy the garden and lights to full effect,” she says.
Walking through the grounds with his dogs at his side Lord Cavendish takes a serious tone: “I like Christmas, but I do like the New Year, I think it is a good time to take stock of what you have done over the year and stop and think about what you haven’t.
“It is a time to remember people who for some reason you might have lost touch with and think ‘I should see them’.
“We have discussed this terrible recession and how it is affecting the most vulnerable.”
And even on the estate both mention there were extra things they had wanted to do for the Christmas opening “but the budget meant we couldn’t.”
When it comes to presents Lady Cavendish says: “Every present seems to be the best one, but this year the one rule is every present has to be useful.”
But she does say she doesn’t like gadgets.
After all the months of preparation for the opening will it be repeated?
Having been persuaded (or bullied as Lady Cavendish puts it with a smile) by the estate’s new chief executive Duncan Peake into opening the hall and garden Lady Cavendish finishes with: “I have asked everyone to make notes of what to do next year – and what not to do – but that is ‘if’ we do it again.”

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