The Chatelaine: Extract

(The Cutter family are visiting Astbury Hall)


Mary: Yes. I could live here. At a pinch. (SHE LAUGHS)

Frank: Who knows? One day when our sons grow rich. They’ll keep us in the luxury we deserve.

Jason: I’ll put you in a home.

Frank: Thanks very much. We’ll have to rely on David.

David: What?

Frank: To provide for us in our old age.

David: All my money’s going on the third world. I don’t believe in private wealth.

Frank: You’ll learn.

David: You always say that. What do you think I’m doing now?

Frank: I’m talking about the university of life.

David: Oh for God’s sake.

Mary: Sh-sh you two. Look at those lovely candlesticks, How old do you think they are?

Jason: I’ll look in the book…. Queen Anne.

David: Nearly three hundred years, what’s the oldest thing we have in the flat?

Mary: That old suite. I’ve asked your father to change it till I’m blue in the face.


David: I’m being serious.

Mary: Well there’s my coronation mug. That’s 1937.

David: Is that all?

Frank: No. There’s dad’s medals from the first war.

Mary: Yes, of course.

David: A few lousy medals. Sixty years old. We have no history. They’ve even taken that away from us. We’re just adrift in the here and now.

Frank: This is our history. Our heritage.

David: No. That’s just what it’s not. It’s the heritage of the rich. We’re just allowed to keep it clean.

Frank: What?

David: We pay so that they can maintain their life style. Bugger death duties, estate tax. They have covenants and trusts. They open up their houses, so they can still live there. We are subsidising them. Talk about social security!

Frank: Can’t we keep politics out of it? Just for one afternoon.

David: Don’t you see, Dad? It’s life, not politics.

Mary: Who’s this picture?

Frank: Ask Jason. He’s the one with the answers.

Jason: Let’s see….Sir Thomas Stratton. He was a favourite of Elizabeth I. A Privy Councillor and Master of the Rolls. He spent many years dealing with the highest affairs of state, notably the negotiations for the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1604. James I created him the first Earl of Congleton. The hall was owned by the Earls of Congleton until the Combe-Carringtons bought it when the line ran out in the 1880s.

David: So they’ve only had it a hundred years.

Jason: Seems so.

David: I wonder what they were before.

Mary: (IN A FAR-AWAY VOICE) It must have been wonderful,

David: What must?

Mary: All those years ago. All those lords and ladies sitting here round the fire. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall.

David: That’s just about all you would have been. It wasn’t open house for the likes of us.

Mary: It’s strange, now I’m here I feel part of it.

David: You’re like one of those women who touch Prince Charles’ hand and then don’t wash for a week.

Mary: Don’t be daft. I’m up to my elbows every day in dirty dishes. How could I not wash?

David: You’d find a way.


David: Who’s that sitting there?

Mary: (WHISPERING) That’s Lady Deborah.

Jason: The big white chief?

Gail: What’s she doing?

Mary: Just sitting. They say she sits there every afternoon, just staring into space. Never moving. Never talking. Nothing.

Gail: How weird.

Mary: My mother looked after her for years. I wonder if I should go and say hello.

David: No, you mustn’t. Besides she won’t remember.

Mary: Nan said she was always very good to her.

David: Of course. That was the easiest way. .The iron fist in the velvet glove. I expect she’s had dozens of maids since then. She won’t remember her now.

Mary: No, I expect you’re right.

Gail: She owns all this?

Mary: It was her father’s. Both her brothers were killed at the Somme. So he left it to her. Her husband died young. And she manages it. She lives here with her son and daughter.

David: Where did you learn all this? (IRONICALLY) Cheshire life?

Mary: No. Jilly Beale – Jilly Deakin that was – works here. It was her who told me they’d opened it to visitors.

Gail: Doesn’t she get bored sitting there all day long? I know I would.

Mary: I expect she has her memories.

David: And her accounts. Every person that goes by’s another one pound fifty.

Gail: She looks so peaceful.

David: So would you if you had people to pander to your every whim.

Mary: It must be hard for her after all those beautiful house parties to have to open it to the likes of us.

David: And what’s wrong with us, may I ask?

Mary: You know what I mean. We’re not the same.

David: No, I don’t know. We eat like her. Bath like here. Shit like her.

Mary: David please.

Frank: (TO DAVID) You know I won’t have language in front of your mother.

David: You make yourself think people are better than you. You connive at your own oppression.

Mary: I don’t understand.

David: You could be sitting there. All it takes is five hundred years of screwing your workers, fleecing your tenants, bribing your judges, riding roughshod over the community.

Frank: Come on son. That’s all ancient history.

David: I’m a historian, dad, remember? You wanted me to explain. Well there you are.

Gail: Shall we look in the chapel?