Nicola here. For the last two weeks I’ve been on a trip to the North East of England, taking in plenty of castles and historic houses along the way. I visited Cragside, the home of pioneering Victorian engineer William Armstrong, and the first house in England to be lit by hydro-electric power. The most special visit I made though, was to Belsay Hall, which we Word Wenches chose as the inspiration for Holbourne Abbey, the house that is the setting for our new anthology, The Last Chance Christmas Ball. It was very exciting to visit Belsay on behalf of all the Wenches, to wander through its rooms and imagine our characters celebrating the Christmas season in the ballroom and watching the snow falling beyond the drawing room windows. I could almost hear their voices and the faint drift of music!
Christmas is a significant date in the history of Belsay Hall for on Christmas Day 1817 Sir Charles Monck,
the owner, moved with his family the short distance from his “old” castle to the newly-completed mansion house. The timing of the move symbolised a new beginning for the family; the transfer of the seat of the Belsay estate from the ancient residence to a modern one built in classical style, a gem of regency architecture.
One visitor to Belsay at the end of the 19th century recalled her impressions of the Christmas season at the house:
“There was snow everywhere… Belsay came as an incredible surprise – the snowy, cold landscape without, and the generous warmth within; arrival at that magnificently unique four-square house with its leaping fires, standing so boldly forth in its surround of sparkling snow. To feel the warm welcome, to mount the stairs, candlestick in hand, and see the flickering shadows of the light on all the pillars… the blazing fire in one’s bedroom, was glory.”
It almost makes me wish we had been able to see the house in winter rather than on a glorious sunny autumn day!