Happiness is life in Bramhall at Christmas
PUBLISHED: 12:45 26 November 2013 | UPDATED: 16:13 15 September 2017
Cheshire Life went to meet busy residents of a small town famed for its village atmosphere and community spirit
They have been celebrating Christmas for around 500 years at one of Cheshire’s most renowned great houses. But how much would our Tudor forbears recognise about our 21st Century festive revelry since most of the ‘traditional’ trappings of Christmas - the cards, the tinsel, the trees, most of the carols and even Santa himself - merely date from the 19th Century, many brought from Germany by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert. The turkey too is a relative latecomer.
But were the ghosts of Bramall Hall’s most illustrious residents, Sir William and Dorothy Davenport, who lived there for over 50 years from 1585, to stalk the halls and staircases of the house this Christmas, it would be something of an education. For this year’s festive theme - it changes every year - in the beautifully decorated, nationally important Grade I listed treasure is ‘The Great British Christmas’.
Caroline Egan, manager of Bramall Hall, now owned and operated by Stockport Council, explained : ‘In previous years we have had Flower Fairies, Jack Frost, Victorian Christmas and the characters from Charles Dickens’ stories. This time 15 rooms in the house will each feature an interpretation of a different tradition.
‘In the banqueting room for instance, there will be Christmas cake, crackers and mince pies; a Nativity scene in the chapel and a pantomime in the ballroom - together with explanations of the origins of the traditions and customs with each display.’
The spectral Davenports, please take note!
The house will be decorated by an army of 60 volunteers, mainly drawn from local flower design clubs, with their handiwork unveiled to visitors on 12th December. Before that, from 11th November to 6th December, the hall will host its annual Tudor Christmas educational tours which will see more than 1,000 eight and nine year olds from schools all over Stockport and beyond pass through the hallowed doors.
Amanda Phillipson, the hall’s learning and activities manager said: ‘We accommodate five schools a day, each with a party averaging 25 children. They are greeted as invited guests of Sir William and Lady Davenport and get to meet various people in the household dressed in the costume of 1599 and as they travel through the house the children engage in different activities.’
Apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Mondays, the decorated hall will be open daily up to and including New Year’s Day - one of the busiest days in the calendar - during which a programme of special seasonal events will also unfold. Said Caroline: ‘We have a programme of Christmas concerts in the Great Hall ranging from the guitarist Gordon Giltrap to the ensemble Figgy Pudding. Audiences arrive an hour before the show, see the decorated hall and enjoy mulled wine and mince pies at the interval. On 15th December Christmas Cracker Day with Santa, musicians, magicians and entertainers - something we have done for 18 years - we’d expect something like 500 visitors.”
Among the most sought-after events at Bramall Hall at any time of year are the two carol services in the hall’s historic chapel - first mentioned in 1541 - on Christmas Eve led by clergy from St Michael’s Parish Church. ‘There’s only room for a congregation of about 60 people so tickets are always sold out well in advance,’ said Caroline. ‘The proceeds are donated to Christian Aid.’
Christmas is a time of cheer and good will...and they know all about that in Bramhall. For recent research at the University of Sheffield revealed that the village is the least lonely place in the country, according to a range of indicators. For the Rev Leslie Newton, minister at Bramhall Methodist Church the sense of community in the village is very strong - especially at Christmas.
‘We are in a great location, right in the heart of the village and Christmas is enormously important. It’s a great opportunity to connect in the community in a different way. There are always full houses for our carol and Christingle services on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning - a sign that people seek something beyond food and drink and retail.
‘I first came here in 2006 and I found the village to be a place that’s very easy to feel at home in. There’s a good sense of community and Christmas gives an added dimension.’
Bramhall Village Centre will provide the focus for a series of events throughout December with the ceremonial switching on of ‘Light Up Bramhall’ over the weekend of the 7th and 8th. Victoria Steventon, spokesman for the centre said: ‘Around the tree there will be Christmas market stalls, Santa’s grotto, a post box for children to send letters to Santa - and they will receive replies from the North Pole - and a wish tree where people can pin messages about loved ones.’
For 14 nights members of Bramhall and Woodford Rotary Club will continue a 40-year-old tradition by driving a float - recently refurbished at a cost of £3,500 - around local avenues and streets carrying Santa on his sleigh and playing Christmas music. Club spokesman Ian Dobson said: ‘Each of the 14 nights will be allocated to a different local charity with Rotarians proving the driver and team leader. Then at the end of the fortnight, all the donations collected along the way will be shared equally amongst the charities.’
The festive season is a busy period for Bramhall’s butchers, bakers and magic makers. Master butcher James Day, owner of H G Beard, established 108 years ago, expects queues outside his shop every day in the week before Christmas. A butcher for 45 years, having ‘retired and come back’, James and his six staff will be at full stretch preparing more than 800 turkeys, curing their own bacon and producing 40 different varieties of sausages.
‘Virtually everything that comes in the shop is sourced locally from Cheshire farms,” he said. “including a full range of finest quality game. Turkey - we do a cross between white and bronze - is far and away the most popular choice for the festive table, but more people are choosing goose and duck. And those old traditional favourites rib of beef and sirloin on the bone are still favourites too.”
For Andrew Cant, books still weave magic at Christmas for children. Andrew, who runs award-winning Simply Books with partner Sue Steel, said: “We have lots of grandparents coming in at Christmas with lists for their grandchildren, reminiscing about the stories that they loved when they were young. Tastes have changed, but there’s always room for Swallows and Amazons.
‘We hold a pyjama party in the room upstairs, decorated like a grotto, just before Christmas when 40 to 50 children come with their parents. Sue reads from The Night Before Christmas and other stories. You really can create magic with books and Christmas is a very special time.’