Christmas has always been a favourite time of the year, when Belvoir takes the stage at the heart of the surrounding villages and countryside – the Old Kitchen metamorphoses into Santa’s grotto, the Engine Yard bustles with visitors to the Christmas Market and the Castle, high on its hill and shining bright as a lighthouse, casts a welcome warmth for miles around.
Needless to say, this roller-coaster year has brought its challenges – would Santa be audible through his mask, could he be accommodated inside the Castle or must we find a new home for him in the gardens and then, how would we ensure social distancing for 600 boisterous children and their parents? It’s a relief to be just about through all of that and I am ready to kick off my boots and turn my thoughts to wrapping presents and spending a quiet few days with my family, who thankfully, are already safely home.
I remember our first Christmas here at the Castle, back in 2000, when Violet, Alice and Eliza were small and hugely excited about the Christmas Eve nativity in Belvoir’s chapel. Well, you can imagine the rumpus when it came to deciding which little girl would play the Virgin Mary and whose dolly would be Baby Jesus. The negotiations went on all day and by the time our guests arrived for the service, they were bemused to find the manger filled with three Baby Jesus attended by three Virgin Marys.
Meanwhile another chapter of Belvoir’s past has been on my mind, forgive me for including it here but it seems to me to be a timely story we can all appreciate.
The 3rd Duke’s eldest son, the Marquis of Granby, was one of the greatest army commanders that Britain ever had. He was a hard-drinking man and a disciplinarian, who loved and cared for his troops, and they loved him by all accounts. He made them invincible and with them won victory after victory in the Seven Years’ War against France, often against great odds. Indeed, when their fighting days were over, he gave his veterans money from his own pocket to set up in trade. It nearly bankrupted him and he died in his forties, in 1770, in penury, away from home, surrounded by his creditors.
Now that I’m confined to Belvoir again – and we won’t be moving from here for another month or more I expect – I get the idea that I could look out in any direction over England and see the results of his beneficence, for most of these veterans set up pubs with their money, and most of them named the pubs in honour of their patron ‘Marquis of Granby’, and most of the pubs are still there 250 years later: in Dover, Esher, Fitzrovia, Weymouth, Colchester, Newcastle on Tyne – all those towns across our country, where his pubs are to be found, each one a centre of community and conviviality, all sprung from the goodness of one man’s heart – Riddlesden, Stevenage, Redhill, Hessle, Ipstones, Sleaford, New Cross, Stetchworth – I wish I could get this software to make the writing fade gently away in a lullaby of names – Wellingore, Epsom, Westminster, Harpendon, Shillington, Cambridge, Sompting, Norwich, Gainsborough, Lincoln, Warrington, Stoke-on-Trent, Harlow, Bamford – their lights may be out now, but they will come on again, you may be sure – for the good will always win through and that is a thought to cheer me – and you too I hope – this Christmas.
Sending warmest wishes from my family to yours,