Sitting on a dramatic escarpment above the winding Clywedog river, Erddig is one of the UK’s finest stately homes and a jewell in the crown among the National Trust’s Welsh properties.
Famous for its large collection of servants’ portraits, its treasure trove of fine furniture and its fully restored 18th century garden, what’s less well known is that it holds the second largest collection of items in the whole of the trust.
The Yorke family, who moved into the Wrexham house in 1733, seemingly never threw anything away and the house now has a unique collection ranging from the rare and magnificent to the ordinary and everyday.
Hidden inside this fascinating treasure trove are about 500 toys and it’s this hoard which has proved the inspiration for the trust’s ‘Fantastical Winter Toy Box’ trail which opens at Erddig this weekend and has been created by Cheshire-based social enterprise Wild Rumpus.
“There’s plenty to see and do for all the family and it’s a good excuse to wrap up warm and head outdoors for fresh air, great views and fantastical fun,” says Jemma Stubbington, visitor experience manager at Erddig, as we set out on the trail which winds its way around the home’s stunning surroundings.
On the banks of Erddig’s picturesque canal we find a group of huge wooden toy animals preparing to board Noah’s Ark.
“In Victorian and Edwardian times it was not thought appropriate for children to play with toys on Sundays,” explained my knowledgable guide, Lorraine Elliot.
“An exception was made for toys of a biblical nature, hence the popularity of Noah’s arks in the early 1900s and during an inventory check of the toy ark in 2015, we catalogued a staggering 107 birds, 202 animals and 10 insects.”
On entering the garden, a giant soldier puzzle guarded by two 8ft toy soldiers, is waiting to be solved and visitors can try their hand at the large zoetrope and step into the doll’s house to feel like they’re in a topsy turvy world.
Nestled in Moss Walk, meanwhile, is Simon O’Rourke’s latest tree sculpture, created as part of his artistic residency at Erddig – an oversized sculpture of one of the house’s best-loved toys – the Yorke toy train.
“The original train, one of over 500 toys in our collection, was made by joiner, William Gittins for Simon Yorke’s fifth birthday in 1908,” said Erddig’s manager Jamie Watson.
“It’s more than 100 years since Simon enjoyed his toy train and we hope our new winter trail, inspired by our collection of traditional toys, will bring a sense of magic and wonder to everyone who visits.”
For Simon, his toy train marks the end of the line of a year-long residency at Erddig during which he has carved a variety of different creatures and creations.
“My 2017 artistic residency started in Wonderland, carving Alice, a caterpillar, a Gryphon and a white rabbit and closes in Erddig’s magical Moss Walk with a sculpture inspired by Simon Yorke’s toy train,” he said.
“Now I hope my final carving of 2017 helps to create special memories for the thousands of visitors this winter.”
On entering the house there are even more treats and surprises and for the first time since Erddig opened to the public in 1977 the sound of Christmas carols played on the restored Bevington organ will be heard by families who venture upstairs to the entrance hall and enjoy the Christmas tree, decorated as it would have been 100 years ago.
House and collections manager Graeme Clarke said: “Hearing the Bevington organ being played is a rare treat, Christmas carols even more so.
“There will be a very small number of live performances during some weekends, but to protect the organ for future generations to enjoy, we’ve worked with Tim Roberts to record the carols with the audio recording allowing hundreds of visitors to hear the organ for the first time, bringing the house to life at Christmas time.”
During weekends in December, mulled wine will be bubbling on the stove, whilst families can enjoy decorating gingerbread men in the kitchen.
Erddig’s little teddies will also be hiding in the house for children to spot and they look very festive thanks to volunteer Janet Calton who’s knitted woolly hats, scarves, snowmen and even a Father Christmas costume for them.
In a further example of the festive spirit which has inspired the goings-on at the house this winter, Erddig has teamed up with the Wrexham Foodbank and they are encouraging visitors to enjoy the gift of giving by leaving a donation for the local foodbank at a ‘reverse grotto’ where visitors are invited to bring a donation for the food bank with them.
Jamie added: “Our staff and volunteers regularly collect donations for foodbanks and we’re pleased that with this gesture we can go some way to help local people who may be struggling this Christmas.”
He continued: “We urge all our visitors to bring a gift for the food bank when they join us over the next few weeks and we’ll pass the donations on to the Wrexham Foodbank team.”
Sally Ellinson, foodbank project manager, added: “We are so grateful to staff and visitors at Erddig for their generous support towards Wrexham Foodbank.
“We rely entirely upon donations and with the increasing number of people needing help during their crisis we could not do what we do without the community.”
l For more details on opening times and prices go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/
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