If the term ‘heritage’ refers to objects, buildings and traditions, then the Christmas lights display at Column Cottage fits the bill on all three counts.
The cottage, at the corner of Prudoe Street, Alnwick, is a Grade II listed building in its own right.
Supposedly built in just a fortnight in 1817 as the result of a wager between the Duchess and 3rd Duke of Northumberland, the bungalow is instantly recognisable and an important part of the architectural tapestry of the town. But there are lots of listed buildings in the county, some would say we are spoilt for choice.
What makes this a worthy example of modern heritage is the Christmas lights display. After moving in six years ago, Jane Gowland marked her first Christmas in the cottage by putting lights on the guttering and “it just grew from there”.
Now she puts up the festive show each year, harnessing miniature reindeer, icicles, stars and, of course, Christmas trees.
Jane felt that the site lent itself to a blue and white colour scheme, which makes a striking entrance to the central town display, and the community has come to love and be fiercely protective of it. In 2015 the display was vandalised, leading to anger among locals and resulting in a fund-raising page to replace the damaged pieces.
One tenant remarked at the time that the Duke should “resurrect the stocks”, and added that we should “append decorations from the vandals’ ears”; to teach them a lesson.
Although tongue-in-cheek, reactions such as this remind us of the value of traditions. Other displays may have been around for longer and the Alnwick Christmas Lights Committee puts on a more and more impressive array each year. But what has been achieved at Column Cottage is a magical winter woodland in keeping with the style of the building – passing children regularly ask if Santa lives there.
It has grown gradually to win a place in our hearts and, although Jane admits it is probably at maximum capacity now, she feels a kind of responsibility to keep the tradition going.
Although the preciousness of our listed heritage is undeniable, the special nature of the Column Cottage Christmas lights display is a significant example of Alnwick’s contemporary cultural identity.