Carols at Hatfield House
Hazel K Bell
In 1973 my nine-year-old young son joined the choir of St Etheldreda’s Church. Saturdays became taken up by driving him to weddings to sing and earn a few pence – less than the cost of the petrol to get him there and back.
Hatfield House invited the choirboys to sing carols round their tree each Christmas: parental escort was permitted. Thinking this my one chance to witness the private festivities of the mighty, come the day, I rescheduled our Christmas meals, apologized to our guests, and set off with my son through the snow to the heavy park gates, where our small band of songsters and parents stamped, shivered and waited. At last the custodian admitted us and we trudged on to the house itself, where family and guests were gathered round a large fir tree in the vast Tudor hall. We humble parents of the choir, huddled in our coats, shuffled to a bench at the far end, like a group from a Thomas Hardy novel.
Smoke billowed into the room from a blazing hearth. Scions of the aristocracy drifted round the tree, lighting real candles in its branches. One young gentleman inadvertently set one young lady’s hair afire, and it was patted out with shrill cries.
Our lads sang and were rewarded with presents taken from the tree (their labels read out with some difficulty), orange juice and a mince pie apiece.
We parents sat in our row, gazing on it all, longing for mince pies and drinks. We received no more than a gracious hand shake each from an unnamed lady. Our vicarious contribution to the feast was over, and off we shuffled into the night.