We recently conducted a tour of Stokesay Court for a Technology History Group and I must admit as a team we found it as fascinating as the visitors did.
I have long known that Stokesay was at the forefront of technological innovation when it was built – one of the earliest houses to have integral electric light installed from the start – and we were able to show off, for example, two ages of fuse board (electrical advancements were happening even as the house was being built), crank handle systems for opening lofty windows in the lantern above the great hall, water pipes tucked away in wood panelled pillars and three types of communication with the house staff – manual pull bells, speaking tubes, and electric bells (there was no hiding from your duties in the modern Victorian house).
We already knew about things like the canvas fire shutes for evacuation but what we were able to learn, for example, was that these were deployed after being attached to sturdy rings in the floors by the windows, and then slung out of special quick release windows so no fiddling with the normal catches and locks – a marvellous and simple method for ensuring all were safe, even if not entirely appreciated by the staff during fire practices as an elderly visitor once recalled. I now understand why not! They were not just for the family but also to be found in the servants’ attic rooms.
Many of these things, such as the underfloor heating in the hall, get pointed out on a normal tour, but when going round do also keep an eye out for the early telephones, and please ask about the remote controlled ‘night lock’ on the Master Bedroom door.
Also look for the bespoke ducting in walls and panels, through which the wires and pipes have run from day one in this intriguing building. These ducts have been a godsend to me as, when the house and its services have needed repairing and updating, I haven’t needed to disturb plaster or floorboards – someone showed great forethought and for that I am eternally grateful.