Have ‘A TownMouse Christmas’ at Fairfax House This Holiday Season


Annika Fathma reviews Fairfax House’s newly opened family-friendly Christmas exhibition.

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Image by Fairfax House / York Civic Trust

By Annika Fathma

‘Tis the season to have a much-needed break after all those essay writing and assessment submissions. As an international student staying over in York during this time of year, I am looking forward to finally and freely indulging myself at the Christmas markets and festivities happening in town to get into the festive spirit - and there are many more things you can do to celebrate the holidays in York than you might think. Fairfax House, one of York’s finest Georgian townhouses, has recently opened its latest exhibition, ‘A TownMouse Christmas’ - showcasing their traditional eighteenth-century Christmas celebration, but this time with a mouse-y twist. So when the opportunity to attend a VIP evening at the exhibition presented itself, it did not take me long to express my interest. Not only was it a special moment to have an exclusive look at the stunning Christmas display, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to visit one of York’s finest Georgian townhouses.

Located at Castlegate, this stunning architectural gem is just a stone's throw away from the Coppergate Shopping Centre and Clifford’s Tower. Originally the winter home of the ninth Viscount of Fairfax and his daughter Ann, it was restored by the York Civic Trust in the 1980s. The townhouse boasts a Georgian design and architecture, decorated with a beautiful collection of Georgian domestic furniture and clocks donated by Noel Terry, a true Yorkie who served twenty-five years of his life as Honorary Treasurer at the York Civic Trust.

Though there’s always something going on this time of year at the Fairfax House. ‘A TownMouse Christmas’ is the first of its kind to invite not only guests of all ages to come to experience the magic of a Georgian Christmas but also some very special furry little friends - hundreds of miniature mice to be exact. Just the thought of it sounds completely anomalous, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was utterly excited and curious about what it was all about. As expected, I was completely astonished as I walked into the first room of the installation. It was Christmas morning, quite literally. Not only was I instantly bewitched by the remarkable interior, but I also immediately spotted some furry little friends occupying the table, which was filled with all kinds of traditional Christmas baked goods and cheese, not to mention a massive Yorkshire Pie.

It was exciting to try and spot every mouse in the room and see what kind of antics they were up to. Walking up the stairs, under the stucco ceilings, and past the archways, there is always a mouse to be found up to something - both mischievous and sweet. My favourite would probably be the kitchen, full of its mess and glory, which has been set up as if the household servants have just finished weeks of Christmas feast preparations. You can only imagine what the mice, dressed as a cook, undercooks and maids were up to in the kitchen. Not cleaning of course, but making a snow angel over a floured counter and drinking some leftover mulled wine!

There are plenty more whimsies to discover in the exhibition, from Ann Fairfax’s beautiful room all warm and cosy on Christmas Eve to The Saloon dressed in full swing to celebrate the twelfth night. All the mice, whether dressed in Georgian attire or skiing down bannisters,  were expertly crafted by an amazing team of volunteers. The exhibition took a week to install. The attention to detail was simply impeccable and unlike any other exhibition you’ve seen before. Adult admission to the exhibition is also relatively affordable at just £7.50, and children 16 or under can go for free. The exhibition is open to the public until 23 December so there’s still plenty of time to schedule your visit!

Visiting the exhibition was an enchanting experience overall. The townhouse itself exudes a feeling of warmth and grandeur that I’d expect Georgians and aristocrats of that time experienced. But trying to spot every little mouse, scattered around the house, was probably the highlight of it all, as I left with hundreds of photos of all the mischief and madness these sweet creatures were up to. So if you are staying in York this Christmas break, head over to the Fairfax House for a total ‘mice’ time!