Sunday, 28 April 2013

Private House Management with "The English Manner"

As you may know, I'm getting to know the very talented & overtly polite Mr William Hanson very well of late, thanks to our co-hosting of some spectacularly successful etiquette events over the last 6 months, with plenty more to come... So do watch this space.

What I haven't yet touched on is what William does when we aren't larking around over afternoon tea or "Downton" themed events in our best frocks and offering our fanciest conversational topics. He does also host etiquette and private household management courses with "The English Manner", an international protocol and hospitality consultancy firm founded by Alexandra Messervy, formally of the Royal Household of Her Majesty The Queen. 
Alexandra was also formally known for her previous work with the Lucie Clayton Finishing School, before setting up “The English Manner” in 2001, where not only does she offer first class training with her very carefully selected team of experts, but she also provides luxury holidays, tours and unique home stays. 

You have surely seen the hit TV series "Keeping Up Appearances" with Hyacinth Bucket (Pronounced "Bouquet" don't you know ; ) .... well, this is William's favourite TV show and was the talking point of our course on many occasions, as a British favourite (I even remember my grandparents sitting round watching this on a Sunday Evening) it's set the standard for the "Lady of the house" in today's modern society! 

I have recently been made redundant from my day job with a well known online retail brand, where I worked in social media and customer service and have managed to not only start to make "Miss Sue Flay" work for herself on a more permanent basis, running events and teaching afternoon tea baking & etiquette lessons in people's homes, I have also been one very lucky lady (being in the right place at the wrong time ; ) and have landed myself a part time position as a Private Household Manager for a Cambridgeshire family. 

It's not a position I would have ever thought to have hunted for, but I already absolutely adore the new role, with my 11 years worth of experience in events and hospitality holding me in good stead for it, I'm actually starting to make a living that I enjoy, being organised, I can be my own boss - it's the best situation I've been in for years and I'm loving every minute of it.

At our last afternoon tea etiquette event a couple of weeks ago, William mentioned that he was about to teach an intensive 3 day course on the household management for private houses and I signed up there and then... It was the perfect training to make me the house manager to rival all others - Mrs Hughes, watch out!  

Just some of the topics & practical elements covered on this particular course were to include: 

Answering the door, telephone, computer & social skills 
Etiquette and interface for your principles & guests
Uniform, grooming & appearance
Managing a private household & the role of the household manager
The law - money, security, risk management
Managing your team - stress & time management, expectations, motivational skills
Basic kitchen management skills - menus, budgets, hygiene, food safety, storage, inventory
Household systems & manuals - The "dead butler" file!
Private service - employment, how to create a CV, keeping the job
Housekeeping - standards, definitions, cleaning products & skills, dressing a room
Laundry - symbols & care, starching, steaming, ironing, folding & the linen cupboard
Bathrooms - basic cleaning techniques, common pitfalls, preparing for guests
Bedrooms - cleaning, preparing for guests, the difference between home & hotel
Valet skills - stepping in, should you be required
Laying a fire
The care, storage & movement of antiques and fine art
Butler service vs Silver service
The tea tray, coffee tray & calling tray
The dining room - setting the table, service, drinks & canapes, organising of a dinner party
Pairing food & wines
Silverware - care of silver, glass & china
The cheese board, cocktails & passing the port
Cleaning of silver, brass & wood - french polished furniture & what to do with it

And this is literally just skimming the surface of the topics covered over this exhausting, but educational 3 day course, with William leading the days and his colleagues Barbara & Diana alongside him. 

Barbara Allred was the co-host of this particular course with William and she was the perfect teacher to learn from, having worked for the Royal Household for over 15 years as Executive Housekeeper at Sandringham House, she worked as part of a fantastic team and worked with the Royal Family to ensure everything was met to the highest standard at all times. Her tips and advice were invaluable and she respectfully discussed her time at this very prestigious address as we polished the silver & brass at Broomy Bank and as we dined at each mealtime, I loved her stories and tricks, of which I'm already using in my own role back in Cambridge! 
Barbara stumbled across her role at Sandringham by answering an advert in "The Lady" magazine for a housekeeping role in Norfolk, unbeknownst to her who this family was going to be... I love this story in itself, you just never know where your choices may take you!

Broomy Bank, the house we were learning in is a large 6 bedroom house, owned by the lovely Fiona and her family, who allow William and guests to take it over for the course. The house is stunning, with a gorgeous wooden staircase to practice your gliding (there is a right way to go up and down the stairs... Ensuring that you can break your superiors fall should they stumble - now that's good service!) and a heavy wooden front door that allows us to practice answering on behalf of your superiors, screening for those pesky burglars or unwanted guests whilst not letting them in the house if you don't know them, role playing was included and was an education in itself. 

Throughout the days we had a couple of stops for tea & coffee by the open fire, which was very welcome as it drizzled around us on the first day. We even had homemade flapjack one afternoon, this was a superb way to be treated as we worked...something we shouldn't necessarily get used to, but it was lovely all the same ; ) 

This house also owns a stunning stable block with prize winning horses and William was explaining the "Ha Ha" to us, a term I've never heard of before, whereby the horses can roam on the land, but there are large ditches hidden from view of the house to stop them crossing into the garden or driveway. Very clever and much more pleasant than a horrid fence to ruin the view of the stunning rolling fields and hills. 

My bedroom was huge and very comfortable, with the biggest bath I've seen in a while, I ensured I treated myself to a bubble bath both evenings to relax as I never do this at home. It was the finishing touches that did it for me.. the beautiful tulips on the dresser, the old vogue magazines in the magazine rack, this was a girls dream bedroom and the bed was so comfy I didn't want to get out each morning. 

Meals were light, absolutely delicious and homemade by William, the
domestic god that he is! 
Tomato soup and warm bread, for lunch on the first day, followed by 
Toad in the Hole with red onion, green beans and peas and a New York Cheesecake for dessert for dinner... I even managed to put my "Pea Etiquette" into training following the discussion about this as our "Dine Like Downton" event back in March...poke them, don't ever scoop them and it certainly does make your dinner last longer ; )
I also realised I truly am a slow eater. I don't know if it's a confidence issue when it comes to food, maybe I talk too much over dinner, but I need to not take so long and make others wait... The Queen eats quickly, so I should get practising this before I ever get a chance to dine with her, a girl can but dream!
We also enjoyed croissants, cereal and fruit for breakfast each day, with a choice of juice and hot drinks to get us started, omelette for lunch on the second day with a tomato salad and we even got a chance to try eating fruit with proper fruit cutlery, which was a brilliant opportunity as its so rare to do this away from formal dining nowadays - and tricky it is too!! 

On the second night, we enjoyed a minted lamb & feta vegetable bake with a gorgeous white chocolate & passionfruit posset, which I will be making myself for guests next time I am entertaining, it was a recipe made up by William & the best posset I've ever tried! 

As well as learning about "hospital corners" on bed sheets when making the bed for your principal (lord/lady of the house), we also learn never to blow a candle out (as it can spray wax over your french polished table!), never to put a chocolate or mint on a guest pillow (this is a house, not a hotel ; ) and if in doubt on any small feature or little task in your household, simply ask your boss/principal and find out what they prefer as you learn the ropes. 
We also learnt that having a large pantry full of lemons and bicarbonate of soda will do you right in no end of jobs and tasks... it's a life saving combination in every room! 

William also has a penchant for "loo roll origami", so as part of our lessons, we learnt how to turn the most boring looking toilet roll into a beautiful lotus flower or a bow perfect for the guest bathroom... important technical skills to have I can tell you! 
- on our further reading list after the course, we were even provided with the title of a book on just this task... I love it! 

The Private Household Management course is for anybody wanting to work in chalets or on yachts, housekeeping in private homes, or even a cook in private households. 
Should you be thinking of a career in Private Household Management, this is the course for you. It not only gives you a varied knowledge of everything you may need to know for your role and the positions around you (in case you ever need to step into the butlers' shoes for example), but it's a fantastic opportunity to converse with the very best in the business

This team is superb and I'm literally blown away with how much I have left with, I'm going to be the ultimate in organised from here on in, any partner or employer is going to be lucky to have me!... I am prepared for most eventualities - including knowing how to iron my principles' shoe laces, should they require it!
- It was worth every penny. 

Miss Sue Flay 

For more info on Miss Sue Flay's Baking School - Click Here


  1. Wow, what an amazing course. Would love to spend a few days learning business management skills if you do them.

    1. You most certainly should do this Lynn, It's worth every penny, I truly mean that... I was a little scared at paying the money, but have to say, I'm buzzing and have a real confidence about my future from this week. And the support afterwards is equally as good as the course itself xx

  2. What a fascinating experience! I love all the quaint formalities, thanks for sharing! :-)