Inside Raby Castle: The County Durham landmark keeping festive tradition alive

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Raby Castle has been the centre of Christmas celebrations in County Durham for hundreds of years.

Built in the 14th century the landmark, once home to the grandmother of Henry VIII, is steeped in festive tradition.

The traditions are still maintained today by those working on the estate and the entrance hall has been transformed into a Christmas haven with trees plucked especially from the estate.

Raby Castle in County Durham is a festive haven.

"It's always a fantastic job to transform the space," Julie Biddlecombe-Brown, Curator at Raby Castle explained. "We bring in trees that are grown from this state that our head foresters selected specially to appear in the entrance hall.

"They're chosen for their size and their shape and just the impact that they'll have on our visitors.

"For probably 1000 years people have been bringing evergreens in from the park to decorate and to celebrate the turn of the year and we still carry on that tradition today.

"It's still that sense of making the place look really special for the festive season."

The entrance hall trees are picked specially by the head forester. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The castle's archives are a hive of festive artefacts with gifts from yesteryear. Books are a significant part of the collection with the tradition of giving them as Christmas gifts standing the test of time.

"For people like me who love getting a good book at Christmas, all of these books have got tiny sort of messages to say that they were given as Christmas gifts," Ms Biddlecombe-Brown said. "So I love it when we go through the library and you find those little hints of what people were enjoying."

One book has a note within it with a personal Christmas message for "Kit" who later became Lord Barnard.

"It's just a lovely bit of history and just a very personal approach, just what Christmas presents should be about," Ms Biddlecombe-Brown said.

Food is a major part of British Christmas tradition with mince pies a staple on plates across the period. The kitchen staff still follow a 250-year-old recipe although they have made some modern tweaks.

The Raby Castle kitchen staff follow a 250-year-old recipe for making mince pies. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

"When I first came to Raby one of the things I wanted to do was make mince pies," said Tom Parry, the estate's chef. "So we went through to the curator and we were searching through all the archives looking for recipes and we found one it's about 250 years old from a friend of the Countess of Darlington. It is handwritten as you can see in the book.

"They used to spend hours cooking the lemon and limes and pounding them into the mix. So I have converted it into the modern day. We still use mixed peel, brandy and salt but the big thing we have changed is the beef suet to vegetarian.

"It is just fantastic. When I first started being a culinary there were recipes from old times but not 250 years ago.

"It is amazing that they still exist."

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