Festive Fun at Stoneywell

The cottage at Stoneywell in snow

While the nature of Christmas may have changed in Stoneywell's 100 year existence, the spirit remains the same: spending quality time together as a family. And while Stoneywell might be closing for winter on 30 November, we're keeping that festive spirit alive with some seasonal events and activities.

Little is known today about what Christmas was like in the early years after Stoneywell was built, at the turn of the twentieth century. Originally Stoneywell was not intended as the permanent residence it went on to become; instead, the Gimsons would move from the family's townhouse in Leicester to Stoneywell to spend the summer months, vacating by late October.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s it appears that the family would spend Christmas in the city but Sydney (Stoneywell's first owner, who commissioned Stoneywell) would take a day trip to Stoneywell sometime between Christmas and New Year, bringing with him whoever wished to join him.

" On Friday we went to Stoneywell - we had brilliant sunshine and everything looked lovely. We did just the usual looking round, had a cup of coffee, got vegetables from George & a rabbit & then home."
- Sydney Gimson, letter dated 1931

In the mid 1930 Sydney's son Basil would stay at Stoneywell over Christmas with his family, and Sydney and the others from Leicester would go to visit for the day. In another of his letters, Sydney describes a day spent feasting with the family, before retreating to 'The Den', now the tea-room kitchen. Sydney transformed the original harness room into the Den, lining the walls with insulating boards and installing a comfortable armchair where he could read or snooze in peace and quiet.

" ... We got off to Stoneywell at 10.45. When we got there there were more presents to open and then we all went for a stroll down the new path in the wood. At dinner we had a noble turkey and Basil succeeded in serving the whole ten of us from the breast. The plum pudding provided a three-penny bit for each of us! We had various fruits afterwards and then I retired for the afternoon to my Den where I slept comfortably in a deck chair, the upholstered chair being in the cottage, with a lovely fire. Four of us played bridge and Donald played chess with his Grandma while the rest did jig-saws &c after tea. Supper closed the party and then we came home with a beautifully clear night."
- Sydney Gimson, letter dated 1934

Just as food was central to Sydney's celebrations over 80 years ago, today the tea-room is getting into the Christmas spirit with an array of festive treats on offer, including freshly baked mince pies. The shop, which can also be found in the laundry tea-room, has some great gifts available, including Arts and Crafts inspired toiletries and soft furnishings, and mirrors and jigsaws. While a chess set is not on the shelves to fully recreate Sydney's Christmas, keep an eye out for his grandson's hand-carved set in Olympus.

Pomanders at Stoneywell, Leicestershire

Although the cottage won't yet be decorated for Christmas, we'll be getting into the festive spirit with some of the family's decorations out in the room, as though the Gimsons are getting ready for Christmas. We'll even be making some of our own: come along and make a pomander, as well as table decorations using festive foliage freshly cut from the garden. While you're here, add to our Stoneywell-inspired paper chain - let's see how long we can make it!

A family making a festive table decoration at Stoneywell, Leicestershire

While Stoneywell is soon closing its doors for the winter, the work doesn't stop there. The team have an action-packed couple of weeks ahead, with a programme of essential conservation work to completed throughout the cottage and its grounds, with invaluable support from its dedicated volunteers. It's never too late to join the team - why not find out more online or contact the team for more information? You can also find out a lot more about Stoneywell's conservation work - as well as plans for the new year - and check out behind the scenes updates on our Facebok page.