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 bills and diary entries. Then and today, they are shadows, without whom Kiplin Hall could not have existed and thrived.
Today we meet John Skinner, Under Butler. John was born in Dunnington, Yorkshire in the early 1800s. There is no consistency in the listing for his age through the census returns (taken every 10 years), so we do not know his exact birth year but we think it’s around 1808.
He married Elizabeth Comyn in June 1843; around the same time he may have started working at Kiplin Hall as under butler or head footman. He would have ‘acted up’ taking on the butler’s duties when the family were not in residence at Kiplin Hall, as the butler travelled with the family. At this time, his wife lived in Ellerton-on-Swale, about a mile and a half from Kiplin. It is likely they lived there together, and Skinner stayed overnight at Kiplin Hall to oversee things while the Earl and Countess of Tyrconnel were in London for The Season.
His half yearly salary was £12 and 10 shillings, and he was given £20 per half year when undertaking butler duties, compared to the £25 a full butler would have earned.
He was no longer working at Kiplin Hall by the 1861 census return. However, he lived locally in Ellerton-on-Swale. When Sarah, Countess of Tyrconnel died in 1868 she named ‘John Skinner (former servant)’ in her will and gifted him £25.
As an under butler John would have had many duties. He would have reported to the butler and would have worn a livery uniform, supplied by his employer. He would wait in the entrance hall to answer the door to visitors during the afternoon. Assist the butler by carefully cleaning the ceramic dinner service in an oak tub, immediately reporting any breakages to the butler.
He’d trim wicks and clean the lamps in the house. Lay and clear the table for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Wait on the family at meal times. Wash the silver and glass used at meal times. Prepare and serve coffee after dinner. Generally attending to the needs of the gentlemen in the smoking room after dinner.
John Skinner is buried with his wife at St Mary’s Church, Bolton-on-Swale.
Join us next time to find out more about Hannah Bell, Dairy Maid. The exhibition Silent Footsteps is now open and 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.