Staying, even for one night, in a grand stately home, as a private or paying guest, can of course be an utterly unnerving experience for the truly unversed. There are unspoken rules and invisible boundaries that you don’t cross in polite society. For example, when your host says ‘Do make yourself at home – my home is your home’ he means it only up to a point.

He doesn’t expect you to empty his whisky decanter, walk mud all over his oriental carpets, play the hi-fi loudly, smoke without asking if it’s acceptable, shout at his dogs or make love to his wife. Neither does he expect you to stay too long.

That is unless of course you are a paying guest. Sunday afternoon is a good time to drift off from the country weekend and ‘Stay as long as you like’ means you should certainly not hang around for much longer than three or four days.

Dealing with staff can be a real test of management skills, but a general rule of thumb is that the grander the household the less matey one is with ‘the servants’; it is as much for their benefit as for yours. Many great English estates are still quite feudal in their attitude and socially they are often a self-contained community. Although there is mutual respect, everyone is more comfortable mixing with their own kind with a workable degree of privacy.

In smaller stately homes it is a different story. The owners are usually pathetically grateful to have ‘a little woman who comes and does’ or a ‘marvellous chap who keeps the garden under’, so don’t be surprised to find them sitting down to join you for your coffee, tea or even a meal with the family. The prime aim in these households is to keep the staff sweet so that they are not poached by desperate neighbours, also looking for some form of help to run their over-large properties, while they too work long hours in the city.

Wherever you happen to stay do remember it is simply not done to be deliberately rude to the staff or set out to prove that they are your social inferiors, however tempting it may be to prove a point at times.

Neither is it done to over-fraternise or ask too many personal questions, especially about other members of the household or the value of the furnishings. Also, never openly bicker or quarrel in front of your host or his guests and staff.

When it is time to leave remember to tip all the members of staff who have been of help to you, from the butler (if there is one) to the chambermaid. It is customary to leave tips for the latter in the bedroom. Personally thank the staff, if it is practical, and of course your host and hostess. You should then follow up your thanks with a ‘thank you letter’ on good quality stationery.

Finally do not take or send a gift when you are staying at a very grand house (elsewhere it is acceptable but not expected) unless you have a spec
ial reason for so doing.