Bright lights at Browsholme Hall - Christmas in a 21st century country estate

PUBLISHED: 00:16 12 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:26 20 February 2013

Bright lights at Browsholme Hall - Christmas in a 21st century country estate

Bright lights at Browsholme Hall - Christmas in a 21st century country estate

Downton Abbey claims to show us how life used to be lived on a country estate, but what's it like in the 21st century? Amanda Griffiths reports Photography by John Cocks

Amanda Parker is proud to call Browsholme Hall her home. Who wouldnt be? This is the oldest lived in family home in Lancashire, occupied by members of the Parker family since it was built in 1507.

Today it is home to three generations - Amanda and Robert Parker, their two children and Roberts mother. For Amanda, this is the time of year when it looks its best and really comes to life.

This Christmas they are opening it to the public for the first time in many years. Browsholme is first and foremost a family home, says Amanda. We live in it and use it day-to-day. Its our home and we look after the things that are in it.

Ive lived here for so long I suppose sometimes I do take it for granted but it isnt practical to be using all of the rooms all of the time. The formal sitting room isnt exactly comfortable so we use the sitting room upstairs. But Christmas is an opportunity to use the bigger rooms.

Amanda says the Main Hall is the room they use most at Christmas both for events, such as the estate party, and as a place for family gatherings. Its a good room, a good size for entertaining and heats up well despite the size and the stone floors, she says.

This room is my favourite at Christmas, we have a Christmas tree which is wedged into a stool made from an elephants foot. Its the perfect size. It was brought back by an ancestor from a safari in Kenya many years back. I think it was his idea to use it for the Christmas tree. We decorate the room with flowers, poinsettias and ivy.

The displays are huge - they need to be to fill some of the vases. We tend to do the displays ourselves mostly using anything we can find in the grounds, so theres a lot of yew and holly we go out and pick it before the birds eat all the berries.

It takes a good few days to complete the task but the naturally cool atmosphere indoors means they last longer. Through the Main Hall is the library and Colonel Roberts sitting room which is often used as a bar or break out room for guests at events in the noisier main hall. When we have classical music evenings in the hall I like sitting in here istening to the music, she says.

We have another Christmas tree in the drawing room by the piano and another good fire roaring away. Its a vibrant room, a classic Regency party room - thats why Thomas Lister Parker built this room when he rebuilt the west wing. I just love being able to use it at Christmas.

We have a collection of baubles and tree decorations that have been built up over the years - the tree in the hall has the most historical collection, but we do tend to use some of the older ones in the sitting room upstairs in case they get broken. The main dining room is another perfectly suited for Christmas festivities.

Last year we had all my family and Roberts for Christmas. They came from various parts of the country. Its rare we can get everybody together but last year we managed it. It was great fun, there was 26 of us around the dining table from the ages of two to 90!

People who watch Downton Abbey will assume a house like Browsholme has a full staff. We dont have anyone other than a housekeeper who organises me, says Amanda.

I do the cooking with the help of my sister or sister-in-law. Last year was a bit of a marathon but we managed it, although the race is always on to get the food from the kitchen to the dining table and keep it hot!
So whats the best thing about Browsholme at Christmas? Its fun and relaxing, says Amanda. People might not expect it to be.

They might have that stereotype in their minds about the house and the people who live in it, but its really not like that.

Its a real family home and looks its best in winter especially, in the evenings, with the fire lit and the Christmas tree lights twinkling.

The print version of this article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Lancashire Life

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