EVERY family has its own Christmas traditions. They are what help make the festive season such a unique and special occasion.
The Trevelyans of Wallington in Northumberland were no different. Their Christmases may have been spent in one of England’s grandest country mansions, but each one took a well-trodden path that was both exciting and dependably familiar.
This autumn Wallington has been celebrating the history of the beautiful 17th Century mansion and the extraordinary family who were the last Trevelyan incumbents.
Wallington was gifted to the National Trust in 1941 at the behest of Sir Charles Trevelyan, a former Labour minister who served in two pre- Second World War governments.
He believed that estates like Wallington shouldn’t be enjoyed by just the minority but the majority.
Sir Charles and his wife Mary (Molly) continued to live in the house until their respective deaths in 1958 and 1966.
Life continued as normal for the couple post-1941, and it was here that every Christmas until their deaths around 20 members of the Trevelyan family would gather to enjoy the festivities.
Among them was Janet Hall, the granddaughter of Sir Charles and Lady Trevelyan, daughter of the couple’s second youngest child, Patricia Jennings, 97, who until last year was still living at Wallington.
Born in 1943 at Wallington, Janet has vivid memories of celebrating Christmas with her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends during the 1950s.
They were, she recalls, fun and informal affairs with plenty of food, games, socialising, dancing and singing.
“My elder brother and I spent our early years at Wallington before we moved away. But we always came back to Wallington for Christmas and our holidays until I was about 13 when we moved back permanently to live on one of the estate farms,” Janet explains.
“I have many happy memories of that time, not least of all Christmas, which was a big family affair. They carried on like that until Granny died.”
On Christmas Day itself everyone had breakfast before opening their presents which would be placed on big armchairs bearing handwritten notes of their names, in the grand Central Hall.
It was here that the huge Christmas tree that had been brought in from the estate had pride of place. On Christmas Eve everyone would help decorate it and it would be lit with real candles.
“I can still remember being held aloft by one of my tall cousins to help place the candles. It was all very Victorian,” Janet says.
Christmas dinner would be served at 1pm sharp in the dining room – rather inconveniently situated at the opposite corner of the house to the kitchen.
“We always had roast turkey with all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding in which silver sixpences were hidden.”
As Wallington is a temperance estate, there would be no wine, just cider (allowed on special occasions) or juice served in tall glasses with an art nouveau pattern.
The Trevelyans had crackers, but Molly was very particular about how and when the assembled guests would be allowed to pull them.
“We weren’t allowed to pull them until the end of the meal and not until Granny said.
“We would then have to cross our arms, take hold of the end of the other person’s cracker and only on the count of three were we allowed to pull them,” Janet says.
“It’s the way we still do it in my house now.”
Christmas tea would be held in the Central Hall where a huge one-tier iced cake, with a candle in the middle and miniature Victorian porcelain figures, would take pride of place.
Janet still uses the figures on her own Christmas cakes.
Afterwards the family would play party games and sing carols assembled around the piano in the drawing room.
While Janet has happy memories of her childhood Christmases at Wallington, she says she has never tried to recapture them.
“You realise you can’t,” she says simply.
“It was lovely being able to spend Christmas with my mother in her flat here at Wallington, but those early Christmases were of their own particular time and place.
“Wallington belongs to everyone now – which is what my grandfather wanted.”
But visitors to Wallington in the run-up to Christmas can get a flavour of what those Trevelyan festivities may have been like in the 1950s alongside a host of more modern seasonal foodie events and activities aimed at children and the young at heart.
Parts of the Palladian mansion are decked out with 1950s-style decorations and toys while a 12ft Christmas tree grown on the estate has once again taken up residence in the Central Hall.
The table in the dining room is set for Christmas dinner while in the parlour all is ready for festive tea.
Meanwhile, Santa’s Grotto has sprung up in the committee room and Mrs Claus is telling tall seasonal tales in the drawing room.
And in the historic kitchen you can try your hand at making sweets and decorating seasonal biscuits as part of the fun activities taking place on the Christmas at Wallington weekends.
After you’ve worked up an appetite you can wander over the grassed courtyard to the Clocktower Cafe where a festive menu – roast turkey with all the trimmings or beef casserole and for vegetarians stuffed peppers followed by Christmas pudding or a trio of ice cream with a fruit coulis – is being served daily until December 23.
It all sounds like the perfect way to celebrate the sights and sounds of the festive season.
Wallington, Cambo, Northumberland, NE61 4AR, 01670 773600, www.nationaltrust. org.uk/wallington.
Christmas biscuit decorating and sweet making takes place on December 8-9, 15-16 and 22-23 from 10.30am-3.30pm in the historic kitchen. Suitable for all the family. There is a small charge for this activity.
Wallington is open daily until December 23 from 10am-4.30pm. It reopens between December 27-30 and on January 1. Please note the house is closed except for the special events.
Christmas Shortbread Biscuits
(Makes 12 biscuits)
315g plain flour
125g ground rice
125g granulated sugar
Caster sugar for sprinkling
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Once the ingredients are well mixed, roll out the dough.
Cut out the biscuits using shaped Christmas cutters.
Prick the biscuits with a fork and sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake at 175C/350F/gas mark 4 until the biscuits just start to colour.
Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.
Once cool, decorate with icing.