Get a taste of life below stairs
If you want to delve behind the scenes and get a taste of life below stairs, then pay us a visit. Many of our historic houses have sculleries, kitchens, dairies, butlers’ pantries, servants’ bedrooms and other ‘downstairs’ rooms that visitors can enjoy, alongside the glamorous ‘upstairs’ rooms of the families who lived there.
Here are just a handful of great places where you can get a taster of life below the stairs:
Described as ‘the jewel in the crown of Welsh country houses’ Erddig is a fascinating yet unassuming early 18th-century house which reflects a gentry family’s 250 years of upstairs, downstairs life. A vivid picture of life below stairs is portrayed thanks to the eccentric Yorke family’s close relationship with their servants and the portraits they commissioned of them. Rooms include the kitchen, still room and bakehouse.
This vast late 17th Century mansion has been in the hands of the Wyndham family for the past 250 years – current descendants live in the south wing, allowing much of the remainder to be open to the public. The hauntingly atmospheric servants’ quarters reveal the huge kitchen with its extensive copper batterie de cuisine, along with larders, still rooms, pastry room and the chef’s sitting-room.
The home for generations of the Robartes family, Lanhydrock has the feel of a wealthy but unpretentious Victorian family home. Rebuilt after a fire in the 1880s, visitors can experience the life of the servants in the virtually unchanged plethora of downstairs kitchens, larders and sculleries as well as the nanny’s bedroom and luggage rooms.
Through the Ickworth Lives project, learn about the servants and workers who kept this country estate running and share their memories. You'll see the finishing kitchen, servants' hall, cellars, servant bedrooms, house-keeper's room, speaking tubes, bells and other rooms needed to run the affairs of the grant reception rooms above.
The Rodney family home for nearly a century, before being gambled away and acquired by the Cawley family. The restored servants’ rooms include the butler’s pantry, footman’s room and laundry room, along with the perfectly preserved and beautifully decorated dairy, while visitors can see how servants moved around the house unseen by the family and guests.
A splendid country house that boasts four centuries of history, this estate was once the home of the Boleyn family. Climb the recently restored Grand Staircase to the elegant upstairs rooms before discovering the tales of the cook, the footman and others in the kitchens and basement rooms through recordings of some of their stories.
Seat of the Earls of Belmore, the grandeur of Castle Coole includes the State Bedroom prepared for George IV. A major project is underway to restore and open up many of the servants’ rooms and currently on show are the atmospheric kitchen, servants’ hall, wine cellar, footman’s room and plunge bath used by the family on their return from pursuits outdoors.
See the last castle to be built in England and experience this surprisingly warm and comfortable family home full of the luxuries of early 20th-century life. The servants’ quarters include larders, sculleries, butler’s room and pantries all finished with a rare attention to detail.
Discover the world of Lord Armstrong – Victorian inventor, innovator and landscape genius. A temple to high Victorian technology, Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectric power and the Prince of Wales himself visited to see ‘the palace of a modern magician’. The house included labour saving gadgets for the servants such as a hydraulic lift, and early versions of a gas stove and dishwasher.
Learn more about scandalous owners – including the 7th Earl of Stamford and the 2nd Earl of Warrington – at this magnificent Georgian estate, but also discover the lives of other residents. The servery, butler’s pantry and complete range of kitchens and sculleries are Dunham Massey’s domestic glory, along with a deer barn, pump house and a laundry.
Experience a rare example of an 18th-century Welsh gentry estate with its upstairs rooms full of elegant furniture and accessories. Then wander through the complete service courtyard, largely unaltered from its original form, with dairy, salting house, brewhouse, laundry and many other rooms.
Home of the Dawkins-Pennant family, this estate boasts opulent interiors, glorious gardens and stunning views. A warren of fascinating servants’ rooms includes special areas for brushing hats, cleaning shoes and lighting lamps as well as butler’s pantry, sculleries, kitchens, larders and household offices.
Discover the world of Sir Harry, Lady Emma Hamilton and the dairymaid who married her master at this great house, now restored to its former glory. Remarkably, the basement largely escaped Uppark’s devastating fire in 1989 and the servants quarters include beer and wine cellars, butler’s pantry and the room used by the housekeeper – a position once held by the mother of writer H.G. Wells.
If your appetite has been whetted, you can now find out more in our new book 'Life below Stairs', which includes hundreds of untold stories of our ancestors in service, from the 1830s to the Great War, unearthing tales including:
- The eccentric and fiery French chef who always wore scarlet leather boots.
- The elderly housekeeper who claimed to be haunted by the friendly ghost of the Elizabethan owner.
- The cook who overbalanced and fell into a chest freezer, to be saved by the butler and the Clerk of Works.