Great house

Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire, the largest private house in the United Kingdom until 1979 (death of the 10th Earl Fitzwilliam).[1] Picture from A Complete History of the County of York by Thomas Allen (182830)

A great house is a large house or mansion with luxurious appointments and great retinues of indoor and outdoor staff, especially those of the turn of the 20th century (i.e., the late Victorian or Edwardian era in the United Kingdom and the Gilded Age in the United States). Examples include the English country house and the homes of various "millionaires' row" (or "millionaires' mile") in some U.S. cities such as Newport, Rhode Island. In Ireland, the term big house is usual for the houses of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy.[2][3][4] By some reports, the summer homes of the wealthy at Newport averaged four servants per family member. There was often an elaborate hierarchy among staff, domestic workers in particular.

It was considered déclassé to refer to one's own townhouses, estates or villas (or those of friends) as mansions and modern etiquette books still advise that the terms house, big house or great house be used instead.

As in the past, today's great houses are limited to heads of state, the very rich, or those who have inherited them; few in the developed world are staffed at the level of past centuries. The International Guild of Butlers estimates that the annual salaries of a 20-25 person household staff total in excess of US$1,000,000.

In countries with supplies of cheap domestic labour, the middle classes are still able to afford household help, but not approaching the numbers involved in the running of a great house.


On large estates or in families with more than one residence, there may be a steward (or the modern equivalent, an estate manager) who oversees direction of the entire establishment. Today, it is not uncommon for a couple to split the duties of management between them.

The head of the household is not the butler, but the house manager. An estate manager manages more than one property, and usually has financial and managerial background.

Practices vary depending on the size of the household and the preference of the employers, but in general the staff is divided into departments run by the following staff:[3][4]

Title Description
Butler The head of household staff in most homes; in charge of the pantry, wine cellar and dining room. In a small house the butler also valets for the master of the house. Male staff report to him. The butler is often engaged by the master of the house but usually reports to the lady of the house or sometimes to the housekeeper.[3][4]
Cook In charge of the kitchen and kitchen staff. Sometimes a chef is employed with several subordinate cooks. The cook usually reports directly to the lady of the house but sometimes to the housekeeper. If the cook is a woman, she is always addressed as "Mrs," regardless of her marital status.[3][4]
Housekeeper Responsible for the house and its appearance; in charge of all female servants, but can sometimes be the lead servant in a household. The housekeeper is always addressed as "Mrs," regardless of her marital status.[3][4]

Support household staff


Junior household staff


Grounds staff

An Estate Manager may have charge of the maintenance and care of the grounds, landscaping, and outbuildings (pool, cabana, stables, greenhouse etc.) which is divided into departments run by the:

Title Description
Head Gardener Responsible for the grounds around the house; in charge of any additional gardeners or seasonal men and women brought in at times of harvest or planting.
Stable Master Various titles used for the individual responsible for the keeping of animals, particularly those used for recreational pursuits such as horseback riding, fox hunting or dog fancy.
Stud Master
Master of the Horse
Master of the Hounds

Support grounds staff

Notable great houses

Depictions of great houses

The complex hierarchy of a staff in a great house has been portrayed in several notable productions for film and television. Among these are:

See also


  1. Guinness Book of Records, 1966, p.175
  2. Pakenham, Valerie (2001). The Big House in Ireland. photographs by Thomas Pakenham. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-35422-8.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Evangeline Holland. "Domestic Servants in Edwardian England". Retrieved 2013-01-30.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Bricks & Brass. "Staff Roles". Retrieved 2013-01-30.
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