Sitting in the Library to enjoy Downton Abbey on a screen for a press reception, with the shutters firmly closed, watching the opening scene, it was slightly surreal to see Mrs Hughes opening the shutters in the very same room to welcome in bright summer sunshine. I have never quite forgotten it!

All the rooms on the ground, first and second floor as well as any further outward facing rooms have these shutters, although these days we don’t open all of them all the time. They are mostly made of oak, grained weathered and immensely practical. The Music Room has beautiful painted and gilded 18th century ones which we have recently had restored. I suspect the drawing room ones also need a little re-gilding if I look closely, (so I don’t) and the ones in my study often get stuck so that is yet another job to be done.

Light flooding into the Drawing Room

The Castle has its own morning routine. For the housekeeping staff the first job every morning is, of course, opening the shutters but each department follows its own schedule. In the summer, the kitchen teams arrive at 6am (at 7 am at other times) and armed with beanie hats in the winter. The huge, high-ceilinged kitchen faces north – with high windows and no shutters! The gardeners begin at 7.30am and stop after the first few jobs for a thermos flask of tea or coffee. Outside estate staff are here by 8am and the farm office will also be busy early. Maggie will have mucked out the horses and the office staff arrive between 8.30 and 9am. My husband often goes for a run first thing and I bike round the estate with the dogs having impromptu conversations and meetings as I go. I always rather imagine the Castle dusting itself off, stretching and sitting up before settling into a new day.

East Anglia Bedroom facing south; to the right: Stanhope facing east (or the Turk’s Bedroom, from series one of “Downton” and later Shirley Maclaine’s….)

We have a central diary for the Castle so that, theoretically, everyone who works here should know what is happening. It is all integrated and everyone is colour coded and I try to put in everything I am doing so that it is accurate. My husband also keeps a separate shared diary which relates to him. As the Castle pages are so full, I also had the bright idea of a shared estate works diary. Paul in the kitchen runs his team off a wall chart and diary, Sally runs the gift shop team through an endless series of authoritative emails. Simon and the farm follow the seasonal cycle, David Hilton the joiner has an idiosyncratic schedule which I can never quite figure out, Les and Keith are on a 3 day week which varies with the seasons whilst Pat and her painting team meet me on a Monday to have some semblance of a plan, because I am not sure if anyone looks at the estate diary and I have rather given up too. In a more old fashioned way, I also know that I can always find the decorating team, and thus their schedules, in Pat’s kitchen where they go for tea at the end of the day.  Thus, if Nick the tiler is yet again invisible, I can usually find him there.

Given the diaries are shared, in order to be more discrete, we use initials and acronyms, which works well until no one can remember what it all means. I, obviously not wishing my husband to know everything, am particularly good at code but unfortunately the office does not always realise that a particular abbreviation is actually a meeting or, even more importantly, a code for “a secret planning meeting about interior matters , location TBC”. My long codes can be so good they also defeat me.  In turn, my husband is running along his own track with, quite often, no reference to what is going on in the Castle which can result in “operation revolving doors”.

Photo of Bonny by Joanne De G.

John Gundill (our Castle Manager of the absent fish and chips)and I regularly sit and stare at his computer, trying to give clarity to the diary. I quite like typing and having keyboard control but I have to type quickly as he grabs it back and complains about my colour coding. I can hardly sit down, of course, because he has so many piles of paper around his desk. Just when I am clarifying an acronym – an on-going project with which my husband is possibly not yet quite fully, wholly conversant, Geordie walks in. A flurry ensues and I ask him how his foals are.

Every so often I propose a diary meeting on a Monday so we can try to troubleshoot the double-bookings. Perhaps at some point we shall have one.

Time to close the shutters.