Scandinavian splendour - Christmas at Rode Hall
PUBLISHED: 00:16 14 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:26 20 February 2013
There's a glorious, but different kind of Christmas at Rode Hall...marzipan pigs on the tree, searching for almonds in a sea of rice pudding... WORDS BY EMMA MAYOH PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
The print version of this article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Cheshire Life
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The Christmas dinner table will be full at Rode Hall this year. Sir Richard and Anne Baker Wilbraham who call this glorious Cheshire residence home, will be joined by all members of their family from their children to grandchildren as well as cherished friends.
There is no doubt the festive season is a major event for the family. Not only is it a time they can all be together, it is also the opportunity for Rode Hall to be decorated in superb style.
You will spot traditional customs like baubles on the trees and Christmas stockings on the fireplaces although someone may need to point Father Christmas in the right direction as there are nine chimney stacks and 37 chimneys here for him to choose from.
But Anne has also taken inspiration from her childhood Christmas celebrations and Norwegian ancestry.
Look closely and youll see marzipan pigs, homemade heart-shaped baskets filled with nuts and raisins and if youre lucky you may even find Jul Nissen, a small Christmas gnome, hiding under the tree.
Anne said: The marzipan pigs were put there I suppose because its something good to eat. It is also traditional to drink Aquavit and to eat a delicious almond cake.
I have many fond memories of Christmas. We spent them in England but we would also visit my uncle in Norway. The main celebrations happened on Christmas Eve. This would be the first time you would see the Christmas tree.
We would traditionally have eaten a first course of rice pudding because it was a way of filling people up when Norway was a poor country. All the children would eat as much as they could to find an almond that had been placed in it. Whoever found it was allowed to have a present.
Preparing Rode Hall for Christmas is no mean feat. Planning starts months before and it takes at least four days to dress the house. The Christmas trees are cut from the estates grounds and Anne, who leads the decorating, gathers holly, boughs and other materials to make garlands. Anne is helped by one of her daughters, Charlotte, who is creating a design for one of the rooms this year that is being kept under wraps.
Rode Hall has been in the Wilbraham family almost 350 years. It was also run as a war-time recuperation centre by one of the familys forebears, Kitty, in a similar style to the military hospital at TVs Downton Abbey.
Sir Richard and Anne have been at Rode Hall since 1980 and were responsible for the massive restoration of the building. But it was only last year they decided to open the hall up at Christmas, inviting hundreds of people into their home.
This year they have even bigger plans with the hall being opened up for the first two weekends in December.
As well as being able to see the Scandinavian splendour, the upstairs rooms will contain special displays marking 100 years of Christmas at the hall. Elaborate evening dresses loaned by Macclesfield Silk Museum will be displayed and visitors will be able to see where Sir George Wilbrahams manservant has laid out his white tie outfit in the dressing room.
Childrens outfits of sailor suits and white lace dresses will also be on view along with a classic wooden rocking horse.
Anne said: Were recreating the feel of that wonderful programme Downton Abbey. What were showing is those lovely years at Rode Hall that were enjoyed before the dreadful times of the First and Second World Wars. These were leisurely, nice times for the family.
Rode Hall is a special place and we hope to celebrate the building and Christmas in the best way we can.
The tea rooms will be open as will the biggest farmers market ever held at the hall, which takes place on December 3rd. More than 70 stall holders will be selling everything from cheese, cakes and plants to meat, fish and organic produce. Plus theres the opportunity to stock up on Christmas gifts, children can take part in festive craft activities and there will be entertainment by the Lions Youth Brass Band from Sandbach.
Sir Richard said: Christmas at Rode is the most special time of year. We are delighted to be sharing our home, traditions and history with visitors.
Christmas shopping for extra special artisan gifts, hand-made decorations and the finest produce from the area, combined with a wholesome home-made lunch and a tour around one of Cheshires oldest private country houses uniquely dressed for a magical Christmas, it cant fail to get everyone in the festive mood.
The profit from ticket sales will support Macclesfield Silk Museum and All Saints Church at Odd Rode.