13/52: Go Behind the Scenes in Stourhead House

Another one of my 52 things was to go behind the scenes in one of the stately homes.  Today I went to Stourhead House in Wiltshire, where they were running one of their rare tours to explore the cellar and attics.  It cost an additional £3 to do the tour but it was well worth the money.  There were loads of tour guides positioned along the route and you were allowed to wander through at your own pace.  You were also allowed to take photos (although no flash allowed, so the photos aren't brilliant).

There were also 3 volunteers in costume who described their life and jobs to us. This aspect of the tour was excellent and really brought the history to life. If you liked Downton Abbey, this was the tour for you!

Stourhead House

We started in the cellar where we met Pitt, the butler.  He told us it was 1895 and described his life to us.  He earns £125 per annum, quite a high salary as he performs the duties of both butler and gentleman's gentleman to Sir Henry.  He has worked for the family since he was 16 years old and he rose to the position of butler in about 10 years.
His day starts at 6:00am and his first duty of the day is ensuring that the fires in the kitchen ranges are lit (he supervises this task!) and then he works solidly through the day until the early hours of the morning, 1 or 2 am but sometimes later if there are house guests.  He has his own apartment near the clocktower/gatehouse but if he is working late he is able to rest in the butler's pantry.  He has about 12 indoor staff to help him run the household.  He isn't married ... he doesn't have time for 'such trivialities'!

This is the wine cellar and Pitt is responsible for keeping it stocked.  He learned about wines from his dad, who was also a butler. The introduction of the railway has made this job easier as he can now get supplies from London.  The family only ever drink Dom Perignon chamgagne!

He offered a small glass of sherry to all the visitors.

This is the barrel run where they deliver the casks of beer.  It's not easy to see in this picture but they are half-steps so that the barrels can be rolled down easily.  The beer is mainly drunk by the servants.

Meat hooks (with corks on the points, for safety!) where the meat and game was hung.

There were holes and gutter channels in the floor, put to use when they sluiced the floors after butchering the meat.

The cellars are actually very small and match the footprint of the original much smaller house, not the current building.  From the cellar we went up one level to the basement.  Here we saw where the laundry was done including the drying and folding rooms, the scullery where all the wet kitchen work was done and then into the kitchen itself.  This was where the dry food preparation and actual cooking was done.

In the kitchen we met Mrs Humphreys, the cook.  She earns  £45 per annum (quite a lot less than the butler!), which she thinks is a good wage as all food and accommodation is provided.  She is also provided with two uniforms, as are all the other servants.

Her day starts at 7:00am and she has to get breakfast ready for the family by 8:00am.  Her day usually finishes at 9:00pm although this may be later if there are house guests. 

As the cook, she cooks the food for the family and their guests.  The servants eat their meals after the family has been fed (but they are always on call so often have disturbed meals!) and the servant's meals are cooked by the kitchen maids (supervised by the cook) as part of their training for promotion to cook in another household.

Mrs Humpheys hasn't worked for the family for long.  The Lady of the family is a notoriously bad employer and once sacked three cooks within the same year.  There is a rumour that she has a permanent advertisment in The Times as she gets through so many staff!
From the basement we went upstairs to the Inner Hall, following the route that the higher class servants would have followed. This took you into a part of the house where there was a possibility of seeing, or being seen, by the family or their guests. 

The food arrived in this hall via a dumb waiter which is no longer in situ.

From here, we went up to the next floor, via the main staircase.  On the next floor are the family and guest bedrooms, now used for storage, offices and restoration.  Then on up to the top floor to see the nurseries and staff bedrooms.  The male staff sleep in the basement and are not allowed up to the top floor, with one exception.  The head valet sleeps up here, behind a locked door!  All the female staff sleep up here, room size according to seniority!

In the day nursery we met Maud Trott, the Head House Maid. There is also a night nursery which we didn't see. Seeing the day nursery was a real eye-opener - I hadn't fully realised how the children were treated and how isolated they were from their parents.  As with all the other rooms on this level, there was no view out of the high windows and we were told that at one time the nursery was decorated with grey flock wallpaper.  It must have been so depressing.

We also saw the female servant's bedrooms.  As to be expected the rooms were very small with basic furnishings.  The younger girls shared, two to a room.  The tweenie maid is only 12 years old but she isn't the youngest servant as the boot boy is only 10. 

The tour ended with us descending to ground level via the back stairs.

This was much more interesting that the subsequent tour around the main house.  We were give a real insight into how the servants lived and how the house was run.  I'll definitely be looking out for similar events in other stately homes. 


  1. It sounds amazing Eileen,
    thanks for sharing the tour.

    I love stately homes and the
    history that go with them.


  2. Fab post Eileen, thank you for sharing the tour, I love the staircase photo xx

  3. wow, Eileen, what a great tour, I shall look out for that one when I eventually go there.


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