Ian Weightman

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Christmas is on the Cards on the English Riviera

Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without Orestone Manor - now one of the leading hotels and restaurants on the world famous English Riviera.

The manor house's brush with history came in 1840, at a time when John Callcott Horsley lived at Orestone, on the rural fringe of Torbay.

His friend, Sir Henry Cole, founding director of South Kensington Museum (renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum) asked this well-known painter to design what was to become the world's first-ever commercial Christmas card.

Neither man had any idea of the impact it would have in Britain, and later in much of the rest of the world.  They thought it would be a vogue which would soon pass.  But instead, it became an integral part of the holiday season which, within a quarter of a century, had already become big business, creating previously unknown opportunities for artists, writers, printers and engravers.

Prior to 1840, Sir Henry Cole, in common with many others, would handwrite greetings and best wishes to family, friends, and acquaintances.  This would often be done on sheets of paper decorated with Christmas themes.

But in order to streamline the process, Cole asked his Torbay-based friend Horsley to produce a Christmas card with a single message that could be duplicated and sent to everyone on what was to become the world's first "Christmas card list".

The first edition of card went on sale in 1843.  Horsley produced 1,000 cards and offered them for sale at one shilling (5p) each.  Lithographed and hand-coloured, the card shows a family party and bears the message "A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to You".  Only a dozen of the originals are known to exist today.  They are valued at between 3,000-6,000 pounds Sterling, but one, sold in auction six years ago and signed by Sir Henry, fetched 22,500 pounds Sterling.

Today, Orestone Manor is 'home' to one of the very best hotels and restaurants in South West England.  For further details, visit http://www.orestone.co.uk

And for more details of The English Riviera as a whole, visit http://www.englishriviera.co.uk.

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