This month, Meadow Brook Hall is hosting a series of events as part of Downton Days from afternoon teas to cocktail parties, but to get a peek behind the scenes, ‘A Servant’s Life’ is the tour to see. Last Sunday, we took part in this fun and informative guest-participation event as members of group of “applicants” seeking employment among the historic home’s downstairs staff. Starting at the mansion’s side entrance, a footman greeted us, inquiring as to whether we were there to apply for a service job in the home of Matilda Dodge Wilson. A nod in the affirmative gave the footman his cue to escort us to the staff dining area where a preliminary test was given by a housemaid. The exam is in the form of a placement where a formal place setting is outlined and each item must be identified. These were then turned into the housemaid for inspection.
Once all applicants had arrived, we assembled in the sitting room,where the housekeeper gave us a brief introduction as to what an employee of the estate could expect. She informed us that while Mrs. Wilson is a good employer, she demands a lot of her staff with an emphasis on punctuality (as further evidenced by the master clock in the house that set the time for all clocks in the house).
The housekeeper then introduced us to the estate’s butler who was our guide for the remainder of the tour. He lead us through the servants’ quarters where we learned each staff member had their own bedroom, although bathrooms were shared. Just like the servants in the popular PBS Masterpiece mini-series, Downton Abbey, the higher the rank, the bigger the room and the nicer the furnishings.
From the servant’s quarters, we were lead upstairs to the bedrooms of the Wilson family, as well as those of the nannies, who had rooms in the same hall as the family, unlike their fictional counterparts at Downton Abbey. We were also shown the dining rooms with their exquisite tablescapes of fine china, crystal and silverware, befitting of any dinner party with Lord and Lady Grantham.
After the tour, we were brought to a small porch area where we helped ourselves to hot tea and warm, delicious scones. As we dined with our fellow applicants, the housemaid finished the event with a comparison between the staff and family of Downton Abbey and Meadow Brook Hall.
Before heading home, visitors are invited to browse in the gift shop where we found a delightful variety of items to choose from including Meadow Brook-branded wine and tea.
The Downton Days tours and teas are sold out, but there are still openings available for ‘Cocktails and Culture Evening’ scheduled Thursday, February 26.
Meadow Brook was built by Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of automobile pioneer John Dodge, and her second husband, lumber broker Alfred Wilson. Completed in 1929, for $4 million, the historic home in Rochester, Michigan, represents one of the finest examples of Tudor-revival architecture in America.
For more information on the Downton Days events and Meadow Brook year-round tours, visit their website meadowbrookhall.org
Enjoy this article? Receive e-mail alerts when new articles are available. Just click on the “Subscribe” button below.