The Christmas bush

Season's greetings to you all! What a year we've had, completing our accommodation wing and welcoming our first holiday guests. Next year we turn our attention to the function rooms and hope to launch our wedding business. But this Christmas holidays we had no paying guests booked in, so we took a break and enjoyed the warm and luxurious surroundings of our holiday apartments for ourselves and our family. The ultimate staycation, if you like.

Decorating for our Christmas staycation

Just to keep things interesting until the end, we decided to paint and decorate another room before we shut down the works for Christmas. It was the one on the way into the accommodation wing, and it needed doing for completeness, and to make it match a bit better with the Christmas decorations.

This extra room used to be the servants hall, or part of it, as it is now partitioned off to create a smaller room. This would have been where the household staff would have dined and met and done some of their chores, from around 1850 until the time of the first world war. The room has a fireplace in it, which was bricked up and we only discovered it by accident while running a flue liner to the boiler in the cellar. And at the end of its days as a school dining room, then a school library, it was painted bright yellow. We didn't improve things by painting it bright red briefly for an earlier Christmas party. But this year we began working on our real plan for the room.

This room has windows onto the large interior courtyard space, but no exterior ones - and combined with its fireplace, which is now complete with large log-burner, the lack of bright light makes it very atmospheric and cosy, and we agreed it should become some kind of snug or library where people could sit by the fire. We thought it should be a place full of books, information and maps of the local area, so that guests could come and research what to do on their holidays. We had already collected some lovely looking old maps of various places we've lived in the past, as well as some local area maps. The idea of the map room was born.

We didn't attempt a full restoration job this time - the walls and ceiling need reskimming and the room needs new coving, to match the rest of the wing. It also needs lighting and book shelves and heating and the carpet pulling up and floorboards investigating, nd the door stripping back. And that's before the usual escalation that has happened in every other room we've done so far. This time we only had a week. Just a quick paint job to create the look we were after and tidy it all up with Christmas decorations.

I'd always planned to test F&B inchyra blue paint and it was as gorgeous as I'd hoped. A deep blue-green-grey colour that works really well in the dark atmospheric fireside light. It really sets off the dark wood framed old maps spread around the room. And the Christmas tree.

But it didn't quite stop there. Just before Christmas, Mr P went to a lunch where there was a local history talk about Christmas in Devon. The speaker described a tradition from a Bideford household that she was convinced must have been Moreton

The story comes from an elderly Bideford man, written down in the 1920s but recalling memories of 50 years earlier. He describes how the gardeners, of which he said there were a 'good number', set about decorating the entrance and servants hall with foliage, holly and evergreens, cut from the grounds. In the servants hall, they used it to create a large basin-shaped bower, hung down from the centre of the ceiling. It apparently took a good horse-load of cuttings, and was described as some 5 or 6 feet across, and known as - The Christmas or Kissing Bush. During Christmas, the household staff would be kept busy serving warm spiced ale and bread beneath the Christmas bush to allcomers, and on Christmas day, there was said to be much merriment and eating and drinking dancing and kissing beneath the Bush! There was even a picture.

Being ones for heritage and restoration, we decided this was one tradition we absolutely had to bring back. The servants hall of this fine establishment will once more be adorned with a great Christmas Bush, hewn from willow stems and hazel and woven of the finest evergreens and herbs.

Christmas bowers, bushes and balls made of interlocking hoops of evergreens, herbs and plants that symbolised health, luck and fertility were apparently once quite popular as festive decorations, even before Christmas trees were popular. They sometimes included mistletoe, which is the more common choice today. But perhaps this is the beginning of a revival of the Christmas bush. You saw it here first.

The map room, with bush!

Well we had to have a party, and so we served mulled wine and cider and mince pies to our loyal building team and their families, plus a motley crew of suppliers and friends who have helped us out in our crazy renovation journey here at Moreton. In the spirit of feeding all-comers over the festive season, we raised a bit of money for the local food bank. And no jokes were made, at all, as the Christmas bush was woven, trimmed, adorned with fairy lights and baubles, hoisted up and displayed for all to see from the centre of our newly decorated room. As they had done 150 years before, folks drank and made merry beneath it. Ding dong, merrily, on high.

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