Sandra Murphy & Dorothea Depner
This year, as part of our Heritage Week celebrations in August, the guides in Castletown decided to offer something new: a ‘below stairs’ tour of Castletown House. We had already created a children’s ‘above stairs’ tour earlier in the year, which we regularly put on for school groups visiting us to give them a feel of how the famous Conollys had lived at Castletown in the eighteenth century. Now it was time to shed light on what life had been like for their servants. To find out more about them, visitors had to be led below stairs, into the basement, where we opened the wine cellar, the dairy (or still room), and the former Servants’ Hall. The latter became a laundry room and laundry maid’s sleeping area for the purposes of our tour. Slipping into the eighteenth-century maids’ costumes we had especially made for them, Nelly, the laundry maid, and Bell, Lady Louisa’s lady’s maid, were born. We added to these some costumes we already had, such as an elegant lady’s dress fit for Lady Louisa, a butler’s attire, and some hunting clothes for Master Tom, Lady Louisa’s horse-loving husband.
Now we all looked the part and were ready to receive our visitors. Hartley, the butler, and Bell met the tour at the stables and set the scene: the year was 1759 and Tom Conolly and Lady Louisa were hosting their first big dinner party at Castletown. Everything was topsy-turvy with the new owners moving in. Tom was, in fact, in the stables – he loved his horses! – and told visitors all about how horses were used at Castletown over the years and how important they were to the running of the estate. The stable boy’s bed in the corner added what he did not say.
From here, Hartley brought the tour to the laundry room to meet Nelly. Poor Nelly had a lot to say about the life of a maid at Castletown, and all about how clothes and sheets were cleaned in the eighteenth century. She was in full swing when Bell suddenly burst into the room with the dress that Lady Louisa was planning to wear to the dinner that night. Alas and alack, Bell had discovered a stain and Nelly was going to have to get it cleaned on time.
Leaving Nelly to her fate, Hartley ushered the visitors into the dairy to meet the redoubtable housekeeper, Parnel Moore. Looking stern, Parnel Moore made it clear that she ran a tight ship at Castletown and did not like the chaos going on below stairs one bit. But she was willing to show visitors the dairy and share with them all about how to run such a big house as Castletown.
From here, Hartley took the tour above stairs, but before they were allowed to enter the beautiful rooms on the ground floor, he explained all the rules and showed the children how to bow and curtsy in case they met Master Tom or Lady Louisa. In the dining room, visitors were treated to the famous story of the night the devil himself came to Castletown and terrified poor Nelly. From here, they were admitted to the saloon, where Lady Louisa usually received her guests. Unfortunately, Lady Louisa was very upset and burst into the room crying. Tom had brought a horse into the house and it had ruined her favourite carpet! Thank goodness Bell was just outside the room and rushed in to shepherd Lady Louisa into her Print Room to calm her down. Bell had a way with Lady Louisa in tricky situations like these and explained some of the tasks she carried out in her role as lady’s maid. She also showed a potion she had made to help keep Lady Louisa calm whenever Tom brought a horse through the house – a not infrequent occurrence, as it turned out!
Lady Louisa had barely calmed down when Tom appeared and she got all upset again. Tom was cross in his turn. There was plenty of work still to be done for the dinner party and the visitors were distracting the staff. He ordered everyone out and Hartley quickly removed the visitors from his sight and brought them safely back to the stables where the tour ended.
The tours were very popular and if you are curious to experience the Below Stairs Tour yourself, fear not. We are hard at work, preparing to run more of these during mid-term break as well as developing our very special Halloween tour, ‘An Eighteenth-Century Scare’. Watch our Events Calendar and Facebook page for more details or join our mailing list to stay tuned!