by Lady Carnarvon
Highclere’s dining room table seats between 4 – 30 people depending on how many leaves are carefully put into the Victorian extension mechanism. Setting the table is an art and allowing enough time is important. The detail and charm of the operation hasn’t ever been covered in “Downton Abbey”, as it tends to focus on the ‘upstairs’conversations.
Colin our Butler and Luis our Banqueting Manager usually set the table in the afternoon for that evening. The exact layout obviously depends on the menu and number of courses that Paul the Chef and his assistant Rob are preparing and the choice of wines made by my husband with the help of Luis.
Colin and Luis work wearing white gloves which keeps the silver clean and finger prints off the glasses, in exactly the same way as their predecessors would have done at any point in the past 100 years. White embroidered linen table mats are placed over leather protective mats to mark each dinner guest’s place. The knives, forks and spoons are set from the outside in, beginning with the bread knife and working through each course to the cheese. A pat of butter is impressed with the intertwined C’s and coronet of my husband’s crest and placed in front of each guest.
The wine glasses and water tumbler are arranged to the top right of each setting and the mnemonic to remember the order is white on the right, or as Luis likes to tell the staff, like “a Mickey Mouse head“, with the two smaller glasses as the ears. The pudding glass sits at the back as this is the last one guests will drink from. Downton prefer a different arrangement to the glasses but, hopefully, our ancestors hanging in their gold frames in the Dining Room would accept the alternative as more photogenic and for an entertaining cause.