My husband and I spent the evening of Saturday December 12th viewing 'Aston Hall by candlelight'. Aston Hall is situated in a public park on the north side of Birmingham, England, and is a Grade I listed building. The hall and park recently underwent a £12.5 million makeover, funded by Birmingham City Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Aston Pride and a host of other supporters, and was reopened to the public during the summer this year. This year the theme was Victorian and the hall was beautifully lit by over 300 candles and warmed by two glorious historic fireplaces. 'Aston Hall by Candlelight' is now over for the year, but I highly recommend you pay a visit the next time the event is on.
Aston Hall was built between 1618 and 1635 by Sir Thomas Holte (1571-1654, see the portrait below) and is one of England's finest Jacobean mansions. It remained within the family until 1817, when it was sold to James Watt Jr, son of the famous industrial pioneer James Watt.
King Charles I spent a night at Aston Hall on October 18th, 1642, before he and his army met Parliament's field force at Edgehill (in Warwickshire) on the 23rd and fought the first major battle of the Civil War.
Aston hall was besieged by Parliamentary forces in the December of 1643, and Thomas Holte, who was considered a royalist, was taken prisoner, though he was acquitted three years later. Some of the damage inflicted during the fight remains to the present day; a hole in the imposing Great Staircase indicates where a cannonball entered through a window before impacting the balustrade.
Above: An engraving of the house dating from 1829.
In 1858, the hall was purchased by the Aston Hall and Park Company Ltd., and became the first historic house in England to be opened specifically as a public park and museum. Queen Victoria opened the house to the public on June 15th of that year. The tradition of opening the house for candlelit evenings dates back to this period.
The advertisement below for 'Christmas Revels' at Aston Hall dates from 1859. The entertainments, for December 26th to 30th, included processions, installation of the Lord of Misrule, a Yule log, mistletoe bough, boar's head, carols and a full band, and the cost of admission was one shilling (half price for shareholders).
The hall was visited by the American author Washington Irving, whose book 'Bracebridge Hall' (taking the name from Abraham Bracebridge, husband of the last Holte family member to live there) was published in June 1822. The illustration to the right, of Bracebridge Hall at Christmas, was taken from that work.