Twinkling lights greet us as we make our way up a sweeping driveway. Perfectly mown laws and scary gargoyles come into view as our car approaches Knighshayes Court, a Victorian gothic revival mansion close to the city of Exeter in Devon. But we aren’t headed here to check out the distinctive architecture or scare factor. Instead, we’re visiting the Grand Family Home to experience a Victorian Christmas at Knightshayes Court…
A very brief history of Knightshayes Court
Built between 1869-74, Knighshayes Court is a fine example of Gothic Revival. Constructed for the Heathcoat-Amory family, a local family who had made their money in the textile industry- specifically lace making- at Knighshayes you can expect to find a typically Victorian Country Mansion, set in its very own copse of woodland.
There, you’ll find a walled Victorian vegetable garden (a must-see for any keen or amateur gardeners), gothic carvings including ‘the seven deadly sins’ and gargoyles, and an entire exhibition dedicated to Joyce Wethered (often cited as the “greatest lady golfer of all time”). Inside, there’s also a mock-up medieval hall complete with minstrel gallery, as well as a library I wouldn’t mind spending a few hours curled up in with a good book.
Since 1972, the house has been owned and managed by the National Trust. Knighsthayes has been open to the public since 1974 and I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area, if only to see Victorian Gothic at its very best!
Victorian Christmas Traditions
Christmas Crackers: A Victorian invention inspired by bonbons (sweets in France wrapped in paper- and more often than not, a dragée), the Christmas cracker only grew in popularity as technology moved on and more and more people could afford them.
Christmas Card: One of the largest trends to emerge during the Victorian Era was the giving of a Christmas card during the festive period. Introduced in 1843, it was Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the V&A, who really brought the idea to the public’s attention. Significant improvements to the printing press meant that during the Victorian era, the opportunity to give and receive Christmas cards just grew and grew into the tradition we all know (and love or loathe) today.
Christmas Tree: Though many people believe that the tradition of the festive Christmas tree in the UK dates back centuries, this is just not the case! Although the Christmas Tree finds itself in pagan origins, hauling a fir tree inside was just not that popular in the UK until Prince Albert came along!
Victorian Christmas at Knightshayes Court
Festive lights, twinkling façades and plenty of greenery, Knightshayes is decked out for Christmas and a great starting point for learning all about Victorian Christmas traditions (many of these traditions are still observed in the UK to this day.)
Father Christmas: For those visiting with family members, the National Trust property with younger family members, there’s the opportunity to see Santa Claus for an additional fee. Here, Father Christmas is dressed in Green, just like he would have been during the Victorian Era. Curious as to why? Here’s why Santa Claus is now red (and the story behind the coca-cola myth).
Christmas Illuminations: Forget the big illuminations of Blackpool! Instead, from November each year, the entire property is lit by colourful lights. The result is a magical blend of bright colours dancing across the façade of Knightshayes and lighting up the night sky.
Winter Walks: If you’re looking to spend a Victorian Christmas at Knightshayes Court, it doesn’t get more festive than spending time with the people you love. Knightshayes is set in acre upon acre of beautiful woodland and rolling hills. As a result, there’s no better excuse than to grab your ugliest Christmas jumper, grab some friends and head off for a winter wonderland walk. And if it snows? Well, here are some tips for photographing the snow.
Christmas Fairs: Festive markets are held on select dates throughout the holiday period. Head to the National Trust property to pick up a unique gift for a loved one, or simply experience the magic of a festive craft fair in Devon.
Nearby: If you’re looking for further Christmas attractions nearby, then why not check out the Exeter Cathedral Christmas Market, held on the Cathedral Green? There, you’ll find all manner of tasty snacks, quirky gifts, and of course, Glühwein.