Privileged life below stairs at Burton Constable Hall

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They all came from the serving classes, but even below stairs a rigid hierarchy regulated the staff at one of Yorkshire’s finest Elizabethan country houses.

A new exhibition detailing the largely forgotten lives of those who tended to the privileged at Burton Constable Hall, near Hornsea, has discovered that while some toiled at 4am each day for a salary of only a few guineas a year, others used their prestige to enjoy a privileged relationship with their employers.

Philippa Wood,  Curator at Burton Constable Foundation, looking at one of the exhibits a black dress worn by Elizabeth Sty.

Philippa Wood, Curator at Burton Constable Foundation, looking at one of the exhibits a black dress worn by Elizabeth Sty.

A 19th century Parisian maid named Antoinette Reny even went into partnership with Lady Clifford Constable in the purchase of shares in a railway company, documents from the time have revealed.

“You wouldn’t have thought a maid would have the money to do that,” said Philippa Wood, curator at the Burton Constable Foundation. “But French maids were considered very fashionable at the time. She would have been a companion to her ladyship and quite removed from some of the other servants.”

The hall is also seeing its 12 stained glass windows removed for conservation for the first time since the Second World War, when they were taken away for safekeeping.