Getting ready for Christmas at Standen
17 trees, a team of ten, two glasses for Gin and French and one vintage Father Christmas costume. Standen’s House Manager, Ben Dale explains how staff, volunteers and visitors help bring the Beale family's house to life at Christmas.
What can visitors look forward to this year at Standen?
This year we’re welcoming design duo Timorous Beasties to Standen to decorate our Winter Tree in the Courtyard.
In the house we’ll have our Beale family Christmas through the Ages, exploring how the Beale family celebrated Christmas’ at Standen from Victorian times to the present day. Each room will be dressed in a different era, researched from our archives. It’s complemented by our History of Christmas exhibition.
When do you begin to plan for Christmas at Standen?
We begin to plan around March time for the next year, so Christmas is never far from our thoughts!
How do you take visitors back in time to Christmases past?
Whether it’s the traditions of a Victorian family Christmas or reminiscing over 1960s decor and seeing what was on TV at Christmas 1969 in the Radio Times, there’s a room to suit everyone. Smell the real trees and Christmas dinner, experience the thrill of electric fairy lights as they were introduced in our 1920s room and contribute your own Christmas traditions to our traditions tree.
Which is your favourite room to decorate?
That’s a difficult one! I love the 1960s room – the 1969 Sony Trinitron TV and the Gin and French that the Farm Manager used to enjoy with Helen Beale (that's a drink made with gin and dry vermouth). Plus there's the thrill of brightly coloured plastic toys and gifts – it is something very different, but you recognise many of the traditions today too. I also like our contemporary Christmas which celebrates the family of Standen today made up of all our volunteers, staff and visitors – the tree for this space is something a bit different but inspired by Standen.
What is the oldest decoration you put up?
We have a mix of decorations that we make according to the traditions of each era or that are generously loaned to us for the displays by our volunteers. Probably the oldest item is a print of a card, A Dream of Patience designed by Alice Havers. It won first prize in a Christmas card competition in 1882. It was used again in 1885 for the programme of a private performance of Act 2 of Patience, which took place at Sir W.S. Gilbert's home in Harrington Gardens, London. Alice also illustrated various programmes for original Gilbert and Sullivan operas at the Royal English Opera House and the Savoy Theatre. Alice trained at South Kensington, the Royal Academy, and in Paris.
Which Christmas traditions are special to Standen?
From tongue-in-cheek present agreements to the Head Gardener’s Christmas day bouquets, there have been plenty of traditions at Christmas time at Standen. James Beale would dress up as Father Christmas to surprise his children and grandchildren. The family would gather in the lower staircase hall and wait for the rattle of the fire irons in the drawing room. After James Beale died in 1912 Helen Beale carried on this Christmas tradition by taking over the role of Father Christmas (complete with beard), but insisted on entering the house by the front door.
" One Christmas afternoon we children were all herded into the hall and distinctly heard the rattle of the drawing room fire irons, proving that Father Christmas really had come down the chimney. We rushed in and there he was, just as we had expected, standing by the big Christmas tree and gruffly presenting each one with splendid presents."