Victorian Festival of Christmas: A Review

Last weekend, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard transformed its streets into a Victorian town complete with Fagin’s Tavern and street urchins.  This year’s event was bigger than ever before with the addition of an outdoor cinema and screenings of Frozen with live performers as characters from the film encouraging audiences to sing a long.


Having been invited along to see for myself, I stepped through the gate to be confronted with a mulled wine stall (don’t mind if I do) and a group of chimney sweeps stepping in time. Wherever I looked there were Victorian characters from soldiers to wenches and paupers to suffragettes.  Amongst the shop fronts and stalls were signs for Reindeer and the Frozen sing a long and straight ahead of us stood the beautiful carousel replete with carriages and cantering horses.


Swept along with the chimney sweeps, we followed them through to the Victorian funfair with ferris wheel and helter skelter,  past circus performers, taking us into parts of the Dockyard which are not normally open to the public. Following the road around took us to the indoor market packed with stalls offering unique and boutique gifts, and further still to the outdoor cinema between two buildings.


Although I had tickets for the Frozen screening, due to a combination of a toddler meltdown and my daughter’s sudden inexplicable insistence that she didn’t like Frozen any more, we didn’t make it (which was disappointing for me, as I was really looking forward to it), but as you can see plenty did and all seemed to be having a fantastic time, with the fancy dress competition proving to be very popular. With plenty of seating and three screenings a day meaning it didn’t get too busy or crowded, this was a definite winner.


The Outdoor Cinema

Beyond the cinema we were confronted by the sight of snow falling, and a charming snow covered tree scene complete with Snowmen. A  roast chestnut stall and another street of stalls including Lush toiletries and cosmetics, artisan fudge and cheese marked Richside.  There, we spotted the cast of Cinderella, Groundlings Theatre’s pantomime production for 2014. Small stages and performance areas were spread around the site, with local dance and drama troupes such as The Young Creatives providing live entertainment at regular intervals. If the snow scene wasn’t festive enough, we were soon transported with the arrival of  Victorian characters singing carols.


The star of the show however, for my son at least, was the miniature steam train and track running alongside the National Museum of the Royal Navy, offering rides for just 50 pence.  Further down we popped into the Cabin Room in the Victory Gallery to let the children warm up slightly and found all kinds of snowy themed sensory play and a number of babies and toddlers happily engaged in trying to catch bubbles. For older children there were colouring materials and in the National Museum, a Victorian School Room.


On leaving the Gallery we were treated to the sound of bagpipes and a marching band competing with the live music competing from Fagin’s Tavern. A display of steam engines and Victorian caravans were located in front of HMS Victory along with a charming miniature carousel and more children’s rides were located outside the Mary Rose Museum. Rides varied in price from the very manageable with a smile 50 pence for the train to the slightly more smile through gritted teeth (especially  if you have more than one child) £2.50. If you wanted to avoid all those pay per rides though, there were the usual interactive exhibits and lots of extra activities put on by the museums and attractions, as well as live performances throughout the day.



For the hungry, there were all kinds of treats on offer from baked goods provided by local bakeries, carvery, bubble and squeak, sausages, pasties,  tempura prawns, fresh doughnuts, as well as the many cafes and restaurants already on site. Prices were average for this kind of event, with pasties priced around £3.80 upwards for example.


No review for Mumsnet would be complete without mention of the toilets and baby changing, and there are plenty of these immaculate facilities dotted around the dockyard. Extra toilets were provided, meaning there were no queues, an attention to detail which was much appreciated – very important when you have a toddler with you! One small piece of advice – if you can leave the pushchair at home, then do so.  Although easy underfoot and there are lifts in the museums, it was very busy and the pushchair made it difficult to get to stalls.  You can’t take a pushchair on either HMS Warrior or HMS Victory, and though there are pushchair parks outside both HMS Warrior and HMS Victory, there isn’t anything to lock your pushchair to, and that might well be a nice addition for peace of mind bearing in mind the cost of modern travel systems and pushchairs.

Being local, we hold dockyard passes and so the usual attractions were not the draw for us, which put added pressure on the rest of the event to be exciting for us and for the children. I had a two year old and a six year old with me, both tough critics in their respective ways.  The cabin room is always a hit with both children, as were the additional activities in the museums and these offered us all a chance to warm up after walking through the market. Particular magic moments were provided by ladies on stilts dressed as bells, and scenes from Mary Poppins, for which my children stood stock still, rapt. The rides were less of a hit, which due to cost, were not as frequent as they would have liked, with the exception of the miniature train which, which both children loved and we didn’t mind paying for. If you have never been to the Dockyard before, then the tickets are fantastic value for money as you have entry to all the museums, both HMS Warrior, HMS Victory and you can go on a harbour tour as well as all the extra entertainment, the market and the open air cinema.


The one person we absolutely wanted to see however, proved to be extremely elusive, until suddenly we spotted him as we were leaving, Father Christmas himself – and what a Father Christmas! Dressed in Victorian green wearing a crown of seasonal greenery, he was everything he should be.  Except red, as my  6 year old pointed out. Coca-Cola, you have much to answer for.



About Shelley Cook

Self employed blogger, editor and copywriter. I work from home around my two children and am delighted to be able to visit local attractions and cafes and call it work.
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