Tag Archives: Britain

East India Company at Home Mid-Project Conference, 31st May – 1st June 2013.

Since the East India Company at Home Project started in September 2011, there has been a buzz surrounding its methodological framework, its research findings and range of subject matter. I last covered this project here after they released their first case study.

The project (EICaH for short) began at the University of Warwick but has since been transferred to University College London (UCL) for a variety of reasons, but mainly due to funding opportunities and departmental interests.* The premise of the project is to examine the British country house in an imperial and global context through material culture and the families linked with these houses on the one hand and the connections they may have had with the East India Company on the other.

EICaH wallpapers[2]

Helen Clifford and Emile de Bruijn presenting their paper on Chinese wallpapers in National Trust properties ‘every good country house has its Chinese wallpaper’!

What makes the EICaH project so unique and perhaps even dynamic, is its attempt to pull together knowledge from a spectrum of sources and people. By putting this bluntly, the project’s diverse pool of thought comes from academics, museum professionals, archivists and librarians, students, local and family historians and independent scholars. The core team consists of Professor Margot Finn, Helen Clifford, and Kate Smith. Then there is an Advisory Board consisting of those affiliated with institutions like the V&A, the British Library or local authorities to mention a few. Project associates make up the next segment of those involved and are a healthy mix of those with interests in the British country house, the East India Company, trade and consumption and all the bits in the middle. I’m a project associate simply because I clearly adore country houses and the mixture of histories which can be applied to them.

I don’t want to talk at length about the details of the project as this is fully accessible through the links already given. What I do want to do is address the topics discussed at the mid-project conference which took place at the end of last week.

The conference was split over two days and roughly by content and methodology. The link to the programme is here. On Friday some fascinating papers concerning particular people and places associated with the East India Company were presented to the cosy audience of about 70 avid listeners.

EICaH John McAleer

John McAleer and the architecture of the East India Company’s Offices (image courtesy of Rachael Barnwell)

My favourites were Georgina Green’s research into supercargoes and the roles of East India Company captains; John McAleer’s look at the architecture of the Company’s offices; Stephen McDowall’s extensive and thoughtful examination of material culture and the meanings placed upon specific objects; and Janice Sibthorpe’s Sezincote’s case study. In the evening a keynote lecture by Giorgio Riello about the trade and consumption of cotton textiles finished the day on a high.

Saturday was the day of debate with the focus on how collaboration between academic institutions and those outside the ‘academy’ work effectively or otherwise. Here it was necessary to understand the structure of the project – its framework, but also the questions it was hoping to ask as well as answer. There was  lot to cover.

The most anticipated part of the Saturday sessions was undoubtedly the trip to Osterley Park (which I was unable to attend) but for me in particular it was the discussion concerning the methodology of the project since I was taking part. Upon the very kind invitation of Margot Finn, Helen Clifford and Kate Smith, also participating were Margaret Makepeace (Lead Curator of East India Company Collections at the British Library), Cliff Pereira (Public Engagement Consultant), and Keith Sweetmore (Development Manager at the North Yorkshire Country Record Office) That’s the four of us pictured below.

EICaH me

In the words of Margot Finn, the project is fairly ‘experimental’ in terms of previous attempts by historians to collaborate. I’ve found other projects to be rather formulaic and incredibly constrained by academic protocol (for want of a better word) and so I was eager to see some part of the discussion aimed at how the EICaH project had been able to challenge this. My belief is that for something of this scale to thrive, individual academics must be willing to show motivation and share their professional development both within their respective departments but also elsewhere.

I, for one, despise the Research Excellence Framework (replacing the Research Assessment Exercise) since it encourages exclusivity through peer review whilst exposing a neat way to keep academic research knotted tightly to the academy. In more simple terms, any research undertaken by an academic institution, regardless of wider collaboration eventually becomes the possession of that institution and the doors close to those without academic affiliation.

So where does the EICaH project fit in? I understand there to be two distinct parts to its methodology and its collaborative efforts represent the major part; the role of the country houuse as means of posing and answering questions, the lesser part. Margot Finn and Helen Clifford are the highly motivated academics who initiated the project and discussed its possibilities long before it began. They also have a desire to promote greater dissemination of their own findings to wider audiences. Inevitably, they are bound by academic protocol because funding for projects like this comes with certain criteria to which any published material or outcome must adhere.

However, it should be noted that the EICaH project is perhaps transitional. Finn declared it to be experimental, indeed there is still more to be said about exactly how the country house community and household may be placed within an imperial and global context, but the project can provide a working model for future historians.

At the end of the conference though, I came away satisfied that history can be made more accessible both to bigger audiences and to those wishing to undertake historical research. The academic can put something into context, and the museum professional can provide layers of interpretation, but a historian is not limited to fancy apparatus like the scientist, or material compounds like the chemist in order to test a theory; history is about thinking. Many of Britain’s archives, libraries and collections are freely accessible to everyone, working collaboratively can enrich the pools of thought and maintain a flow of intellect whether someone has an academic tenure or not.

*******

* Warwick University links are still accessible and currently functional. I have left the original post on countryhousereader (dated March 2012) with these links in tact. The same case studies are also available on the UCL blog which has transferred everything over to this new site. The links in this post are for the UCL blog.

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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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BBC Programme: Servants – The True Story of Life Below Stairs

Servants in 1912 at Erddig, Wales (copyright Erddig Archives, National Trust)

According to a new three-part programme about real servant stories presented by Dr Pamela Cox, it was only a century ago that 1.5 million British people worked as indoor servants. This is estimated to be more than worked in factories or on farms. Given that the population of Britain (as England, Wales and Scotland) in 1911 was over 40.7 million, this does not seem a large number – about 3.7 % of the population in Britain. And yet, there will be few British people with family roots in the United Kingdom who do not have a servant ancestor. I have stumbled across at least 6 in my tree alone working as such in 1911.

Most of this information comes directly from the Census Enumerators’ Books. I spend a great deal of time carrying out family history searches – it’s part of the day job. So inevitably, I have to do searches of the census in order to track familial movement, growth, and occupations. Likewise, when researching a country house between 1841 and 1911, the censuses provide me with an idea of how far people have travelled to find work at ‘the big house’. What the BBC programme promises to do however, is focus on the nature of employment in both town and country from the 19th century to the Second World War. The first episode will concentrate on the Victorian elite in their country piles, but careful consideration will be made of those aspiring new mistresses in their middle-class homes who were eager to emulate household routines of the elite and become the best hostesses. Good servant references required loyalty, but with other modes of employment and indeed other houses from which work could be sought, servant mobility was greater than ever.

Some useful statistics.

Using 1911 as our guide, here are the numbers for servant employment, whether it be had in the country or town (including private residences, hotels, and lodging houses and type of work such as dressing, cleaning, cooking, driving, gardening, gamekeeping etc.).

In England and Wales

Male indoor domestic servants: 54, 260

Male outdoor domestic servants: 226, 266

Female indoor domestic servants: 1, 359, 359

Other service – males: 107, 151

Other service – females: 374,577                                      

Total: 2, 121, 613

In Scotland

Male indoor domestic servants: 3, 721

Male outdoor domestic servants: 23, 973 

Female domestic indoor servants: 135, 052  (In Edinburgh, female domestic servants constituted 5.3 per cent. of the entire population; in Aberdeen, 2.6 per cent.; in Glasgow, 2.1 per cent.; and in Dundee, 1.4 per cent.)

Total: 162, 746

There are many more themes to explore and the BBC is likely to deliver a great deal of them for its viewers and iPlayer addicts like myself. Population and occupational statistics are not for everyone! So be sure to discover more about daily routines, eating habits, clothing, attitudes to domestic service and the development of the modern-day ‘live-out’ servant role. Enjoy! I will return, no doubt, with a review in the not so distant future.

A selection of advertisements commonly found in 19th century newspapers, these are taken from the Birmingham Daily Post, 1880.

Links:

BBC Online Magazine and the new series http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19544309

Review of Servants – The True Story of Life Below Stairs, The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9552656/Servants-The-True-Story-of-Life-Below-Stairs-BBC-Two-Preview.html#

A great place to start on the subject of census returns, where you will find statistics, travel writing, geographies and more, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/ (supported by the University of Portsmouth).

Family Tree Forum, with good quotes about 19th century servants http://www.lewcock.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=186&Itemid=0

19th century servants’ quarters in town and country http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-servants-quarters-in-19th-century-country-houses-like-downton-abbey/

Pittsburgh newspaper The Catholic Journal and its rules for domestics in the 19th century http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sectionfront/life/useful-rules-for-servants-a-19th-century-guide-288851/

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Celebrating the Jubilee … in 1809!

Verses for the Jubilee in 1809 (Berkshire Record Office)

To mark 60 years of the Queen’s reign, 2012 is the year of the Diamond Jubilee! There will be hundreds of thousands of parties and festivals, picnics, music and feasting across Britain and the Commonwealth (Nations and Realms). The Central Weekend is this coming weekend; the 2nd – 5th June, and I’m sure to be seeking out plenty of alcoholic beverages, cakes and roast dinners!

Although the notion of a Jubilee originates from the Bible (Isaiah and Leviticus), the first British monarch to celebrate their jubilee in a way we would recognise today was undoubtedly George III in 1809, marking the beginning of 50 years as reigning monarch – his Golden Jubilee. An Account of the Celebration of the Jubilee, on 25th October, 1809… Collected and Published by a Lady (1809), was a publication which brought together most of the recorded celebrations around Britain at the time. Many of these took place on privately owned land and country estates. As the 2012 celebrations  are set to be a concoction of hearty drinking, big parties, fireworks, charity events and the traditional lighting of the beacons, those in 1809 were not so dissimilar …

Harewood House, Yorkshire, by J. M. W. Turner, 1798 (Tate Galleries).

Harewood House, Yorkshire. Flags were hoisted on the Church and at the Great Lodge at the entrance of the Park; and the day was ushered in with the ringing of the bells. The tenantry of Lord Harewood, about 500 in number, assembled at the Church, and after divine service, marched in procession, attended by a band of music, to the hospitable mansion of his Lordship, and sung ‘God Save the King’ on the lawn. As many as conveniently could dine in the house, remained; a such as could not, went to the Inns at Harewood, which were thrown open for the day, to all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. At two o’ clock dinner was announced, when Lord Harewood took the head of the table in the great room, which formed three sides of a square, and at which sat 190 guests. Different tenants presided at the other tables. During the whole of dinner a full band of music played select airs. The toasts were appropriate for the occasion. At eight o’ clock there was a large bonfire, and a beautiful display of fireworks. At nine, two rooms were thrown open for dancing, which was continued with great spirit till one. Supper was then served up in the gallery: the decoration of the rooms and the tables did infinite credit to the manager (transparencies, one of them an excellent likeness of the King) and devices of flowers in different compartments, had a most beautiful effect. At three, dancing was resumed, and continued with great spirit till six, and about eight, all guests had taken their departure, deeply impressed with the splendid hospitality, the amiable condescension, and the disinterested patriotism, of the noble house of Harewood.

Shirburn Castle,Watlington, Oxfordshire (Country Life, c.1900)

Sherborne Castle [now spelt Shirburn], Oxfordshire. The Jubilee was celebrated with great splendor at Sherbourne Castle, the Seat of the Earl of Macclesfield. In the morning all the poor of that parish, and of Stoke and Clare, together with all the workmen employed by his Lordship, received 2lb of beef for every person in their family; and after divine service, a proportionate quantity of small beer. In the evening there was a numerous assemblage of all the neighbouring families for a ball, when the front of the castle was illuminated with G. R. Fifty Years, in large letters of lamps. At one o’clock the company sat down to a magnificent supper; after which the dance was resumed, and kept up till a late hour in the morning.

Tottenham House, Wiltshire (engraving after J. P. Neale) 1829.

Tottenham Park, Wiltshire. The Earl of Aylesbury displayed the purest feelings of genuine loyalty, by his liberal donations to his Majesty’s least opulent subjects through his Lordship’s extensive manors. Upwards of 5300 people were sharers in his munificence. The numerous peasantry in his more immediate neighbourhood were feasted on the lawn, with a plentiful supply of roast beef, plum-pudding, and strong beer. The Marlborough Troop of Wiltshire Yeomanry Cavalry, commanded by Lord Bruce fired a feu de joie on the occasion, and were afterwards regaled with a sumptuous dinner, and enjoyed themselves with their Noble Commander to a late hour.

Plas Newydd, Isle of Anglesey (copyright TADDFAS)

PlasNewydd, Isle of Angelsey, Wales. The Jubilee was celebrated at PlasNewydd, the Seat of the Earl and Countess of Uxbridge, by a distribution of beef, cheese, oatmeal, and strong beer to the poor families, consisting of upwards of 700 individuals, of the parishes of Llandaniel, Llanfair, and Llandisilio. A plentiful dinner was likewise given at the mansion, to his Lordship’s workmen, labourers, and their families. In the evening, there was a magnificent display of fireworks, and it may be added that the well-known loyalty and attachment of the noble owners of the place to his Majesty, was most gratefully seconded on this happy occasion by their numerous dependants.

Henblas, Isle of Angelsey, Wales. The Jubilee was celebrated with utmost loyalty and hilarity, at the hospitable mansion of Hugh Evans, Esq. A sumptuous dinner was given to a numerous circle of his friends; after which, appropriate toasts were drank, each breathing the purest attachment to their Sovereign and Country. At the same time, his neighbouring tenantry, labourers, and their families, to the number of about 150, were regaled with beef, plum-pudding, and unlimited libations of cwrw da [good beer]. The whole was conducted with the utmost good humour, highly creditable to the worthy donor, who is always forward to evince his unshaken adherence to the best of Kings.

Links:

Jane Austen devotee with a great piece on George III’s Golden Jubilee here. This has extra links and references for those of you interested reading more http://austenonly.com/2012/05/30/george-iiis-golden-jubilee/

Queen Elizabeth II – Jubilees http://www.royal.gov.uk/HMTheQueen/TheQueenandspecialanniversaries/Overview.aspx

Understanding accession and coronation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronation_of_the_British_monarch and http://www.2012queensdiamondjubilee.com/coronation

What is a Jubilee? 2002 … http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/apr/26/jubilee.monarchy

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My First Post by countryhousereader

This is the first post by me – countryhousereader! Phew, it’s also my first blog, so it’ll be a bit creaky to start with. My hope is to express my knowledge of country houses gained through research, or just mooching about them when I get the chance.

This blog is intended to complement the existing country house websites and blogs which have detailed specific houses, their owners and architects. I do not wish to tread on any toes with more of the same; others are doing a grand job when it comes to establishing comprehensive histories of the country house on the internet. Instead, my intention is to deliver some of the themes associated with the country house in England (and Britain) as well as abroad. Amongst other things, this will include book and article reviews both past and present, and the occasional snippet of information from the houses themselves.

Hope you enjoy!

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