Tag Archives: servants

A Country House Christmas, Phyllis Elinor Sandeman (1952)

wp_20161221_23_20_06_pro

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!

lyme-park_1681604c

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

3 Comments

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

Giles Waterfield, 1949-2016

waterfield

The independent art historian and curator Giles Waterfield died on 5th November of an unexpected heart attack. He was Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery between 1979 and 1996, an associate lecturer at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, acted as advisor to numerous museum and heritage organisations, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, and was co-director for the Attingham Trust from 1995-2003, as well as the founding director of Royal Collection Studies there in 1996.

One of the more honest obituaries in a wealth of very matter of fact ones comes from The Art Newspaper in which Waterfield is described as both erudite and amusing. I never shook hands with the man, but did meet him in October 2012 at the Attingham Trust conference. He spoke passionately about the country house and its many histories and I remember thinking he had a great smiling presence in the room which merrily balanced the flamboyant manner of Julian Fellowes who also attended.

2012 was the peak of popular interest in the social history of the country house where Downton Abbey was running to nearly 12 million viewers for its 3rd and 4th series. This was also the 60th anniversary of the Attingham Trust and there appeared to be a flicker of interest in every aspect of the country house, not just its architecture and fine art collections.

In many respects this was due to those like Waterfield who sought to highlight the eras in which these houses were built and the contemporary moral codes of behaviour imposed on their inhabitants. Attempts to define the servant hierarchy and the spaces which acted as identifiers of work rather than entertainment were also gaining greater impetus for research.

Giles Waterfield aided the promotion of such research through publication and curation. Most relevant here is the exhibition and its accompanying publication written and edited by Waterfield and Anne French Below Stairs: 400 Years of Servant Portraits which ran from October 2003 to January 2004 at The National Portrait Gallery in London. With a series of lectures connected to the exhibition, Waterfield would demonstrate his specialist interest in the representation of servants in English literature from the early 19th century onwards.

belwo-stairs

Dare I admit and quite cowardly in hindsight, but I wrote a review of his Markham Thorpe (2006) a couple of years ago for this blog. I was a harsh critic and I deleted it several months later when I was knew I would meet Waterfield and hoped to promote my own research at that time. In the blog post I recall suggesting how detailed and perhaps a little contrived his backdrops were – an easy task given who he rubbed shoulders with – adding that his characters were stereotypes and his female protagonist was too sweet! However, the accompanying publication for the Below Stairs exhibition is obviously not fiction but a scholarly approach to a collection of images which need consideration without prejudice.

Much of my own research since the date of the exhibition has looked into the status of servants from the late 17th century and so my own knowledge is fairly extensive. Nonetheless, that the publication is an accompaniment to an exhibition does not hold it back or allow for patchy source material. It is instead a well written piece and on the one hand appears to bring the subject matter up-to-date whilst on the other it offers a stimulating and unique take on a subject often severely lacking in images.

Heads of Six of Hogarth's Servants c.1750-5 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Purchased 1892 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01374

Heads of Six of Hogarth’s Servants c.1750-5 William Hogarth (1697-1764), Oil on canvas. Tate Collection.

As often seems the case, I was unable to get to the exhibition at the time as I had just started a new job, but I did have the book delivered instead. It covers most ground and includes the essential study of servant portraits from Bramham Park, Yorkshire and Erdigg, Wales as well as those stand alone images like that of Heads of Six of Hogarth’s Servants (above) by William Hogarth (c.1750-55) or Robert Shaw, Keeper of the Forest of Bowland by James Northcote (c.1806) which have evolved from mere contemporary representation of real people to objects that for the viewer should raise questions about the character and lifestyle of the sitters. French and Waterfield discuss this in light of the servant and master relationship and the production of servant portraiture as a symbol of loyalty and extended family.

ssancho

Ignatius Sancho, 1768 Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), oil on canvas. National Gallery of Canada

Other themes covered by Waterfield particularly include servants working in institutions, life in service, and black and Indian servants. The latter illustrating some of the finer portraits of the 18th and 19th centuries including Ignatius Sancho (above) by Thomas Gainsborough (1768) and The Munshi Abdul Karim by Rudolph Swoboda (1888).

The images are obviously central to the book and this is not a cheap general publication about servants illustrated with unrelated pictures of maids or gardeners. It is analytical and puts the images in context and wherever possible provides contemporary commentary of the sitter and/or painter/photographer. Servants are the backbone of country house social history and kept these sites running daily. Their status and their numbers were disadvantages which limited their representation so this publication is essential in allowing us to visualise the servant workspace, their daily tasks and study their features in order to try and see something more of the person rather than a job role. Equally so, Hogarth’s representation of six of his servants allows the viewer to hear them speak as it is almost possible to match their faces to the tone of voice or how they may have expressed themselves with the smallest of gestures.

In order to push this to a more general reader, it takes someone like Waterfield to suggest this notion and there was incredible devotion in the work he undertook. My lasting impression of Waterfield from the Attingham Trust conference four years ago was of someone rather unassuming. There were many big voices wanting to talk about their research or pat themselves on the back for their project leadership skills at such-and-such institution. Waterfield was able to navigate through this by simultaneously showing direct interest delivered with a wry smile. People gravitated to him and wanted to know his thoughts on developments in country house interpretation and preservation, and he knew exactly who was connected to which trust, funding body or academic department.

I’m sure there will be a gap left behind as Giles Waterfield was a character essential to the modern day study of heritage. As funding narrows and dismantles the enthusiasm many have for history and heritage sites we desperately need individuals like him who can operate underneath this and motivate and collaborate in order to challenge any normalisation of weak interpretation and cultural obscurity for many places.

Links to obituaries and articles in his memory markham-thorpe

From The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2016/11/17/giles-waterfield-art-gallery-director-and-novelist–obituary/

From Apollo Magazine http://www.apollo-magazine.com/tribute-giles-waterfield/

From The Times http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/giles-waterfield-68wg3tzq6

Art Forum https://www.artforum.com/news/id=64555

Other pieces:

Home page with full list of exhibitions and publications http://www.gileswaterfield.com/

And to end, something a little more lighthearted: When Lucy Worsley and Giles Waterfield met http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/giles-waterfield-lucy-worsley-i-gave-a-talk-about-a-woman-who-went-mad-in-the-tower-he-told-me-it-10316533.html

Leave a comment

Filed under Book reviews, Collections, Exhibitions, Servants

Thinking about the Country House in 2016

30BE707F00000578-3424877-Period_drama_The_cast_of_Downtown_Abbey_gathered_around_Lesley_a-a-9_1454232362043

A portion of the cast from Dowton Abbey giving their acceptance speech at the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles 30 January 2016

In 2012, I wrote a piece here about the current trends in country house studies as well as general literature and popular culture. A lot can happen in four years, so I thought a return to the subject matter seemed overdue. Spurred on by the recurring themes of country house social history highlighted by this blog’s statistics, there is indeed some things to be thinking about in 2016.

Since 2012 the country house has been discussed a lot less on British television that’s for sure and in hindsight, programmes like The Country House Revealed from 2011 seemed like a passing phase. That’s probably more to do with the producers of popular TV rather than the wider interests of those watching. Yet, there has been a shift and without doubt there is a strong fan base surrounding the country house united by the subject’s social themes more than anything else in 2016. That’s not to say that architectural history and the decorative arts have dropped from favour, but overall there appears to be a collective demand for knowledge about how people interacted with the country house; as designers, owners, servants or suppliers. This is not new, and there has certainly been an excess of publications on the country house servant specifically since the 1950s – partly as a result of the decline of the country house and the nostalgia that followed. Yet, the social history of the country house in the second decade of the millennium is rather more epic in its presentation.

In order to support this view, there is no need to look any further than the global appeal of Downton Abbey. At the close of 2015, rumours of a film abounded but as I write this blog post, it is neither confirmed nor denied as to whether the cast and crew are set for a large scale production. However, coming up trumps with a win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles for Best TV Ensemble, Downton Abbey shows its exceptional success in the US particularly and a continued appeal which looks set to blaze through many other countries still.

And it is the word ‘ensemble’ which is really intriguing! Of course the SAG Awards are identifying the on screen cohesion of a large cast, but in writing country house histories it has never been a word I thought to use – or one suggested to me as a PhD student. The country house hierarchy of servants is indeed an ensemble; the household is an ensemble of characters that work together. Acting these parts on screen is part of the story-telling process which has created the mass appeal of Downton which is an admirable achievement. It also goes to show the curiosity and demand for ever more detail and individual accounts (fictional or otherwise) set against the historical backdrop of the country house and its estate.

Rather more tentatively I would also say that the architectural aspect of the country house has become academic for most in 2016. Downton Abbey is certainly popularist but it allows some themes of the country house to become accessible to many – a point made time and again in this blog. Yet, I always feel a little dismayed at the types of literature available either online or at the local bookshop dedicated to the country house. The architecture of the British (mainly English) country house is confined to glossy coffee table tomes which lack depth and lengthy discourse. The most recent additions to my local bookshop’s shelves are repetitive and assert the author’s own connections to particular sites and families. More importantly, they’re out of many enthusiastic readers’ budgets.

As for the social histories, there are the semi-autobiographical pieces hidden away in the history section or selected for their seasonal relevance – usually at Christmas. Based on the literature being published alone, the argument would be that studies of the country house have become divisive in recent years. In academia this is reinforced by the capabilities of departments seeking funding for projects based on the specialisms of their existing staff, and in most cases one is either an architectural specialist or a social historian. For the moment, one cannot be both.

My diagnosis of this issue is the speed at which academic institutions are encouraged to deliver and the place these institutions have in our cultural landscape. It is easier to divide themes and examine them more closely that way, but also reach the targets set by funding bodies and peer group assessment. At the same time as academic institutions turn inwards to their research (be it architectural, material culture or social history), the well-connected TV broadcasters are inviting more viewers to think about past lives and discover semi-fictional accounts of families from ‘the big house’. Thus, it is television which is currently at the forefront of presenting the country house to a wider audience and not the traditional body of academics and curators and their respective assistants.

s-l225 (2)s-l225

 

So are things shifting again in 2016? Perhaps taking advantage of the popularity of Downton but also as a means of identifying as well as dismantling the popularist aspect of country house social history, it is my ambition this year to focus on the country house servant and household and the material culture that supports these. Not in the usual sense though – the nostalgia and ten-a-penny reminiscences – instead it will something more constructive and debatable. Of course, personal experiences are always valued and are critical to social history, yet the social history of the country house covers huge ground; it is every aspect of human life literally under one roof.  This year in blogging will see highlighted discussion concerning not just servants and their roles, but also love, marriage, children and parenthood, and even crime. Themes which themselves are an ensemble of varying aspects of day-to-day routine or circumstance influenced by or indeed an influence upon the country house and its development.

Let’s not forget that Downton Abbey is complete and its final series was aired in the UK in September 2015. Long may its reign continue, but something will move into the void left behind. I am not convinced academia will manage this without looking more outwardly than it does currently in Britain at least. Yet, there are many findings to hit the shelves in 2016 and I look forward to reading into these. It may still be possible to unite the architectural with the social before we meet 2017 and I hope to offer a narrative as we go!

8 Comments

Filed under Book reviews, In the News, Servants

Genre: The Country House Novel – the Social House

Downton-Abbey-Season-1-downton-abbey-31759161-333-500Without doubt, the social country house has become the version of the country house most would recognise currently due in the main to Downton Abbey. It is almost impossible to avoid the series if you like country houses just a little bit because it pops up in internet searches left, right and centre! Its popularity is something which I want to look at in a later post. Yet its content is typical of the social house regardless of how much gloss is placed on the presentation. If the casual viewer can command a good knowledge of servant hierarchies, household politics and daily routines then the programme has done more than merely entertain. Forget the table settings, the beautiful costumes and the fine furniture; this is all about human interaction.

*******

This, the third of three posts looking at the literary country house explores some of the themes presented by staging the house as a location for social discourse. Previous Genre posts here have addressed the country house poem  and the country house as haunted house. The social house however, is where the genre really takes off.

Returning to John Lucas and more specifically Blake Morrison both writing for The Guardian (February and June 2011 respectively), it is possible to see how popular this aspect has become in recent years.

There are two distinctive definitions of the country house in its social guise. The first a solid symbol of artificial hierarchies to the extent that it has become inextricably linked with British class distinctions and notions of ‘knowing one’s place’ throughout history. As Stevens expresses in The Remains of the Day, ‘It has been my privilege to see the best of England over the years, sir, within these very walls.’ Lucas notes, ‘Country houses are nothing if not a symbol of upper class hegemony: the novel provides an apparatus through which this can be examined, sometimes humorously, sometimes with gentle satire.’ This is certainly true of the works of Thomas Love Peacock for example, particularly Headlong Hall (1816) and Nightmare Abbey (1818). In academic circles this is the traditional country house novel, and the true definition of the genre. These works acknowledge greatness and elite authority even if they mock its eccentricities.

Film still from The Remains of the Day with Anthony Hopkins as Stevens - longstanding butler (1993. Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).

Film still from The Remains of the Day with Anthony Hopkins as Stevens – longstanding butler (1993). Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).

The social house is a commentary upon the political and cultural scene using gender and race (and class) as the tools for negotiating the main narrative. The other definition and a more refreshing approach sees the social house as more about perceptions of the human condition – past and present. Morrison concludes his article with, ‘What the contemporary novelist finds in country houses isn’t greatness but loss, failure and everyday human struggle, writ large.’ It does not have to be about servants and masters or inheritance and title. The country house in this instance is attractive because it is a convenient box in which to place any number of people and their experiences and desires. From here the author can construct plots concerning deception, family breakdown, heady romance or illicit sex, isolation and the inevitability of aging. In much the same way that the haunted house works with its dark corners and dusty attics, the social house plays host to everything from dinner table talk to hushed liaisons within any and every room, garden and outbuilding.

Cover for the first UK edition of A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (Chapman and Hall, 1934)

Cover for the first UK edition of A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (Chapman and Hall, 1934)

The role of the haunted house is mysterious; its aging walls suffocating and passages misleading. The role of the social house is slightly more mobile because authors can deposit their characters there and unravel the tale ‘on site’ or they can establish it as a silent asset. The latter sees the country house assume the characteristics of one of the other players, usually a previous owner as in Forster’s Howard’s End (1910) or even Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945). The house might have some stoical presence that the human players severely lack, or it might represent resignation; a fate driven by alimony and unwanted inheritance as suggested in Waugh’s A Handful of Dust (1934).

It is the ‘on site’ stories which hold so much fascination for readers though, and many are drawn to the narratives which focus on personal or wider historical events. Descriptions of the house provide a force which is either repulsive or magnificent for the key characters but is nonetheless a place which ultimately controls their motives, behaviour and consciousness,

Morning sunlight, or any light, could not conceal the ugliness of the Tallis home – barely forty years old, bright orange brick, squat, lead-paned baronial Gothic, to be condemned one day in an article by Pevsner, or one of his team, as a tragedy of wasted chances.                                           (Ian McEwan, Atonement, p. 22)

The wasted chances are as much about the architectural structure as they are about the emotional development and perceptions of freedom made by the inhabitants. As readers we might wonder how we would react to a character’s experience as it unfolds upon the page. Do we relate to it immediately? Does it fill us with disgust or passion? Or do we long to be involved as more than observer?

Cover for Ian McEwan's Atonement (unknown publishing date)

Cover for Ian McEwan’s Atonement (unknown publishing date)

Interestingly, the greatest wealth of literature absorbed with the social house seems to be confined to a particular era – the twentieth century. The nineteenth-century country house novel is to some extent restrained by tradition. Contemporary nineteenth-century authors were writing about a world which had changed very little in centuries; the characters are therefore the focus (including the house as presence) and the plot is devised around the nuances of social interaction. From the dawn of the twentieth century, the country house was on its way to decline. During the second half of the century hundreds of houses had been demolished and their estates built upon. Authors like Waugh and Forster were well aware of this shift and their novels are commentary on the coping mechanisms made by owners as they faced threats to lineage, financial security and their cultural values.

Moreover, authors of the modern country house novel – those making appearances in the twenty-first century – are eqaully attracted to the vanishing Belle Epoque with its grand parties and bustling households. The Downton Abbey effect reinforces this and the social house is marketed as the literary Highclere. I like what Lev Grossman in Time Entertainment (May 2012) says, ‘The paradox of the English country house is that its state of permanent decline, the fact that its heyday is always behind it, is part of the seduction, just as it is part of the seduction of books in general.’

Cover for Kate Morton's The House at Riverton (Pan,  2007)

Cover for Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton (Pan, 2007)

But this probably says something more about the present human condition. Houses and people have a symbiotic relationship which is emotionally complex. The house is the static body which grows old, it has seen a great deal of life and death, and every occupant has left their mark. That its heyday is behind it only reinforces this poignancy. When we visit a well furnished, well curated house we stand to look at the paintings. Offer a visitor the chance to visit the drab cellars or offices and the attention immediately turns to the people who used these spaces. When that world no longer exists in the way it was meant, or its ending is nigh we cling to its memory. The existence of people or otherwise is how we formulate similar narratives. So for an author of the country house novel in the twenty-first century, the social house maintains its grip because people are always full of surprises. The country house is the tool chosen for concealment or liberation of these stories.

References and suggested reading:

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814).

Ned Beauman, Boxer, Beetle (2011).

Isabel Colegate, The Shooting Party (Penguin Classics, 2007)

Lord Julian Fellowes, Snobs (2004).

E. M. Forster, Howard’s End (1910).

John Galsworthy. The Country House (1907).

Linda Gillard, House of Silence (2011).

Mark Girouard, A Country House Companion (1987).

Rumer Godden. China Court: the Hours of a Country House; a novel (1961).

Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (2011).

Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day (1989).

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (privately printed, 1928, full text 1960).

Henry James, The Spoils of Poynton (1896).

Malcolm Kelsall, The Great Good Place: the Country House and English Literature (1993).

Virginia C. Kenny, The Country House Ethos in English literature, 1688-1750: Themes of Personal Retreat and National Expansion. (1984).

William Hurrell Mallock. The New Republic; or, Culture, Faith and Philosophy in an English Country House. New York (1878).

Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001).

Kate Morton, The House at Riverton (2008) and The Distant Hours (2010).

Thomas Love Peacock, Headlong Hall (1816), Melincourt (1817) and Nightmare Abbey (1818).

Jane Sanderson, Netherwood (2011).

Tom Stoppard, Arcadia (1993).

Giles Waterfield, Markham Thorpe (2007).

Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust (1934) and Brideshead Revisited (1945).

Lucie Whitehouse, The House at Midnight (2008).

Links:

John Lucas in The Guardian, full link http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/feb/01/country-house-novel

Blake Morrison in The Guardian, full link http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jun/11/country-house-novels-blake-morrison

The country house in modern culture http://arts.nationalpost.com/2012/01/17/downton-abbey-and-the-cult-of-the-english-country-house/

Lev Grossman in Time Entertainment full link The Tragedy of the English Country House | TIME.com http://entertainment.time.com/2012/05/02/the-tragedy-of-the-english-country-house/#ixzz2qYzpD2Yx

Book review blog including Rumer Godden’s China Court http://www.essbeevee.co.uk/2013_04_01_archive.html

The Country House Myth in The Remains of the Day http://www.postcolonialweb.org/uk/ishiguro/ed9.html

A fantastic link which helps summarise the genre entirely http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/english_literature_in_transition/v053/53.1.larabee.html

A wider view http://splendidlabyrinths.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/country-house-literature.html

Perhaps do a course? University of Leicester http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/postgraduate/madegrees/ma-option-modules/en7222

Country House Conference focussing on film and television, Newcastle University http://countryhouseconference.wordpress.com/

16 Comments

Filed under Men and the Country House, Servants, The Destruction of the Country House, The running of the country house, 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)

30 Comments

Filed under Recommended Literature, Servants

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

2 Comments

Filed under Recommended Literature, Servants, Uncategorized, Women and the Country House

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/

Leave a comment

Filed under Servants

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.

*******

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)

7 Comments

Filed under Men and the Country House, Servants, The running of the country house, Women and the Country House

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.

********

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

5 Comments

Filed under Architecture and Design, Servants, The running of the country house