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Christmas time at Arley Hall

PUBLISHED: 00:00 01 December 2014 | UPDATED: 11:49 24 October 2015

West Door Entrance hall decorated by Thoughtful Flowers

West Door Entrance hall decorated by Thoughtful Flowers

Archant

Arley Hall has been in the loving keeping of the Warburton family since 1470 and, as you’d expect, looks simply glorious at Christmas.

The Library decorated by Oakfield High SchoolThe Library decorated by Oakfield High School

The current Viscount Ashbrook and his wife Lady Ashbrook may no longer live within the walls of this wonderful stately home, but that doesn’t mean it is no longer the centre of a family Christmas. The festive celebrations still feature all the traditions you’d expect from a family that has made Cheshire their own since the Norman Conquest, first in Warburton near Lymm, and since then in their current home at Arley.

While the original Hall – a timber-framed building with its own moat – has been replaced, many of the outer buildings date back beyond the glorious 19th century structure we see today and many of these form an integral part of Arley’s 21st century Christmas celebrations.

But what of the family’s Christmas? A chat with Lord Ashbrook, the current Viscount, is a truly lovely experience. He is a softly spoken, courteous and charming gentleman, clearly very proud not only of his heritage, but of the place that Arley still holds in Cheshire, maintaining a considerable presence despite – or perhaps because of – significant changes to the estate and its functioning within his own lifetime. He’s modest and self-effacing and says that family Christmases at Arley are very much like family Christmases in homes across the country.

‘Arley Hall is no longer the lived-in family home it was for centuries, of course,’ he said. ‘It’s now largely open to the public and it is used for many different events and up to 60 weddings a year.

The Front Hall with arrangements by G D FlowersThe Front Hall with arrangements by G D Flowers

‘My sister Jane [who runs the Nursery at Arley] and her husband live in a flat in the East Wing. However, it is still our family home in that is still belongs to the family and all the furnishings in it belong to the family, having being collected over many years.

‘We’re repeatedly told that this gives a homely feel to the Hall. We’re able to host a lovely variety of functions here and it’s particularly suitable to dinners and parties.

‘What I love particularly about Christmas now at Arley is that so many of the rooms and outdoor buildings are used so well. The children’s Christmas trees in the Cruck Barn are a lovely feature of Christmas at Arley.

‘While we may no longer live in the Hall, we do have our Christmas dinner in the main dining room. When the family come together there can be up to 24 of us, so we gather there for our turkey and plum pudding.

The Library decorated by Oakfield High SchoolThe Library decorated by Oakfield High School

‘I really think our Christmas is no different to thousands of other people’s Christmases,’ Lord Ashbrook added. ‘We put sherry and cake out on the fireplace for Father Christmas on Christmas Eve and he often comes to visit the grandchildren in the afternoon, bringing some parcels for them.

‘As a child I remember it being wonderful when all the big rooms were brought into use. We’d have a big Christmas tree, lots of holly and paper decorations went up.

‘My childhood memories are quite conventional – putting out stockings and waking up all through the night, wondering if Father Christmas had been yet.’

Today the Stable Yard Christmas tree, a Norway Spruce, still come from the Arley Estate, as does the turkey. Lord Ashbrook’s sister makes the plum pudding too, making it a truly family affair.

www.arleyhallandgardens.com

Christmas Floral Extravaganza

The rooms you see so beautifully decorated here are the result of magnificent efforts by local florists and floristry colleges who take the opportunity to showcase their talents to the wider public.

Events manager at Arley Hall and Gardens, Helen Robinson, explains: ‘Many of the decorations will be inspired by – or will be using – plants from Arley Hall’s award-winning gardens recreating a tradition that goes back hundreds of years.

‘Designing and delivering Arley’s decorative scheme enables the florists and floristry students who take part each year to showcase their skills and creativity. For the students especially this offers a real practical chance to demonstrate their skills and add something dramatic to their portfolios.

‘The only brief we give those participating is that it should be traditional. We pay a fee for each room decorated and then leave the teams to develop their own themes. It’s always a lovely surprise when it’s all completed and ready to reveal.’

Of course, the images on these pages are the result of work done in 2013. In 2014 the Hall will be decorated anew, with a range of stunning creations for the Floral Extravaganza which runs from Saturday 6th to Thursday 11th December. The event offers not only a chance to see Arley Hall in all its Christmas glory - and to marvel at the stunning floral designs - but to enjoy additional festive treats too.

Visitors can also experience the spine-tingling experience of seeing the Hall lit by candlelight while listening to a choir perform traditional Christmas songs on Monday 8th and Wednesday 10th December (between 6pm and 9pm, admission £9).

On Tuesday 9 December, at 2pm, you can watch the flamboyant Carl Wilde, an internationally renowned floral designer, as he creates the most amazing Christmas floral display. And excitingly, for those keen to chat, he will be on hand for any questions you may have afterwards. (admission £13.50 including entry to The Hall)

A tree-mendous effort

Children and Christmas are inextricably linked, like turkey and stuffing, plum pudding and brandy sauce one would be nothing without the other.

Arley celebrates this every year with a wonderful display of Christmas trees in their Cruck Barn, a Grade I listed building originally constructed in 1471, at the same time as the Warburton family moved from their lands near Lymm to their current home.

Each year over 10 local schools decorate Christmas trees in the Cruck Barn, resulting in a room filled with colour and resonating with excitement for the holiday to come.

This year the trees will be on display from 6th to 11th December and the various schools’ efforts will be judged by the team from Stockley Farm, who will award a class visit prize to the winning school.

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