Travel To The Home Of The First Christmas Card
Written by Jaillan Yehia
Christmas crackers, the Queen’s speech, mince pies, Boxing Day, Christmas pudding – England has plenty of festive traditions which are regarded with complete puzzlement by the rest of the world.
England also has an even bigger Christmas claim to fame – one that is somewhat of a secret.
The first Christmas card was invented right here, conceived and designed in the English county of Devon.
The Manor House where the ultimate Christmas tradition was born is now a luxury countryside hotel; so what better place to eat, drink and be merry and get into the spirit of Christmas than the original home of Christmas greetings…
Hands up who still sends real Christmas cards?
When you can message any one of your friends for Christmas with a single click, you have to really care about someone to go to the trouble of sending a card.
Buying an illustrated piece of cardboard, writing on it with a real pen and ink, putting a stamp on it, and travelling to a bricks and mortar building where millions of little missives like it are collated and sent around the world – it seems so old fashioned.
But ‘old fashioned’ and ‘Christmas’ go together like turkey and cranberry sauce.
In a faced-paced world where we struggle to switch off, and are frantically chasing the future, Christmas gives us a delicious opportunity to look instead to the past.
We immerse ourselves in tradition, and draw comfort from everything that is enjoyably archaic and sweetly slow about life – like the post instead of the internet, three courses in place of a microwave meal, and browsing in village shops rather than rushing around a mall.
And Torquay’s Orestone Manor, where the first Christmas card was invented in 1843, is the perfect place to enjoy those good old fashioned traditions – especially as it has no phone reception to this day making it a digital detoxer’s paradise.
I sunk into one of Orestone’s oversized couches, warmed by a real log fire, enjoyed a Christmas cocktail and contemplated the fact that the forward thinking chap who invented the idea of the Christmas card was also the founder of the post office. Funny that.
The story goes that Sir Henry Cole – also founder of the Victoria & Albert Museum – then asked his friend, an artist called John Horsley, to design the first ever Christmas card from his home at Orestone Manor.
The pair were hoping to encourage more people to try using the post service, which had traditionally been the preserve of the rich.
The design, in typical Victorian fashion, has a cheeky element to it, featuring a Christmas gathering of people eating and drinking, including a child supping on a glass of wine.
Only 1000 cards were printed and they cost a shilling each at the time – though one was sold at auction for £22,500 – making it the most valuable Christmas card on the planet.
Orestone Manor have reprinted a limited edition set of the design and in true Christmas spirit are giving them to guests at the hotel to remember their stay, and commemorate Cole and Horsley’s novel idea.
Today Brits (mainly the women it must be said) send about a billion Christmas cards to each other each year and we buy enough cards to go around the world 500 times. So it is safe to say the idea was a hit.
Orestone Manor is open for Christmas and New Year bookings at the hotel, restaurant and bar.
Hotel guests receive a limited edition reproduction of the first ever Christmas card.
Restaurant guests receive a traditional English Table D’hôte 3 Course Dinner for £27 – and hotel guests can add a 3 Course A La Carte Dinner to their stay for a special rate of £33 which includes any of the locally-sourced goodies on the menu.
All guests receive Orestone’s excellent traditional English service and good cheer.
If you’d like some edible English Christmas history to go with your Christmas cards, you only have to drive down the road 40 minutes to taste the most historic mince pies in the world.
Savoirthere was a guest at Orestone Manor but as always shares 100% honest opinions, and recommends only that which is actually worth recommending.
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