Christmas in all its glory at the home of the Rothschild collection.
An extended 20 minute long illuminated trail, 20 foot Christmas trees and over 80 chalet style market stalls bring in over one third of this National Trust property’s annual visitors. We talk to team member Chloe Wells.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
We are expecting 190,000 visitors this Christmas at Waddesdon Manor, to both festivities in the house and the Christmas Market and illuminations in the grounds of the estate.
Inside, visitors will be welcomed by the smell of pine and the sound of classic carols, as they step into decorated rooms inspired by traditional tunes and memorable Christmas hits.
Outside, the gardens will be illuminated with sparkling lights and colour, as Waddesdon’s longest ever Winter Light trail fills the grounds. Beneath coloured tree canopies and bushes draped in sparkle, visitors can enjoy playful light features such as floodlit disco balls and a cascading river of light. The manor’s façade will come to life, with coloured lights dancing in time to much-loved Christmas classics, illuminating the building’s distinctive architectural features and roofline.
New for this year are giant fairy-light baubles at the Stables Courtyard, providing a unique Instagram frame. Inside the Coach House there is an immersive light installation with orbs of light rising and falling from floor to ceiling.
Larger than ever before, Waddesdon’s Christmas Fair is housed in 80 wooden chalets featuring artisan producers, makers and craftsmen. The fair will be set against the backdrop of the floodlit North Front of the manor, decorated with 20ft tall Christmas trees.
National Trust properties are under no obligation to run a Christmas offer, but we’re aware that at this time of year people are keen to make memories and spend time with family and friends, and places such as Waddesdon are perfect for this. It is also a lovely opportunity to showcase the manor in a different light to the rest of the year, and bring in new audiences who may not otherwise come across our property.
Explain a bit about your venue and its history
Waddesdon Manor was built at the end of the 19th-century by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the style of a French early 16th-century château, as a weekend retreat where he could entertain friends and family.
Baron Ferdinand was an inspired collector and the house was designed to showcase his exceptional collection of English and French paintings, French 18th-century furniture, Sèvres porcelain, and other decorative arts. When Ferdinand died in 1898 he left Waddesdon to his sister, Alice. Upon her death the house passed to a French cousin, James de Rothschild, who inherited a substantial part of his father, Baron Edmond’s, great collection. In 1957, to ensure its future in perpetuity, Waddesdon was bequeathed to the National Trust.
The Rothschild family continues to run Waddesdon on behalf of the National Trust through the Rothschild Foundation under the chairmanship of Lord Rothschild.
What is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
Until 2003 Christmas wasn’t a big affair at Waddesdon. We closed for five months each winter, allowing a team of 15 housekeepers several weeks to pack the collection away for vital conservation and cleaning.
Today, we welcome around 190,000 visitors during the festive period. In November, we set about transforming the interiors with 13 Christmas trees, 3,000 baubles and 30,000 pea-lights to bring festive sparkle to the manor. We hope to offer an event that brings family and friends together, and possibly create new Christmas traditions for years to come.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
Having run a Christmas event for several years, lots of these decisions are made based on visitor and staff feedback. For example, the decision to move the Christmas Fair to the North Front was influenced by the fact that its previous location was more open to the elements, and harder to find. However, the biggest reason behind its move was that it allows us to house more chalets. As we’re keen to support as many local businesses as possible, and also offer visitors the best experience possible, this was a key factor in positioning the Christmas Fair in its current location.
The Winter Light trail was discussed in depth with our gardens, facilities and events departments, along with external input from events company YES Events. Our aim is to enhance the features that already exist around the grounds, focusing attention on trees and horticultural structures.
The Wigwam café is positioned by the Summer House, a permanent catering outlet. This means food can be made and purchased from our existing infrastructure, and enjoyed in this pop-up tent. We have had the Wigwam café for several years now, and it always proves extremely popular, serving hot drinks and hotpots.
What entertainment do you offer?
We offer a Christmas fair with over 80 stallholders. Each stallholder goes through an application process before they are selected.
This year we’re also running the Light Trail which has been extended and takes approximately 20 minutes to walk around. It trails through our Pleasure Grounds and visitors experience coloured tree canopies and bushes draped in sparkle, alongside more playful light features.
YES Events has also provided an immersive light installation in the Stables called Light in Motion.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
As we are a visitor attraction that is open throughout the year, we have systems in place to manage admissions and visitor safety.
We advise visitors to book tickets in advance through our website or box office, and tickets to the house must be pre-booked. We also use an external agency to manage our car parking, with stewards at various entry points.
How do you publicise the event?
We have a marketing team that utilises various forms of marketing. This includes leaflets and posters, both onsite and offsite, as well as digital adverts, PR and press activity, social media and some print advertising.
What challenges have you faced?
The constant challenge is managing numbers to ensure there is a great atmosphere, but that it doesn’t feel too busy. We have worked hard to ensure an even spread of visitors across the Christmas period to manage this.
How have you financed the event and how profitable is it?
As a charity, all proceeds go back into the upkeep of Waddesdon Manor. We welcome approximately a third of our annual visitors during the Christmas season, so this period is extremely important for us. Every single visitor helps us ensure Waddesdon can continue to be enjoyed by future generations.
What are your plans for next year?
Each year we plan to build on our experience, to offer visitors something new to look forward to. In January we will begin discussions around the theme, before more in-depth conversations take place throughout the year.