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A Christmas Legacy Continues

At the start of the First World War, there was a mass outpouring of sympathy and charity for the men fighting for Britain. The Royal family were not immune to this and in October 1914, the young Princess Mary, inspired by her visits to hospitals for injured soldiers, wanted to show her support.

She felt the dangers of war as sharply as many other women did as her two brothers, David (later King Edward VIII) and Bertie, (later King George VI), began active service.

On October 15th 1914, Mary publicly announced her intentions to provide a gift for ‘every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front’ in a letter sent out from Buckingham Palace.

By the 20th October 1914, the fund had received over £12,000 in donations. The following week this amount had risen to £31,000. By the time the fund was closed in 1920, £162,591 12s 5d had been donated. This money was used to create over 2.5 million gift boxes for soldiers, sailors, nurses and other people involved in the war effort at Christmas 1914.

 About the Christmas Gift Fund

The inaugural meeting of the Christmas Gift Fund Committe, which was set up to pursue Princess Mary’s ambitions, was held on the 14th October 1914. The committee comprised of significant and notable personalities from the time. The Chair of the committee was the Duke of Devonshire supported by the British Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, the Treasurer Lord Revelstoke, and the secretary Rowland Berkeley.

Princess Mary lived at Harewood after WW1

HRH Princess Mary

Wasting no time, on the 15th October 1914, Buckingham Palace released a statement from Princess Mary:

For many weeks we have all been greatly concerned for the welfare of the sailors and soldiers who are so gallantly fighting our battles by sea and land. Our first consideration has been to meet their more pressing needs, and I have delayed making known wish that has long been in my heart for fear of encroaching on other fund, the claims of which have been more urgent, I want you now to help me to send a Christmas present from the whole nation to every sailor afloat and every solider at the front. On Christmas Eve, when, like shepherds of old they keep watch, doubtless their thoughts will turn to home and loved ones left behind, and perhaps, too, hey will recall days when, as children themselves, they were wont to hang out their stocking wondering what the morrow had in store. I am sure that we should all be happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning, something that would be useful and of permanent value, the making of which may be the means of providing employment in trades adversely affected by the war. Could there be anything more likely to hearten them in their struggle than a present received straight from home on Christmas Day? Please will you help me? Mary’

The Gift Box and the contents

Things began to progress quickly. The next decision to be taken was what should be included in the boxes, and how they should look.

The final design for the boxes was provided by Messrs Adshead and Ramsay. The boxes were five inches long, 3 and a quarter wide and one and a quarter deep, with a hinged lid. In the centre of the lid is an image of Princess Mary, surrounded by a wreath, with two Princess Mary ‘M’ monograms beside this. Inscribed on a cartouche at the top of the box are the words Imperium Britannicum, a reference to Britain’s imperial power. In other cartouches, around the edge of the box are the names of Britain’s allies in the First World War; Belgium, France, Servia, Montenegro, Russia and Japan. At the bottom is inscribed Christmas 1914.

Harewood House has a interesting history with WW1

Most gift boxes contained smoking paraphernalia. The standard box contained a pipe, one ounce of tobacco, a lighter and twenty monogrammed cigarettes, along with a Christmas card from the royal family, and a picture of Princess Mary.

People began to point out that there should also be a gift made available to those who did not smoke, and to Ghurkhas fighting for the British, many of whose religion did not allow smoking.

For non-smokers, an alternative box was arranged. Inside these boxes, instead of cigarettes the men found a pencil, with a case made to look like a bullet, a pack of sweets, and, again, the Royal family Christmas card and picture of Princess Mary.

Indian troops, again, got something different. They received a box with a packet of sugar candy, one packet of cigarettes, if their religion allowed, and a small box of spices. Unlike native British troops Indian Ghurkhas were given an allowance, as opposed to rations, so they could buy their own food. These Indian Ghurkhas could use their spices to cook dishes from India which would normally be unavailable when fighting in Europe.

Another special gift box was made up for nurses serving in frontline hospitals. These still contained the Christmas card and Princess Mary picture, which featured in all variations of the box, but contained chocolate, as opposed to sweets and cigarettes.

Type of Gift Box What Was Included?
Standard smokers 1914 (inc. Ghurkhas) Christmas card, Princess Mary picture,Lighter (sometimes replaced by alt. small present), Pipe, One ounce of Tobacco, Twenty monogrammed Cigarettes.
Standard non-smokers 1914 Christmas Card, Princess Mary Picture, Bullet casing pencil, Acid tablets, Khaki writing case.
Sikh gift box 1914 Christmas Card, Princess Mary Picture, Sugar candy, Box of Spices.
Bhistis 1914 Christmas Card, Princess Mary picture, Tin box of spices.
Other Indian Troops 1914 Christmas Card, Princess Mary Picture, Sugar candy, Packed of Cigarettes, Box of spices.
Nurses 1914 Christmas Card, Princess Mary Picture, Chocolate.
Universal box 1915-1918 New Year’s Card, Pencil.

Manufacture and Distribution

The production and distributing of the Gift Box was a huge task. All industries were under strain during the First World War. Tobacco was becoming harder to come by and more of a luxury, and all metal was being pumped into the armaments industry to make weapons.

It was difficult to obtain the necessary resources to create Princess Mary’s Gift Boxes. The boxes were to be made of brass, a material hard to come by due to its usefulness in weapon and munitions productions. Special sheets of brass had to be ordered in from the USA which took a long time to arrive eventually halting production.

Another twist in this tale comes from an unlikely source; the sinking of the US ship the Lusitania. This famous ship was sailing from the USA to England before it was hit by a German torpedo and sunk on 7th May 1915 just off the Irish coast. This tragedy involved a huge loss of human life, with all 1,195 passengers on board losing their lives. Also lost was a large quantity of brass that was to be made into Princess Mary gift boxes.

Despite these problems the gift boxes were still a success. By Christmas 1914  355,716 gifts had reached members of the British Expeditionary force, 66,168 gift boxes had reached men at home on sick leave, 4,600 had gone to the French Mission, fighting alongside British soldiers in France, and 1,390 boxes had reached nursing staff in the army. This meant that over 426,724 gift boxes had been made and distributed in just two months. Over the next four years another two million boxes would be delivered to people involved in Britain’s war effort.


These boxes were designed to create a feeling of unity under the British Royal Family and to boost morale among those facing front line fighting. Princess Mary received many letters of thanks from serving troops expressing their gratitude at the thoughtful generosity of the young Princess and from the British nation.

Harewood has WW1 stories

The box occasionally had a more specific impact on individuals too. One Private Maynard, who fought in WW1 wrote to the Princess Royal whilst she lived at Harewood to inform her that her gift box had saved his life! Whilst serving, Private Maynard was shot in the chest. The bullet was deflected by the gift box which he was carrying in his pocket at the time.

The Story Continues

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, and to say a heartfelt thank you to the thousands of brave troops currently serving in the armed forces, this December, Fortnum & Mason is sending beautiful, limited-edition Christmas tins to all British servicemen and women on active duty throughout the world. The tins are filled with bespoke, miniature playing cards and a luxury milk chocolate bar.

WW1 Gift Box replica

Called ‘Tommy’s Tin’, after Tommy Atkins, the colloquial term for a common soldier in the British army, Fortnum’s 2014 tins are virtually identical to those sent to the troops by Princess Mary  during World War One. They come in the same brushed-gold colour, with the same hinging, and are heavily embossed just like the originals. A few discrete alterations indicate that this tin is a 21st century creation. The Fortnum’s replica includes the badges for the Army, Navy and Air Force, whilst on either side of the head of Britannia, the central design feature, are the letters ‘F’ and ‘M’.

You can see the original Gift Boxes and the 2014 editions at an exhibition at Harewood from 3rd April 2015.

Date Confirmed for 2015 Brownlee Tri

  • 2015 event date confirmed: Saturday 26th September
  • Alistair & Jonny Brownlee “Harewood a great venue for triathlon”
Harewood House hosts sports events

September 2014: Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee host the Brownlee Tri North at Harewood

The Brownlee Tri will be returning to Harewood House in Leeds on Saturday 26th September 2015. Alistair and Jonny Brownlee’s hugely popular triathlon will once again offer Sprint and Super Sprint distances for individuals and a Sprint relay for teams around the spectacular Harewood course. Early bird registration for the triathlon is set to open within the next few weeks.

The 2015 Brownlee Tri will build on the success of the 2014 event, when over 1,000 competitors and 4,000 spectators enjoyed a fantastic day out at the stunning Harewood estate. The event proved to be an instant hit among the triathlon community, who praised the course for its breath-taking scenery, closed circuit layout and one of the most exciting new bike routes on the calendar.

Swimmers in the lake at Harewood House near Leeds

Alistair Brownlee commented “We’re really pleased to be able to bring the Brownlee Tri back to Harewood House. It’s such a great triathlon venue with a course that offers something for everyone: young and old, experienced or new to the sport.” Jonny added “Last year was brilliant, seeing so many people competing and enjoying themselves at a venue only 10 minutes from our own home.”

The event will once again offer a packed entertainment village and the opportunity for competitors and spectators to explore the grounds of the Harewood Estate, including the Bird Garden and Adventure Playground.

Cycling at Harewood House in Yorkshire

Race Director Louise Cornish said “We’re delighted that the Brownlee Tri is returning to Harewood House, which we believe is one of the UK’s best triathlon venues.  As with this year’s Brownlee Tri, we want to deliver a premium triathlon experience for competitors of all abilities, as well as a great day out for the thousands of friends and families who turn up to support.’

Enter now by visiting www.brownleetri.com

2014 Thank You

As Harewood House and gardens close for the winter months, we wanted to thank you for playing your part in what has been an extraordinary year. We have produced five art exhibitions, hosted three car shows, a food festival, an antiques fair, a dog show, a music festival, an outdoor theatre performance, seventeen talks, tour and workshops and three sporting events. Le Grand Depart was naturally a huge highlight along with the historic visit from their Royal Highnesses William, Kate and Harry. We would like to thank you for being part of our 2014 year.

Harewood Prepares for 2015

During closed season, we will be undertaking some significant capital projects. One such project will see the historic House connected to a new state-of-the-art biomass heating system located within the Estate. The Georgian building will be taken firmly into 2015 with a fully sustainable heating system which will reduce energy consumption, fire risk and save vital funds which can go back into preserving the building and art works.

Inside the House, the collections will undergo a deep clean. Scaffolding will be erected in the State Rooms allowing our expert team to clean chandeliers and paintings as well as make repairs where necessary. Harewood House Trust was set up to maintain and develop the collections for the public benefit and your membership or ticket goes towards this essential goal. It really does make a difference.

In the gardens, the grounds team will prune the trees, enrich planting on the Terrace and they plan to introduce a range of hardy-herbaceous perennials. 2015 will also see HRH Princess Mary’s rock garden revamped by replanting alpine plants including lilies, blue poppies and fox tail lilies.

Thank you once again for being part of a historic year at Harewood and we look forward to welcoming you back in April 2015 with more exciting things to come.

Terrace at sunrise in October credit Harewood House Trust

Autumn Highlights in the Gardens at Harewood

October plant borders at Harewood House in Yorkshire

With hundreds of acres of rolling landscape adorned with stately trees and framed by mixed woodlands, the grounds at Harewood are well-known for their spectacular autumn colour. But look a little closer, beyond its misty valleys and sylvan slopes – into the gardens – and you’ll be rewarded with an array of hidden gems to discover at Harewood this autumn.

Bejewelled with exotic plants, the Terrace flower borders are a sight to behold as they drip with colour during late summer and autumn. Just when some of the more traditional summer flowers begin to fade, the rich hues of more tender subjects, such as dahlias and salvias, burst onto the scene, adding drama and verve to complement the more muted, velvety tones of such autumn stalwarts as asters and sedums.

Red Hot Pokers in the gardens at Harewood House in Yorkshire

A walk along the Archery Border reveals a whole host of trees and shrubs from all over the world. These provide a framework of ornate leaves and stems, through which, is woven a tapestry of hot colours as displayed by such plants as stately red hot pokers, ornamental gingers and devil’s tobacco.
Notes from Trevor Nicholson, Head Gardener

Family affair at the Macmillan Brownlee Tri!

Harewood House hosts sports events

Over 1000 participants and 4000 spectators attended the Macmillan Brownlee Tri at Harewood House on Sunday (21st September 2014). Alistair and Jonny led rival teams in the Sprint Relay, and even younger brother Ed Brownlee had a team! Alistair completed the 750m swim one second ahead of his younger brother, (00:09:33 and 00:09:34), but Jonny’s cyclist Ross Needham opened up a gap and then runner Stewart Randall stormed home, clocking an impressive 00:24:33 for the 5.5km run to deliver victory for Team Jonny.

Swimmers in the lake at Harewood House near Leeds

Speaking about the event, Alistair Brownlee said: “It was an absolutely brilliant day for all the family at a spectacular venue. Obviously Jonny and I compete alongside all the time but it’s not often we get to race Ed and our Uncles Chris and Simon! Thanks to the spectators, volunteers and Macmillan supporters for making such a special atmosphere.”

Jonny Brownlee added: “We founded the Brownlee Tri to encourage people to take up the sport we love, so I was really pleased that more 350 people completed their first triathlon today. Over 250 kids took part in British Triathlon Trust’s Duathlon too, so there’s a promising new generation of young triathletes. We’re grateful to everyone who came and we hope to see you all next year!”

Runners at Harewood House in Yorkshire

Fraternal rivalry has driven Alistair and Jonny to the very heights of triathlon, and another pair of siblings impressed at Harewood.

The female event was dominated by Johanna Spannagl, 21, who completed the Sprint distance event in 01:28:50 – more than four minutes clear of second place. As Johanna was being presented with her prize, a Boardman Team carbon bike, younger brother Bernie, 18, was already out on the course.

Cycling at Harewood House in Yorkshire

A tight Youth & Junior Super-Sprint race saw Bernie Spannagl and Sam Wardle complete the swim and bike section neck and neck. In a move reminiscent of the Brownlees’ winning tactic, Bernie pushed hard on the run to win the race in 00:43:31, a margin of 34 seconds. A family double was complete, and the whispers began – could the Spannagl siblings be the next Brownlee brothers?

For the full list of results: http://www.brownleetri.com/north/race-details-2/race-results.html