Tales From The Pantry: A Butler's Diary

From the pantry of an historic country house comes the ongoing diary of its butler, Mr Dean Fielding. I shall be giving you a glimpse of the family I serve and of the lives both 'Below Stairs' and 'Above'. I hope you follow my jottings daily.

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Location: United Kingdom

Have been butler here for over 15 years. Having previously, and unusually for these days, worked my way up from footman to under-butler to my current post. You can now follow me on Twitter via: http://www.twitter.com/butlerfielding

Friday, March 31, 2006

Dear Old Carstone

Carstone House, my home and workplace, is a rather large mansion near the border of England and Wales. It is indisputably a country house but it likes to wear the cunning disguise of a castle. Call it a mock-castle if you will, call it a castle that simply likes dressing-up, but it wears its battlements as proudly as a Dowager Viscountess parades a new hat.

The setting is wonderfully beautiful. The outside world of urban sprall seems to have taken one look at Carstone and swiftly moved on without comment. A visitor entering Carstone Park would be met at the Lodge-gates by the Lodgekeeper Mr Llywelyn, a Welshman who seems to know every story about the House, many of which, I have often suspected, were created by Mr Llywelyn himself. The lodges (which are 19th century replacements of the originals) flank the large iron entrance gates. Llywelyn has a living room in one, and a bedroom in the other. This often means that, at night, if you have a powerful telescope, and get to a window in the South-East Tower of Carstone, you might see the sight of old Llywelyn (complete with old fashioned nightcap) moving, like a ghost unwilling to wake up the local wildlife, silently from lodge to lodge in order to retire for the night. Many ghost stories, I am sure, were generated by a passer-by witnessing Llywelyn in wee-willy-winky-esque attire going to bed!

Once into the Park proper, your car would sweep up the curving drive, and you might see, to your right, just over a ridge in the near distance, the large serpentine ornamental lake, complete with quite rare exotic fowl. On this lake is a boathouse. It can be wonderful to row out into the centre of the lake on a Sunday afternoon in summer. The boathouse contains about six such rowboats, and also a gilded gondola that Mr Miles Carstone brought back from Venice.

To your left you would see a large wooded hill. In ancient times this was an iron age hill fort, but the Carstone family built a summerhouse on top which gives impeccable views for miles around. It is quite a climb to reach the thatched summerhouse, and I confess, on a very hot day, I do sometimes cringe when Lady Carstone decides to take tea up there. I am quite out of puff by the time I get to the top. I am sure I am not getting less fit, I suspect the hill is getting steeper.

When you eventually reach Carstone House itself, with its battlements and towers, trying oh-so-hard to be the castle it always wished it could have been, you are confronted with an imposing porch which contains the armorial bearings of a monarch who enjoyed the hospitality of Carstone so much that he left behind many legends, by way of a tip. Of course, how many of these legends were later created or embellished by Mr Llewelyn, perhaps only a trip to the archives would reveal.

Inside (and I have to be careful in revealing works of art and possessions for fear of giving the game away) you would find all the rooms you would expect in such a building. The State Dining Room, The Family Parlour, The Library, The Smoking Room, The Armory, The Italian Room, The Long Gallery are all wonderous creations reflecting the taste of various owners of Carstone over the centuries. There is, inevitably, a King's Room, where the said monarch once slept, and a long sequence of bedrooms; my favourite being the Chintz Bedroom which is situated in the South-East tower for its sheer boldness of decoration, although I do not recommend entering that room with a hang-over, it is liable to make you feel quite queasy. I speak from sad experience.

My domain is, of course, Below Stairs, but, perhaps you have heard too much about Carstone House for one sitting. Perhaps, in this modern age of narrowing attention spans and instant entertainment, you are sitting there in front of your computer screen, rolling your eyes, and thinking: "This Fielding chap does go on a bit!" So for now I shall turn my focus elsewhere: to the family.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A gilded gondola? Is that normal on a lake?

9:46 pm  
Blogger Mr Fielding said...

I don't suppose it is, no. But then again you haven't yet been introduced to Mr Miles Carstone. He is enough to raise both eyebrows.

I had meant to post more today with information about the Carstone family, but they have returned from London this evening and, I am afraid that my time isn't my own at the moment.

I shall post more tomorrow, however.

10:05 pm  
Anonymous Augustine Mulliner said...

"He is enough to raise both eyebrows", you said about your lord and master. But the question is: how far? An eighth of an inch? A quarter? Where do you stand on the Jeeves scale? (I know, he wasn't a butler, but he did buttle from time to time.)

10:08 am  
Blogger Mr Fielding said...

I only raise an eyebrow in private (and then only perhaps a fifth of an inch) at the antics of Mr Miles.

He is the son and heir of my Master, who, I am sure has been forced into being an expert at eyebrow acrobatics himself in consequence. But more later.

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