A TownMouse Christmas: A Review of Fairfax House’s new Festive exhibition
Located between The Jorvik Viking Centre and Clifford’s tower lies a richly decorated and lavish Georgian house. This was the winter home of the wealthy and influential Viscount Fairfax and his daughter Anne and where they would have spent the Christmas period. During this time, they would have celebrated with food such as pickled pork and pheasant pie, elaborate clothes, and card games.
For their winter exhibition, the staff at Fairfax House have recreated a traditional Georgian festive period by taking visitors on a journey through the twelve days of Christmas. However, this is not a normal Christmas, as the house has been descended on by over two hundred town mice!
These mice are wearing impressively detailed Georgian clothes, hand stitched by the volunteers at the house. Some are skiing down the bannisters of the marble staircases, some are tucked up asleep in the master’s bed, and some are posing by the classical-style decorations placed on the dinner table. All of them create a magically charming display and help to tell the story of the house.
This story is further conveyed through styling each room in the house after one of the days during the twelve days of Christmas. From Christmas eve feasts to giving gifts such as leftover tea leaves to servants on Boxing day, each room is fantastic at providing visitors with the chance to feel like they are experiencing Christmas along with the mice.
Incorporating adorable mice figures with history is an amazing way of engaging both young and old alike. This is because whilst sending visitors on a quest to locate each one, the staff and Fairfax House are allowing visitors to take a deeper look into the intricacies and details of each room. In the dining room, for example, a town mouse is standing by the pages of an open book showing an illustration of the classical representation of Abundance. This illustration is carved onto the ceiling of the room and allows visitors to learn about how Georgians valued and praised classical culture and art.
Overall, this exhibition is wonderful for a family day out as well as a lone visitor who is interested in history and Christmas. The staff and volunteers at Fairfax House have clearly worked incredibly hard to put this exhibition together and it shows. The exhibition is running until Sunday 8th January 2023. Tickets are £7.50 and those under 16s can go for free. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit a truly amazing house!
Written by Katie Wilkinson
The importance of Rome to the Georgians
The rediscovery of Rome in the 18th century, when the Fairfax house was built, had enduring influence since the discovery and excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii produced artefacts that allowed Rome a second existence in English country and townhouses. Lord Burlington and Kent in Rome during his six-year Grand Tour of Europe also contributed to this movement. There was a significant section of the aristocracy which took pride in belonging first to the Society of Roman Knights and then to the Dilettanti. As Ayres affirmed, to such people, there was a natural comparison to be made between ‘ the oligarchic system of republican Rome and the narrow world of eighteenth-century politics. Therefore, Roman virtues became English virtues, an equation that was made manifest in architecture, sculpture, painting, collecting, literature, and landscape gardening. It is important to note that the admiration for Rome was not political which could demarcate divisions but rather an ethic that defined an elite against outsiders.
Georgian architecture was actually born under the reign of King Georges I-IV (1714 to 1830) and later imported to the United States, notably New England, by English colonists and Georgian architects were highly inspired by the proportion. The first phase of Georgian architecture was of symmetry, which was embraced by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio (1508 to 1580). He had been influenced by the building styles of ancient Rome and Greece, specifically the theories of the Roman architect Vitruvius, who believed that architecture should show harmony, clarity, order, and symmetry, as governed by the principles of classical antiquity in ancient Rome. As mentioned before, the next phase of Georgian architecture was the development of Neoclassical architecture in the middle of the 18th century, which looked more directly to the source of Palladio’s inspiration, the classical building styles of ancient Rome and Greece. Palladian exteriors were plain and symmetrical but the interiors were often richly decorated. This characteristic architecture can also be seen in Chiswick House, built between 1725 and 1729, since its structure, as well as the square plan, drew inspiration from Palladio’s Villa Rotonda near Vicenza, Italy, and from Jones’ designs.
Later, by the mid-eighteenth century, however, there was a desire to break away from the rigidity of Palladian rules, which led to the emergence of the more fluid neo-Classical style. Influential publications such as James Stuart and Nicholas Revett’s Antiquities of Athens (1762) and Robert Adam’s Ruins of The Palace of The Emperor Diocletian, together with the influence of the Grand Tour, inspired a remarkable interest in a true antique style.
Many of the buildings erected then are today protected by law, whether by being listed or included in a Conservation Area. British country houses, and town palaces “provide the high water mark of Georgian architectural innovation, style”.
Written by Ariane S. Palmas
Fairfax House York. “A TownMouse Christmas at Fairfax House in York”. Fairfax House . 2022. Accessed Dec 4, 2022. https://www.fairfaxhouse.co.uk/whats-on/a-townmouse-christmas-at-fairfax-house-in-york/.
Ayres, P., 1997. Classical culture and the idea of Rome in eighteenth-century England. Cambridge University Press.
James Stevens Curl, Georgian Architecture: The British Isles 1714-1830 (Swindon: English Heritage, 2011).
Dana Arnold, The Georgian Country House: Architecture, Landscape and Society (Stroud: Sutton, 2003). John Harris, The Palladian Revival: Lord Burlington, His Villa and Garden at Chiswick (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1994).