Fans of TV’s Downton Abbey can get a taste of what life was like below stairs for servants in a real Edwardian country house.
Just like the characters on the hit show, Tom Cockerill spent his days as a 15-year-old boy scrubbing the floors and polishing the silverware at Leeds’s Lotherton Hall.
Today, aged 91, Tom’s first-hand experience of working on the Aberford estate has helped shape a major five-month restoration project.
And tomorrow, the servants’ rooms will re-open to the public for the first time following the project, which has restored them to how they looked more than 100 years ago.
Tom, who worked at the house in 1936 and who now lives in Malton, North Yorkshire, said: “Lotherton Hall was my home and I made friends and had good times here.
“I think it’s marvellous that through these restored rooms people can get a glimpse of what life was like for us. It was another world.”
The visitor attraction, managed by Leeds City Council, was home to the Gascoigne family from 1825 until they gifted it to the city of Leeds in 1968.
During their time in residence, the family employed around 20 staff. Major changes were made to the servants’ rooms in 1970 when they were used to create the Oriental Gallery.
But in recent years, spurred in part by the popularity of Downton Abbey, an increasing number of visitors have asked about the servants’ quarters and what life was like below stairs, sparking the decision to restore the rooms.
The restoration project has focused on three rooms used by the serving staff on the ground floor of the house: the Brushing Room, the Housekeeper’s Room and the Servants Hall, which were all built as part of an extension of the hall in 1903.
Experts have used the original architect’s plans and other source material to piece together a picture of the past.
The restoration team revealed previously hidden features including five perfectly-preserved windows, bricked up for more than 40 years, and the original floor which is more than 100-years-old.
The house is also set to feature a major new exhibition divided into two parts: ‘Dressed for Battle’ and ‘Family Duty and Honour’.
Leeds City Council executive member for leisure Councillor Adam Ogilvie said: “We cannot wait to open the doors and show visitors to Lotherton Hall the restored servants’ quarters.
“The incredible success and popularity of programmes like Downton Abbey shows there is still a fascination with the lives of the people who lived and worked in historic country houses.”
For more information visit: www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/Pages/Lotherton-Hall.aspx