For us, Kentwells' Dickensian Christmas produced some truly magical moments.
It is a very strange place... a grand country house which has seen better times and is now seems to be inhabited by re-enactors who remain totally and utterly in character no matter what is said to them. They will either allow visitors to drift through the building like whispering ghosts or greet them in character as welcome visitors to the house... it is strange, spooky, unique and immensely appealing to anyone with a modicum of imagination or a spark of Christmas spirit.
The receptionist in the gate house was warm and welcoming and very personable. She and her companion were seriously concerned that we had had such a difficult journey up from London and tried so hard to make sure that we knew where everything was on the complementary map so that we could enjoy the day.
It was wet and muddy and so we went first to the house... once we went over the bridge crossing the moat we were a wee bit at a loss... no signs... no doors open... but... just as would have happened in Victorian times, a door opened, the under-butler leaned out and, in full character, wished us welcome to Kentwell and asked if we would like to enter out of the cold. He invited us to leave coats and umbrellas and then suggested that we might wish to spend a few moments warming up in the kitchen where the cook was busy preparing lunch for the family and where there was a good fire on.
The cook and kitchen maids chatted together... again totally in character... they were interrupted by the butler giving the cook final instructions for the family’s lunch and so it went on.. until we were brave enough to speak and then we were acknowledged and welcomed but again all the re-enactors remained in character and treated us if were were were visitors to the house in Victorian times.
Thought the butler’s pantry where oil lamps and candles for that day were being prepared, and then a door open... a maid welcomed us...and invited to see the ‘master’s new toy from London what was called a magic lantern.” It was a real delight half a dozen guests, a magic lantern and a couple of sets of children’s slides for the days of out great, great, great grand parents. We were transported across the generations to a far simpler time before the days of electricity... let alone anything else.
Then we went into the amazing dining room which was set for a festive dinner and then into the hall where members of the family, friends and children were conversing in front of the fire and under an enormous Christmas tree.
One maid complained to us about the new fashion of Christmas trees indoor “just because the Queen had one” and assured us that they would never catch on! We were inveigled into their world... offered bonbons, invited to see the children’s games and entertained with music on what our hosts called “the piano-forte.”
It was so good that we felt like we had slipped through a time-warp... and we were the very privileged and very welcome guests to the house. It was an eerie, slightly disturbing and wonderfully delightful sensation to experience such charmingly polite hospitality from a bygone age.
And then down to the stables to hear “Mr Dickens” give one of his readings. Well, the stable was damp, drank, dark and cold and then... a very unlikely character in a top hat appeared... he sat... gave a withering frown... stared at us and then spoke... “He’s late y’know... always is...” We slowly realised that we were having a face to face with Ebenezer Scrooge... but then... the room hushed, there was an intake of breath as Mr Charles Dickens entered... it was magical.
Soon we were transported back to Christmas Eve 1843. Scrooge dismissed Bob Cratchet for the holiday and with mirrors and gauzes the ghosts of Jacob Marly and those of Christmas Past, Present and Future were made to appear. This was not the Royal Shakespeare Company. They had no special effects but it would not have been out-of place at a traveling fair 150 years ago and it only required the audience to suspend disbelief for it to be a magical experience.
Upstairs... we enjoyed some pretty amateurish old time music hall but their performers, especially the magician, won the audience over and it was great fun. We then had a drink in a would-be tavern... full of re-enactors... cider and beer supplied in pewter tankards... Victorian pub-games and candles on the tables and the most delightful children in Victorian dress and in full character who came and chatted to us. Another magical moment.
Afterwards as dusk was falling, we went back to the house... we were again welcomed in and made our way to the hall and were soon involve with the family and their guests in more delightful parlor games and then, by the light of candles and oil lamps, we all joined in and sang Christmas carols under the tree... this wasn’t entertainment, it wasn’t a voyeuristic experience as much re-enactment can be, it was, for us and other’s that we could see with tears in their eyes, a wonderfully moving experience... we had been transported back 150 year to a true Dickensian Christmas... at that had been needed was to suspend disbelief and have just a little bit of Christmas spirit... The whole thing was a truly remarkable experience.
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