Echoes of a JA­COBEAN CHRIST­MAS

Dor­fold Hall, near Nantwich, is about to cel­e­brate its 402nd Christ­mas, and as ever, it’s go­ing to be a com­bi­na­tion of fam­ily, tra­di­tion and fun Cheshire Life: De­cem­ber 2018 Cheshire Life: De­cem­ber 2018

Cheshire Life - - Liverpool -

Aside from the years of the English Com­mon­wealth, when Pu­ri­tanism held sway and rather put the ki­bosh on fun in any shape or form, Christ­mases at Dor­fold Hall have been big fam­ily af­fairs. Dor­fold is a glo­ri­ous ex­am­ple of Ja­cobean ar­chi­tec­ture which was built in 1616 by the cur­rent res­i­dents’ dis­tant an­ces­tor, Ralph Wil­bra­ham.

Now un­der the care­ful stew­ard­ship of Charles and Candice Roundell, the Hall has been (pretty much) held in the fam­ily since it was built, with just a slight wob­ble when it was sold to a Nantwich lawyer, fol­low­ing which (three gen­er­a­tions later) it was brought back to the Wil­bra­ham blood­line through mar­riage. Use­fully, there has never been a ti­tle at­tached to the es­tate, mean­ing that it can be passed through the fe­male line. This means that the marvel­lous oil paint­ings on the walls of the din­ing room are por­traits

of the long-passed rel­a­tives of the fam­ily that dines there now. Five-year-old Dan­son will be able to ad­mire the im­age of his hand­some name­sake from ‘the olden days’ when he tucks into his Christ­mas lunch.

‘We’re the fourth gen­er­a­tion of Roundells here,’ says Charles, ‘and our twin boys are the fifth. The house was built by Ralph Wil­bra­ham as a place to stay for King James I, as he pro­gressed around the coun­try af­ter unit­ing Eng­land, Wales and Scot­land. Un­for­tu­nately he only stayed here once, as he died the fol­low­ing year.’

There is a fab­u­lous mon­u­ment to his Dor­fold Hall sleep­over how­ever, in the form of the King James bed­room, with his coat of arms in mag­nif­i­cent plas­ter­work over the fire­place.

Charles and Candice took of­fi­cial own­er­ship of Dor­fold Hall in 2015, although the knowl­edge that it would be theirs one day meant that they were more than ready to take on the man­tle.

‘We started ren­o­va­tions in 2010,’ says Candice. ‘We com­pleted one wing of the house and then one ma­jor project ev­ery year since. We dredged the lake, for ex­am­ple, and re­moved 20,000 tons of silt. This was to al­low us to lay the pipework for a new wa­ter and ground heat source sys­tem, which now heats the en­tire house and the cot­tages too.

‘It keeps the house at a steady 21 de­grees,’ says Char­lie. ‘We had to up­date the plumb­ing through­out the Hall and re­place 36 ra­di­a­tors. In the last 12 months we’ve re­stored and re­dec­o­rated 40% of the in­te­ri­ors, the main rooms and bed­rooms. It was Candice’s vi­sion to re­model the house and re­dec­o­rate in a con­tem­po­rary style while re­spect­ing the his­toric fab­ric.’

‘The boys’ room was the first one we did,’ says Candice. ‘We didn’t want them to feel like they were liv­ing in a build­ing site.’

It has been quite a change of life­style for the Roundells, since step­ping into their new roles at Dor­fold Hall.

‘Charles works full time in Lon­don, for now,’ says Candice. ‘But we’re plan­ning for him to be able to move back to Cheshire full time within the next two to five years. We spend part of each week in Lon­don, then come here

“What is Christ­mas like here? It’s very tra­di­tional with flow­ers ev­ery­where”

at week­ends. Ex­cept in wed­ding sea­son, when I am here four days each week.’

Ah, wed­ding sea­son. It is the English love of a big wed­ding that, Candice and Charles hope, will en­able them to main­tain the es­tate and live per­ma­nently in Cheshire. Candice was a ve­teri­nary sur­geon, work­ing for the RSPCA and Blue Cross in Lon­don, a ca­reer that couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent to her role now, as chate­laine of one of Cheshire’s most beau­ti­ful wed­ding venues.

‘We needed to find a way to make the es­tate self-suf­fi­cient,’ says Candice. ‘I re­searched it for 12 months first. I looked at it like a sur­geon does: put Plan A in place, then have a Plan B and Plan C, just in case, then started in 2017 with 16 wed­dings. We had 36 this year and next year we’re al­most fully booked al­ready, with 41.’

So, what is Christ­mas like at Dor­fold? In terms of dé­cor, it’s very tra­di­tional, with a huge wreath on the front door and flow­ers ev­ery­where in a dozen shades of red and deep green, cre­ated by lo­cal florist Jacqui O.

‘It’s very tra­di­tional,’ says Charles. ‘When I was grow­ing up we would write our wish lists for Fa­ther Christ­mas and my fa­ther would get a huge fire go­ing in the Draw­ing Room. The draw on this is so strong that when we put the let­ter in the fire­place it would shoot straight up; as a child we’d see it as be­ing de­liv­ered straight to Santa. We do that now with our boys too. Christ­mases have al­ways been big fam­ily af­fairs; my mother rel­ishes the oc­ca­sion. We usu­ally have be­tween 10 and 15 peo­ple here for Christ­mas and have the full tra­di­tional lunch, roast turkey and all the trim­mings.’

‘I was born in the US,’ says Candice. ‘My par­ents are Bel­gian and Swiss-bri­tish and I grew up in France, so turkey is not my idea of Christ­mas. And we cel­e­brate on the 24th of course. I have brought that tra­di­tion here, so we have a big din­ner on Christ­mas Eve – then do it all again on Christ­mas Day!’

Dor­fold is one of the most beau­ti­ful houses I have vis­ited in Cheshire. The Draw­ing Room has a breath­tak­ing plas­ter­work ceil­ing with in­tri­cate, lacy

‘sta­lac­tites’ drop­ping down into the room. It was cre­ated in 1621, to cel­e­brate the uni­fi­ca­tion of Eng­land, Scot­land and Wales, each of which is rep­re­sented in the ceil­ing with this­tles, the Tu­dor rose and leeks.

Ev­ery­where you look there is stun­ning art, from the por­traits of Ralph Wil­bra­ham, his wife, son and grand­son in the Draw­ing Room, to the mag­nif­i­cent oils of the din­ing room.

Candice and Charles are do­ing their bit too, adding to the col­lec­tion paint­ings and sculp­ture from world-renowned con­tem­po­rary artists, such as Nick Jef­frey, Wolf­gang Till­mans and Nic Fid­dian-green.

You could spend hours here just ad­mir­ing the art­work, never mind the rich oak pan­elling, which is be­ing stripped back to its orig­i­nal glory, one room at a time, or the huge fire­places, the di­a­mond-paned win­dows, the el­e­gant gar­dens or the mas­sive sculp­ture of the mas­tiff with pup­pies, brought back from the Paris Ex­hi­bi­tion of 1855 and re­cently re­stored and pro­tected for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

It must be glo­ri­ous to be here at any time of year, but Christ­mas, with the gen­er­a­tions of his­tory all around as you float let­ters to Santa up the chim­ney, well, that must be just mag­i­cal. dor­fold­hall.com | jaquio.co.uk www.nick­hast­ingspho­tog­ra­phy. co.uk

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