Diary of a Scullery Maid – July

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Written by Sienna James

Imagine my surprise when Laurie perched on the bench next to me in the servants’ hall yesterday and flung a letter on the table.

“For you, Arianna.”

Curiously I picked up the paper and studied the handwriting. It was Mama’s. We used to correspond regularly when I first came to Ickworth. And I had sent her and Mr Fairfax a Christmas card. But we haven’t written at all since then. Does she miss me? Do I miss her? My family is at Ickworth now and I expect she knows that.

I was pretty alarmed at the sight of it I must say. What kind of news could it bring? I slit open the seal and swiftly scanned the letter – it was very short. My heart gave one heavy thud and I couldn’t help a loud gasp. There was no bad news. No, not bad news but shocking news. I had no idea. Of course it makes sense though – mama had always wanted a large family. And two children who now live in Suffolk can’t possibly be enough for her.

The rather blunt letter is pasted below so I do not lose it. I wonder what James thinks about it.

______________________________________

July 10th, Bakewell, Derbyshire

Dear Arianna

I hope you’re well.

I write to you with exciting news – I dearly hope you will congratulate Mr Fairfax and I. We are expecting a baby, Arianna. Is that not delightful? I hope you and your brother will come to visit us once it is born. It is expected in September.

From,

Mama.

______________________________________

I know little about these kind of events. My time in domestic service might prepare me for cooking for a family but it doesn’t prepare me for having one. But I do know babies take longer than two months to grow and then be born. Nancy, I was sure, would know.

“Eight months. If it’s expected in September…” she counted on her starch covered fingers – she had been peeling hundreds and hundreds of potatoes. “Then the baby would have been conceived in January, I think.”

And mama hadn’t told me all that time. I suppose that is the reason she hadn’t written to me for a while. She and Mr Fairfax are getting ready for a family in their Bakewell cottage.

I did my best to put it from my mind. Luckily Cook kept us all so busy today in the sweltering kitchens. We made delectable jellies and savoury tarts as well as fresh elderflower cordial. Now I have been at Ickworth for so many months, Cook lets me watch her make sauces for the family’s main meal. At least if I do go to Bakewell and visit Mama, I’ll be able to show off all my cooking talent. And meet my new brother or sister.

Goodnight.

The Footman’s Story – Part Two

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Written by Romain Arrayet

 

Earlier today the family enjoyed a summer picnic by the magical Fairy Lake and so the house was hushed without them all. Most of the staff were down there serving and helping with the hampers but I had to stay behind. Laurie was sent with the car to the station to collect Lord Bristol’s London guest and his luggage. I would have liked to go with him and drive out into the town but Mr Prosser kept me extremely busy today. I have been polishing scores of cutlery, moving some of the guests’ portmanteaus and cleaning the lights on the first floor.

I did manage to escape early afternoon. As it is a Sunday I had my half-day off. It gave me the opportunity to send a letter to my Aunt Rose and one to Father. As I strolled out of the servants’ quarters I could feel the sun burning on my back. It shone bright, deep and warm and if I closed my eyes I could imagine I was deep in the lazy French countryside.

Some of us servants took the bus into Bury and went to the Pictures but I must save some money to go down and visit Father and Harry. So instead, I ate a cooling ice-cream with Ava in the Abbey Gardens. The cheery outdoors was a welcome break from the tight, rigid life in the basement.

We just made it back in time for supper, and enjoyed all the leftovers of the family’s picnic. The food really is the highlight of working here!

Well, I’m off to bed now as Lord and Lady Bristol have more guests that arrive arriving in the morning.

Au Revoir for now.

P.S. I have just found this draft of a letter I’d started to write for Aunt Rose, stuffed in a bedroom drawer from a few months past. It is pasted below.

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Dear Aunt Rose,

The London season is now over and I have returned to the big house in Suffolk. I did miss the smells of the grass and the fields around the house – there is definitely a special way the countryside smells after the sun has warmed the meadows.

For the first time it felt like coming home. I remember a time when I always thought of home as your little cottage. Of course I still think of France all the time, but I have settled in here more than I ever thought. Ickworth is now my home.

Do you mind me writing to you in English? I am practising my spelling and pronunciation at the moment as the other footmen still tease me about my accent and the way I muddle words. I hope I’ll soon be able to speak the language as well as the good King himself.

Yesterday we arrived in Bury on the late train and we ate a quick supper when we got back to the House. Over the food we had an hour or so to exchange stories of London life with those who stayed behind over the cooler months. I don’t envy those who had the task of the Spring Clean as all the poor housemaids’ hands are chapped and red raw. Apparently the dust got everywhere and as Ava has an allergy she sneezed one after another for five minutes straight!

We also had some free time to catch up with those who had stayed behind over the winter. Although I am glad to be back in Suffolk I am even more glad I passed the winter months in London. The city is exciting and exotic – I was lucky to have a taste of it.

As for the upstairs family, they return on Sunday and Laurie stayed in the City to accompany them. Mr Fox has informed me that tomorrow will be a very long day and he has already given me a long list of tasks I will have to complete.

Have you heard from Father? I received a letter from Harry last week and he says Father’s cough has gone and he has been out of bed and back on the farm for a few days now. A cough is a nasty thing, and I shall be glad to visit them soon as it will be my half-day off a week on Sunday.

How is life in Amboise? Do you still cook apple tart on every first Sunday of the month? These are the traditions I miss most. In your last letter you said you would love to come and visit one day so I could show you the Fairy Lake and the woods I love so much. Do you think one day you really could?

My lamp is burning low so it’s time for me to say good night. I hope this letter finds you both well – give my best regards to Uncle Henry.

Yours,

Thomas

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The Footman’s Story – part 1

Welcome to the latest addition to the Ickworth Lives blog.

We’ve read about the daydreams of a housemaid, the misadventures of the hall boy and the musings of a scullery maid – we now hear from another young domestic servant: the footman.

Romain Arrayet writes about the life of footman Thomas Brown, the character he plays at the Ickworth House living history events. Inspired by memories of footmen who used to work at Ickworth House in the 1920s and 30s, storylines that transpire during living history performances, and his fictional character’s back story Romain provides an insight into what life might have been like for young men in domestic service.


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Bonjour. Je m’appelle Thomas Brown. I am twenty-eight years old and I am a footman at Ickworth House. Let me tell you a little about my life before I came to live here.

I was born in the year 1907 in a small town in Suffolk where my family own a farm. My father William Brown still lives there with my older brother Harry. My mother Mary died a few months after I was born – I never knew her.

After Mother died it was too much for my father to look after both of us boys as well as the farm so I was sent to live with Mother’s sister who lives in France, in a town called Amboise. She is my aunt but as I grew up she became more like my mother.

Aunt Rose and her husband Henry live in a little cottage just on the outside of the town. You see, they don’t have any children of their own so they looked on me as their son and gave me all the love and affection that parents give to their children. Because I grew up in France I have a French accent – it has its advantages and disadvantages. Laurie, one of the other footmen, loves to tease me about it. But I managed to charm a slice of cake from Cook yesterday so I don’t suppose I can complain. Forgive the spelling errors – I am hoping that by writing this journal my English will improve.

When I was around huit heiht eight years old, Henry took me to the grand house where he worked as a valet. I was trained as the hall-boy – yes, I was very young. Yet so many of the men were at the Front Lines that the gentry were desperate. By this time the Great War had started and most of the men had left the town and the Manor. My uncle too had joined-up to play his part. Not many men came home. Henry returned wounded – he had been sent to the Western Front and was shot in the leg. It was impossible for him to walk without a stick.

After 1918, the family I was worked for the family I worked for suffered a number of deaths which meant that a few years later, with no male descendant, the house was sold.

At that time my life was in France. It was the summer of 1920 when my aunt told me I was going back to Angleterre. Aunt Rose and I made the Channel crossing by boat and when we arrived it was the first time I had seen my father and brother since I was a baby. We had sent Christmas and birthday cards, but I was still scared to meet them. Aunt Rose stayed with us a few days and then took a boat back to her life in Amboise. I would like to visit her and Henry soon as I still miss them and the French countryside.

After about two years of working with Father and Harry, I was still hopeless at the farm duties. At the age of fifteen my father sent me to work as a hall-boy at the impressive hall in Long Melford with the instructions to send half my wages home to the farm. Soon I was promoted to footman and I learned the art of polishing cutlery so you can see your own reflection.

But I never felt like a proper footman there – all the senior servants knew me as the hall-boy and still treated me so. In 1930 I saw an advertisement in the Bury Free Press for the job as footman at Lord and Lady Bristol’s estate in Suffolk. I wrote to the butler, Mr Fox, and after a few weeks moved to the impressive country retreat – Ickworth House.

And so here I am now, scribbling away in the servant’s hall. Mr Fox would like me to set the table for dinner soon so I’ll sign off.

Au Revoir for now.

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A photograph of Romain Arrayet as Thomas Brown

Diary of a Scullery Maid – June

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Written by Sienna James

 

I’ve been here for just over a year now. I must say, it seems much longer as I have settled in better than I ever expected I would. Those first couple of months of aching limbs and sore fingers seemed to drag on forever, but now I can proudly say that Ickworth is definitely my home.

I’ve enjoyed the work in the kitchen today – the sun makes me happy although Cook doesn’t like working in a hot and stuffy kitchen.

Today we made lots of lovely summer treats for the family. Of course, Jim was in and out of the kitchen every other minute hoping for a spoonful of cream or an off-cut from the pastry tart. Cook shooed him away each time, clucking in disapproval like a hen might cluck if somebody touched her eggs, but I just giggled.

What a difference this warm weather makes to everything! Nancy says I sound quite middle-aged when I say that, but it is true. Now it’s June the sun is strong and sets so very late in the evening. Last night the sky was filled with blood red streaks of a sunset.

To make best use of the gorgeous weather John, the hall-boy, and I went for a little stroll around the park. We didn’t walk through the Italianate gardens of course – I wonder what Lord Bristol would have said if he’d seen his scullery-maid and hall-boy frolicking in his gardens?! John and I didn’t chat much; we listened to the birdsong and he seemed to recognise most of the tweets. He really does love the outdoors and told me he’d been walking around the meadows and woods before and admired the flowers.

“It’s not as girlish as it sounds,” he informed me quite importantly. “I like the flowers at this time of year. I still prefer watching the birds though. Look, Arianna, there goes a magpie.”

I really cannot remember all the different birds he showed me – their names are far too complicated. We spent a pleasant hour wandering the estate. It’s not like when the housemaids and footmen go out and flirt ‘abominably’ (that’s Miss Edgeley’s word). No, it was more companionable than that, as though he was a brother of mine.

Speaking of brothers, James and I managed to meet up on my half-day off. I caught the bus to the village where he works and we bought ice creams from the dairy there. Dear old James. He’s still head-over-heals for Charlotte. We’ve both settled in remarkably well I think – we’re so very much happier than we were in Bakewell.

John and Nancy are calling me so I’d better sign off for now.

Goodnight.

The Hall Boy’s Journal

Ickworth hall boy, John Mayhew, describes his latest adventure in the ongoing series written by Eleanor Betts, historical researcher and consultant for the National Trust.


 

The weather has perked up somewhat in the last few weeks. The muds pretty much dried up and I’ve started walking the grounds again during my hours off. Sketchbook and pencil to hand, of course, just in case I spot a subject to study.

Now, I’m not one for flowers really – I’m more of a bird man – and maybe it’s because it was such a long, grey, dull, bear bare winter but I keep getting stopped in my tracks when walking the woods and meadows to admire the beautiful spring blooms. I’m blooming mad, I reckon, taking a fancy in something so girlish and silly as flowers. Either that, or I’m destined to work in the gardens.

Them gardeners don’t half give me a right rollicking when I pass them with my sketchbook – all jest, of course. ‘Here’s our little Constable out on a jolly…Enjoying the fruits of are our labours are we?!’ I first thought they were calling me a peeler, but have since found out that this man Constable was some painter and not a member of the police force. And, ‘enjoying the fruits of our labour’ – well, that’s a gardener’s joke if ever I’ve heard one! Especially those chaps as work in the walled garden. Anyhow I reckon they’ve imagined some gripe with us house staff – probably because they spent the freezing winter outside in the snow and rain. Well, I can tell them with some certainty that it warn’t much warmer inside! A good deal drier, I will admit, and there was far less white stuff lying about inside to make snowballs with – just the frost on the window sills.

So when I was out last week I managed a few sketches and thought “hang on one measly minute! I wonder where I placed that journal of mine?” I knew I’d never keep it up. I mean, what’s there to write about over the winter months – and how to keep a shivering hand still enough to scribble a few words?! Well, I’ve got some sketches to paste in now – to fill up those pages – but it didn’t half take me an age to find the blasted thing. I turned my room upside down – quite literally at one point (well, it’s its contents at least).

I’m one of those chaps who once started on a mission never gives up until its it’s completed. Silly really, and what a pile of mess I was faced with afterwards! There came a point, my books scattered across the floor, my bedding pulled about and my mattress overturned, that I began to suspect the journal had been lifted by prying hands. I was just about to confront Laurie – that footman is always the chief culprit – when the journal made itself known to me. Somehow I managed to jolt the shelf high up above my bed and the blooming book fell right on my head! They do say that authors make their mark on the world through their words, so I suppose it goes without saying that the written word can make its mark on the authors too – a horrible purple bruise sort of mark right above my left eyebrow! I looked quite a sight and got the sympathy of the girls at tea – of course I made up some daring adventure to explain it.

So I have my journal to hand again and I am determined to keep it up this time – I’ll try, at least. Here’s to the summer and to many more adventures on the Ickworth Estate.

Writing off for the day,

John Mayhew, Hall Boy.

And after all that – I’ve only gone and mislaid the sketches.

 

Diary of a Scullery Maid – May

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Written by Sienna James

Finally, I bought a summer hat.

The washed out jam jar labelled ‘hat fund’ has been in my bedroom ever since August last year. You see, I wanted a summer hat then but firstly didn’t have enough money to spare, and also thought that by next spring there would probably be a new fashion anyway. So I was patient and waited until now to buy a gorgeous new straw boater.

As it turned out, Nancy also had a half-day off as well. I wasn’t too pleased about it at first, but it worked out very well. It was a warm afternoon, the type that makes you think summer is just around the corner, and the sun was a bright orange orb, high in the sky.

We jumped on the bus and leapt off again at Bury, and it was just when I was feeling independent and free that I realised I had no idea where to get a summer hat! I knew each and every store in Bakewell but didn’t know the shops here in Suffolk well at all.

“Nancy,” I began quietly, then explained the tricky situation and ended with, “So do you have any idea where I could buy a summer hat on my wages?”

She considered it seriously and we both paused in the middle of the street.

“I have it!” Clasping my hand and pulling me along, Nancy began to gabble excitedly. “Oh, Arianna, I have just the store. It might cost you a penny or two, but nothing that is unrealistic. After all, you have been saving for this, haven’t you? Goodness, I can’t wait to see you in some delightful creation of a hat. I have half a mind to cancel my date this afternoon just so I can make sure you pick the right one.”

I giggled a bit at this. Soon enough Nancy was leading me through a door that jingled at our arrival and she began showing me around the store.

“Now, if I remember, the hats are just over here…” She made a grand flourish and swept her hand in front of all the summer hats.

There were so many I couldn’t help but gape – I’d be here until midnight choosing! Hats with short brims and hats with wide brims; hats with blue or pink or yellow ribbons; hats with a flower or two woven into the trim and hats with garlands of roses. They looked like they should be worn by fairies, and not a girl who spends most of her day in front of a sink.

The next few minutes were filled with, “How about this one?” and “Arianna, this one would look wonderful on you!” or “You just have to buy this one.”

I couldn’t decide – I was caught between a long brim with curling yellow ribbons and a shorter brim with a smart navy coloured trim. Nancy was in favour of the navy one, but I wasn’t so sure. In the end it was a young shop assistant who made the decision. He couldn’t have been much older than John, the hall boy at Ickworth, but he was rather tall and gangly.

“May I be of assistance, ladies?”

I was about to refuse but Nancy jumped in and replied bluntly. “Yes. If you wouldn’t mind, which hat do you think Arianna suits most?”

He regarded me earnestly and I flushed under the inspection. At long last he made a decision and said simply, “The navy. It suits Miss Arianna’s lovely shining hair very well, if I might say so.”

Nancy nudged me and winked cheekily. I couldn’t help but blush. Nevertheless, the nice shop assistant made my decision and I bought the navy one after all.

When we had left the store and were strolling along the sunny streets, Nancy began to tease me about my ‘lovely shining hair’.

On the subject of beaux, I suddenly remembered Nancy had a date this afternoon. “Don’t you have to be somewhere with a young man?”

She shrugged in reply. “I preferred shopping for hats with you.”

I paused in the middle of the pavement. “So you stood him up?”

“Yes, I suppose so. But not because of selfishness but because of friendship.” She linked her arm through mine. “It’s nice spending time with you – you’re good company.”

I was flattered by that. She hadn’t been on a date because of me! After that, we spent the afternoon in the Abbey Gardens with an ice cream each before catching the bus back to Ickworth. I had a glorious time and now also have a summer hat. Of course, my jam jar is empty now. I’ve crossed out ‘hat fund’ but am unsure what to re-label it. What should I save up for next?

Goodnight.

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Diary of a Scullery Maid – April

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 Written by Sienna James

I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in all my life. It was definitely worth missing my half-day off. By the time I stopped laughing my stomach ached and I felt exhausted!

When Nancy came up with the idea it was the last day of March. Lily and I were just getting to sleep and we heard the creak of footsteps nearing our bedroom. Nancy poked her head around the door and giggled.

“I’ve got a smashing idea,” she whispered to us. “It’s the first of April tomorrow and you know what that means, don’t you?”

I bit my tongue sharply, wanting to remind her that if she was caught creeping about then Mrs Seddons would be onto us all like a vulture.

“It’s April Fool’s Day!” Lily murmured excitedly, crossing her arms tightly across the covers, eyes shining in the dusky light of the attic bedroom.

Nancy beamed, dimples deep in her cheeks, and nodded approvingly as if we were her wards. “Exactly. And I know precisely what fool we’re going to play…”

 ***

 The following morning I was giddy with anticipation and also nervousness. Would we get in serious trouble for this? Probably. The senior servants do not like to be made fun of, and I was reminded of how strict and stern the butler is here at Ickworth.

“Are you looking forward to it, Arianna?” Nancy asked when she leant over to give me a dish to wash up.

“Yes,” I admitted. “I can’t wait to see his face.”

“Me too. Of course, we’ll get into trouble. We always do. I played a similar joke at the kitchen where I worked previously and-”

“You’ve worked in kitchens before?” I was so surprised, I interrupted her.

She laughed at my face and continued preparing breakfast. “Of course – I worked there for two years as a scullery-maid before seeing this position at Ickworth.”

I paused for a moment. “But you’re only fifteen.”

“Yes, I started at thirteen. You see, my mother is an invalid and so we needed money for food and medicine. She cannot work.”

“Your father?”  Nancy grimaced and shook her head, curls bobbing. “He’s rarely at home and if he is, he’s drunk.”

“I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed, as I barely knew what to say. As it happens, I couldn’t have said much more as a footman knocked on the kitchen door and Nancy was away, sidling up and flirting outrageously.

It was about an hour later when we servants sat down for breakfast. Nancy and I kept catching each other’s eyes and giggling, the seriousness of our earlier conversation forgotten.

As a scullery maid, I sit down with John the hall-boy at the bottom of the table and so Mr Fox seems miles away at the top. But that moment when he lifted his spoon to crack open his boiled egg… I bit my tongue and made a funny gurgling sound. I was laughing already. Mr Fox didn’t find a firm, warm egg inside the shell. He found a pool of runny and revolting egg white! The uncooked egg had not only splattered all over his plate and the table, but even left a dribbling mess all over his smooth, starchy coat. He turned red in the face with indignation and reminded me of a ripe radish plucked from the garden. I covered my face with my napkin and gave in to laughter – I chortled just as much as Nancy, and didn’t even stop when Cook shrieked at us.

“Nancy! Arianna!” She shouted so loud I feared Lord Bristol would have heard her upstairs. “Why on Earth is poor Mr Fox’s egg not cooked? Did you just fling it in the cup without boiling it in the saucepan? Girls, return to the kitchen immediately!”

Nancy’s eyes turned wide in mock horror. Muttering something about oversleeping and footmen, she pulled some endearing ringlets down about her cheeks and looked up at the senior servants. But even that didn’t melt Cook, and we escaped from the servant’s hall with no half-day off for this week.  And yet as Nancy, Lily and I fell into the kitchen in hysterics over the look of sheer outrage on Mr Fox’s face, I knew it was worth it.

Goodnight, and Happy April!