What the Dickens is going on at Tissington?

Photograph by Nick Lockett
Photograph by Nick Lockett

David Westcott Walker has become something of an expert on Charles Dickens this year.

He has been living and breathing the author since taking on the challenge of transforming Tissington Hall into a Dickensian wonderland for Christmas.

David, who lives on the estate, is the man behind the award-winning Edward and Vintage Sweet Shop in the village and each year he joins with all the businesses to stage a celebratory Christmas Weekend.

This year he has also persuaded Sir Richard and Lady FitzHerbert to stage a special event at the 406-year-old Jacobean hall.

“I had an idea that I wanted to use specific scenes from Dickens’ Christmas stories to deck out rooms in the house and when I explained it to them they loved it,” explained David, who admits to a fascination for all things vintage and says he has been collecting his own relics since he was a child.

“They gave me full access to the house so I could work out exactly what would be possible and I have had a wonderful time planning it all. It has been great fun and I can’t wait to start putting it into place.

“There is so much here that the public doesn’t normally see and I have been able to incorporate a lot of that into this special tour.

“Some of the rooms I am transforming haven’t been used by the family for years and I have discovered many treasures which are just perfect for the Dickensian theme.”

One room will be used to
re-create a children’s nursery on Christmas Eve and David has unearthed Sir Richard’s old rocking horse, lead soldiers and even a child’s china tea service that will become part of the tableaux.

Visitors will be able to climb the turret stairs that are normally out of bounds to the public to see the bedchamber of Ebenezer Scrooge. It is one of the most haunted rooms in the house which even the staff aren’t keen on entering.

One of the most spectacular and elaborate sets David is creating is Miss Havisham’s time-ravaged room.

“We have found the most beautiful decaying curtains and a wedding veil. I have created a cake and Sir Richard has even allowed me to bring up wine bottles from the cellars covered in cobwebs. It is going to be one of the most challenging rooms to do but I am especially looking forward to seeing it,” said David.

In case you are thinking all the rooms will be reflecting the darker side of a Dickens Christmas there will also be a fabulous feast in the ballroom with a massive festive tree, grand piano and log fire. It will of course depict Mr Fezziwig’s lavish Christmas party.

In each of the decorated rooms the appropriate chapter from the Dickens novel will be displayed and there will also be a one-off gift shop with Dickens books collected from Oxfam shops on sale for the charity.

“I hope that room will have a feel of the Old Curiosity Shop about it,” says David with a smile.

As well as the What The Dickens?! tours which are open to the public on November 21, 22, 28, and 29 and December 5 and 6, Tissington is also giving people the chance to experience the hall in all its eerie glory by candlelight for a special storytelling session.

Actor David Frederickson will perform a classic Dickensian Christmas ghost story at the hall on Friday November 20 at 7.45pm. Tickets are selling fast so extra dates may be added.

For full details go to http://www.tissingtonhall.co.uk