Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire is a mansion house set amongst intimate gardens and sweeping open land. From the outside the house is Elizabethan, but on the inside it has the interior of the 1760s. It is two things at once, it is a move through time. The house, though obviously large by most of our standards, doesn’t feel overwhelmingly big inside. The first room we walk into is the dining room. It is trimmed for Christmas with trees standing sentry by the long dining table and a trail of table decorations in gold and apple red. A guide tells us the family who own this house will be eating Christmas dinner at this very table. I think about how weird it must be, to know hundreds of people have tramped through the room you will sit down in on Christmas day. All those feet leaving their mark on such a private tradition. All those voices caught in the air you will be quiet in, only the clink of your champagne glass and the murmur of your close conversation. I think about how they must need to reclaim the room before they can have that dinner.
Upstairs there is a room that houses a row of tall Christmas trees, all grown in the grounds. Their branches have been made icy white and they are lit with a constellation of fairy lights. Their feather arms reach out from all around the trunk, but they are too tall for this room and their tops bend their necks, pushed up so far against the ceiling the branches splay and appear to meld with the plaster and paint. Next to the tallest tree a chandelier drops from an ornate plaster of Paris ceiling rose with tendrils that reach out like ivy looking for somewhere to roam.
The room is silent. The walls are powder lemon yellow and the floor is pale like beech wood or light oak, and the trees stand uncomfortably inside. This room is not used, except for display, and the trees in here aren’t full of joy like the ones in the dining room that have glass baubles and silver forks on their branches and a gold star at their tops. If I was a tree, I would want to be the one in the dining room where the people chat and cameras frame them, where boots make the floor shake and laughter rises to the high ceiling far above. I wouldn’t want to be the one upstairs crammed into a quiet room looking out of the arched window at the grounds below, surrounded by stillness.
When we left the house the guide told us the family who own it still live here. They occupy what was once the servants’ quarters “Because that has the kitchens and bathrooms of course.”
We walked out of the front doors with a row of other visitors. I looked to the right where the servants quarters are, and I saw the small glow of an orange lamp inside.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.