Rules and Roller Skates: the perks of a life in service at Polesden Lacey

The Polesden Lacey cricket team in action

The house is now open every day throughout January and February with a new seasonal programme exploring untold servants stories. Join us for Rules and Roller Skates and find out what Polesden’s hardworking servants got up to in their precious spare time while their mistress, Maggie Greville, was travelling the world or socialising elsewhere.

New opening arrangements

Until now the house has been closed on winter weekdays to allow the rooms to rest, which is important in balancing the strain of general wear and tear throughout the year. Now for the first time, the house will be open every day in 2017 as different rooms are revealed at different times in the year. 

This winter, for the first time, visitors will be able to access backstairs areas like the servants hall and the attic bedrooms where the male servants slept. Rules and Roller Skates steps beyond a typical day in the life of a housemaid and asks what Polesden’s servants liked to do to wind down.

Work/life balance

If Downton Abbey taught us anything, it was that servants were dreadfully overworked during the early twentieth century, trudging back to their tiny bedrooms after everyone else had retired to beds pre-warmed by an exhausted housemaid wielding a pan-warmer.

Polesden's servants: rarely seen or heard
A line of servants stand at the back door at Polesden Lacey
Polesden's servants: rarely seen or heard

But for Polesden servants it wasn’t all drudge and duties. The new winter programme reveals that there were in fact many perks to living life in service at Surrey’s finest party house for a mistress at the heart of Edwardian society.

Rules and Roller Skates was inspired by an amusing account by Mrs Greville’s stable groom, Arthur Thompson. Arthur revealed that during Mrs G’s absences staff took a more relaxed approach to their duties, even roller skating up and down the north corridor near the kitchens!

It’s just lovely to think of the servants enjoying their home as much as their mistress would have done.

The cricket team after winning a match
The Polesden Lacey cricket team pose for a photo
The cricket team after winning a match

Work hard. Play hard.

Over the years, the house team have made contact with various surviving members of staff or their relatives in order to collect reminiscences about the time they spent in service.

These accounts reveal that Polesden’s servants were a tightknit community who worked, lived and played together. Some even found love with a little help from Mrs Greville, a notorious matchmaker.

A match made at Polesden
A couple of servants enjoy a romantic stroll
A match made at Polesden

Mrs Greville encouraged a strong community amongst her staff including an annual servants’ ball and a thriving social club. Servants from across the property would meet here to enjoy a drink, play darts and billiards, or peruse the reading library, which was generously stocked by Mrs Greville.

The use of the 18 hole golf course, tennis courts and a competitive cricket team, well placed in the local leagues, all reveal the thriving social scene Polesden Lacey staff enjoyed in their hard earned leisure time.

Rules and Roller Skates: the perks of a life in service runs from January 5 until March 30. Admission is free to all National Trust members.