Getting ready for Christmas at Mompesson House

Setting up the table in the dining room

As soon as the house shut at the end of October, the task of getting it ready for Christmas opening began. This feels like it does in most households at this time of year.

Food

We’ve put an extra leaf in the dining table, have looked for extra chairs and got out the best tablecloths and china to fill the rooms. With the help of volunteers, the cooking has started too.  There’s a lot of cooking happening but not always with the ingredients that you would expect.

We have to have food that lasts for the weeks that we are open and therefore our kitchens are looking a bit different to usual. We have pies that have been made with flour and Polyfilla, jelly that is not real jelly but made from the ‘scenic water’ that model makers use and real icing over polystyrene cakes. We have had to experiment a lot with the scenic water. Jelly, flummery and even ink in a bottle have been made with this. Adding food colouring leaves it transparent, but add some watercolour paint and it becomes opaque. My office desk has been covered with countless experiments to discover if anything melts with the heat or collapses with a prod.

As we are replicating a Georgian Christmas some of the food (mainly biscuits) is real and taken from original recipes of the time. The dining room is being set up to look like the dessert course and the table is going to be full of gorgeous food fit for a feast.

Quilling

We are also showing what Georgians made to give as presents. I have now acquired the new skill of quilling! Quilling is an art form that involves the use of strips of paper that are rolled, shaped and glued together to create a design. I have been quilling a box to look like a tea caddy, taking the design of the box from the plaster work and fireplace in the small drawing room.

Designing the quilled tea caddy
Designing the quilled tea caddy

In the 18th-century, quilling became popular in Europe where gentle ladies of leisure practiced the art. I have to say the box has been a labour of love and has taken many hours to complete. Thanks to the volunteers who helped me with this task. With a few days until we open I’m still quilling!

Final preparations

We are now waiting for the greenery to arrive and the final push to get the house ready for opening at the weekend. We have to protect the collection so all the exposed surfaces have to be covered with archival polyester sheets. These are fine films of plastic that cover the furniture and fireplaces. Even the handrail on the stairs will be covered to protect it. The plates with food on also need protecting, so clingfilm is our friend for this.

The last jobs in the house will be getting it ready to open the doors to the public. It has been quiet in the house in the last few weeks, I will wind the clocks on Friday and the house will start to come to life again with the swing of their pendulums and their gentle chimes. Add the visitors and a bit of Christmas spirit and the magic of the house returns.