Category Archives: Recommended Literature

Core literature, and key areas for study or simple enjoyment!

A Country House Christmas, Phyllis Elinor Sandeman (1952)

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Front cover to the current 2016 edition by National Trust Books

Phyllis Elinor Sandeman (1895-1986, and to give her full title The Hon. Phyllis Legh, Mrs Sandeman) was the youngest daughter of Thomas Wodehouse Legh, 2nd Baron Newton and Evelyn Caroline Bromley Davenport. The Leghs are one of a few larger families linked to estates in Lancashire and Cheshire, with Lyme Park being the family’s principal residence and one of the largest houses in Cheshire and also where the publication is set and now owned by The National Trust.

Oil painting on canvas, The Hon. Phyllis Elinor Legh, Mrs Henry Gerard Walter Sandeman (1895-1986), signed (?), 1912.A bust-length portrait of a young woman, body facing right, head turned to face spectator, with short brown curled hair and headband, mouth slightly open. Wearing a black shawl with grey lining over her shoulders, a cream dress with white sash and white lace around neck-line, adorned with jewelled pin.

Oil painting on canvas, The Hon. Phyllis Elinor Legh, Mrs Henry Gerard Walter Sandeman (1895-1986), signed (?), 1912. National Trust Collection

A Country House Christmas: Treasure on Earth has been published three times – 1952 (then titled Treasure on Earth), 1995 and 2016 and has a usual ‘tell it like it is’ feel but has something a little different about it compared to other recounts. I have always been choosy about the first hand accounts of country house living as they do seem rose tinted at best. Over the last few years I have collected a few publications written (or ghostwritten) by individuals who were once employed at a country house. Yet, these are not very coherent and there can be a feeling that they have been encouraged to put their thoughts to paper with too much haste before their experiences become long forgotten. Moreover, there’s always something missing of the mechanics and routine which as ordinary as they are, help bring the story to life.

In fairness, if I were to write an account of my life now or as a student 20 years ago I’d be deterred from including the mundane and keep the more interesting parts for a readership. Most of us would embellish it here and there! However, A Country House Christmas is considered and detailed and Sandeman is neither aloof nor detached in her telling of her youth at Lyme. There is a warmth to the narrative and true fondness as well as dislike for particular parts of the Christmas experience there which will connect to any reader.

Other references in the book are made to sisters Lettice (1885-1968) and Hilda (1892-1970), making them 11, 21 and 14 respectively at the time of the story. Many real names have been altered in the text and Lyme is referred to as Vyne or Vayne and her mother is known as Lady Vyne rather than Newton for example but as a rule it is easy to understand the settings and the players. Additionally, the descriptions of both the landscape and interiors are fantastic and for a regular country house visitor will be recognisable as typical of certain periods, styles and presentation.

General reference to the country house will continue to be Downton Abbey for some time, but here there are intriguing descriptions of the relationships between the family and servants, but also of the community and established hierarchies on both sides and recognition of long standing families who have served and supported the family and the estate. Thankfully too, there is little poignancy for a lost world or ‘other worldliness’. This is a firm recommendation at this time of year or at any other and because it’s Christmas Eve, here’s a small sample to enjoy!

*********

When everybody had assembled in the library and Truelove had announced dinner they would process into the dining-room, Sir Thomas taking Mrs. Waldegrave, and Lady Vyne bringing up the rear with the Canon. Probably Cousin Amy would be allotted to Mr. Hunt. The boys and girls would bunch in together at the last. Through the little tapestried anteroom they would pass into the big Georgian dining-room. The long table extending almost the entire length of the room would glitter and sparkle with the lights reflected in the silver and white of the cloth and from the walls the family portraits would smile benignly on the company. On one of the four gilt side-tables would stand the wonderful rosewater dish and ewer, silver and parcel-gilt with the Vayne arms embossed in coloured enamels – made in the reign of Bloody Mary….

They would begin with grace said by the Canon and then the meal would proceed eaten off silver plates, not so pleasant as the china service because scratchy under the knife and fork, but welcome because they were part of the Christmas ritual. The candle shades in the tall candelabras had little garlands of silver spangles and there would be crackers laid amongst the flower decorations.

First there would be soup of the clearest consistency imaginable, and then some kind of fish which melted in the mouth. Then an entrée, perhaps a vol-au-vont or small mutton cutlets, and then roast turkey or pheasant. Then a wonderful sweet into which Perez had put all his artistry: perhaps baskets of nougat with ribbons of spun sugar containing a creamy ice, and muscat grapes coated in sugar and crystallised quarters of orange and tiny pastry cakes.

The last course, the savoury, was never handed to the little girls. Without any instruction in the matter Truelove had made this decision, and nobody questioned it. On the other hand, he always allowed them a little champagne. Dessert was almost the nicest part of the meal, and the scent of tangerine oranges would all her life be associated in Phyillis’s mind with Christmas dinner at Vyne.

With dessert came the crackers, always a trial to Sir Thomas, for whom the sight of grown men and women in paper caps was anathema…

Tomorrow Phyllis would be moving in a maze of enchantment through the drama dance of Christmas, that drama in which the setting played so great a part. Waking in the twilight of the winter’s morning, waiting for the singing in the courtyard, the herald of the day’s delights. Breakfast and the exchange of small gifts. The visit to her parents’ rooms together with her brothers and sisters to give them their joint offerings. Then the drive down through the white park to the old church – the familiar Christmas service. Then out-of-doors for a little exercise, snow balling perhaps if there was enough snow, then in again to change for tea in the dining-room with lovely iced cakes and crackers. And then the joyous chattering throng climbing the stairs to the Long Gallery.

And there would stand the great shimmering blazing tree, the only light in the room except the fire, and beside it the bran tub, so full that some of the packages were not quite submerged, and beyond the radius of the tree’s light the great long room stretching away into the shadows.

*********

Merry Christmas!

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Further reading:

The identity of the governess uncovered, http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/local-news/mystery-governess-lyme-park-unmasked-8777863

National Trust dedication to Phyllis Legh, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme-park-house-and-garden/features/it-wouldnt-be-christmas-at-lyme-without

Short biography of Phyllis Sandeman as painter, http://www.suffolkpainters.co.uk/index.cgi?choice=painter&pid=1673

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Filed under Book reviews, Collections, Food and Dining, Recommended Literature, Servants, Women and the Country House

The Servant Hierarchy

This post is very much overdue! Besides the fact that this particular post should really get an airing before I finish the last part of Genre which will discuss the social country house, I find I’ve not included a plain and simple breakdown of the country house servant hierarchy! That’s without a mention of the incredibly persuasive Downton Abbey….

Therefore, the following is a list of servants predominantly from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, and a very brief note of duties for those respective positions.

I have included an average of annual wages or salaries for positions throughout the centuries where possible* taking into account rising costs, but it is important to note that these could be vastly different between houses, and the demands of particular families.  I have omitted references to other allowances such as beer, general perquisites like clothing or livery and board wages (a sum given to the servants who reside when the family are not at home for the season for example), and also the obvious increase in wages based on experience and length of employment. They are therefore intended as a guide only.

The Servant Hierarchy for a large household - late nineteenth century (BBC images)

The indoor servant hierarchy for a large household giving an impression of particular departments – late nineteenth century (BBC images)

Female servants.

Housekeeper. The housekeeper was the undisputed head of the female staff. Such a role demanded a huge array of responsibility and the best character was dependable, prudent, sensible, and honest. Known as ‘Mrs’ regardless of marital status, a good housekeeper was probably a terrifying woman to work with if you were young and inexperienced, since she would have been expert in balancing her managerial duties with the skills to influence the social interaction of a large household. (Wage: 18th century – £15; 19th century – £30; 20th century – £50 upwards)

Cook.  The image of a blowzy woman shouting orders at young kitchen maids and errand lads is probably most synonymous with the female cook. Not as prestigious as the male cook or chef, the female cook was nonetheless gifted and sought out for her sophisticated practical knowledge. Crucially, she had immense power over the reputation of her mistress when it came to entertaining and feeding guests. (Wage: 18th century – £12: 19th century – £40; 20th century £60 upwards)

Head Nurse/Nanny. The use of these terms is dependent upon the perception of the roles in any particular household as well as the age of the children. Modern-day perceptions of a nanny most likely come from the 19th century middle-class stereotype who was a stern and efficient outsider. In the country house the term nanny was used more affectionately for a long-standing female employee who had previously been in charge of the youngest children. (Wage: 18th century – £8; 19th century – £25; 20th century – £30)

Housemaid. Put simply, the housemaid was the cleaner of the country house, or any living arrangement, and her duties were endless making hours long. Her less attractive duty was of course the emptying of the chamber pot into a slop bucket. In larger houses there would be more than one house maid, known as a second and third housemaid or a small number of under housemaids. Regular live-in housemaids were supported at weekends or ‘busy periods’ by outside help. (Wage: 18th century – £5; 19th century – £15; 20th century – £25)

Kitchen maid/Cook maid. Often very skilled women or with the ambition to be so, they were part of the team of females overseeing everything in the kitchen department from cleanliness and efficiency to food preparation as well as answering to the demands of the dining table on a daily basis. (Wage: 18th century – £4; 19th century – £14; 20th century – £25)

A Laundry Maid Ironing, c.1762-85, by Henry Robert Morland (1716-1797) Tate Collection.

A Laundry Maid Ironing, c.1762-85, by Henry Robert Morland (1716-1797) Tate Collection.

Laundry maid. It was not uncommon for many houses to employ outside help in the form of a washerwoman and her family, day staff, or a laundry man who also outsourced the work (the latter was more common in later years), but the skilled laundry maid was a blessing if she excelled in the practicalities of steaming, pressing and goffering. (Wage: 18th century – £5; 19th century – £14; 20th century – £20)

Nursemaid. This was the nursery support who had the less pleasurable duties to attend to including washing nappies and removing any other soiled items from sight. Where the household required a wet nurse, the nursemaid also attended to her needs as well as ensuring the entire department was kept clean. (Wage: 18th century – £4; 19th century – £12; 20th century – £20)

Dairy maid. The 18th century image of a buxom maiden flirting with stable boys or the tenant farmer’s son added to the romance of the dairy maid and her rural freedoms. In reality she stood to support the network of employees connected with country house self-sufficiency. A woman in this job knew how to churn butter, to recognise the perfect creams for eating and how best to use the milky by-products for a variety of ingredients in the kitchen. This role became less crucial to the country house structure by the 20th century due to the impact of large-scale dairy farming and the ease at which produce could be bought from the open market. (Wage: 18th century – £5; 19th century £12; 20th century – £15)

Plucking the Turkey c.1776, by Henry Walton (1746-1813) Tate Collection.

Plucking the Turkey c.1776, by Henry Walton (1746-1813) Tate Collection.

Scullery maid. A country house maid-of-all-work whose routine revolved around supporting the kitchen maids with fetching and carrying, scrubbing, washing and scouring pots, pans and the kitchen generally! Her duties consisted of whatever the other staff (mainly the kitchen maids) thought fit within that department. (Wage: 18th century – £2 10s; 19th century £6; 20th century – £12)

Other roles. Storeroom maid: The support for the housekeeper in maintaining the vast stores of linens, foodstuffs and household supplies; an early role which seems to have all but disappeared by the middle of the 19th century. Still room maid: A wonderfully practical role which demanded a certain amount of knowledge and skill in distilling and preserving – part of the housekeeper’s domain. Casual staff: These are often neglected in many secondary sources, but it would be impossible to run a large establishment without some extra external assistance. Not unusually, female casual staff were engaged in work at the house supporting the housemaids and kitchen staff and entries in household account books might list them as the ‘charwoman’ or ‘Saturday’s woman’.

Male servants.

Estate steward/Agent and House steward. The key administrative role and one particularly necessary when the master of the house had to attend to business elsewhere. The stewards and/or agent saw to processing almost every aspect of management for the family and its affairs, communicating with lawyers, architects, suppliers, tenants, and other family members. Depending upon the size of the estate these positions may have been fulfilled by one person. However, an estate usually consisted of different property across a region so an agent might have had responsibility for more than one estate steward. On smaller estates the house steward performed all these duties as one. (Estate Steward/Agent Wage: 18th century – £40; 19th century – £120; 20th century – £200 upwards. House Steward Wage: 18th century – £35; 19th century – £80; 20th century – £100 upwards)

Man-Cook/Chef. A male cook held great esteem for a household, greater still if he was a French chef. The master of the house made it his business to enquire about a good chef and seek references out. As head of the kitchen department, the male cook or chef demanded enthusiasm and hard work from his support staff and was probably not unlike the sharp-tongued chefs seen regularly on TV in modern times. (Wage: 18th century – £30; 19th century – £80; 20th century – £150 upwards)

Male Servants at Petworth in the 1870s. (copyright National Trust)

Male Servants at Petworth in the 1870s, including the chef, footmen and butler. (Copyright National Trust)

Valet/Groom of the Chamber. The better paid equivalent of the lady’s maid, the valet was the companion of the master of the house and saw to every personal need. Like the lady’s maid, the valet helped dress and style his master, accompany him, liaise with the other servants, and attend to the private domestic arrangements of his employer.  (Wage: 18th century – £20; 19th century – £50; 20th century – £120 upwards)

Butler. That lovely rosy-cheeked stereotype with well-polished mannerisms and clipped speech has the possibility to exist outside fiction. The butler was responsible primarily for the cellar goodies and would have needed an extensive knowledge of alcoholic beverages, ‘the charge of Wine and Liquors’ and most aspects of dining and entertainment. In smaller households, the butler replaced the valet in his duties. (Wage: 18th century – £10; 19th century – £50; 20th century – £70) Underbutler. (Wage: 18th century – £6; 19th century – £35; 20th century – £60)

Footman. Part of the ‘butler’s pantry’ department, the footman’s duties were deliberately light on labour – laying the table, answering the door, waiting at table and accompanying family when travelling on foot and by carriage. The key role of any footman was to aid conspicuous consumption through their expensive livery uniform, refined mannerisms and general appearance; the latter being a fundamental attribute in gaining employment. How tall they were for example dictated their annual salary, and a hopeful footman standing at over 5′ 10″ could command a respectable wage (18th century – £8; 19th century – £30; 20th century – £40).

Coachman. Just like the footmen, the coachman added a touch of conspicuous refinement whilst the family moved around or entertained. A good coachman would be sought after for his knowledge of coach maintenance combined with a general equestrian understanding – the mechanics of road travel. His undoubted successor into the 20th century was the Chauffeur who similarly would have had knowledge of car maintenance as well as acting as a medium for projecting family wealth. (Wage: 18th century – £12; 19th century – £40)

Success! 1881 by Samuel Waller (1850-1903) Tate Collection

Success! 1881 by Samuel Waller (1850-1903) Tate Collection

Head groom. Less conspicuous than the previous roles, but nonetheless a part of the network of specialist servants who communicated directly with their master or mistress. In reaching the position of head groom, dedication and ambition were key, and it is not unusual to see men undertaking this role after years of experience in the stable department beginning their career as a young postilion. (Wage: 18th century – £12; 19th century – £45)

Postilion. A strange role, and one which is rarely included in secondary sources despite it still existing in formal parades, particularly in Britain. The postilion rode the left horse of a pair if there was no coachman, or the front left horse if more than a pair in order to ‘drive’ the horses. Young men or boys were usually employed in this role as they were light and therefore created less strain on the horses pulling the carriage. (Wage: 18th century – £5; 19th century – £12)

Gardener. There were shifts in gardening trends over the period which demanded different horticultural knowledge from country house gardeners. As a highly specialist role, the most common thread would certainly have been the knowledge of produce – the more exotic the better. With this a gardener could sway the reputation of his employer; pineapples, apricots, grapes or oranges were inviting and added a great deal of variety to the dining table both at home or away in London. (Wage: 18th century – £10; 19th century – £60; 20th century – £100 upwards)

Gamekeeper (‘Keeper’). This seems to have been quite a perilous role for many. The Gamekeeper stood in an awkward place between his master and the preservation of game on the estate (deer, pheasant, rabbits etc.) and the local community who understood these creatures to be part of their share. Poaching was clearly as old as private landownership itself, but with the growth in popularity in the late 18th century of skilled marksmanship and the rights of search and arrest, suddenly preservation was as much about human life as it was game. (Wage: 18th century – £10; 19th century – £50; 20th century – £80 upwards)

Other roles. Hall boy or House boy/Page. Basically an aspiring footman who had shown steady ambition in another servant department. Typically an adolescent or younger. Porter. Similar to the hall boy or similar, though most likely carried out by an older male given the extent of duties and the nature of these – mainly building security. Casual staff: Unlike the female equivalent these roles would have been considered artisan rather than mere cleaning and char work. Journeymen and tailors for example sought to apply their skills at the country house and perhaps set up some informal contract to which they could return when required. Responsibilities might include repair of furnishings or specialist cleaning.

* Figures have been adapted from primary source material (Castle Howard, Temple Newsam and Nostell Priory MSS) and secondary sources (see below). These must not be taken as exact figures. Details of annual wages or salaries throughout the period are difficult to gain for several reasons, though mainly because amounts varied so vastly between estates and houses and often some positions are hard to identify. By the 20th century many positions had disappeared or been replaced by modern equivalents and thus wages were altered to reflect this shift. In this respect, I have omitted the 20th century wages for those occupations which had altered irretrievably by that point; Coachman, Head Groom and Postilion. Moreover, when servant numbers dwindled during and after the First World War, wages increased dramatically to entice prospective employees.

Links:

Arley Hall, Cheshire including list of wages 1750-90 http://www.arleyhallarchives.co.uk/staff.htm

Beautifully observed US description of country house servants with Dollar conversion of wages http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/servantwages.htm

The Great House (including servants) on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_house

The Victorian Servant http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/agunn/teaching/enl3251/vf/pres/davis.htm

The 18th century maidservant, according to Daniel Defoe http://myladyweb.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/maidservants-in-18th-centurya-necessary.html

The ‘Downton Abbey’ Servant http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-servants-quarters-in-19th-century-country-houses-like-downton-abbey/

References and recommended literature on the subject:

Samuel and Sarah Adams, The Complete Servant. (1830)

Eileen Balderson and Douglas Goodlad, Backstairs Life in a Country House. (1982)

Mrs. Beeton, The Book of Household Management. Facsimile edition. (1982).

Jill Franklin, ‘Troops of Servants: Labour and Planning in the Country House 1840-1914’. Victorian Studies, vol. XIX, number 2 December 1975.

Juliet Gardiner, The Edwardian Country House. Channel 4 Books (2002)

Jessica Gerard, Country House Life: Family and Servants, 1815-1914. (1994)

Jessica Gerard, ‘Invisible Servants: The Country House and the Local Community’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, LVII, pp.144-148. (1984)

Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History. (1978)

Hannah Glasse, The Servant’s Directory or Housekeeper’s Companion. (1760)

Peter and Carolyn Hammond, Life in an Eighteenth-Century Country House: Letters from the Grove. (2012)

Christina Hardyment, Home Comfort: A History of Domestic Arrangements. National Trust. (1992)

J. J. Hecht, The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth-Century England. (1956)

Bridget Hill, Servants: English Domestics in the Eighteenth Century. (1996)

Pamela Horn, Flunkeys and Scullions: Life Below Stairs in Georgian England. (2004)

Pamela Horn, Life Below Stairs in the 20th Century. (1980)

Pamela Horn, The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Servant. (2000)

Lesley Lewis, The Private Life of a Country House. In Association with The National Trust. (1997)

Dorothy Marshall, ‘The Domestic Servants of the Eighteenth Century’, Economica, number 9, pp.15-40 (April 1929)

Pamela A. Sambrook, The Country House Servant. In Association with the National Trust. (2004)

Pamela A. Sambrook and Peter Brears, The Country House Kitchen: 1650-1900. (2010)

Amanda Vickery, Behind Closed Doors: at Home in Georgian England. (2009)

Merlin Waterson, The Servants’ Hall: A Domestic history of Erddig. (1980)

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Filed under Recommended Literature, Servants

Genre: The Haunted House

The Ash Tree Illustration by George Chastain

The Ash Tree illustration by George Chastain (The Twilight Zone 1981)

‘… there were no more mysterious occurrences … no rings on the bells, no raps, no footsteps, no more curious incidences of any kind. The house continued to … “behave itself” ‘.             (The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters, p. 386)

After a lapse of a few weeks, I have finally been able to return to the literary country house. My last post on this topic is here, and concerned the country house poem. Here the focus is how the country house can play host to something more supernatural and chilling, and ultimately more claustrophobic.

In an article for The New Statesman (2011), John O’Connell identified the country house genre as two distinct groups; the Gothic (the focus here) and the social.  This article is now exclusively for subscribers, but the overview is given by John Lucas in The Guardian from February 2011. Lucas himself states, ‘It’s dramatically useful to be able to force characters together in a physical space where they have little choice but to interact with each other. In this sense, the country house functions in much the same way as a pub in a soap opera.’ Yet the Gothic and the social country house did not just appear from nothing. There is certainly something which links the steady move towards privacy for landowners and their families, Acts of Enclosure, and extensive landscaping which suggests that the house itself became ever more remote and mysterious during the eighteenth century.

Of course the Gothic setting may not even be a country house. Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1765), Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron (1778), and Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) all play out within murky castle walls. Indeed Gothic originally implied medieval, but by the end of the eighteenth century its meaning had altered to incorporate the purely macabre, eerie and supernatural. The medieval element was not always important.

How the country house setting fits into the Gothic model is complex, and is as much the backdrop as it is a character. This is not about whether ghosts or the supernatural are real, but often about social commentary and the psychological and physical threats posed by others. For example the artificial relationships set out by the class system and patriarchal dominance, the paranoia of rightful inheritance, tyrannical masters seeking sexual deviance, or the consequences of inbreeding. Add to these the architectural decay of a world that once thrived or the intrigue of an ill-fated inhabitant brought to an early demise through murder or suicide and the scene is set for monsters and ghouls stepping forth to tell their tales.

The haunted house may simply be the desolate detached thing at the end of the road. Yet the country house (big or small) provides the writer with a greater variety of space, of past opulence, of dysfunctional families and their struggle to uphold pride and lineage. The dark corners, damp basement passageways and dusty attics are all places for secreting horrifyingly disfigured relations, ancestral sins, or discarded womenfolk.

Front cover for the Turn of the Screw, making use of an typically ethereal painting by Atkinson Grimshaw.

Front cover for the Turn of the Screw, making use of an typically ethereal painting by Atkinson Grimshaw.

Key authors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would certainly include the following: Edgar Allan Poe, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1839),  Charles Dickens et al., The Haunted House (1859), J. S. Le Fanu, ‘Madam Crowl’s Ghost’ (1870), Charlotte Riddell, The Haunted House at Latchford (1872), Henry James, ‘The Turn of the Screw’ (1898), and M. R. James, ‘The Ash Tree’ (1904). All of these have different tales to tell, but the techniques are similar wherever you look. Ultimately, the haunted house is the static setting into which one or more characters are introduced in order to relate the tale to us as the readers. The madness and hysteria may have already existed before their mediation like in H. P. Lovecraft’s, The Rats in the Walls (1924). On the other hand this new character or characters may or may not be the trigger for the haunting as in the genre’s present day revival like Sarah Waters’s, The Little Stranger (2009).

Front cover for The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (first published 2009)

Front cover for The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (first published 2009)

M. R. James does not use this technique in ‘The Ash Tree’, but instead has his narrator pass on the tale as though it were stuff of legend or folklore. Yet, this too is common, especially in short stories. The period setting is therefore important and may be familiar to the reader. Supernatural suspense in the protagonist’s own present or recent past for example  might be provided by a tortured spirit, often with a message from the grave like in the late James Herbert’s The Secret of Crickley Hall (2006) or even Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black (1983). Also common is the retelling by the main character of their version of events (usually by firelight) to a contemporary audience.

The role of the haunted house has never really changed dramatically in literature over time, but it has seen a handful of revivals. The country house as haunted house however does not fit obviously into the social changes occurring simultaneously.  The interwar years see little production of ghostly tales, as the country house at that time became the social house model as noted by John O’Connell. Presumably this might have more to do with a dismissal of all things Victorian rather than a severe dislike of the supernatural tale itself. Moreover, demolition of the country house in the UK during the 1950s and 1960s does not seem to impact too heavily on the genre.

As a child I was probably reading haunted house stories produced during a wave of interest in Victoriana and past opulence in children’s literature. Many of my favourite authors like Robert Westall, Philippa Pearce and  Helen Cresswell knew how to twist the fate of an old mansion. Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden (1958) for one, is as much about a fantasy world as it is about the dismantling of a golden era. Today’s revival has been a few years in the making, but there is a wealth of novels and short stories to examine further. Perhaps the accessibility of the country house has aided this fascination; the layers of history witnessed in the blocked up doorways and windows, glistening mirrors that once held someone’s reflection, creaking floorboards, the maze of passageways, empty beds, and unnamed portraits…

Still from the 20 film of The Woman in Black (Cotter Hall)

Still from the 2012 film of The Woman in Black (Cotterstock Hall, Northamptonshire)

References and further reading:

John Boyne, This House is Haunted (2013)

E. J. Clery, The Rise of Supernatural Fiction (1995)

J. S. Le Fanu, In a Glass Darkly (1872)

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (2000)

Peter Haining, The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories (2005)

James Herbert, Haunted (1988)

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

P. J. Keating, The Haunted Study: A Social History of the English Novel 1875-1914 (2012 ?)

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (1938)

The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986)

J. B. Priestley, Benighted (1927)

John Sullivan, Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story From Le Fanu To Blackwood (1978) and Lost Souls: A Collection of English Ghost Stories (1983)

Robert Westall, Ghost Abbey (new edition 2011)

Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost (first published 1887)

Links:

The Ghost Story on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_story

The Gothic literary genre on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_fiction

Haunted Country Houses in Country Life Magazine http://www.countrylife.co.uk/countryside/pursuits/article/153019/Top-10-haunted-country-houses.html

University of Sheffield, School of English course Literature of the English Country House http://soeblog.group.shef.ac.uk/mooc/

And last but not least, Horror Film Haunted Houses http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/2009/03/sense-of-wonder-hollywoods-most-haunted-houses/

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Genre: Country House Poetry

The country house genre: put simply, this literary genre places the country house within the main narrative as an essential piece of subject matter. Its varied history is as old as the country house itself. Based on G. R. Hibbard’s article (see references below), the scholarly view is that the country house poem (or country estate poem) of the seventeenth century which praised the houses and estates of the landed elite was the early form of this genre. By the end of the eighteenth century, the genre had taken on different characteristics, and the house itself became the focus. It was no longer the subject of direct admiration and instead became a symbol of the ‘other’; of foreignness and the gothic.  Throughout the nineteenth century the genre evolved further and has since become recognisable in recent decades in works of historical fiction.

The genre’s ability to adapt is a consequence of contested views about town and country, about wealth or the lack of it, and about active and passive ownership. The literary country house is then either a part of a nostalgic vision surrounding an imaginary stable society or a symbol of England’s imperial past. No matter how simplified, these constructions are ever present throughout the genre right up to the present day.

The country house has therefore been cast in different literary interpretations, but themes of social and political hierarchies, the roles and responsibilities of man, and notions of spatial definitions have always provided continuity. This post is one of three which offers an overview of the country house genre from its early incarnation in the seventeenth century to its development into mainstream literature today.

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Thou hast no porter at thy doore

T’examine or keep back the poore;

Nor lock nor bolts: thy gates have bin

Made onely to let strangers in;…

Thomas Carew (1595-1640), ‘To Saxham’ (ll. 49-52)

Country house poetry is a form of ‘courtly compliment’ which idealised particular elite estates and patronage, but also celebrated man’s participation in the natural world. Classed as country house panegyrics, works like Ben Jonson’s ‘To Penshurst’ (1616), Thomas Carew’s ‘To Saxham’ (1640) or Andrew Marvell’s ‘Upon Appleton House’ (1681) act as descriptions of elite splendour as well as philosophical statements upon natural and artificial social constructions.  Indicative of their early education, writers were much influenced by Horace, Martial and Statius and themes of man as a moral being and landownership as a metaphor for the state are heavily embedded in the country house poem.

Thomas Carew (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Thomas Carew (National Portrait Gallery, London)

The seventeenth-century country house poem is both commemorative and quixotic, and academic criticism of the genre’s tradition and longevity is divided. What is certain is that its poetic version was founded upon a heritage of patronage poetry and pastoral discourse. How the genre has survived since has much to do with perception of the country house at any given time, but especially in the context of wider economic developments.

Such theorising makes the genre appear fusty and somehow exclusive. Yet, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a time of great social and political upheaval in England. The country house poem in this instance provided a snapshot of a time when the rural landscape, the seasons and nature’s bounty were the vision of an English idyll. The country house poem made its subject a real-life Arcadia which was simultaneously idealistic and tangible. This was the nostalgic vision.

No forraigne gums, nor essence fetcht from farre,

No volatile spirits, nor compounds that are

Adulterate; but, at Nature’s cheap expence,

With farre more genuine sweetes refresh the sense.

Such pure and uncompounded beauties blesse

This mansion with an usefull comelinesse,

Devoide of art, for here the architect

Did not with curious skill a pile erect

Of carved marble, touch, or porpherie,

But built a house for hospitalitie…

‘To My Friend G. N. from Wrest’ (1640?), Thomas Carew (ll. 15-24)

The hospitality of the country house is what connects the dweller to the wider world. For the poet, the dweller (the landlord) represents the fertility of nature. By sharing and dividing their wealth and the abundance of nature, the dweller fulfils their moral obligations. The country house estate is part of a hierarchy which therefore relies upon the co-operation of many in order to succeed – like a quasi-commonwealth, ‘They’re reared with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan’ (‘To Penshurst’, l. 46). If the landlord is not wasteful, then he is celebrated, if he hankers after ostentation and conspicuous consumption, then he is to be reminded of his natural role and responsibilities. Either way, the pastoral ideal is the platform for persuasion and the model to which man must adhere.  Appreciation of life and the correct use of possessions have Classical resonance. Assimilation with the natural order of things underlines most Biblical teachings.

Ben Jonson (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Ben Jonson (National Portrait Gallery, London)

At least this is the stylistic formula of the country house poem. To a great extent it is the landscape which is the main focus; a mythical Arcadian world where lasting relationships are formed. The house itself is the accumulation of this natural order and substance;

Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,

Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair.

Thou hast thy walks for health, as well as sport;

Thy mount, to which the dryads do resort,

Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made,

Beneath the broad beech and the chestnut shade;

That taller tree, which of a nut was set

At his great birth where all the Muses met.

‘To Penshurst’ (1616), Ben Jonson, (ll. 7-14).

All is green and ripe, plump and rosy; pike, partridge, cherries, figs, pears, ‘The blushing apricot and woolly peach.’ Such hospitality is the product of civility and gentility, but also of a virtuous life.  This metaphor is also something Milton utilises in Paradise Lost in which Eden represents the very first ‘landed’ estate. The sensuality of nature’s bounty is further alluded to, particularly by Jonson, in the context of patrilineal inheritance with the family itself a representation of the fruit of the virtuous lord and lady.

The style of country house poetry changed over the seventeenth century, and developed what have been identified as sub-genres. Poems of appreciation, as an example, suit Jonson’s ‘To Penshurst,’ and what is known as the retirement poem best describes ‘Upon Appleton House’. The latter was probably penned in the 1650s when Andrew Marvell stayed at Nun Appleton in Yorkshire, to tutor Mary Fairfax, the daughter of parliamentarian general Thomas Fairfax. Here the country house and estate are places of retreat from a disruptive world. For Fairfax, his Yorkshire home was the private sphere from to which he could escape the chaos of the English Civil War.

Andrew Marvell (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Andrew Marvell (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Crucially, emphasis upon the right use of life and possessions morphed into an exploration of man’s role in life. Rather than being purely didactic pieces, themes of experience and the impact of surroundings played a larger part in the country house poem of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Of men Recorded or who then Exceed

To urdge their Virtue and exalt their Fame

Whilest their own Weymouth stands their noblest Aime.

But we Presume, and ne’re must hope to trace

His Worth profound, his Daughters matchlesse Grace

Or draw paternall Witt deriv’d into her Face

Though from his Presence and her Charms did grow

The Joys Ardelia att Long-leat did know.

‘To the Honourable Lady Worsley at Longleat’ (after 1690) Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea (ll. 91-98)

Themes of virtuosity remained strong but with emphasis on more give and take. Writers were sure to allow their protagonist thoughts of resourcefulness and pragmatism but also stated the benefits of retreat upon such a mind, body and soul. In many secondary sources it has been suggested that this literary device stemmed from the changing economic landscape; a shift from a feudal system to that based on capital and monetary values. The country house was an administrative base for the estate, but its owner had shifted his attention to the city with its attractive financial and parliamentary offices. The old halls were being replaced with ‘carved marble’ and filled with foreign goods from the East India Company, land was enclosed and smooth uninterrupted parkland rolled over acres of fertile soil.

Land was an exchangeable commodity and the country house was now a decorative item in the distance. The dweller used it as an alternative site for conducting business, but it was no longer perceived as the tangible vision of Arcadian mythology. It was now the retreat of the few, to be admired from afar and provide respite for those locked in matters of national importance. Virtue was the outcome of an individual’s own experience and quality of life from which he was to influence those less fortunate. The literary country house was a private domain, and one which symbolised the contested views of town and country, of private ownership and public office. If the pastoral was the seventeenth-century fantasy, then the mysterious other was to be the eighteenth-century fantasy.

Suggested poems:

Geoffrey Whitney, ‘To R. Cotton Esq.’ and To Richard Cotton Esq.’ (1586)

Aemilia Lanyer, ‘The Description of Cookham’ (1611)

Ben Jonson, ‘To Penshurst’ and ‘To Sir Robert Wroth’ (1616)

Thomas Carew, ‘To Saxham’ and ‘To My Friend G. N. from Wrest’ (1640)

Robert Herrick ‘A Panegyric to Sir Lewis Pemberton’ (1648)

Richard Lovelace ‘Amyntor’s Grove’ (1649)

Andrew Marvell, ‘Upon Appleton House’ (1681)

Charles Cotton ‘Wonders of the Peak’ (c.1681)

Anne Finch ‘To the Honourable Lady Worsley at Longleat’ (after 1690)

Mildmay Fane, ‘To Sir John Wentworth’ (unknown ?)

References:

Alastair Fowler. The Country House Poem: a Cabinet of Seventeenth-Century Estate Poems and Related Items . Edinburgh (1994)

Richard Gill. Happy Rural Seat; the English Country House and the Literary Imagination. New Haven (1972)

G. R. Hibbard: ‘The Country House Poem in the Seventeenth Century’ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XIX (1956), 159-74.

Malcolm Miles Kelsall. The Great Good Place: the Country House and English literature. New York (1993)

Malcolm Miles Kelsall. Literary Representations of the Irish Country House: civilisation and savagery under the Union. New York (2003)

Gervase Jackson-Stops et al. The Fashioning and Functioining of the British Country House (1989)

Hugh Jenkins. Feigned Commonwealths: The Country-House Poem and the Fashioning of the Ideal Community. Pittsburgh (1998)

Virginia C. Kenny. The Country-House Ethos in English literature, 1688-1750: themes of personal retreat and national expansion. New York (1984)

Kari Boyd McBride: Country House Discourse in Early Modern England (2001)

D. M. Rosenberg. ‘Paradise Lost and the Country Estate poem’ (no year given) http://tiny.cc/4gb7tw

Don E. Wayne, Penshurst: the Semiotics of Place and the Poetics of History (1984)

Raymond Williams: The Country and the City (1973)

Links:

Literary links to Penshurst http://www.penshurstplace.com/page/3053/Literary-Links-to-Penshurst-Place

Bibliographies for the nineteenth-century country house and related themes http://www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/bibliography4.html

Tom Lockwood (2008) ‘All Hayle to Hatfeild’: a New series of country house poems from Leeds University Library, Brotherton Collection http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-6757.2008.00124.x/full

Judith Dundas ‘The Country House Poem Revisited’ http://www.connotations.uni-tuebingen.de/dundas00801.htm

University of Sheffield, School of English course Literature of the English Country House http://soeblog.group.shef.ac.uk/mooc/

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Ghost Stories for Christmas.

Christmas has traditionally been a time of family gatherings, story-telling and merry-making. The appeal of the ghost story at this time of year is symptomatic of these things; the requests for tales from a grandparent or the reading of M. R. James heightens our sense of ancestral ties and giddy celebrations. The country house has been synonymous with stories of ghosts and spooky happenings for centuries. Local tales of headless ghouls or floating grey women occur all over the world, and authors of such stories never seem to tire of some dark mansion or dilapidated house as their backdrop.

There are many tales from which I could have plucked something, but these are best read in full. Instead I draw your attention to a piece by George Cruikshank, British caricaturist and book illustrator, better known for his superb visual commentaries of the Prince Regent and high fashion during the first half of the nineteenth century. Second Edition of a Discovery Concerning Ghosts: with a Rap at the ‘Spirit Rappers’ appeared in 1864 and is a fantastic textual form of Cruikshank’s acerbic wit and joviality. In it he highlights specific texts like Catherine Crowe’s The Night Side of Nature (1848), and Robert Dale Owen’s Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (1860) declaring them to be ‘cleverly written’ and ‘elaborately compiled’ respectively, but nonetheless ‘ghastly’ and misjudged (pp. 7 and 13). There is also mention of the Sampson Ghost which Cruikshank notes as a ‘spiritual farce’ (p. 22) and Dr. Hibbert’s Philosophy of Apparitions (1824) whereby Cruikshank really gets his hooks into the appearance of ghosts and provides the reader with true laugh-out-loud material, ‘… we should like to know if there are spiritual-outfitters shops for the clothing of ghosts who pay visits on earth, and if empty, haunted houses are used for this purpose… (p. 26). He even goes as far as illustrating this section with ‘ghosts of stockings’!

The following is excerpts from the full text, but show the lighter side of telling ghost stories, and no matter what your feelings are concerning the existence of ghosts, George Cruikshank (accompanied by a sherry or rum) certainly provides some much-needed respite from the cold, dark evenings!

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[All original spelling and punctuation have been retained.]

ghost cover

A vast army, composed of ghost, goblin, and sprite!
With their eyes full of fire, all gleaming with spite!
All lurking about in the “dead of the night”
With their faces so pale and their shrouds all so white!
Or hiding about in dark holes and corners,
To fright grown-up folk, or little “Jack Horners.”
But though they all stand in this fierce grim array,
Armed with pen and with pencil, “I’ll drive them away.”

As the belief in ghosts has long been popular, and considered as an established fact, it may be quite allowable for an author to introduce a ghost into his romance; and it may be argued that authors have thus been enabled “to point a moral” as well as to “adorn a tale,” by using this poetical license, or spiritual medium; but in these cases the tales or poems were given out to the world as inventions of the author to amuse the public, or to convey a moral lesson, and were accepted by the public as such.

It will be observed that there are different classes of ghosts, as there are of living people—the princely, the aristocratic, the genteel, and the common. The vulgar classes delight to haunt in graveyards, dreary lanes, ruins, and all sorts of dirty dark holes and corners, and in cellars. Yes, dark cellars seem to be a favourite abode of these common ghosts. This fact raises the question whether the lower class of spirits are obliged to keep to the lower parts of the house—to the “lower regions “—and are not allowed to go into the parlours or the drawing rooms, and not allowed to mix with the higher order of ghosts! Can this be a law or regulation amongst the ghosts? If so, is it not most extraordinary that these spirits should not be allowed to choose their own place of residence, and take to the most comfortable apartments, instead of grovelling amongst the rats and mice, the slugs, the crickets, and the blackbeetles? “tis strange, ’tis passing strange; but so it appears to be. By the by, some few of these poor spirits of the humble class of ghosts do sometimes, it appears, mount up to the bed-rooms, in the hope, I suppose, of getting occasionally now and then a ” comfortable lodging” and a ” good night’s rest.”

There is also an account of a haunted cellar in a gentleman’s house, out of town, in which were heard ” loud knockings,” “a voice crying,” “heavy feet walking,” etc. The old butler, with his “acolytes,” descended to the cellar (wine cellar) armed with sword, blunderbuss, and other offensive weapons, but the ghosts put them all to flight, and they “turned tail “in a fright. Yes, they all ran up-stairs again, followed by the “sound of feet” and “a visible shadow .'” This, of course, is a fact; and it so happens that I know another fact about a haunted wine-cellar, which, however, had quite a different result to the foregoing.

cellar ghost

In a wine-cellar of a gentleman’s house, somewhere near Blackheath, it was found that strange noises were sometimes heard in the evenings and in the night time, in this “wine vault,” similar to those described above, such as knocking, groaning, footsteps, etc., so that the servants were afraid to go into the cellar, particularly at a late hour. The master at length determined to “lay ” this ghost, if possible, and one evening when these noises had been heard, arming himself with a sword, and the servants with a fowling-piece and a poker, they cautiously descended into the cellar (with lighted candles, of course). Nothing was to be seen there, and all was quiet except a strange, smothered kind of sound, like the hard breathing of an animal, something like snoring, that seemed to proceed out of the earth in one of the dark corners of the vault, when, lo and behold! in turning their lights in the direction from which the sounds came, and advancing carefully, they discovered—what do you think? Don’t be alarmed. Why, the ghost lying on the ground, dead—DRUNK! Yes, the ghost had laid himself, not with ” Bell, Book, and Candle,” but by swallowing the SPIRIT of ALCOHOL, the spirit of wine, beer, and brandy. Most disgraceful; in fact, this ghost had taken a “drop too much,”

Upon looking a little closer, they found that this ghost was one Tom Brown, an under-gardener; and it was discovered that he had tunnelled a hole from the “tool-house” through the wall into the cellar. This spirit was so over-charged with spirit, that he was unable to walk, so was doomed to be carried in a cart to the “cage;” and all the people living round about came next morning to look at the ghost that had been haunting the squire’s wine cellar. Oh! what & fortune it would be to any one who could catch a ghost —a real, right down, “‘arnest” ghost, and put him in a cage to show him round the country! I wish I had one.* It would cost little or nothing to keep such a thing; only the lodging, as he would require neither food, fire, clothing, nor washing!

In one of the tales brought forward by this author [R. D. Owen] is an account of the haunting of an old manor-house near Leigh, in Kent, called Ramhurst, where there was heard ” knockings and sounds of footsteps,” more especially voices which could not be accounted for, usually in an unoccupied room; “sometimes as if talking in a loud tone, sometimes as if reading aloud, occasionally screaming.” The servants never saw anything, but the cook told her mistress that on one occasion, in broad daylight, hearing the rustling of a silk dress behind her, and which seemed to touch her, she turned suddenly round, supposing it to be her mistress, but to her great surprise – and terror could not see anybody.

Mr. Owen is so thoroughly master of this spirit subject that he must be able to tell us all about this “rustling” of the “silk dresses” of ghosts, and surely every one will be curious to learn the secret of such a curious fact. The lady of the house, a Mrs. R , drove over one day to the railway station at Tunbridge to fetch a young lady friend who was coming to stay with her for some weeks. This was a Miss S , who “had been in the habit of seeing apparitions from early childhood,” and when, upon their return, they drove up to the entrance of the manor-house, Miss S perceived on the threshold the appearance of two figures, apparently an elderly couple, habited in the costume of the time of Queen Anne. They appeared as if standing on the ground. Miss S—— saw the same apparition several times after this, and held conversations with them, and they told her that they were husband and wife, and that their name was “Children;” and she informed the lady of the house, Mrs. R , of what she had seen and heard; and as Mrs. R was dressing hurriedly one day for dinner, “and not dreaming of anything spiritual, as she hastily turned to leave her bed-chamber, there, in the doorway, stood the same female figure Miss S had described! identical in appearance and costume—even to the old ‘point-lace’ on her ‘brocaded silk dress ‘—while beside her, on the left, but less distinctly visible, was the figure of the old squire, her husband; they uttered no sound, but above the figure of the lady, as if written in phosphoric light in the dusk atmosphere that surrounded her, were the words, ‘Dame Children,’ together with some other words intimating that having never aspired beyond the joys and sorrows of this world, she had remained ‘earth bound’ These last, however, Mrs. R scarcely paused to decipher, as her brother (who was very hungry) called out to know if they were ‘going to have any dinner that day?'” There was no time for hesitation; “she closed her eyes, rushed through the apparition and into the dining-room, throwing up her hands, and exclaiming to Miss S , ‘Oh, my dear, I’ve walked through Mrs. Children!'” Only think of that, “gentle reader!” Only think of Mrs. R walking right through “Dame Children “—” old point-lace, brocaded silk dress,” and all—and as old “Squire Children” was standing by the side of his “dame,” Mrs. R must either have upset the old ghost or have walked through him also.

Although this story looks very much like as if it were intended as an additional chapter to “Joe Miller’s Jest-book,” the reader will please to observe that Mr. Owen does not relate this as a joke, but, on the contrary, expects that it will be received as a solemn serious fact; there was a cause for the haunting of this old manor-house, with the talking, screaming, and rustling of silk, and the appearance of the old-fashioned ghosts; there was a secret which these ghosts wished to impart to the persons in the house at that time, and if the gentleman reader will brace up his nerves, and the lady reader will get her “smelling-bottle” ready, I’ll let them into the secret. Now, pray, dear madam, don’t be terrified! Squire Children had formerly been proprietor of the mansion, and he and his “dame” had taken great delight and interest in the house—when alive—and they were very sorry to find that the property had gone out of the family, and he and his dame had come on purpose to let Mrs. R and her friend know all this! There now, there’s a secret for you—what do you think of that?

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Links:

Full link for Second Edition of a Discovery Concerning Ghosts: with a Rap at the ‘Spirit Rappers’ (1864) http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3iJovjl2swoC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Works by George Cruickshank http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/c#a9068

Selection of images by Cruickshank http://www.cruikshankart.com/georgecruikshank/

The Davenport Brothers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davenport_brothers

The Ghost Club, to which Cruikshank dedicates this work (founded in 1862) http://www.ghostclub.org.uk/history.htm

Joe Miller http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Miller_(actor)

The eeriness of the country http://freakyfolktales.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/walk-with-me-to-the-estuary-a-ghost-story-for-christmas/

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Guest Post: Ian West and Country House Technology – a New Book

As the administration of my own research steps up a gear, less time will be devoted to my dear blog. However, my aim over the coming months is to invite others to help disseminate and promote what is currently taking place within the study, conservation, restoration and funding of country houses. This may not necessarily be throughout the UK, and I would like to think that I can encourage some guest posts from those working or studying in this field overseas. No doubt I shall drop by from time to time as I am sure many readers will be eager to hear about my research as it unfolds. For the time being though I will hand over to those scurrying away amongst archival papers, dusty workshops, and fundraising events.

The first guest spot is from Dr Ian West, who alongside Professor Marilyn Palmer is co-author of The Country House Technology Project at the University of Leicester. Research began in 2008, and quite interestingly was established within the Centre for Historical Archaeology rather than the more obvious Centre for the Study of the Country House also at Leicester. This approach probably lends a refreshing view to the growing curiosity in how the country house worked and suitably links industrial archaeology with the art and social histories of the country house.

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Ian West

University of Leicester

From the eighteenth century onwards, country houses were seen by their owners as a visible manifestation, not just of their wealth and power, but also of their taste and refinement; increasing emphasis was placed on the comfort and privacy of the family and their guests. Technology played an important role in this: cold, dark rooms became warm and brightly lit, bells were used to summon servants from the basements or service wings to which they had been banished, and lifts and even railways carried food from distant kitchens and coal from the cellars.

Since 2008, I have been working with Marilyn Palmer, Emeritus Professor of Industrial Archaeology at the University of Leicester, on a project studying the adoption of technology in country houses and the impact this had on the occupants of the houses. This work has attracted growing interest, as public fascination with life “below stairs” – fuelled by television series like Downton Abbey and by the popularity of family history research – has encouraged more properties to open up their service areas. Our research is helping in the interpretation of these areas and of the remains of other historic technologies, some of which, like hydro-electric generation, are being brought back into use.

Another manifestation of the interest in this subject was the sell-out weekend conference which the project organised in Oxford in 2010. This month sees the publication of a book based on the proceedings of that event. As well as examining the social impact of domestic technology, the book includes essays on country house lighting, sanitation and gas and electricity generation, together with detailed case studies of the technology employed at Lanhydrock and Holkham Hall, in the gardens at Calke Abbey and the security measures adopted at Wollaton Hall. Beyond the confines of the house, the book also describes the development of industry and model farms on country house estates. Country House Technology, edited by Paul Barnwell and Marilyn Palmer, is published by Shaun Tyas, price £40. With the support of the National Trust, Professor Palmer and I are also working on a major book covering all aspects of country house technology which is expected to be published in 2014.

For more information on the work of the Country House Technology Project, go to:

http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/archaeology/research/centre-for-historical-archaeology/research-1/country-house-technology

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Filed under Book reviews, Building the Country House, Recommended Literature, The running of the country house

Review. Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs, (BBC2) Episode 1/3

In the midst of moving house clutter, boxes, odds and ends etc., I found a spare bit of sofa and made time to watch the first episode of Servants: the True Story of Life below Stairs. Presented by Dr. Pamela Cox from the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex, this first programme of three explored the employment hierarchies, working conditions and contemporary attitudes towards servants during the 19th century to the turn of the 20th with emphasis on domestic structures between country and town.

Basement passage at Erddig, Wales, 1973 (National Trust)

We were immediately introduced to Erddig in Wales – the most obvious example of servant culture readily accessible through the UK National Trust. This was country house levels of servitude where servant numbers could be overwhelming, and the mistress of the house had to be adept at managing several departments every day. We caught glimpses of portraiture, photography and verse depicting and describing members of the household staff from housekeeper and butler to carpenter and lady’s maid. Of course Erddig is renowned for its servant portraiture, and the relationships maintained by the Yorke family with their staff from the 1780s have been well documented; a fact of which Cox seemed to have been made aware. Consequently, this visual material became the pivot with which we moved off into the less well documented world of servant lives.

However, Erddig is an unusual case study. It is a small country house with its own set of values and traditions. That the Yorke family preserved so much of their unique relationship with their staff for so long only highlights the eccentricities of that particular household. The dominant generalisation concerning the 19th century country house and its household suggests that servants were seldom seen and never heard. The family spouted orders to nameless shapes and merrily continued with their daily routine above stairs whilst the mechanics of the house ticked away below. And yet, Cox did stress the existence of this ideal both at Erddig and beyond.

Employers were the literate class in most cases. The Erddig poems and ‘jingling rhyming couplets’ about the staff are very one-sided.[1] But this is precisely where Servants and Dr Pamela Cox’s presentation filled a gap in national television schedules. This was an academic take on a subject which has become dramatised and treated with soap opera style editing complete with cliff-hangers and female actors with porcelain skin. The reams of material culture at Erddig are examples of what can be found at archives and libraries across the country. It may not be quite so revealing in its content, but search and you shall find threads of forgotten events and stories which easily bring many of these houses to life. And while it probably didn’t shed any new light on the subject for academics, Servants is very likely to get viewers thinking about working conditions over a hundred years ago.

The Diary of William Tayler, Footman, 1837. (London, 1998 Edition)

The activities of scrubbing, polishing, mending, fetching and carrying were the norm for the majority of people who did not have others to do this for them. Being paid to do this kind of work did not lessen the burden of a 15 hour or more day, but having your own bed, or a place to keep your own things were the small perquisites of working away from home. Despite some heavy sentimentality in places, Cox cleverly added that being a servant offered instances of cultural freedoms which might have been denied to those who sought work elsewhere. As we moved from the country house and it complex hierarchies, Cox explored the rising trends for middle-class households to keep servants. Many came from the country to seek work in the large townhouses, and so this urban landscape provided the backdrop to different routines, fashions, foods, and entertainments. Servants watched from the sidelines, but they still formed their own ideals and opinions about the things that unfolded around them.

Perhaps it is symptomatic of current trends in British television and how history is portrayed through documentaries. In advertising the programme, great emphasis was placed upon statistics, and indeed throughout the programme we were treated to the private papers preserved by the descendants of those who had worked in service. Even Cox herself declared her maid-of-all-work heritage. As an exploration of ‘real’ lives, I would have expected more demonstrations of actual work, but Servants seems more subtle and of course, academic. The BBC probably suggested that they leave the dressing up and bed-making to Lucy Worsley and the wall-stroking to Dan Cruickshank with this series. For Cox, this programme is about recognising our own heritage; it’s about the ordinary, not the unusual. And with that, we were

Harriet Rogers, lady’s maid and then housekeeper at Erddig.

brought back to Erddig in order to see how servant working lives were often pitted against familial relationships and emotional dependencies. This is life, in any period. Laborious menial work might not be considered noble, and undertaking it for others has always been seen as submissive and miserable. As the programme develops over the next two episodes, these attitudes will become much clearer, I am sure of that, and as we move past our family histories towards the present day, what makes a ‘servant’ will no doubt have a few people shaking their heads.

Links:

Review by Michael Pilgrim in The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9574278/Servants-the-True-Story-of-Life-Below-Stairs-BBC-Two-review.html#

Review by Mark Sanderson at The Art Desk http://www.theartsdesk.com/tv/servants-true-story-life-below-stairs-bbc-two

There is no world outside Downton Abbey for The Sun http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/tv/4553354/Dr-Pamela-Cox-explores-truth-of-servants-in-early-20th-Century.html

University of Essex review, with further links http://www.essex.ac.uk/news/event.aspx?e_id=4504

Brighton and Hove heritage the Regency servant http://rth.org.uk/histories/regency/daily-life/servants

References (Select bibliography as there is a vast number of books on this subject):

Samuel and Sarah Adams, The Complete Servant (1825)

Leonore Davidoff, Worlds Between: Historical Perspectives on Gender and Class (Cambridge, 1995).

Erddig. Guidebook, National Trust (London, 1978)

Jessica Gerard, Country House Life: Family and Servants, 1815-1914 (Oxford, 1994).

Christina Hardyment, Home Comfort: A History of Domestic Arrangements. National Trust (London, 1992)

Edward Higgs, Domestic Servants and Households in Rochdale, 1851-1871 (1986)

Pamela Horn, Flunkeys and Scullions: Life Below Stairs in Georgian England (Stroud, 2004)

Pamela Horn, The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Servant (Stroud, 2000)

Frank Edward Huggett, Life Below Stairs: Domestic Servants in England from Victorian Times, Part 2 (1977)

Pamela A. Sambrook, The Country House Servant. National Trust (Stroud, 2004)

Pamela Sambrook, Keeping Their Place: Domestic Service in the Country House (Stroud, 2007)

E. S. Turner, What the Butler Saw: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem. (London, 1962).

Merlin Waterson, The Servants’ Hall: A Domestic History of Erddig (London, 1980)


[1] Merlin Waterson, The Servants’ Hall: A Domestic History of Erddig (Routledge, London, 1980), p. 7

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