Castles running on Dunkirk spirit! Inside stately homes in lockdown

Stately homes running on Dunkirk spirit! Duchess of Rutland reveals her five children are getting stuck in with chores at The Crown’s Belvoir Castle while Lady Carnarvon has ditched the dusting at Downton Abbey’s Highclere

  •  Duchess of Rutland is in lockdown at The Crown’s Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire
  • She is relying on the help of her five children to stay on top of the daily chores
  • Lady Carnarvon of Highclere Castle is getting stuck in with her husband
  • The couple are operating the 300-room property with just a skeleton staff  
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

They are used to running their sprawling estates with the help of dozens of members of staff. 

But the Duchess of Rutland, of Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire, and Lady Carnarvon, of Highclere Castle, the ‘real Downton Abbey’, in Berkshire, have been forced to streamline their operations to keep their businesses going – and staff safe – during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Speaking in an interview with Town & Country magazine, the aristocrats said they are relying on ‘Dunkirk spirit’ and an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to stay afloat without the support of hard-working employees – or the income generated by visitors.

The Duchess of Rutland, whose country pile has featured in The Crown and Young Victoria, explained she is relying on the help of her five children – Lady Violet, 26, Lady Alice, 24 and Lady Eliza, 22, Charles, Marquess of Granby, 20, and Lord Hugo, 16 – to do everything from cut the grass to man helplines.

‘We have a Whatsapp group going, it’s called the Corona Clan and in the mornings I share a to-do list,’ said Emma, 56, who lives on the estate with her ex-husband David Manners, the 11th Duke of Rutland, whom she divorced in 2012.

The Duchess of Rutland, whose country pile has featured in The Crown and Young Victoria, explained she is relying on the help of her five children – Lady Violet, 26, Lady Alice, 24 and Lady Eliza, 22, Charles, Marquess of Granby, 20, and Lord Hugo, 16 – to do everything from cut the grass to man helplines. Pictured, the Duchess at home in an Instagram snap

It is a similar story for Lady Carnarvon and her husband Geordie, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, who have divided chores between them and three part-time members of staff. The couple, pictured at home in 2011, live at Highclere Castle, which is best known as Downton Abbey

‘I don’t have staff anymore but I do have kids so I tell them where they need to be and what they need to be doing. I feel a little like the Sergeant Major.’

Lady Eliza, who, along with her two older sisters, is a stalwart of the London social scene, has ‘taken’ to the lawnmower while Charles, who will one day inherit the family estate, is ‘driving tractors’ and cutting the maize. 

It is a similar story for Lady Carnarvon and her husband Geordie, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, who have divided chores between them and three part-time members of staff.  

‘Just like every other business, virtually overnight Highclere was halted for the foreseeable future and with no warning,’ she said. ‘It’s the shock of it all and then picking oneself up to get through the practicalities while keeping our mental strength together—it is the same for all us.’

She runs the office computers while her husband handles the admin and manages the accounts.

Emma, Duchess of Rutland, 56, lives at Belvoir Castle (pictured) with her ex-husband David Manners, the 11th Duke of Rutland. The former couple are in isolation with their children

Matt Smith and Claire Foy filming season two of The Crown in one of the opulent rooms at Belvoir Castle, which stood in for Windsor Castle 

Lady Canarvon runs the office computers while her husband handles the admin and manages the accounts at Highclere Castle in Berkshire, pictured

The estate is best known as the home of Downton Abbey. Pictured, the cast outside the castle

Both women told how they had let cleaning slip, which is perhaps unsurprising given the size of their homes. Belvoir Castle has 250 rooms while Highclere, which sits on a 6,000-acre estate, has 300. 

‘There is a lot of outstanding hoovering, cleaning, and windows to check,’ Lady Carnarvon confessed. 

However it is not all hard work and elbow grease. Both families have been finding time to enjoy their country piles.

Lady Carnarvon posted a photo of her with lambs on Instagram this weekend and has been keeping Highclere’s 132,000 followers up to date with snippets of history and photos of the opulent interiors. 

Meanwhile the Manners family is whiling away the hours with singalongs, morning strolls and horse rides through the 15,000-acre estate. 

However it is not all hard work and elbow grease. Both families have been finding time to enjoy their country piles. Lady Carnarvon posted a photo of her with lambs on Instagram, pictured

She also shared a photo of her dogs relaxing on the sofa in one of the reception rooms, above

Photos shared on social media show Lady Violet having an impromptu photoshoot in the glorious spring sunshine and Lady Eliza, a talented singer, keeping the family entertained with solo performances of the White Cliffs Of Dover and Lean On Me.

Weeks in isolation has even been enough to lure the usually social media-shy Duke onto an Instagram feed. He has delighted followers by leading tours of parts of Belvoir Castle on the estate’s official account.

The locations popping up on Instagram this week might look familiar to TV fans as Belvoir Castle has been featured in several shows, including The Crown.

The cast and crew spent over a month filming at the Leicestershire castle – with key scenes featuring both inside and out.

Previous series saw many of the Castle’s most opulent rooms feature – including both the Elizabeth Saloon and the Regent’s Gallery.

The theme of the castle is classic opulence dating back to the 1700s when it was first restored, with the bedrooms boasting four poster beds, gold gilded portraits, rich tapestries, fur rugs and fireplaces.

Meanwhile the Manners family is whiling away the hours with singalongs, morning strolls and horse rides through the 15,000-acre estate. Lady Eliza, seen in an Instagram snap, is keeping the family entertained with solo performances of the White Cliffs Of Dover and Lean On Me 

Weeks in isolation has even been enough to lure the usually social media-shy Duke onto an Instagram feed. He has delighted followers by leading tours of parts of Belvoir Castle, pictured

Lady Eliza dons a suit as she enjoys a drink in one of Belvoir Castle’s impressive rooms

Sparking no expense, the drawing room boasts silk wallpaper, luxurious furnishings and artwork dating back centuries. 

And the opulent interiors don’t stop there, with bathrooms boasting marble tops, dressing tables, intricate wallpaper and the modern touch of his and hers sinks. 

THE UPKEEP OF THE ESTATE 

The upkeep of the estate is no mean feat, and it was previously revealed that the Duke of Rutland was forced to send a painting in order to fund the maintenance.

Speaking previously, the Duchess of Rutland – who is CEO of Belvoir Castle – admitted it’s taken a while to get used to her title.

‘My background is I’m a farmer’s daughter from mid-Wales,’ she said in 2017.

‘I don’t ever think I’m really a Duchess… people say to me ‘your Grace’, and I think, actually, I’m Emma Watkins’.

But the Duchess said she’s determined to preserve the history of Belvoir while protecting its future, and told how it costs £500,000 a year ‘just to keep it rolling’. 

Dinner parties are fit for a king, taking place at tables stretching across a whole hall, surrounded by fireplaces, candelabras and giant portraits of ancestors.

A grand library, complete with oriental carpets, chaise lounges and chandeliers is described in one previous post by Emma as her ‘favourite afternoon spot’. 

Elsewhere on the estate there is the Engine Yard, a retail unit located within restored buildings dating back to 1850 within the Vale of Belvoir – once a saw mill, wagon making shop and a wheelwright’s shop.   

Following a substantial £2.5million renovation, overseen by the duchess and completed in May 2018, it’s now a bustling hub of shops and outlets selling local food and ‘the best of country living’, with events such as cookery demonstrations, flower festivals, themed pop-up dinners and ‘foodie talks’ taking place.

The Engine Yard is also home to the Balloon Bar – where, naturally, the duchess’ latest endeavour, her Belvoir gin, is served. A 70cl bottle costs £39.95. 

There’s also a wellbeing spa, a garden centre, a chocolatier and an outdoor play area for children. The Duchess, it seems, has thought of everything.

The castle, which is partly open to visitors and often used as a filming location, was destroyed by Parliamentarians in 1649.

However in 1799, Elizabeth Manners, the wife of the 5th Duke, set about rebuilding it into a ‘fairytale’ castle at a cost of £82,000 (equivalent to £7,480,000 in 2018), after arriving at the ‘dull and boring’ Belvoir as a teenage newlywed in 1799.

At the time, the fifth Duchess and her husband John Henry Manners sold the equivalent of £283million worth of land and property to turn Belvoir into their neo-Gothic dream home, played host to King George IV.

Lady Alice recently shared this photograph with the caption: ‘seeking solace in nature’

Dogs Tia and Monty Manners were snapped taking a break on their walk around the estate

Easter lunch was a formal occasion for the Manners, complete with a beautiful tablescape

The official Belvoir Castle account shared this photo of a horse on the grounds for Easter

Eliza shared this photo of one of the dogs on a sunny walk around the 15,000-acre estate

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