Robert Taylor arrived as a footman at Highclere in 1937. One of the first entries in his diaries described following Smith the Butler, keys jangling, along the long length of the bottom corridor of the Castle to be shown the china cupboards: this set was for breakfast; the Bretby set for tea; the Chesterfield silver for dinner and so on. He was then given the keys. But that was just one cupboard and one set of (quite important) keys.
This propensity for keys continues today. Diana our housekeeper has keys and key cupboards which are mostly for the top two floors. Les and Robert have other keys and key cupboards, mainly for the basement level. John, our Castle Manager, has drawers full of keys. Pat, the Estate supervisor, has two large overflowing key cupboards. Luis, who runs banqueting, has keys, James on the farm has keys and so it goes on. The Castle has hundreds of rooms in itself as well as all the outbuildings and before thinking about cottages and gates. The main aim is that every set of keys is replaced in the same place in the same cupboard.
I tend to put some of them somewhere safe – under a carpet or flower pot perhaps -if I don’t have time to return them properly which works quite well until Paul the Gardener redoes a tub of flowers.
We also now have keypads on various doors and gates which are often based on battles, sometimes treaties and occasionally the accession of a king. Camilla from the gift shop can be found early in the morning, staring at a keypad, trying to remember if it is the Battle of Crecy, or Eddington, Waterloo, the Treaty of Berwick, Vienna or battles of Bosworth or Newbury for example. In desperation she has rung home to ask her son to work out the dates. Unfortunately, I don’t think Jack studied history. I just stand there crying with laughter, mainly because I had opened the door already and it was on the latch.
I am not trusted with keys because I put them down somewhere. Especially car keys, and my husband‘s voice can be heard saying “I don’t believe it” when yet again some keys are missing. One set was found (somewhat later) in an apple tree carefully balanced whilst I had led a horse into a field. Yesterday I mislaid some car keys which only materialised after some four hours of searching – cue one rather unhappy husband.
Come back Robert!