THE Mansion House remains the official home of the Lord Mayor of York to this day.

But the way it is run now is very different to 50 or 100 years ago.

These days it is open to the public, and staffed by ‘civic support workers’ from the city council. But back then it was very much the reigning Lord Mayor’s home.

And he or she was served by a full team of domestic staff - from the butler to a cook, housekeeper, maids, chauffeur and secretary.

The life of this ‘downstairs’ staff contrasted strongly with the much more public lives of the Lord Mayor and Civic Party who lived ‘upstairs’.

But sometimes they crossed in surprising and uplifting ways.

Nan Potter, a widow, was appointed as cook/ housekeeper in January 1954.

In 1955, Alderman Fred Brown became Lord Mayor. During his term of office he welcomed none other than the young Duke of Edinburgh to the Mansion House.

York Press:

Nan Potter and Alderman Fred Brown

But Alderman Brown, who was a widower, also fell in love with his cook/ housekeeper Nan Potter. And after his term of office ended, the pair married in 1956.

“This was a fairy tale in the upstairs downstairs tradition,” Nan’s nephew Michael Norman says in an interview in a new book - The York Mansion House: Upstairs and Downstairs – by York oral historian Van Wilson.

“Alderman and Mrs Brown continued to be invited to functions at the Mansion House in 1957-8, such as having lunch to meet a delegation from Munster on July 5, 1957.”

Van began interviewing former members of staff at the Mansion House - and their descendants – when the Lord Mayor’s official residence was being restored between 2014 and 2018. She also spoke to members of the Civic Party past and present.

Now publication of her book has been funded by the University of York as part of its Street Life Community Renewal Project.

It is packed with first-hand accounts of what life was like in the house - both upstairs and downstairs.

No-one in the downstairs world was more important than the butler, of course.

One of the most long-serving of the Mansion House butlers, at least in the 1900s, was Bill Caygill.

York Press:

Butler Bill Caygill welcoming a delegation of foreign visitors to the Mansion House

He took over as butler in 1934, and was still in post when the young Duke of Edinburgh visited more than 20 years later, in 1955.

As a young man, he had served in the First World War. "He was very lucky to return as his mum received two letters to say he had been killed," Bill’s granddaughter Yvonne Godliman recalls in The York Mansion House.

He subsequently trained in hotels in Paris, then worked in a hotel in Leeds before becoming Mansion House butler.

Another of his granddaughters, Yvonne's sister Anita Ellum, recalls a story about her mum, Doreen - Bill's daughter.

"My mum, Doreen, when she was younger, if she ever got a boyfriend, she used to say 'I live at the Mansion House'," she says in an interview recorded for Van's book. "They thought she was a bit posh."

In a foreword to the book, today’s Lord Mayor, Cllr David Carr, pays tribute to those domestic servants of the past. “Whilst the office of Lord Mayor is undoubtedly a prestigious one, it would simply not be possible without the advice, guidance and day-to-day support of the team behind them,” he writes. “Although the butlers, footmen and cooks who made this house a home in the pasr have gone, this volume helps to bring this story to life.”

  • The York Mansion House - Upstairs and Downstairs by Van Wilson is not available for purchase. However, there are a limited number of copies available for distribution free to those with an interest in the history of York. To explain why you would like a copy, email