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A day in the life of a stately home owner

The Pelham-Smiths are no longer as rich as they once were. At one time they owned a large house in London, an estate in Scotland and Pelham Manor, a seventeenth-century house standing in sixty acres of its own grounds near Gloucester. Now only Pelham Manor remains in the family. The present owner, Sir John Pelham-Smith, inherited Pelham Manor on the death of his father five years ago. Sir John was immediately faced with a bill for death duties which he was unable to pay. He did not want to sell Pelham Manor, so he made an arrangement with the government to pay the bill over a number of years. Now he and his family live in one wing of the Manor and the rest of the house is open to the public. Sir John hopes to be able to pay the death duties from the entrance fees. Large old houses like Pelham Manor are known as stately homes, especially when their owners find it necessary to open them to the public. Being a stately home owner is not easy, but Sir John thinks it is worth the effort to keep Pelham Manor in the family.

One day Sir John thought he had found the answer to some of his difficulties, but things didn't quite turn out as he expected. That morning, as always, he got up at six o'clock to make his daily tour of the house and grounds. Everything seemed to be in order. Then, after breakfast, he talked to the estate manager, Cedric Hoskins, who was an old friend of the family. Cedric looked glum. "The accounts for this quarter don't look at all good," he said. "We may have to raise the entrance fee." "But that will only discourage people from coming. Few enough come as it is," said Sir John. "But personally I'm very hopeful about this American contract. If it comes off, well be all right."

"Well, that depends on how things go this afternoon," Cedric reminded him. "The agent for Americo-British Tours, a Mr. Schulman, is coming with a party of American tourists and he has promised to let us know by tonight whether or not he wants to sign the contract."

The American tourists, fifty of them, were coming that afternoon for a trial visit. If it was a success, Americo-British Tours would sign a contract guaranteeing to bring large numbers of American visitors to Pelham Manor each week. This would give Sir John a steady income, but first he had to impress Mr. Schulman and his party. The gates opened at ten o'clock. Sir John took parties round himself and knew the history of each room by heart. At half past ten he started the first tour with thirty schoolchildren and their teachers. By the time they reached the art gallery, the children were beginning to look bored.

Sir John   This is an unusual painting of one of the Pelham-
           Smith family in the eighteenth century. If you look
           closely at the bottom righthand corner you can just see
           a small picture of the artist's wife and child. And next
           to that.
Boy        Please, sir, can I ask a question?
Teacher    Be quiet, Brian. Wait until the lecture is over.
Sir John   That's all right. I'll try to answer his question.
Boy        Were the Pelham-Smiths ever short of money?
Sir John   Yes, indeed they were. The family fortunes varied
           a great deal. But why do you ask?
Boy        It's that picture over there in the corner.
Sir John   Oh, yes! 'The lady with dog". One of my favourite
Boy        Was she a Pelham-Smith?
Sir John   Oh, yes. That's Lady Laura Pelham-Smith.
Boy        Well, her husband can't have had much money. She
           hasn't got any clothes on!
Author: Alan Townend