Tag Archives: household management

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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Country House Amenities; Part IV, Cleaning.

Finally, and after several weeks of attending to the ‘day job’, here is the fourth and last installment of my peep into country house amenities.

This post is to do with the upkeep of interiors and the supplies and resources required for ordinary cleanliness. My concern here is the maintenance and cleanliness of the interiors rather than the hygiene of the occupants since connotations of civility and taste came with keeping the house clean, neat and orderly.

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The early nineteenth-century maid. By William Brocas (1762-1837), pencil drawing c.1800 (National Library of Ireland)

Cleanliness was part of household maintenance at any level of society, but in the country house it was detached and formed a part of mundane routine. The elite owner was the proprietor of the house, its collections and everyday objects, but it was the servants who touched, washed, dusted and repaired these things. Outside tradesmen and journeymen were often involved in the general upkeep of furniture, textiles and hardware too, and so the cleaning of the country house was a constant feature.

Those doing the cleaning varied due to the type of work involved. All types of general cleaning – dusting, sweeping, carpet beating, bed changing, scrubbing, and polishing were the domain of the housemaids. Under the watchful eye of the housekeeper, these chores were set to daily, monthly, biannual and annual routines. Linens went down to the laundry which was normally situated away from the main building due to the smelly and steamy processes and also offered access to easy open air drying. Here garments and bedding would be washed, bleached and boiled, mangled, dried, ironed and folded before being sent back to the house.

Silverware was the province of the butler, whilst the footmen took charge of miscellaneous chattels like candlesticks, lamps, some items of furniture and the occasional picture frame. Valets and personal servants like the groom of the chambers were responsible for the more intimate or expensive items of their master or mistress like clothing, ornaments and paintings. Whilst at the bottom of the servant hierarchy, the porter/hall boy and scullery maid had the delightful share of menial tasks which could involve anything from clearing out roof voids to scrubbing drains.

In getting the house clean, many relied upon bought goods and hardware; this is particularly true throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some tradesmen offered specific products and services for ridding the place of bugs, rat-catching and reducing general problem vermin. Patented goods might be used for cleaning fire grates, for polishing woods, and for sprucing up clothing accessories like hats and footwear. In other instances, the master or mistress depended on tried and tested recipes or old favourites. The most common practices in the country house were;

  • Floors to be scrubbed with water, soap and soda. Sand was also used to lift heavy soiling from wooden boards and show the grain. Mixed with soap and water, sand also removed scuffing from white painted wood.
  • Gum water (solution of gum arabic in water) for fire grates, and to be buffed with a dry leather, or emery paper for the bars.
  • Wainscoting (skirting boards) to be washed with soap and water, whilst white paintwork to be gently rubbed with fuller’s earth.
  • Hartshorn (the grated/powdered horn and hooves of the male red deer, used as a detergent because of its high ammonia content) for the plate (metal ware including silverware) and for stain removal in clothes and other textiles.
  • Used tea-leaves to be sprinkled on the carpet before sweeping. These gave a pleasant aroma, but also collected the dry dust particles.
  • Old silk cloths, flannels and old rags (Mrs Beeton recommended the tops of old cotton stockings) for polishing and dusting. A goose feather duster was the answer for those hard to reach places.
  • Turpentine, vinegar, linseed oil and beeswax were best for treating and removing stains from woods.
  • And freshly boiled water and pearl ash (potassium carbonate) were essential for clearing out sticky oil lamps.

Soaps.  At Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire there were five types of soap kept in the Housekeeper’s Store; Ball soap (lyes/ashes and fat rolled by hand into a ball, sometimes scented), Crown Kegs, Rosin, Blue Stone and Blue Powder. The Blues were crucial in ridding white clothes of yellow hues and sweaty stains. The blue ingredient came from indigo or smalt (ground glass originally coloured with cobalt). Crown Kegs could very well be Crown Soap which was used to clean leathers, and Rosin is a pine tree resin still used today and in the country house would have been a brown coloured soap used in washing clothes and maybe for more general cleaning due to its weaker affect as a detergent compared with hartshorn. Other soaps like yellow or purple took their names from the scented ingredients like lavender or thyme or simple dyes.

Yet, it is the ‘big clean’ which seems so peculiar to the country house. This cycle of immense cleaning is not a new

C.L. Marlatt’s article for the US Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Bulletin, 1915.

circumstance brought about through public visiting numbers or matters of conservation. The diversity of materials found in large establishments means they have always been invitations for all kinds of indelicate creatures and creeping organic matter.The Spring Clean.

One ugly tale I was told several years ago surrounded the remounting of some early nineteenth-century wallpaper. Upon removal several silverfish (fishmoths) fell to the floor (I’m not sure if some were still alive!) as staff cringed. These little bugs love the old glues and starches present in the substances holding the wallpapers up, and were clearly a recognised problem before the days of more academic conservation methods and theories (see right). Here, entomologist Charles Lester Marlatt noted this problem and quoted from Robert Hooke’s fantastic Micrographia of 1665 which described it as a silver-coloured book-worm ‘much conversant among Books and Papers’.

Bug debris and similar matter is symptomatic of the main problem in any large establishment – dust. Many bugs hide in dark corners or infest undisturbed areas like bookcases, pelmets, floor boards and wooden beams. But dust lingers and eventually rots away at whatever it has sat on for too long because it is not only abrasive but is able to chemically react with certain surfaces, especially woods and textiles. The complete removal of dust is impossible, and when cleaning a house interior it might feel like the dust is being swept from one area to another. To combat this in the country house, the Spring Clean helped to eliminate long-standing muck and grime.

The process would have taken about two weeks and involved everyone on site as well as extra staff hired from nearby villages. Many account books will reveal nameless entries (usually female) who helped at such busy periods in the house and laundry departments. Contemporary literature recommended the cleaning start at the top of the house with the removal of hangings, bedding, blankets, and carpets; all had to be brushed, washed and beaten. The housekeeper may have even ordered in extra pairs of hands from the garden and stable departments, so the heavy work could be undertaken by more burly staff.

The laundry at Castle Ward, County Down. (National Trust)

Other maintenance issues included whitewashing in the cellars and basements, chimney sweeping, drain clearing and window cleaning. Although local traders and journeymen attended to these on a regular basis, it was not uncommon for servants to get involved at some time in the biannual or annual ‘renewal’ of interiors in this way. As the cleaning process moved down the house, more specialist cleaning was required from the valet, the butler, footmen and groom of the chambers (often a gentleman from lower ranks of the social strata who had had training in upholstery and furniture care). Delicate items would be packed away for the summer, or simply cleaned and then covered to prevent fly damage. Some pieces of hardy furniture (most likely that from the servant rooms and utility rooms) were even dismantled and damp dusted.

Clearly, a good clean water supply was essential in getting and keeping the house in shape. Until the installation of plumbed waterworks, water would have been carried up and down staircases (many of which were small cramped spaces), and from interior or nearby wells. Country house ‘plumbing’ had only existed in piecemeal fashion until the nineteenth century by which time, and especially in Britain, it was still slow to catch on in large houses. Notions of plumbing were related to the treatment of waste until the eighteenth century, and so a pumped supply of clean water remained rather elusive. Laundries and kitchens had their own supplies – either from outside pumps and wells or from cisterns which caught rainwater as it fell off the roof. Conserving water was the norm until the arrival of electricity. Such a pattern in behaviour also highlights the seasonal influence of country house living, since with Spring comes the April showers, May blossoms and early Summer scents. All were vital ingredients in putting the house in order and readjusting it for the coming year.

In our modern homes there has been a resurgence of interest in more natural home remedy based cleaning. Fears over chemical cleaners have left many people seeking alternatives. And yet, in the present-day country house both methods are common. There are huge tomes which relate to matters of cleanliness and conservation, and are undoubtedly consulted everyday by staff up and down the employment hierarchy. Chemical cleaners may even be more prevalent than natural substances – though a bit of water and a duster will get you most of the way there! The cycle of cleaning and maintenance still exists today, but it is multi-layered in a way it had never been in the past. The old regimes are still there – washing, wiping, dusting, polishing, and buffing – but there are structured conservation teams with specialisms too. There is also more out-sourcing and therefore greater dependancy upon external agents and services who do not always have the same (or adequate) specialisms. Perhaps it is time to compromise and make a return to the profound tick-tock of the seasons? I would still keep the vacuum cleaner though …

Links:

Country House Technology project at the University of Leicester http://tiny.cc/0vrbhw

Dusting the Royal Historic Palaces http://www.hrp.org.uk/aboutus/whatwedo/collectionscare/monitoringdustlevels

Cleaning the house in eighteenth-century dress, Rhode Island Historical Society http://rihs.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/a-day-of-experimental-archaeology/ and http://rihs.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/all-cleaned-up/

Andrew Graham-Dixon and Petworth House, Sussex http://nttreasurehunt.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/andrew-graham-dixon-mucking-in-at-petworth/

Conservation and Nostell Priory, Yorkshire http://nostellprioryconservation.wordpress.com/

17th-century cleaning for a ducal town house http://www.oldandinteresting.com/17th-century-washing.aspx and laundry bluing http://www.oldandinteresting.com/laundry-blue.aspx

The realities of cleaning and housework http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/housework.cfm

References and further reading:

Many contemporary pieces of literature can be found on Google Books in their full form (See especially S. and S. Adams The Complete Servant  and Beeton’s Book of Household Management). Others have been ‘transcribed’ or edited by individuals or through the UK National Trust which hinders their availability through modern-day copyright. British charity shops (as well as Ebay) often have these stashed on shelves, so for the curious these are a good purchase – keep your eyes peeled!

Samuel and Sarah Adams, The Complete Servant (1825)

Isabella Mary Beeton, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861). My copy is an edited first edition facsimile from 1984.

Jessica Gerard, ‘Invisible Servants: The Country House and the Local Community’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, LVII, (1984), 178-188.

Mark Girouard, A Country House Companion. (1987)

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

Joanna Martin, Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House (2004)

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

Alison Sim, The Tudor Housewife (1996)

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

Susanna Whatman, The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman (1776-1800). Introduced by Christina Hardyment (National Trust, 1997)

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Some Georgian Christmas Fare!

A cheap and cheery seasonal one this time! After spending a few years pouring over eighteenth-century household account books, it seems fitting that a little attention should be paid towards Christmas at the country house. And food is certainly a great tonic for the soul in these dreary winter months of the northern hemisphere! I’ve picked out two books; one which was first published in the first half of the eighteenth century and one from the start of the nineteenth century. Their respective authors had slightly different backgrounds but connections to the country house are strong. The first, John Simpson was eager to promote himself as ‘the Present Cook to the Most Noble the Marquis of Buckingham’ in his 1806 edition of A Complete System of Cookery, presumably in that role at Stowe House. The second, Richard Bradley was a botanist who had a vast knowledge of hot-houses, gardening and husbandry, but also spent some time working at Cannons, Middlesex for James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos.

All original spelling has been retained.

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Stowe House (from Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, 1829)

From A Complete System of Cookery, from a Plan Entirely New, Consisting of Every Thing that is Requisite for Cooks to Know in the Kitchen Business. John Simpson (1806)

 

Later edition title-page from John Simpson's A Complete System of Cookery (1816)

Bills of Fare for Christmas feasting 1805, 25th December.

First Course

Rice Soup, Turkey & Truffles, Beef Collops, Semels Souffle & Poivrade Sauce, A Foul a la Daube and Mushrooms, Sweetbreads and Asparagus Peas, A Leg of Lamb and Haricot Beans, Chickens a la Reine, Haunch of Venison, Soup Vermicelli

Bacon Chine The Chine should be sprinkled with Salt, four days before roasted; – if large, it will take three hours roasting. – Send Apple sauce up in boat.

Chickens and Celery, Neat’s Tongue, Grenadines and Endives, Rabbits a la Portugueze and Sorrel Sauce

Appendix – Petit Pate of Oysters, Souties of Mutton and Cucumbers, Giblet Soup, Roast Beef

Second Course

Partridges, Savoy Cake, Carmel Basket, Jerusalem Artichokes, Cauliflowers &c., Mince Pies, Cheesecakes, French Beans, Spinage &c., A Pheasant, Snipes, Asparagus, Red Cabbage, Apricot Torte, Mushrooms, Ragoo Mele, Chantilla Cake, Carmel Cake, Meringues, Guinea Fowl

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Cannons, Middlesex (from Vitruvius Britannicus, 1739)

From the Country Housewife and Lady’s Director In the Management of a House, and the Delights and Profits of a Farm. Richard Bradley (6th edition, 1762)

To make minc’d Pyes, or Christmas-Pyes. 

Take an Ox-heart, and parboil it, or a Neat’s Tongue boil’d without drying or salting, or the Inside of a Surloin of Beef, chop this small and put to each Pound two Pounds of Beef-Suet, cleaned of the skins and blood, and chop that as small as the former; then pare, and take the Cores out of eight large Apples and chop them small, grate then a Two-penny loaf; and then add two or three Nutmegs grated, half an Ounce of fresh Cloves, as much mace, a little Pepper and Salt, and Pound and half of Sugar; then grate in some Lemon and Orange-Peel, and squeeze the Juice of six Oranges and two Lemons, with half a Pint of Sack, and pour this into the Mixture. Take care to put in two Pounds of Currans to every Pound of Meat, and mix it well; then try a little of it over the Fire, in a Sauce-pan, and as it tastes, so add what you think proper to it: put this in an earthen-glaz’d Pan, and press it down, and you may keep it till Candlemas, if you make it at Christmas

Memorandum, When you put this into your Pyes, press it down, and it will be like a Paste. When you take these Pyes out of the Oven, put in a Glass of Brandy, or a Glass of Sack or White Wine, into them, and stir it in them. 

Three centuries of mince pies (Ivan Day blog historicfood.com)

Plum-Pottage, or Christmas-Pottage, from the same.

Take a Leg of Beef, boil it till it is tender in a sufficient quantity of Water, add two Quarts of red Wine, and two Quarts of old strong Beer; put to these some Cloves, Mace and Nutmegs, enough to season it, and boil some Apples, pared and freed of the Cores into it, and boil them tender, and break them, and to every Quart of Liquor, put half a Pound of Currans, pick’d clean, and rubbed with a coarse Cloth, without washing. Then add a Pound of Raisins of the Sun, to a Gallon of Liquor, and half a Pound of Prunes. Take out the Beef, and the Broth or Pottage will be fit for use.

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Some gloriously heavy food in there, but it’s difficult to care too much about that at Christmas! If only I had the time and the energy … Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Links:

Food historian, Ivan Day’s website http://www.historicfood.com/portal.htm and blog http://foodhistorjottings.blogspot.com/

Kansas State Libraries rare books – cookery http://www.lib.k-state.edu/depts/spec/rarebooks/cookery/raffald1769.html

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, English Taste: The Art of Dining in the Eighteenth Century http://www.mfah.org/exhibitions/english-taste-dining-eighteenth-century/

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Country House Amenities; Part I, Lighting with Candles.

A selection of candle holders 1700-1800.

Creamware candlestick. Leeds or Staffordshire 1770s-1780s.

This is the first of a series of four posts concerned with the particulars of running the country house through lighting, heating and cleaning. Their purpose is to bring together several sources in order to demonstrate how the country house operated at a domestic level, and perhaps in a way we might hope to understand today. As visitors we see the grandeur of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the plush clutter of the nineteenth century and steady modernisation of the twentieth century, and yet we often ask how architectural arrangements affected daily routines. Many houses have opened their servants’ halls, butler’s pantries, or nurseries for the public to view over the past two decades, but many struggle within the laws of health and safety to reconstruct the ‘feel’ of daily living. Of course, as visitors we cannot expect to stay overnight in drafty chambers, clean our hands and feet in wash basins, read by candlelight, or sit by open fires but we can understand the needs of past generations in creating warm, well-lit, clean and secure homes.  For the social microcosm that is the country house, these needs were expensive to achieve and demanded a great deal of manual labour.

Cut glass chandelier from Uppark, Sussex. Possibly made by Christopher Haedy, 1770s.

This post is a glimpse at how developments in artificial lighting changed the way in which the country house operated. There are four components to the history of lighting in the home; candle (naked flame), oil, gas, and electricity. The apparatus of which are usually still visible in some country houses, but in most cases have been swept away. There is a lot to be covered within this topic, so I shall begin with the humble candle!

I am most grateful to Anthony Wells-Cole and James Lomax whose knowledge of the Temple Newsam collections in Leeds have proved invaluable for this subject matter and the lighting of the country house generally.

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The Candle

The types of candle lighting; Spermaceti, the best were made from the fatty white substance found in the head of the sperm whale and produced a clear white smokeless flame; Beeswax produced a clear smokeless flame with an indifferent smell, and initially used only in churches; Tallow, the most common type of candle was made from the hard white fat found around the kidneys and caul of animals (mainly beef cattle and sheep), but they produced an inferior flame as well as a foul smell in comparison to the more expensive spermaceti and beeswax candles; Rushlight or dip candle, was the poor man’s candle and was an ancient method of producing light made from the pithy part of a peeled rush dipped, often repeatedly, into hot liquid animal fat in order to build up layers around the wick.

A selection of rushlight holders with decorative hinged arms. The dipped rush would be held between the pincer-like nib. The holder third from right also has a candle socket.

The best thing when writing about the lighting equipment associated with the country house is that almost all these varieties would have been present at some point. Rushlights or hand-dipped candles were an ancient device and would have still been used by some servants when rising before daylight and completing their evening duties. They would also have been the presence of rushlights throughout dark basement corridors. On average they would burn for about fifteen to twenty minutes, and would need constant attention in order for the rush to be drawn up through the holder. Wax and tallow candles formed the backbone of the lighting industry from the Middle Ages with each having their own guild but with vastly different costs in the retail value of their produce. Influenced by specific laws on production and pricing, wax and tallow candles eventually fell foul of Customs and Excise when in 1709 a tax was introduced on all English and imported candles; the rate at this time on wax was fourpence per pound, and one halfpenny per pound on tallow.

In attempts to keep costs down in the country house, many candles were made from estate produce. In other instances, pure wax could be obtained from the open market, including scented and coloured waxes from the Colonies. At Castle Howard, Isabella Carlisle noted the cost of essentials in her own abstract of the household accounts between 1744 and 1755. ‘Fire and Candle’ as categorised by Isabella, came to £13 02s 00d for one week in May 1745,  £5 17s 2d for one week in October 1748 and £5 2s 3d for one week in July 1753. Clearly the times of year and special occasions had a marked affect upon the costs of heating and lighting this particular country house.

In the country house, like any home, the tallow candle had to be carefully stored as they were apt to rot. The housekeeper would have had this responsibility as she had access to the main dry store. She might have had a large box

Candle box 19th century (part of the Temple Newsam collection, Leeds Museums and Galleries)

as well as free standing cupboards and cabinets to keep a range of candles in. In other instances rooms may have had cylindrical tin boxes which were hung high on the wall – to keep the rats out – for the storage of tallow candles. Moreover, in her book of housekeeping, Susanna Whatman noted that the first thing a housekeeper should teach a new servant was to carry her candle upright, since it was no good wasting taxed consumables when the wax stub could be reused in lighting fires. Such careful action also stopped hot wax dripping to the carpets and floor boards.

From the second half of the eighteenth century, and with the rise of the whaling industry, a new kind of wax candle began to appear on the London market – the spermaceti candle. These were the best candles, and were initially more expensive than beeswax candles. The wax and spermaceti candles would have been used by the family, but probably reserved for special occasions. In the first half of the nineteenth century Elizabeth, Lady Breadalbane instructed her servants that, ‘all pieces of spermaceti candles to be collected by the under Butler and given over to the Housekeeper at least once a fortnight for the lanterns and the lighting of fires.’  The expense of these candles also dictated their recyclable qualities.

The candle tax was abolished in 1831, the beginning of the decade which also marked another key event in the history of lighting – the invention of the friction match. Previously, the method of striking a light involved the ignition of tinder with a sharp flint struck against another metal. Tinder was extremely dry linen or flax and other highly inflammable materials kept in special boxes at the hearthside or in designated stores again accessed by the housekeeper, butler or footmen.

Most rooms would have been lit by portable candlesticks and holders, which is why many rooms in country houses have not been adapted for ceiling lighting. This form of portable light was perpetuated well into the days of gas and electric lighting in many homes. Types of candlestick however were signifiers of wealth, and the materials they were made from covered a vast spectrum including cheap metals, ceramics, silver, a variety of woods, marble and glass.

One of a pair of girandoles supplied by James Pascall to Temple Newsam in 1745.

In the more public spaces and state apartments the permanent fixtures for candle lighting are the chandeliers, sconces, tourchieres and girandoles. The word ‘chandelier’ comes from the French ‘chandelles’ (tallow candles) and was understood from the fifteenth century, but became more common at the end of the seventeenth century. In the country house inventory a chandelier as we understand it may be written as ‘branches’, or ‘hanging candlesticks’. Sconce also has origins in French and has been understood to mean the cover provided by the attachment fixing the candle socket or holder to the wall. Tourchiere is again of French origin and simply means torch and more specifically the apparatus providing upward lighting. The origin of the word girandole seems more charming in comparison and comes from the French (as a derivative of the Italian verb girare ‘to turn’ and ‘girandola’ a rotating firework similar to the UK Catherine Wheel); the setting of candle sockets on a girandole, often backed by a mirror displays a spiralling pattern and thus a turning sparkle of light.

If the rushlight and sparing use of tallow represented the servants’ domain then so too were there degrees of opulance above stairs. Brass chandeliers were being used from the fifteenth century. Gilded wood and glass chandeliers were making an appearance by the first half of the eighteenth century, but the most extravagant and awesome of chandeliers were those of silver or crystal. Of course cleaning these would be considered both a tremendous and perilous job by the housemaids and a tense time for the upper servant. At twentieth-century Brodsworth Hall, Sylvia Grant-Dalton would announce when it was time to clean the glass crystals of the drawing room chandeliers ‘when they’d lost their glitter’, a phrase which would send shivers of apprehension throughout the servant hierarchy.

The colour of the room also mattered and may explain why whites and cool colours were preferable (as well as fashionable) before the 1800s and the introduction of gas and electricity. Isaac Ware noted in 1746 that a room ‘which if wainscoted [panelled] will take six candles to light it, will in stucco [plastered] require eight or if hung [papered] ten’ (Complete Body or Architecture). The decorative finishes were crucial in recognising the potential of lighting the space. The dark pannelling we see today is the result of age – or the nineteenth-century romantic disposition, since these woods would have been fairly pale and would have offered a warm glow next to candle light. The depth of colour produced by wallpapers in the large country house merely reinforced the conspicuous consumption of its owner. Its matt finish or dark flocking required extra candles, but the sparkle would have been tremendous and deliberately impressive for any visitor.

A pair of ormolu candelabra, originally part of the collection at Longleat house, Wiltshire, late eighteenth century (Christie's image copyright)

Today, candles are a different kind of necessity becoming our main source of light when the electricity sub-station fails or a mains fuse has blown. Otherwise they help set a specific mood with their scented qualities or romantic glow. But we are no longer governed by sunrise and sunset hours, so our stash of tealights and stubby candles remain tucked away in boxes with torches and spare batteries, or stored lovingly in the bathroom or dining room for intimate or familiar scenarios. Providing light for the home outside the hours of daylight was a cautious process before gas and powerful electric lighting. It recalls the comments of actors in period dramas when they complain about the restriction of dress compared to their modern-day clothing. When the electricity does blow, it’s hard work especially without a proper candleholder (an old wine bottle might have to suffice in most situations), and ensuring wax doesn’t spill on the floor normally means waxy fingertips. Yet, it’s the movement from room to room which proves unappealing without a working light switch. The skills and levels of ingenuity we’ve lost to electric power are numerous, and understanding the gratitude felt towards a single flame is forgotten. In the country house, the necessity of candlelight for the early riser to the opulence of several burning and glistening candles suggests great variety of function, and yet a single flame offered any individual some peace of mind.

References:

Jacqueline Fearn, Domestic Bygones. Shire Publications (2nd edition 1999).

Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House (1978)

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

Pamela Sambrook, The Country House Servant (1999)

John Vince, The Country House: How it Worked (1991)

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

Susanna Whatman, The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman. (1776) Introduced by Christina Hardyment. The National Trust (1997).

Temple Newsam Country House Studies, number 4, (text by Anthony Wells-Cole), Country House Lighting (1992)

Links:

Achieving the candle-lit look in the present day http://ntenvironmentalwork.net/2011/11/01/led-candle-bulbs-measure-a-hundred-times-cut-only-once/

The National Trust, The Argory, County Armagh and the history of lighting the country house http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-the__argory_lighting__list.pdf (2010).

Lighting the American home by candlelight http://www.candlecomfort.com/historyofcandles.html

The Geffrye Museum, London. http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/collections/thematics/

Country Life article on the history of domestic lighting http://www.countrylife.co.uk/property/article/528152/From-fish-oil-to-chandeliers-early-domestic-lighting.html

Lighting the Victorian home, with attention on Linley Sambourne House in London http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/lighting/lighting.htm

Fantastic blog on the practicalities of domestic routine. This post relates to rushlights or dip candles  http://www.oldandinteresting.com/rushlights.aspx

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A Short Story from Plompton Hall, North Yorkshire.

       In 1755 Daniel Lascelles (brother of Edwin who commissioned Harewood House) bought the estate from the de Plumpton family when Robert de Plumpton died without a male heir. Lascelles demolished the existed decrepit manor house in order to build a major new house to the design of John Carr. The house appears to have been converted from the south range of the stables when Lascelles moved to Goldsborough Hall, North Yorkshire in 1762 and building work on the much larger house to south-west of the stables ceased. The Hall and stables are mainly ashlar with rusticated stone quoins. The house is a private residence today, but the park and eighteenth-century pleasure grounds are now known as Plumpton Rocks (yes, that is a different spelling) which provided inspiration for J. M. W. Turner.

Plompton Hall

Present day Plompton Hall

 

       The story here exposes the relationships between household members and the outside workforce when a country house was under construction. It centres on the period of building before 1762 when Daniel Lascelles was still eager to establish a large house on this site. It is also possible to see the dynamics of a household without female authority in a managerial role!

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       The exceptionally well hidden pregnancy of the Plompton cook, Sarah Lister would have continued so if it were not for the delivery of a healthy baby boy almost a month early. Lascelles had the incident described to him by the family doctor, Dr. Richardson who had been present during the labour, and the steward Samuel Popplewell who took some responsibility in defending the woman’s position in the household. Sarah Lister had planned to take leave for her relations when she believed the baby was due, but giving birth a month earlier than expected thwarted all plans of her maintaining such high levels of secrecy. Lascelles now had an otherwise highly regarded female servant to approach on delicate terms. Sarah Lister was fortunate to have secured support from her male colleagues with both a Doctor Richardson and Popplewell writing to Lascelles emphasising her wish to stay on in service whilst also complimenting him on his existing good nature. Popplewell rather optimistically hoped this would be further realised in this instance and reminded Lascelles that she was ‘an excellent cook’. Dr. Richardson was a little more objective:

…she says if you have so much compassion for a miserable wretch [,] forgive this great offence and continue her in your service, she will be bound by duty and gratitude to do everything in her power to serve you right. If you don’t think fit to continue her she beggs [sic] you will not expose her but give her a character that she may get her Bread in some other part of the world…

        Luckily for Sarah Lister, Daniel Lascelles eventually responded compassionately – not because he was entirely sympathetic to her misfortune, rather it was due to ‘the unpardonable thing in this affair was that the scene of this business should be laid in my house’, his forgiveness was therefore bound to keeping the ‘unlucky affair hushed…for the sake of good order in my house.’ More unfortunate for Lister, however was exactly how public the affair had become; a circumstance which led several workmen at Plompton to taunt and sexually harass her. Both Lascelles and Popplewell admitted her ‘freedoms with any of ye men servants’ had damaged her authority in the household, but hoped it could be quickly restored, especially as Lascelles had overlooked the affair and had similarly expected everyone else to do so. Taunts and bullish behaviour were unacceptable, whether her authority had diminished permanently is not known but at least Lascelles and Popplewell remained adamant (and somewhat patronising) in their agreement that Sarah Lister was one of the ‘better female Cooks in ye County and not many Housekeepers who sends up a Dessert in a prettier manner…’

       Retaining a servant who proved good in their department regardless of their irresponsible behaviour outside of it saved time on hiring and firing but anxieties clearly persisted where trust had been broken under the roof of an employer. For Lascelles, authority was paramount to safeguarding the order of the household. For Sarah Lister, her supposed sexual dalliances at Plompton left her mentally and physically vulnerable within a male environment, where men were in charge of all managerial affairs, as well as occupying wider space in the house as the building and interior work progressed.

A servant’s promiscuity had implications for the servant themselves; whilst an employer’s patience and diplomacy were meant as cool warnings for other household members to remain circumspect. Daniel Lascelles offered a second chance, but could easily have made examples of a servant caught up in scurrilous events.

Archives for Plompton Hall are to be found at West Yorkshire Archives, Sheepscar, Leeds. They have been placed with those of the Lascelles family which is mainly concerned with the building and plans for Harewood House in the eighteenth century and then personal papers up to the present day. There is a good index which breaks down the correspondence from the eighteenth century between family members and the steward Samuel Popplewell, from which this story is composed.

Links: National archives link to repository information, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/records.aspx?cat=205-h&cid=0#0

West Yorkshire Archive Service, http://www.archives.wyjs.org.uk/

Plumpton Rocks – part of the park and grounds at Plompton where John Carr helped create the dam for the lake eventually establishing a romantic walk which can still be visited today, http://www.yorkshire.com/turner/trails/plumpton-rocks

An interesting document relating to the conservation of Plompton area.  http://www.harrogate.gov.uk/Documents/DS-P-ConAreaPlompton2.pdf


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