Christmas creatives of Doddington

Amongst the employees of the Doddington Estate are some exceptionally talented individuals. This year, more than ever, they are the driving force behind the Hall’s ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ themed displays.

House manager, Hannah Richards is the person who oversees the magical presentations in the rooms and keeper of the planning spreadsheet. The logistics of drawing all the teams and the various elements of the displays together is huge, so Hannah, along with Angus Forbes, the assistant house manager, needs to keep detailed records of what is required where and when.

Brainstorming
Once last year’s displays were dismantled and the staff had chance to catch their breath, the initial meeting for Christmas 2023 was held in February.

“We invite staff from our different departments to a brainstorming session to see what ideas they have,” explained Hannah. “I have to give credit to my mother for mentioning ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ to me over a Sunday lunch. When we discussed this as a group we thought this classic carol lends itself perfectly to the collaborative approach we encourage. It gives the opportunity for anyone within the business who wants to be involved to add their input. I then work backwards to establish timescales for the elements needed in rooms.”

“Most departments of the estate are involved this year,” said Angus.

“From our wonderful volunteers, to the estate and maintenance staff; the garden and Country Clothing teams and this year Wilder Doddington will have responsibility for their own room. I will be creating Six Geese A Laying on the large chest on the first floor landing.

“My two favourite parts of the whole process are the initial brainstorming and then the final setup when everything comes together.”

Fashioning models
Pippa Chapman and Abbie Clarke are usually to be found in the Doddington Country Clothing Store.

Their retail roles are augmented from summer onwards creating models and props for the Christmas displays. Visitors to the Hall last year will surely remember their beautiful recreation of Jeremy Fisher in the Tiger Bedroom. Pippa and Abbie have taken on even more responsibility this year with the Five Gold Rings, Nine Ladies Dancing and Twelve Drummers Drumming as their inspiration.

“I always have in mind what will especially entrance young visitors to the Hall. Christmas is such a magical time for children and I love to see their reaction when they enter each room,” said Pippa. “Five Gold Rings immediately brought the Olympics to mind, so there will be snowmen and penguins holding their Winter Olympics (with ski run) down a Grand Staircase banister.”

The Tiger Bedroom will have a Nutcracker inspired presentation of Nine Ladies Dancing and Twelve Drummers Drumming. Each of the Drummers has been made by Pippa from recycled materials including cardboard crisp tubes, the packaging rolls for silver foil and catering sized baked bean tins for their drums.

“Creativity, sustainability and recycling has always been behind the making of our displays. The estate is blessed with natural resources such as trees, reeds and seasonal foliage but there is also waste we can recycle from our catering and retail activities. The penguins, whose bodies are made from black socks, are stuffed with waste packaging from our Farm Shop and also from our Country Clothing deliveries.”

Pippa, who comes from a family of model makers, has hand crafted characterful, colourful drummer boys, while the nine dancing ballerinas who will twirl in the same room are the creation of James Richards (Hannah’s husband) of Sets Role. James has undertaken much of the design and carpentry work this year, creating the jewellery boxes on which the ballerinas will dance. The other characters in the room will be an army of card rats and mice sword fighting amongst themselves in this fantasy Christmas Eve setting.

Different interpretations
A strength of the collaborative approach is the different interpretations of the theme which emerge.

“Visitors will not find the rooms in numerical order and some themes are echoed,” said Hannah.

“A good example will be Rachel Petheram of Catkin Flowers’ seasonal interpretation of Five Gold Rings.

The Great Hall will feature a splendidly laid banquet of the just departed Ten Lords A Leaping while the Four Calling Birds will be a sound interpretation in the bar.”

Emma Beswick of the Wilder Doddington team has created two beautiful Turtle Doves whose nest of dried rushes and reeds gathered from across the estate will be housed in the Tent Room. They were some of the first larger models to be brought into the Hall when the setup began at the start of October.

“Many of our themes are playful while others are interpretive. The garden team are creating Eight Maids a Milking, which will of course feature a cow, milk churns and stools as well as natural material from the garden.”

There are still contributions from external creatives including Nadya Monfrinoli and Lou Jones from Lumo Workshop, who are creating A Partridge in a Pear Tree, and Howell and his Lincoln College team who will decorate the Long Gallery to the theme of Twelve Drummers Drumming. Upstairs you will also catch a glimpse of Seven Swans a Swimming in their little bathroom.

Volunteers
The amount of hours which staff and volunteers give to the Hall Christmas decorations each year is immense. Members of the more than 40 volunteers have not only created the penguins and snowmen, they have also been responsible for knitting outfits for the Three French Hens; each of them unique in their Gallic décor.

“The making events are designed to be social and fun so we welcome volunteers with coffee and cake while they set about their work. Bridget Bateson is responsible for all the flower arrangements in the Hall and will be contributing everything from the thistle posies, laid on the seats of all the chairs to discourage their casual use, to large scale arrangements in the Hall.”

Volunteers will also play a big part in guiding visitors around The Twelve Days of Christmas and will staff an Access Room in the Brown Parlour. This room allows those who cannot climb the staircase the chance to explore the installations via a slide show and narrative.

Teamwork
With so many elements to install in a relatively short space of time, it is all hands to help, from the estate workers felling the Christmas trees for the Tree Yard and the Hall, to maintenance helping to build the sets and backdrops.

Hannah concluded: “Doddington is at heart a family home, our designs are always fun and quirky, they reflect the inventiveness of more than 70 of our staff as well as our strong commitment to sustainability. The Hall is the jewel in the crown of the estate and each year this is the chance for each department and their talented team members to show their own input into the upkeep of the Hall.”

Of course, Norway Spruces grown on the estate will be a twinkling feature of many of the rooms. With more than 20 spread throughout the journey through the Hall, they should be a mesmerising addition to this year’s theme.

The Twelve Days of Christmas opens on 18th November until 22nd December. Tickets are now on sale at www.doddingtonhall.com



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