English gentleman who casts an eye to the past to inspire his display of Christmas decorations
IMAGES of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, King George V and Prince Michael of Kent flash wildly through my mind as Derby solicitor Ian Griffiths welcomes me over the threshold of his small but perfectly formed Edwardian house, magnificently decorated to celebrate Christmas.
I am struck by his uncanny resemblance to these royals past and present.
The resemblance is reinforced when it transpires that Ian has his distinctive dark beard trimmed every two months at no lesser establishment than barber Truefitt and Hill in St James Street, London. This superior Edwardian-style gentlemen's hair emporium is frequented by royals and MPs, with one of its clients said to be Prince Michael of Kent.
Impeccably turned out in a beautifully tailored dark pinstripe suit – accessorised perfectly with a jaunty spotted pocket handkerchief, Ian epitomises the perfect English gentleman.
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Not only is he sartorially elegant, he is exquisitely mannered, hospitable and, above all, a dedicated traditionalist and monarchist – and proud of it.
I had arrived at his 1903 terraced home in the Kedleston Road area of Derby to experience at first hand his much-talked-about Christmas decorations.
Ian, 48, is gifted when it comes to creating a festive feast for the eye at his townhouse. From the outside, his home is a modest-looking red-brick property, typical of hundreds in the locality of the Six Streets community group, where neighbours join together to celebrate Christmas and other events.
Set in the heart of the Six Streets, his house is not large but its character and period features have been preserved to perfection. Since moving in 22 years ago, he has transformed it into a stately home in miniature.
Antique furniture and family heirlooms, gleaming silver, fine china and crystal, gilt-framed oil paintings of his ancestors and beautifully rich furnishings and colour schemes work in harmony to evoke a feeling of luxury and tasteful opulence.
Ian has created a wonderful ambience that truly shimmers at this time of year when he turns his home into a masterpiece of Christmas nostalgia.
From the wreath on the front door to the spectacular 10ft Nordmann fir Christmas tree in the bay window of his drawing room, covered in Victorian and Edwardian glass baubles, the house is a lavish showcase for his yuletide trimmings.
Every year, Ian pulls out all the stops to make his home worthy of appearing in an interiors magazine – and some have beaten a path to his door. His decorations are so renowned, friends, family and neighbours drop round to admire them.
Ian admits: "I just love doing it. I decide on a theme and, if I don't have everything I want, I seek it out. I suppose I must have several thousand ornaments in the attic. A lot of them are family heirlooms and they're all catalogued.
"When I was a child, we lived in a big, old house with high ceilings. Every Christmas, my parents would get a huge 12ft traditional fir tree and stand it in the bay window of the drawing room.
"I have wonderful memories of my sister, Ann, and me decorating it.
"Even then, we had a large collection of traditional glass Victorian baubles, miniature figures, snowflakes and so on that had been passed down the generations. It was a magical time."
Ian is one of the two senior partners in Derby's oldest independent law firm, Moody and Woolley in St Mary's Gate. The firm was founded in 1846, and Ian's specialism is commercial and business property.
Working in the legal world does not allow much room for artistic licence, so making his home beautiful and decorating it for Christmas is the creative outlet he needs.
Educated at Bemrose Grammar School for Boys in Derby, Ian has a fascinating family background.
He says: "My father's family have lived in Derby since the 17th century and they had a military tradition."
By way of illustration, he pointed out his father's name, Douglas Haig Griffiths.
"I also have the middle names of Douglas Haig, after Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, who later became Earl Haig," he reveals.
Earl Haig was a senior British Army commander during the First World War and there is a family connection on Ian's father's maternal side.
Ian's late father was a well-known wine merchant in Derby (he supplied numerous royal visits to the city) and, when he was growing up, the family home for Ian, his sister and their parents was a large, rambling house in Chain Lane, Littleover.
Ian recalls: "My parents hosted lots of charity events there and summer parties with marquees on the lawn. The house was late Edwardian with high ceilings. It was set in several acres of gardens and orchards.
"It was my parents' home for 40 years but eventually it became too big for them to manage and father sold the land to a developer, who built 14 houses there."
Ian's father died in 2004 at the age of 76. Ian says: "He led a full life until the last few weeks. He loved life and he loved clothes; I probably get my dress sense from him. I think he probably spent more on clothes than my mother did!"
Following his father's death, Ian's mother, Elizabeth, moved next door. "Mother calls it the 'dower house' but really she's just across the courtyard," Ian laughs.
Ian's mother's family were, and still are, landowners in Weardale, County Durham.
He says: "It's a very beautiful part of County Durham, where they've lived for generations. They are country people – horses, dogs and all that – who are interested in country sports."
The family on Ian's maternal side are descended from Hereward the Wake, the 11th-century leader of resistance to the Norman Conquest.
"He was the one who held out against the Normans in the Fens," says Ian. "They called him the last true Englishman. Apparently he had a daughter called Godiva, though she's not thought to be the famous one who rode through Coventry on horseback but, interestingly, I had a Great Aunt Godiva on my mother's side."
Adding still more colour, Ian says: "The family scandal is that great aunt Godiva married an SS officer during the Second World War and was never heard of again, so we assume she lived out her life in Germany."