Kiplin Hall Vector

Silent Footsteps

Discover the life of a Butler

As a new exhibition opens at Kiplin Hall a table is laid with 9 place settings, representing some of the servant roles in this historic house. Join us each week as we explore the lives of these diligent workers.

In life the servants and staff of Kiplin Hall moved through the house silently undertaking their duties. We see traces of them in the historical record through things like wage accounts and diary entries. Then and today, they are shadows, without whom Kiplin Hall could not have existed and thrived.

Today we shine a light on the role of the Butler, and the life of John Alton. John was born in 1791 and died in 1860. He worked at Kiplin Hall from 1808 to 1858, a career of 50 years! He was initially employed by Colonel Robert Crowe, the third Crowe to own the Hall. It is likely that he began his career as a footman.


In 1818, he was employed by The Earl and Countess of Tyrconnel, Sarah (previously Crowe) and John Delaval Carpenter. Sarah Crowe was the daughter of Robert Crowe and became known as Lady Tyrconnel. By 1839, Mr Alton lived in “Butler’s House” on the estate with his two daughters, near Kiplin Mill. It was unusual for butlers to ‘live out’. Usually, butlers were unmarried and lived in rooms attached to the house. This meant they were available during the night, if their employer needed them. This suggests Mr Alton was important to his employers, as he was given the privilege of having a family and home. As butler, Mr Alton’s half yearly wage was £25.


In 1852, The 4th Earl of Tyrconnel hosted a party for Mr Alton to celebrate 44 years of service at Kiplin Hall. He was given two silver cups which were paid for by local tradespeople who dealt with Kiplin Hall. Forty-six people came to the celebration. In 1860, Mr Alton died after 50 years in service at Kiplin Hall. Countess Tyrconnel commissioned a memorial to him in the local church, St Mary’s in Bolton-on-Swale.




Mr Alton’s duties as butler would have included tasks like organising male indoor staff including the under butler, footmen and post boy. Managing the wine cellar including taking accounts of how much is drunk and when. Caring for the dinner service, by carefully cleaning it in an oak tub. Any breakages were the butler’s responsibility! All plates were safely secured in the locked Butler’s Pantry overnight.

He would also have bottled wine and brewed beer. The recipe for which were kept safe (and secret) by the 4th Earl of Tyrconnel.


Each day he would lay, wait and manage the dining table at meals, including overseeing the footmen. He’d manage daily newspapers and ensure the rooms of the house were ready for use. You can see why trained and loyal staff would have been highly valued.  They kept the lives of the families who owned Kiplin running smoothly.

Next week join us to find out more about Elizabeth Wheatley, a housekeeper. The exhibition Silent Footsteps is included with standard admission. Day and Annual tickets are available. Kiplin is open 6 days a week, closed on Thursdays. Please note that this exhibition is on the third floor and there is no lift, access by stairs only.