8 Dec 2011


By writer Emma Woodhouse:

"The Clifton Club was once the height of fashionable 19th century society when gatherings took place there under the guise of The Assembly Rooms. During the last weekend of November it once again found itself bursting at the seams with intrepid visitors thanks to the success of Christmas at The Orangery.

Having outgrown its humble beginnings, this annual event offering a Christmas sale for the savvy shoppers of Bristol had migrated to the lavishly opulent Clifton Club, offering more space, warmer rooms and a more decadent atmosphere. Organised by exhibitor and designer Rachel Goodchild since 2000, Clifton at The Orangery presented a well-curated collection of unique artistic businesses.

As the bell struck ten, an orderly formed queue began its advance inside the Georgian building to begin the ominous task of ‘mooching with intent’. Legions of feet paraded through the entrance and up the stairs to the vast series of first floor rooms housing almost 30 independent exhibitors.

Amidst the bridge tables and ale pumps of the old boys’ club, a circus of independent crafters, artisans and designers had set up shop to cater for a cavalcade of Saturday shoppers. With traditional red and gold decorations adorning the real pine trees and holly throughout the space, Christmas at The Orangery injected joyous Victorian glamour into The Clifton Club.

Paying just one pound admission towards a raffle in support of Penny Brohn Cancer Care, visitors were immediately eligible to win a selection of items from each of the exhibitors with a total worth of £450.  In addition to the raffle, a stand at the entrance of the exhibition selling selected items from their own shop allowed visitors to directly chat about the work of the charity whilst supporting them with their purchases.

Beneath marble Corinthian pillars and ornate plaster mouldings, flocks of customers circulated between rooms to assess the wares on display. Knitwear sat next to exquisite jewellery, confectionery akin to crockery and stoneware, carpentry, textiles and toiletries all proudly displayed their produce too.

Under gilded electric chandeliers and domed skylights a series of round tables through the centre of the room made more exhibition space. Tall Christmas trees and pretty umbrellas created centrepieces around which stood a battalion of food, from homemade mince pies to bespoke couture chocolates and cakes.

Pickles, preserves, chutneys and jams, became as much a visual delight all wrapped up in glorious cellophane with ribbon and bows as they would later be a tasty delight for the lucky recipient. Crowds circled a chocolatier’s stand, delighting in the medley of flavours and magical mouldings on display for sale.

Teenage girls found themselves absorbed in intricately made jewellery, pleading with parents to just get them the earrings to match the necklace and bracelet as well. Couples found themselves debating over whether to invest in handmade wooden products for the home or choose sleek contemporary vessels made out of Bath Stone instead.

The paper craft automata kits of Cool 4 Cats enraptured an audience of wide-eyed little faces as tiny children watched in awe as handles turned to make models move. They reached up, desperate to have their own turn and delighted as cars pivoted, birds flew and a giant model of the empire state building occasioned the flight of a helicopter.

Overlooking Clifton’s only formal square, families pitched up in the makeshift tearoom overlooking The Mall to rest their feet and rejuvenate their spirits with tea, cake and mulled wine and cider. An army of brown paper bags and overflowing hampers sporting an array of freshly purchased goodies surrounded the plush leather sofas that they chose to recline on.

The flood of feet up the stairs did not seem to abate, as shoppers filled the space with woollen hats, bobble hats, matching berets and fur-lined hoods; cagoules, anoraks and Barbour jackets all shuffled past the stalls as sensible flat shoes marched past impractical heels to have the pick of the produce.

The independent nature of the sellers meant that each individual item was sold in the knowledge that it was entirely bespoke. Stallholders greeted customers with huge smiles, only too willing to discuss their products and services with an unbridled passion.

From award winning designers such as Ella Doran to local artists like Adrian Sykes, Christmas at The Orangery made sure that there was something of interest to everyone. In addition to the array of products for sale, their prices were reflective of the broad scale of the event as well.

A feast for the eyes greeted shoppers wherever they looked.  From coat stands bedecked in fairy lights to partition doors being used to display scarves whilst mince pies balanced tantalisingly in the branches of ornate Christmas trees, no surface was left unutilised for the display of goods.

As lunchtime approached, teas and coffees were replaced with deep berry and warm orange beverages, segueing into festively mulled spirits. The sound of excited chatter overpowered the background tinkle of Christmas tunes whilst visitors to Christmas at The Orangery felt at ease as they browsed stalls, discovered new businesses and stocked up on presents for the oncoming festivities".

For Emma Woodhouse's website click HERE.

See Gallery for photos of this years show.