A description of the traditional Christmas parties in the stately homes of Warwickshire was provided by Charles Lines for David Green's compilation, 'A Warwickshire Christmas' (pub. Alan Sutton, 1990). He took Coughton Court at the start of this century and the description below is a part of his article.
'Christmas trees loaded with presents for indoor and out-door staff; servants' parties on a big scale; special plum puddings, ceremonially mixed; gifts for the aged poor; fires reflected in ancient panelling; perhaps a visit from the mummers. The old-time country-house Christmas party seems tobelong to a remote and feudal age. Yet such festivities were once common in the great Midland mansions where 'good old families' are recalled almost nostalgically by elderly countryfolk. One such party was held for years earlier this century at Coughton Court near Alcester, family home of the Throckmortons and now a National Trust possession.
Elaborate and careful preparations were made. The Christ-mas pudding had stout in it and the mixing was an important event in itself. It was enjoyed by the old people in Coughton village, and poultry was also sent to them. On Christmas Eve, apart from the holly and other decorations, a tree about fourteen feet high was brought into the big Saloon with its branching staircase.
A ritual followed. The oranges - a greater 'treat' then than now - were always tied on first; the many candles came last. The selection of presents was an anxious matter. The Coughton housekeeper did her best to find out what each recipient would like. One year, I am told, the younger: members of the household staff all had hot water-bottles,' which sound a bit dull, but Coughton Court is not the warmest of houses.
As well as the oranges, the estate children had sweets and toys, the presents being handed to them by Coughton's chatelaine, Mrs Lilian Throckmorton, later Lilian, Lady Throckmorton of beloved memory. Including the children and the fourteen indoor staff, there would be some sixty to eighty at the party,.
There was a high tea in the Servant's Hall where today's visitors to the Court now have their tea on opening days. This was in the late afternoon - a good spread of things like cold meats, jellies and mincepies. The latter were always hot, although brought, like all food for the Servants' Hall, across the open courtyard. As this repast followed the staff Christ-mas dinner, it is evident that some folk were in no danger of starving!
Winter 1995 Index