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11 Mar 2020

Life as a costumed guide

Woman in period costume in a rooms with paintings lining the walls
To help bring the story of our places to life, we like to get into character! Here we speak to two people at different properties who are part of our costumed team, to find out how they got started and what tales they love to tell.

Angela Robinson – staff member at Brodick Castle 

Woman in period costume sitting on a chesterfield sofa in front of a bookcase
Angela in her Victorian governess’s costume

How long have you been working for the Trust?

I’ve been a room guide since May 2019. There are eight of us in total and we cover three sections of the castle. I’m in the rooms at least four times a week.

We’re always in costume and we work together as one big team to give visitors to Brodick a great experience. Every day is different!

Do you play a character? And what do you wear?

I’m dressed like a Victorian governess – in a blouse, a grey skirt and a bustle. I tell visitors all about Victorian governesses, and Lady Jean’s governesses in particular. They would do things like hide love letters in school books and teach nanny and Lady Jean (daughter of the 6th Duke of Montrose) all about horse racing.

What interesting things have you learned as a guide?

King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited Brodick in 1902 – we’ve got a plaque near the small quayside in front of the castle, where they landed.

Also, James Hamilton, Duke of Chatelherault and 2nd Earl of Arran, was next in line to the throne after both of King James V of Scotland’s sons died in infancy. He would have been king if Mary, Queen of Scots hadn’t been born 6 days before James V died.

What kind of questions do visitors ask?

Where to start? People often ask if the stag heads are real (they are, and some of them are over 100 years old) and if I’m cold or uncomfortable in my costume. The answer is that it’s not the most comfy outfit, especially in the heat of summer, but it makes me feel ladylike and I love swishing my way down the main staircase!

Which stories from Brodick get the best reaction from visitors?

Probably the story of Lady Mary Victoria, who was the youngest child of the 11th Duke of Hamilton and Princess Marie of Baden, and the god-daughter of Queen Victoria.

Mary was married to Prince Albert I of Monaco, but she left Monaco and her husband after giving birth to their son, Louis II. The marriage was annulled in 1880, but the Monaco royal family stayed close with the Hamilton family. When Lady Jean died in 2017 they came to her funeral.

What do you enjoy most about the costumed role?

Engaging with visitors and learning new snippets or stories from them. And learning more about the castle and its history.

Any tips for people interested in volunteering?

Just make sure you enjoy what you’re doing and keep smiling! Never be afraid to ask questions and don’t try to memorise everything.

See what we’ve got coming up at Brodick Castle.

Michael Annis – volunteer at Pollok House

A man dressed as a butler in front of a stately home
Michael dressed as a butler in front of Pollok House

How long have you been volunteering for the Trust?

This is my 11th year as a volunteer. I got started after my wife, Fran, took me to see the decorated rooms at Pollok House – they are fabulous!

What kind of tours do you do?

Our guide team does lots of different tours. We do costumed school tours and a WWI tour where guides dress up as nurses and soldiers and tell the story of the house and WWI. There’s also a tour that looks at conservation and recycling through history, a Victorian tour led by costumed servants, and even a Horrible History tour that’s quite creepy and macabre.

A man in period costume adding logs to a fireplace
Michael in his role as butler, ensuring the fire is laid

Do you play a particular character?

I’m in head butler costume every Thursday, welcoming visitors to the house, and I do tours for visitors about life below stairs. On Costume Sundays we have the ladies of the house, gentlemen and servants, with me as the gamekeeper.

We’ve also staged lots of ‘murder mysteries’ in the last few years, with all of our volunteers in period costume depending on the theme. We’ve done WWI, 1920s gangsters, and the Victorian and Edwardian era.

Do you get any training for your role?

We all get basic training, and there’s a ‘Guide’s guide’ for our property that makes sure we all have the same basic information about the house and the Maxwell family history. We’re also allowed to add to this from our own research.

Whats unique about the property where you volunteer?

It’s unique to find a house like this in a city like Glasgow. It has a homely feel, but there’s also a fabulous art collection – one of the best collections of Spanish art in the UK that isn’t privately owned. There are some really interesting things to see in different rooms, such as the head butler’s room and the gun room.

A man in period costume with a grey wig winding a clock
Michael makes sure that the clocks are wound up

What have you learned doing your job?

I’ve loved learning about Sir John Stirling Maxwell and his philanthropic work in the local area – he was a fascinating character.

What gets the biggest reaction from visitors?

The sheer size of the estate takes people by surprise. And there’s always lots of interest in the stories behind some of the paintings.

What do you enjoy most about the costumed role?

I love making Pollok House special and welcoming. We bring the place to life!

What would you say to someone thinking of doing what you do?

Don’t feel embarrassed dressing up – visitors love it and being in costume helps you tell the story of a period much better.

Find out more about upcoming events at Pollok House.

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