English Stately Homes and Castles  -  East Midlands

Belton House, Lincolnshire

The home of the Brownlowe family, this is a splendid country house set in attractive gardens

Belton House

Belton House

Access to the
                  basements of Belton House is by guided tour only. This
                  takes you down into the servants working areas and
                  covers the life and working conditions of the
                  servants. There was a strict hierarchy below stairs
                  with upper and lower servants. Status was all
                  important and servants never asked anyone else,
                  especially a lower ranking servant, to do their jobs.
                  Sexes were strictly segregated and men and women
                  servants were not allowed to work in the same room
                  above stairs. At night the doors separating men and
                  women’s quarters were locked and only the housekeeper
                  and butler had keys. Servants started work as young as
                  eight and were often illiterate when they arrived.
                  They were taught to read and write by the upper
                  servants. The tour starts in the Marble Hall and goes
                  through a red beige door to descend into the corridors
                  running under the house, with the work rooms off. We
                  passed the massive dumb waiter which took food up to
                  the breakfast room and stopped to admire the row of
                  bells on the wall. In the corridor was a
                  nightwatchman’s clock. This had a series of small pegs
                  and each time the nightwatchman made his rounds he
                  triggered one of the pegs. This meant the butler could
                  check how many rounds the watchman made each night.
                  The nightwatchman was also responsible for making sure
                  all candles and lamps were put out at night. He was
                  also the estate rat catcher. The tour begins in the
                  women’s corridor. Rooms are now disused and empty and
                  cold. The slate slab in the pantry could be kept even
                  colder by pouring water over it. The housekeeper’s
                  room was a large room doubling up as an office and
                  sitting room. The walls were lined with big cupboards
                  to store all the linen (150 pairs of sheets and 90
                  tablecloths) and china. The still room was used to
                  make jams and pickles as well as distilled vinegars
                  and flower waters. In the 1930s it became the kitchen
                  and has a large Aga, sinks and a drying rack hanging
                  from the ceiling. At the end of the corridor is the
                  servants entrance to the chapel. Servants were
                  expected to attend chapel every morning and twice on
                  Sundays. The upper servants sat in the front pews and
                  the lower servants behind them. The organ pulls out
                  from the left side of the gallery and was worked by
                  hydraulic power until this was removed after problems
                  with flooding. Moving into the men’s corridor, the
                  first room is the steward’s boy’s area. He was
                  responsible for washing the pots after the servants
                  meals and carrying wood to the bedrooms. Next to it is
                  the steward’s room. This was an office with desk,
                  cupboard and bookcase, and also where the upper men
                  servants ate their meals, being waited on by a lower
                  servant. The steward was responsible for looking after
                  the estate and for hiring and firing staff. Young
                  children would be taken on following a recommendation
                  from existing staff of good reputation. Servants had
                  to ask the steward’s permission to marry. Women were
                  told no, as there were no married quarters in the
                  house. The men might be given permission if they were
                  a senior servant, had worked in the house or estate
                  for a long time, were a good worker and had somewhere
                  on the estate to live. If a married man was offered a
                  job he was given accommodation in the house but his
                  wife and family had to find somewhere else to live.
                  Next to this is the nightwatchman’s room. Beyond is
                  the wine cellar with walls lined with brick built
                  bins. Along with the beer cellar next door, this has a
                  curved ceiling which supports the grand staircase
                  above it. The door of the wine cellar was kept locked
                  and only the butler had a key. Wine was decanted
                  before serving. The corks had the vintage date on the
                  bottom and there was a resale market for them. Corks
                  could fetch three to five shillings depending on the
                  vintage and were used by unscrupulous hoteliers to
                  replace corks in bottles of cheap wine. Male servants
                  were allocated three pints of beer a day, women
                  servants two pints. The beer was weak, only about 1.5%
                  alcohol. Before the 1800s, tea was too expensive for
                  the servants to drink. The lamp room was a very
                  important room until electricity was installed in the
                  1930s. Forty oil lamps were needed. The Strong Room is
                  beneath the Marble Hall. It is lined with cabinets
                  containing silver gilt and silver plated crockery.
                  There are Christening cups, cigar lighters, urns and
                  also a set of mastiff dog collars, dating from 1707.
                  The coronets of the Earl and Countess dating from the
                  first Lord Brownelowe are kept here and the church
                  plate. The Gilbert Collection from the Victoria and
                  Albert Collection is on display here. (The V&A are
                  responsible for the photographic ban on this tour.)
                  Sir Arthur Gilbert amassed what was described as the
                  finest private collection of silver and gold which he
                  bequeathed to the nation. This was kept in store in
                  the V&A but there has been a policy to return some
                  of the items to their original homes for display. At
                  the end of the corridor is the butler’s pantry with a
                  fireplace with a chair beside it and a large table.
                  The butler was responsible for the silverware and
                  crystal which was kept in large wall cupboards. His
                  job also included washing the crystal and there was a
                  boiler to supply hot water to the sink. There is a
                  rack of trays which was used to carry crystal and
                  silverware. The butler was also responsible for
                  ironing the morning paper. This wasn’t to remove
                  creases, but to make sure the ink was dry and wouldn’t
                  mark his lordships hands. The butler slept upstairs
                  and the under butler slept in this room in a bed
                  hidden in one of the cupboards. His job was to guard
                  the silver and strongroom and there were a two
                  blunderbusses above the fireplace. The tour then goes
                  down a long corridor to the kitchen with a large
                  working table, big range (not the original), oil lamps
                  hanging from the ceiling and walls lined with shelves.
                  Food was taken in a heated trolley to the dining room.
                  The person pushing the trolley was expected to whistle
                  all the time as it is impossible to eat and whistle at
                  the same time. The tour is included in the admission
                  price for Belton House and is definitely worth doing.
                  Places are limited so it makes sense to book when you
                  arrive. Photography is not allowed. The tour was
                  advertised as taking 50 minutes. Ours took 75 minutes.
                  The guide was excellent, informative and funny. He
                  also allowed plenty of time to ask questions.

Basement Tour

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