‘O Christmas Tree’ – the festive season celebrated at Doddington Hall

Lincolnshire Life was given exclusive access as Claire and James Birch and their team prepared to unveil another magical transformation of the historic Hall.

The bunches of drying flowers, fruits and foliage hung, since the autumn, under cover close to the Farm Shop entrance have perhaps been a clue to the more sharp eyed visitors of the planning underway.

It takes weeks of preparation but just six days of frantic activity to have those decorations ready when the doors open to the public on Sunday 25th November.

It is 60 years since the first Christmas trees were planted in Doddington’s own ‘Christmas Wood’ on the estate and the anniversary has been the inspiration for this year’s ‘O Christmas Tree’ theme which will celebrate trees in every size, shape, form and material.

The magical transformation of many of the Hall’s most spectacular rooms – from the Victorian themed Parlour, to festive food in the Great Hall and spectacular trees in the Long Gallery – has been carefully designed and home crafted by the Doddington team itself.

It seemed fitting that our visit began in the company of David Logan, the estate’s head gardener and woodland manager. He oversees management of the Christmas Wood where up to 3,000 new saplings of Norway Spruce and some Nordman Fir are planted annually in a natural woodland setting, then nurtured without the aid of pesticides, herbicides or fertiliser. On average the trees grow one foot per year so are ready to be cropped after eight to ten years. David and his team fell trees daily to replenish the Stable Yard sales area during the festive season,

Some trees are left to grow substantially taller, up to 30 feet and you will see those in town centres across the county and one ‘Light up a Life’ tree takes prominent place in front of Lincoln Cathedral as part of the annual St Barnabas Hospice appeal.

The estate also has ancient woodland and two Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Last year 8,000 deciduous trees were planted for the biomass market and to feed the estate’s biomass boiler which provides energy to the village.

Doddington Hall remains a lived-in and much-loved family home for the Birchs and their family and Claire Birch works closely with the Doddington team to create the festive decorations. This year again includes contributions from Doddington based florist Rachel Petheram of Catkin Flowers and Howell Thomas and his students from Lincoln College.

Rachel and her colleague Michelle Kelsey were already busy at work on the food theme for decorating the Great Hall as we arrived back from the wood. Fir trees decorated with shining items of cutlery, wine glass pyramids and dried bracken ‘trees’ adorned with vibrant red peppers, Brussels sprouts and colourful carrots harvested from the Kitchen Garden; delicate colourways which blend perfectly with the Elizabethan heritage of the room. Claire had created a centrepiece ‘bottle tree’ decked with holly. The beer bottles, some of which were still full, date from the late 18th century and were brewed for Sir John Delaval in anticipation of his only son’s 21st birthday. His son died aged 19 and the bottles remained in the Hall’s cellars. They make a striking and poignant contribution to the decorations.

Visitors are sure to be inspired and amazed by the home crafted displays that also include dried alliums, artichokes, bean-pods, maize and hydrangeas, and items such as twigs, moss, ivy and mistletoe foraged on the estate. Quirky, intriguing and fun, there is plenty to look out for not only in the Great Hall but also the Christmas Tree ladies in the Drawing Room; moss trees in a recreated natural woodland in the Holly Bedroom and a paper sculptured flower tree in the Tent Room. The route through the Hall will take visitors eventually to some very special, huge Christmas trees in the Long Gallery, which will be the stars of the show. Created by Howell Thomas and students from Lincoln College, the display will include a miniature railway.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors through our doors again,” said Claire. “It is a fabulous opportunity to soak up the festive atmosphere of Christmas in a family home, which has seen a lot of Christmas mornings over its 400-year history. We hope people will return to see this year’s spectacular displays that have been lovingly created by our family and staff. Visitors will be able to see Christmas trees from angles they have never seen them, Christmas trees made from surprising and extraordinary things, Christmas trees as ball-gowns and of course a celebration of the very first Christmas tree dating back to Victorian times.”

The Bauble Barn and Toy Shop in the Stable Yard are now open.

Doddington estate grown trees will be on sale in the Stable Yard from Saturday 24th November.

The Hall will be opening its doors for the festive season from Sunday 25th November through to Sunday 23rd December, Wednesdays through to Sundays. Wednesday to Friday 12-4pm, Saturday & Sunday 10am-4pm. Tickets cost £11 for adults and £5.50 for children (under 3 years are free).

There will be extra festive magic for children too as families can book a visit to see Father Christmas and his Christmas Elves at the weekends in the Hall’s cosy Library. As we go to print this event has been sold out but please check online for last minute ticket availability. There is an additional fee to visit Father Christmas.

There will also be a late-night shopping event on Thursday 29th between 5pm-9pm. The Farm Shop, Home Store, Country Clothing and Bike Shop will be open to allow shoppers the chance to stock up on festive food and buy gifts, treats and artisan products.

Tickets can be booked online or pay on arrival at the Gatehouse. More details can be found at: www.doddingtonhall.com

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