Period dramas such as Downton Abbey and even Gentleman Jack, filmed here at Sutton Park, have given us a flavour of life as domestic staff to wealthy families in Britain’s historic homes. But what does it mean to be a housekeeper in a modern private estate? Who better to ask than the Sutton Park housekeeper Jean, who will celebrate her 40th year in service to Sutton Park this year.

“I feel as though I can’t wait to get to work, to get here and look after the house.”

jean housekeeper Sutton Park

Sutton Park Housekeeper Jean Knowlson

How long have you worked here at Sutton Park?

It will be 40 years in June. I had a celebration for 25 years – it seems like yesterday! I was 50 years old and had been here for 25 years. It would be nice to do something again this year.

What did you do before you came to Sutton Park?

Before I came here I worked for a catering company in Leeds. It was very impersonal, the calendar was booked and we looked after 50 people one weekend, 40 another. I wanted to do something a bit more personal. I went to the job centre in York and there was an advertisement pinned on the wall that caught my eye. The job centre introduced me to Mrs. Sheffield, who was Sir Reginald’s mother, and said she would have me. I said I’d have to think about it! I was giving up a lot – I had a place at a nationwide company. But I liked the look of Sutton Park very much, so I gave my notice and came here.

What brought you here?

It was the way the advertisement was written, they wanted a housekeeper and a cook. I was all hot and bothered – I knew I had to apply. This seemed to be the way ahead, and an opportunity to work at something more personal than a corporation that had every engagement all mapped out.

What do you do?

I plan on a daily basis what needs to be done for the situations arising, such as preparing the house for public tours, and I plan long-term for future events. Along with my two lovely ladies, we do what needs to be done to ensure that the house is ready for all occasions. One of my favourite jobs is cleaning the brass and I do not seem to delegate it to anyone else as I love doing it so much. There is so much beautiful brass in the house – that is what makes it so attractive. I cook, I wait at the table, I look after the family and their guests. Last weekend was so lovely, it was so busy with Robert and all of his friends here. I feel as though I can’t wait to get to work, to get here and look after the house. There’s something going on different every day. Just because I’ve been here all this time, doesn’t mean I don’t welcome change. I love Robert’s art. I think it’s a breath of fresh air. Its good to have a change, and Robert is certainly bringing change.

How has the house changed since you started?

The house itself hasn’t actually changed an awful lot since Sir Reginald and Lady Sheffield arrived. Lady Sheffield made the nursery more colourful, and the kitchen more user friendly, because that’s how the world has changed. However, the house is used far more now than it ever was. The dining room has become more relevant than I’ve ever seen it. The house has really come alive with young people, thanks to Lucy, Alice, Emily, Samantha and Robert – the next generation who are bringing their friends here and their children. I think it’s lovely to have the children around, I really do. We all love the house being used. And they love coming to stay!

What do you love about your job?

The satisfaction of doing my work, seeing the end result and then seeing the house being used at the end of it. I’m proud of my time spent here – I’ve been very happy. it’s time well spent, and my work is certainly not over. I have plenty more to accomplish here.

Can you tell us something interesting about Sutton Park that not many people know?

No. I don’t think there are any secrets, it’s a very open place, a very open family, and I don’t think there’s anything people wouldn’t know.

What three housekeeping tips can you pass on from 40 years here?

  1. Stardrops All Purpose Cleaner is really the most amazing thing for nearly everything, from cleaning glass to carpet stains
  2. Be organised with cleaning your brass. Don’t do too much at once, and work hard – it should be like gold when you’re done.
  3. Just get on with whatever needs doing – whatever comes my way, I just do it!

What can someone expect from a stay here at Sutton Park?

Comfort – I think it’s a very comfortable house. It’s a very relaxing atmosphere. The staff are helpful, and we know how to look after people properly. We’re very obliging and happy to help in any way that we can.


If you’re interested in staying at Sutton Park or hiring our private rooms and experiencing some of Jean’s wonderful hospitality, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us on the details here.