Keys to the Castle


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!

20 Responses to “Keys to the Castle”
  1. Melanie Webb says:

    I just love reading your blog. Highclere castle seems so beautiful. I hope to visit there one day if I’m ever able to cross the big pond.
    I can imagine it’s difficult keeping up with all of those keys. Thank you for sharing your world with us.

  2. Cynthia says:

    The old key designs are so interesting! We moved to a condo for the first time here in Houston. I have so many keys involved with getting in and out of the property I get the dithers trying to keep track. I completely understand the real struggle with needing your keys on a short leash!!

  3. David Anderson says:

    Can’t wait to share this with my dear wife. At last count, we had issued at least 16 master keys to our old farm home. And still it seems that I am the only one that can keep up with mine. I also would like to comment on your March blog “I have a new job”. There is a very popular TV series here in the U.S. called “Rehad Addict”, in which the hostess, Nicole Curtis, rescues old (late 1800’s, early 1900’s) houses (very old by American standards) and restores them to their former glory. I was just thinking that a TV series on the daily life of Highclere Castle would make a very entertaining and informative series. Just a thought.

    • Dianne Wasgatt says:

      Hi David,
      We too watch Rehab Addict here is Arizona, Nicole is one hard working lady.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      You are right about the daily life here but some of it is so hilarious that you would not believe it. I love the fact you are down to the last of your 16 keys, very impressive!!!!

  4. Catherine from Greece says:

    Oh, dear, but what a wonderful tale about KEYS!
    And you do have some old “bolt’ keys that are fantastic (and a bit heavy?)
    Now I don’t feel so bad about “misplacing” my few keys, and I do have several sets around
    in various places and with friends in case I get “locked out”…again.
    Thank you for this insight, Lady Fiona, I feel that I am not alone, and it was a good chuckle!

  5. Barbara says:

    Wonderful storiy about lost keys. Nice to know that it happens to everyone at one time or another. Great picture of the ancient keys with the modern ones. Thank you for sharing all the stories of the castle that we have all come to know and love.

  6. Dianne Wasgatt says:

    About 2 years ago I backed my car out of the garage and lost the keys, I’ve no idea where they went.
    I don’t have as many keys to keep track of as at Highclere but still manage to lose the odd one now and then. My husband is not very sympathetic,when I ask him if he has seen my keys.
    We find odd keys around the house now and then and have no idea what they are for, I hate to throw them away and keep them, “just in case”. we now try to label new keys.

  7. Lady Carnarvon says:

    I do try to colour code some keys in the cupboards – yellow is cottages, red is lodges, blue is doors near the Castle and then I can’t decide whether it is a cottage or a gatehouse and how near is blue…

  8. Paul Mc Taggart says:

    Lost Keys is one of the most common things us humans do with out them we are lost too, as I do my hobby of Metal Detecting i’m often phone up asking Please help I have lost my House keys my Car keys or Train Keys ! Yes thats right I was called out with my metal detector to the Watercress Steam Railway in Hampshire last year to look for a bunch of station & train keys that had been missing for 5 days lost 4 miles away down the railway track, the Track crew were clearing a fallen tree when the keys became lost.. all was righted within 10 minutes of my arrival by train & the keys were found 🙂

    At home I have 2 keys one for my little house & one for my little Smart car 🙂 it must be a real headache for you Lady Carnarvon having all these keys around for you to lose hee hee 🙂

    Only another 4 weeks & Robert will be back 🙂

    Paul 🙂

  9. Mary Beth says:

    Great story, really got a chuckle out of me! In fact I’m still chuckling! Sounds so familiar. Maybe you could do a handing over of the keys like they do at the Tower of London! LOL

  10. Diane Clavareau says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    I smiled and chuckled with delight, reading your key story! My husband always wondered why women loose their keys so often. Do you think it happens more to us than to men? When I had lost mine in or out the house he often asked me to look all over the place and when I did not find anything, he said “did you look in the fridge?” with a charming sweet vice… But one day, he misplaced his car keys. I could not resist the temptation and put them in the fridge! When I asked him to check inside, he had a strange look, opened and found his keys laying there… Well, he never did it again afterwards, but we have had a good laugh! And, yes, I also climbed into the house through the window. Twice!
    Diane Clavareau

  11. Natalie Graham says:

    Keys! Such confounding things. Just a few days ago I was desperately searching for the car keys while my husband and daughter sat in said car waiting for me. Went up the stairs and all around the 2nd floor of our house (which is thankfully not even a small fraction of Highclere or I would have been at it a week) – then downstairs and all around the first floor – and up the stairs again. Could NOT find them… and I KNEW I hadn’t been that many places in the house that day before they decided to hide.

    Started my mad dash again… to be recalled by my husband, who found them in my purse (which was casually sitting on the drivers side seat the whole while) but in the pocket on the BACK, not the pocket on the FRONT of the daggone bag.

    I am a creature of habit and woe be it to me to diverge from my normal routine… but, I was a teensy bit distracted that day… 😀

    I just had to laugh and, as they say, ‘Keep calm and carry on’! Ha! 🙂

  12. Linda Keller says:

    Thank you for such a lovely post about something that everyone can relate to! I love the idea that your keypad access is often based on the dates of important events. What a clever idea. I think I have to sympathize with your Camilla, I can see where that method might cause me some moments of uncertainty as well.

    Our original Victorian farmhouse was built in 1880 and we have some ‘skeleton’ keys laying around that I have no idea what old locks they go with. However, you’ve given me a great idea of what to use for the keypad access numbers on the main gate to our horse farm and the farm office. If anyone ever asks me, I can truthfully say that the idea came from Lady Carnarvon at Highclere Castle. :-))

  13. Carol-Ann Rahl says:

    I can understand not remembering where I placed my keys (not to mention other things). Seems the older I get the worse my memory gets. It’s a great idea to “Keep Calm and Carry On” but try to start your car with that! Guess we all have misplaced our keys at one time or another. I guess I wouldn’t be able to get a job at the castle if it involved “keys”.

  14. Carol Sawyer says:

    The keys alone are fabulous!

  15. Katherine says:

    I know how you feel! My husband has a thing for locking keys in whatever he is driving. In fact he did it on our second date. He always insists that it’s the cars fault, that it mysteriously locked on him. And I used to believe him but in four years he’s locked the keys in FIVE different vehicles. The last time he did it in a rental car and locked his cellphone in with them, alone, in the middle of a tornado clean up area. Lets just say it was a long, warm walk back to the rest of the group. Oh well I guess love helps us to forgive others for their faults. 🙂

  16. Elizabeth Geaber says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon.

    Let me just say that this email is late .. It seems I am always late to the party. I have found that the ( tile works for me . I know that a castle has many keys to keep track of but maybe they can make and exception and help you out…
    If Keys are lost in my home all fingers point to me.


  17. Heather Bellamy says:

    Just been to visit your lovely home It was brilliant you shared it with the Grantham family It made the series so much more real now we have been It would have be great to see more of Life Downstairs as that’s were so much goes on !! I wish you well with all you do to keep your castle and grounds in good shape A great place to live and bring the next generation up Thank you for letting us share your home

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