As the days are getting shorter and the warmth of the sun is starting to dull the basement of this great house is becoming intolerably cold. It is a type of cold I have never experienced before. At our little cottage in Chevington the stove manages to keep the downstairs rooms warm enough, and at night I have my siblings to cuddle up with to keep snug. Before the housekeeper presented us housemaids with lovely thick woollen jumpers earlier this week every time I breathed out it was as though I had become a dragon with the amount of mist that came out. The other servants did warn me about the cold, it is true, but in the dusk of the summer it was hard to believe them.
I have been at Ickworth for several months now. Time has flown by so quickly. I remember the day I first arrived. It was terrifying! Compared to my neat little life in Chevington the confusing warren of stone corridors in the grand house were overwhelming. What if I could not remember my duties? What if I could not remember the names of the other servants? What if I got lost, and, most horrifying of all, what if I met His Lordship or Her Ladyship when I was cleaning the upstairs rooms? All these worries proved to be unnecessary as I soon fell into place as a cog in the clock-work of Ickworth life below stairs.
27 October – 2 November:
GHOULISH WEATHER: this week in 1935 the UK battled against gale-force winds. Gusts of 71 m/p/h were reported in Manchester and counties further north were swamped in a deluge of rain.
A STRANGE DEATH: The Times reported this week in 1935 the death of a professional killer. Albert Stein, a New York gunman who killed a man nicknamed ‘Dutch Schultz’ and ten members of his gang, was found dead in a cheap lodging house in Newark, New Jersey. He was found hanging from a gas fixture in a room full of gas. The article reported that the circumstances suggested suicide but that the New York police believed he was the victim of a ferocious gang war that was going on in the New York underworld. Stein was not a member of a gang. He offered his services as a professional killer to anyone willing to pay.
ALL SOULS’ DAY: this week in 1935 The Times printed a report detailing the story of All Souls’ Day. It told how in the tenth century an abbot of Cluny decided to follow the festival of All Saints on November 1 by a commemoration of All Souls. This observance soon spread and before long All Souls’ Day was recognised in the calendar of the Western Church. The article explained that this day, ‘corresponds so closely with a human need…the instinct which leads us to remember our friends in prayer. We are still united with them in love: we think of them as we believe they do of us, and sometimes their influence upon us is stronger than when they were still in this world.’
MORE INVENTIONS, INSTALLATIONS AND SIGNS OF FUTURE PROGRESS THIS WEEK IN 1935:
INVENTION: A Hungarian inventor claimed that he had managed to create an apparatus which emitted rays making objects on which they focused invisible. The Times wrote, ‘the idea of being able to make oneself invisible is, in the present troubled times, most attractive.’ Scientists pooh-poohed the invention stating that, ‘“invisibility rays” are a physical impossibility’, but a private demonstration of the contraption held in the Central Hotel wowed its audience. The inventor placed a chair with a dummy policeman on it, focused the rays of the machine on the objects and his viewers watched as the chair and dummy vanished from sight. What do you reckon – a fantastical magic trick or a fantastic scientific invention?
INSTALLATION: the next time you are walking down Fleet Street take a moment to glance at the clock on St. Dunstan’s. The church had stood in the same spot for hundreds of years and the clock of St. Dunstan’s played an important role in the horrific tale of Sweeney Todd (Todd send his apprentice Tobias to watch the clock strike every time he gave one of his customers a close shave). This week in 1935 the original clock, with its mechanical figurine chime, was re-installed at St. Dunstan’s.
HELLO, IT’S THE FUTURE CALLING: An article that appeared in The Times this week in 1935 reported that there was a growing use of telephones throughout the country. It predicted that this was the result of frequent reductions in call charges – the number of night calls made had trebled since 1934!
BIRTHS AT THE ZOO: this week in 1935 the London Zoo witnessed the birth of a baby ocelot (a jaguar-like wild cat). The keepers had not realised that one of the ocelots was pregnant and found a little ocelot kitten in the enclosure one morning. This birth was of particular interest because it was unusual for ocelots to breed in captivity. Two more babies were also born at the Zoo this week in 1935 – a bison and a Dorcas gazelle.
PATH TO PROGRESS: two announcements were made this week in 1935 that started to pave a way towards the future. The first occurred in Brighton. Plans were released to widen the promenade and road on the Brighton sea front. The scheme was to cost a quarter of a million pounds and led to the Brighton front we know today.
Secondly a new school for the purpose of training professionals was announced. At the 36th anniversary dinner of the British Association of Refrigeration at the Park Lane Hotel Sir Frank Smith suggested that a school of refrigeration should be established at Cambridge where young men could be taught to understand the process of refrigeration. I’m not sure if this actually happened. Since it was the oddity of the article that attracted my attention I don’t suppose it did.
MAN HUNT BY 400 POLICE: Drama, drama, drama! This week in 1935 400 policemen surrounded a mountain cave near Capetown after searching for a young man called De Villiers. He was wanted in connection with shooting three people earlier in the week. Having escaped in a motor-car to the Drakenstein Mountains the man then began his ascent. He left a note in the car informing the police that he had a rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition. The note also pointed out that he was a crack shot and was waiting for them. The police were unable to reach him, as he had, ‘entrenched’, himself, ‘in an almost inaccessible cave high up in the Kloof’.
ROYAL BABY: On the 9th of October 1935, at five past two in the morning, the Duchess of Kent gave birth to Prince Edward. The event was made known to members of the public by firing the Park and Tower guns – a slightly more direct approach than the hours those poor journalists had to wait standing outside a hospital not so long ago.
NEW INVENTIONS: This week in 1935 two major inventions were announced in The Times. The first was an electric letter sorter. The Post Office branch of Brighton and Hove tested the new letter-sorting machine in the hope of avoiding letter manipulation or ‘double-handing’. Until then letters had been sorted by hand and placed in pigeon-holed boxes; service was slow and letters could get damaged. The machine meant that over 24,000 letters could be sorted in an hour.
The second invention was a new model of a three-wheeled car – something we now associate with generations past. The Times’ official motoring correspondent wrote this week in 1935 that a coach-built three-wheeled car was available to buy for under £100.
HOWARD LEAGUE REFORM: this week in 1935 the Howard League for Penal Reform advocated the value of books in prisons. Mr. John A. F. Watson remarked that, ‘a prison sentence offers a great opportunity for reading, and frequently men whose literary tastes had previously been confined to “blood and thunder” might be introduced to the work of authors which give them lasting pleasure.’
29 September – 5 October:
This week in 1935 saw three news items that would have proved particularly interesting for the domestic staff at Ickworth House in Suffolk.
NATIONAL NEWS: a new Lord Mayor was elected this week – Sir Percy Vincent.
LOCAL NEWS: most who live in Suffolk know about Culford School – a grand boarding and day school based in the old home of the Cadogan family. It was this week in 1935 that Culford School was officially opened.
PERSONAL INTERST NEWS: this week The Times reported the death of a London housemaid. Hilda Jane Thomas, aged 28, had been preparing some turpentine and beeswax in a saucepan on a gas ring – this mixture was commonly used for polishing floors. The saucepan tipped and the contents caught fire, catching the poor housemaid’s overall. She later died from her burns. The next time I complain about having to clean my apartment I will remember how lucky I am not to have to make my own cleaning products – hurrah for the slightly useless skwerty bottles and noxious polish sprays housed in my cleaning cupboard.
It is harvest time! I love this time of year! The whole family always goes to help Father in the fields. The boys join men from the village in cutting the crops, even little Alfred and he is only seven, and the women spend the morning making lunch. We then all meet for a huge picnic. This will be the first year that I cannot attend. I have spent much of my time this month staring out of the windows at the dusky orange light that tries to find its way into the basement. To be able to take a few hours each day just to go outside and breathe in the fresh air! On my days off this is exactly what I have been doing. I either walk the grounds of the estate or I walk back home. Mother often has a nicely fresh-baked loaf to greet me and my brothers and sister are always excited to see me.
I do not get so many chances to meet with my brother William though, as his employment in the village brickyards means that he is rarely at home when I am. However this weekend I received a note from him inviting me to go to the pictures in Bury St Edmunds. I was so excited! He borrowed Father’s cart and drove me into town. We went to see a movie called Top Hat. It was thrilling, filled with dance, drama and the most beautiful costumes. On my return to Ickworth I taught some of the other girls a number of dance moves I saw Ginger Rogers performing. Though I know I did not look anything like her, in my imagination I was in America dancing with the stars.