Ford Christmas past and present

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Quite often, if we get a few minutes of quiet at the Old Dairy, I like to cross the road and click open the wrought-iron gate of the pretty churchyard at Ford and walk down the path towards the entrance of the church.

It’s like throwing open a great window, for the unchanging scene of Glendale and the backdrop of the Cheviot Hills are spread out before you.

A little further round from the church door, facing west and taking full advantage of the tranquil views, is the gravestone of Lady Waterford, a masterpiece of stone carving.

She has lain here for 120 years, after dying in Ford Castle, but she had three glorious decades at Ford, during which time she left an astonishing legacy for us all to enjoy.

Close by her grave is a group of corpulent yew trees that shelter the spot from the northerly winds and beyond them the honey-coloured sandstone walls of the castle.

Louisa Ann Marchioness of Waterford came to Ford following the death of her immensely wealthy husband in 1859.

He was the third Marquis of Waterford and master of Curraghmore, a grand country estate in Ireland. His undoing was chasing foxes and on the last day of the season his horse fell and threw him on to his head, which broke his neck.

For the grief-stricken Louisa, coming to Ford was a new beginning. She had no children so her brother-in-law became the fourth Marquis, and to withdraw to one of their smaller estates in the wilds of Northumberland may have been a wise move.

Ford was rundown and neglected, and dedicating herself to rebuilding the village and remodelling the castle certainly kept her mind occupied.

Louisa began by erecting a bold and rather splendid fountain in her husband’s honour, not in the castle grounds but at the west end of the village.

It has a pillar of red granite, topped with a winged angel holding a sword. Alas, no water cascades through it any more, and I don’t think she would have liked that.

But I do think she would have approved of a Christmas market at Ford where artisan food producers cluster around the fountain and up the village street towards Lady Waterford Hall, the schoolroom she built and painted with extraordinary murals.

It takes place this Sunday and if the weather is kind it will attract a mix of people from far and wide.

Meanwhile, we are ready with our own Christmas preparations at The Old Dairy; Christmas lights and greenery are dotted about and we have some special items that will make delightful and unusual Christmas presents.

The Christmas cakes are baked and we have plenty of mince pies on tap to go with our award- winning coffee, and pots of tea served in bone china cups.

But I must admit we pale into insignificance compared with Lady Waterford’s Christmas decorations. Apparently she hated bare stone walls so her gardeners spent a week at nearby St Michael’s Church festooning the pillars, windows and walls with ivy and fir branches.

She had special wreaths made and shipped in vast quantities of berried holly and mistletoe from the New Forest.

It follows that this aristocratic and well-connected lady would throw one hell of a Christmas at the castle, but not so. She chose to spend her Christmases alone and much enjoyed the custom.

But the church choir always took pity on her and every Christmas Eve gathered outside her window to sing carols. After the final carol she would exchange greetings with everyone, and Lady Waterford being Lady Waterford, would call them into the castle for refreshments.

•Keith and Lynne Allan run the Restoration Coffee Shop at The Old Dairy in Ford (opposite Ford Castle) where you can browse a range of architectural antiques, vintage and interior pieces of all kinds, including their range of Lady Waterford jams, Christmas cakes and home-made mincemeat for Christmas. They specialise in Artisan Roast coffee, freshly made scones and afternoon teas. Enquiries: 01890 820325/01289 302658.