Christmas. The most special of times. Family traditions are upheld or made. Everywhere is touched with the warmth of twinkling fairy lights. The every day just feels more magical somehow. Well this week, Nik and I stepped back in time to experience a well to do family Christmas of the 1800’s. Scotney Castle, a property now cared for and loved by the National Trust Kent, is transformed into Christmas past. The Hussey family, the most recent owners of the castle, cordially invite you to step into their yuletide home….
Christmas at National Trust Kent’s Scotney Castle
Our National Trust membership has allowed us to visit so many beautiful, historical houses in the UK this year. But, in my opinion, these grand houses come into their own at Christmas time. Just standing outside the leaded windows of the old, now vacant original castle gave you a glimpse of what was inside. The abundance of lights on the large Christmas tree beckoned you to step inside the home, and out of the cold of the November day.
This moated castle, the original property to the land, now stands empty. The ghosts of times gone by can still however be felt in the atmosphere within. Sitting in the large wing back chair beside the fireplace, I could picture the Hussey family, their children playing with toys on the floor, full of excited laughter. I could almost smell the turkey cooking and hear the bustle of the kitchen staff preparing for the festivities to come.
The original castle, the building of which began in 1378, is now slowly being reclaimed by the nature around it. This was the intention of the family, that the castle gently fall into forming part of the landscape. They wanted it to still be very much a beautiful castle in Kent, but it was not economical to still live within it.
The Hussey family, owners of the castle since the late 1700’s, built and moved into, the much larger house in the 1800’s. The newer property is the home that greets you once you have made your way up the long, tree lined driveway. Set in a more elevated position than the original castle, the views from the house over the land and towards the castle are just beautiful.
Inside This beautiful Castle in Kent
The huge oak doors at the main entrance to the newer house are your time machine. Once you step through them, you are transported to Christmas Eve, 1872.
The scent of fern, mixed with cloves and sweet orange, greets you. Hundreds of flickering candles draw your eye to the floor to ceiling tree taking pride of place. Gifts, wrapped and ready to be opened by the family, are piled around the foot of the tree. The most beautiful, detailed dolls house sits to the left, ready for curious young minds to delve into its rooms. A rocking horse, perhaps only just dismounted from by one of the Hussey children, completes the picture.
Moving into the library, it was my idea of Christmas heaven. Original, old books fill the book cabinets. A crackling fire warms the room and another, beautiful Christmas tree creates the magic. On the floor, wooden animals marched across the patterned rug, on their way to Noah’s Ark. Which child had been replicating this scene? The twins Mildred and Arthur? Perhaps it was 11 year old Gertrude’s imagination that had the collection of animals striding, two by two, towards the ark? Whoever it was, their game had perhaps been interrupted by the summons to the dinner table that the next room took you to..
The Victorians knew how to have a dinner! Beautiful matching china was laid out at each place setting. The parents at either end of the table, then the six Hussey children split three along either side. Cutlery was polished to a shine, reflecting the candles placed down the centre. Mr and Mrs Hussey both had a delicate cut glass sherry glasses ready to be filled, the children tumblers. Yet another Christmas tree provided ambience and kept the children’s excitement up. Christmas Eve dinner was a grand affair, and I would have just loved to have been a part of it!
The National Trust really have created a perfect glance of the way in which a wealthy Victorian family would have enjoyed the night before Cristmas at Scotney Castle. They know that they have created the scene as it was, due to a fabulous find. A diary written by Edward Hussey, one of the children living at the house, is in the care of the trust. In it, Edward detailed how life was with his family and friends at Scotney Castle. Edward writes of the garlands made from holly to decorate the beautiful home. He tells of the giving of gifts to the staff and the exchange of family gifts on Christmas Eve, and the excited hanging of stockings. He even regales the story of the first home reared turkey to find itself part of the Hussey family Christmas dinner! This diary has enabled National Trust Kent to recreate this beautiful step through time for us to enjoy.
A Little History of Scotney Castle
There are many castles in Kent, and Scotney is one of the smaller ones. The original castle, built on its own little island, would have once had men at arms guarding the little bridge you cross to reach it. Built as a fortified house in the 1300’s, it is thought to have been to protect the lands from the French Invasions. It was also used by the original family, The Darrell’s, to protect catholic priests in the 1500’s. Thomas Darrell, hanging on to his Roman Catholic faith, created “priest holes” to offer refuge and hiding to exiled priests of the time. The Old Castle then had a few alterations and changes over the following 400 years. By the 19th century, the castle was becoming too hard to maintain. Damp and mould, along with the high costs to keep meant the decision was made to build the newer, more economical house.
Stone from the ground of the 700 plus acres of the estate was used to build the new house. The quarry that the stone was taken from now forms an interesting part of the grounds that you can visit. The latter part of the castles history involves a recent Prime Minister! The Hussey family, needing to raise cash to keep up with the high cost of running the estate, converted part of the house into upscale flats. One of these flats was rented by Margaret Thatcher and her husband Dennis, in the 1970’s-80’s. It was used as her escape, and the wallpaper that she had put up in the bathroom, is apparently still in place.
National Trust Kent – So much to enjoy
We had such a wonderful, festive day out at Scotney Castle. It was just beautiful to feel immersed in a Victorian Christmas Eve. We finished our little bit of time travel in the properties tea rooms. A creamy oat milk latte, along with a slice of warm vegan caramelised, spiced apple cake was the perfect way to end our day. I also love to visit the gift shops at the National Trust properties. They always have some fabulous sustainable gifts, as well as beautiful items for your home.
There is usually a second hand bookshop to peruse also, which is right up my street! I picked up a couple of books at another National Trust Kent property, Ightham Mote that we visited in the summer. They are great to look round, and you can pick up some treasures! I also think that a National Trust Membership makes a perfect Christmas present. It really is the gift that keeps on giving! What better gift than one that helps you create memories, helps keep our UK heritage and history and protects places of interest! The yearly membership for a couple is £120, but you can see full details here.
I hope you enjoyed my little jaunt with Christmas past. The traditions of Christmas, however you celebrate, really do need to be protected and valued don’t they. It is such a magical time of year. I think the earlier generations really got it right. Family, simple gifts, eating together, playing games, all make for the most perfect Christmas. It also really brings it home that there may be people you know that are alone this Christmas. I think we can all find a way to make one more place setting at our table couldn’t we?
I would love to hear any of your family traditions. Let me know any of yours, and of course, what you love about the time of year. This Christmas lover would absolutely LOVE to hear.
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