Westport House is currently undergoing phase one of a restoration project that is expected to be completed in February 2022. It will see much needed conservation work carried out to the Georgian-era home to help protect the contents and stories of the house for many more generations to enjoy.
In the 18th, 19th and the first half of the 20th Century, the overseeing of any Manor House was the responsibility of the butler and the house keeper and they were in charge of the servants who were integral to the smooth running of the ‘Big House’.
The running of a large House required a plethora of staff for both the interior of the House and the wider Estate. The interior staff lived and work inside the House whereas the Estate staff such as gardeners and farmhands would have resided in buildings around the Estate.
The servants’ quarters in Westport House were located in the North wing of the House – one of the last extensions to be added to the House in 1816. The servants would descend to the basement late in the evening when the Browne family had dined in the Large Dining room and had retired to the Drawing room après supper. This was the servants’ chance to eat and socialise amongst themselves. The servants would eat their meal in the Servants Hall and from this room there was a doorway and a short set of stairs leading down to the male servants’ quarters – the female quarters were on a separate floor, just above the men’s rooms.
Inside the House, the servants were expected to use the internal stairs, going from the basement of the house right up to the First floors and attics – there are actually two sets of internal stairs – one for the south side of the House and one on the north side. The south side stairs are wooden and the north side are stone.
One of the most intriguing mechanisms, that is still on show in the House, is a great number of servants bells hanging up high on the walls in the basement. These bells were connected to the upper floors of the House by a complex system of chains, pulleys and wires which allowed the family to communicate to the servants below. When the family needed assistance, they would simply press a button that would activate the bell below. The bell is attached to a coil and so if the servants missed the initial ringing, the coil would vibrate so as they would know which room they need to attend to. Some of the bells would have different tones so that the servants would know by sound which room to go to.
Although the bells are not working today, they are still on display and evoke a sense of how life was lived in the ‘Big House’ for both upstairs and down.
Copy and photos with thanks to Kathryn Connolly, Supervisor at Westport House
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Please come visit to see the artwork and the house for yourself. Westport House is open to visitors over the Christmas break from Monday, December 27th to Sunday, January 2nd inclusive from 10am to 4pm daily. You are encouraged to book your tickets online by clicking here to avoid disappointment.