Arianna’s Diary – A New Year


Arianna Diary divide


Goodness! Another year gone. Certainly it was a decent one. Nancy coming to Ickworth, myself becoming a half-sister to little Freddie, and of course the glorious servants’ ball. I must say I felt an old hat to the tradition, Nancy being so new! Well, even though I have been here almost two years now, Ickworth never fails to astound me with its European grandeur.

And yet, aside from its beauty, each routine seems so familiar. I am accustomed to the never-ending bells that ring down the corridor and the housemaids scurrying in response. The footmen ascending the stone staircase each afternoon to prepare the dining-room table. Mr Prosser’s shrill telephone ringing every half-hour, and Nancy and I giggling when we hear his deep, solemn voice talking of estate concerns.

And now I am oh so very used to Cook’s voice as she screeches that Lily hasn’t peeled the vegetables properly, or that I am too slow at washing up – again.

Remember when I was that timid little scullery-maid? Oh, I haven’t changed much. I am still timid when Mrs Finkle addresses me; I always lower my eyes when passing Mr Prosser in the corridor. I never step out of my place, Ickworth has taught me that.

Mama wrote a short letter to me yesterday. Dear little Frederick – he is a few months old now. Mama and Mr Blackburn are perfectly happy in their little Derbyshire cottage by the sounds of it. I’ve pasted it below so I won’t lose it.



Dear Arianna

I hope this finds you well. In Derbyshire, we are all very well, dear Frederick included. He is growing so big! And very handsome too, just like James. Have you heard from him recently? I received a very pleasant letter from him at Christmastime, and I have heard he has made great friends at the farm.

And you? How does Ickworth fare in the chilling winter weather? I am sure you must be freezing in your attic bedroom. Do use those mittens I knitted you for the Christmas before you left – they are made of good thick wool and will keep your hands a little nicer I am sure. 

My husband sends his regards. He is keeping busy at work and is also working our little square patch of lawn into a kitchen garden so we might grow more of our own produce. I’m sure the walled garden at Ickworth is far more superior, but we like the idea of dinner from home-grown vegetables.

Freddie sends a kiss. I so long for the day when you can meet him, and love him as I do. He’s a dear. 




Mr Prosser’s office


Recipes from a November kitchen

Each evening, warmed by the smouldering fire in the servants’ hall, the staff at Ickworth would tuck into a sumptuous dinner as a reward for their hard day’s work.  The cooks were highly skilled in their craft and, night after night. produced delectable dishes for the upstairs family.

Poachers Pie
8oz plain flour
2oz butter
2oz lard
1 lb. boneless rabbit skinned and cubed
2 medium potatoes
1tbsp parsley
¼ tsp. herbs
4oz streaky bacon rashers, chopped
Chicken stock
1 egg
Put the flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl and rub in the butter and lard until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add 3-4tbsp cold water and mix to form a firm dough. Fill a 3 pint pie dish with alternate layers of rabbit, bacon and vegetables, sprinkling with seasoning and herbs Half-fill with stock Roll out the pasty on a lightly floured surface to 2
inches wider than the top of the dish. Cut a 1 inch strip from the outer edge and line the dampened rim of the dish. Dampen the pastry rim and cover with the pastry lid. Trim and seal the edges. Make a hole in the centre to let the steam escape. Decorate with pastry leaves and brush with egg. Bake in the oven at 190 degrees for a further hour.

Cheese and Onion tartlets

8ozs short crust pastry (made with ratio of half fat to flour, lard and butter)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 eggs
¼ pint milk
½oz finely grated cheese
Salt and pepper
Carefully roll the pastry to 1/8th inch thick. Using a 2 inch plain cutter, make the tart bases and press them into a patty tin. Place some onion into the cases. Beat the eggs into the milk and add salt and pepper. Pour a little of the mixture into each case and top with cheese. Do not overfill. Bake in a moderate oven until the custard sets and the tarts are golden brown. Cool a little and then carefully remove them from the tin with a palette knife. Serve hot or cold.

Ginger Pudding

6oz Flour
6oz sugar
6 eggs
8oz preserved ginger
1 pint cream
6oz butter
Put the cream, sugar, butter and a pinch of salt into a stew pan and as soon as they begin to simmer, take off the heat. Throw in the flour and stir the whole together quickly. Pour this paste back again on the fire and continue stirring it for about five minutes. Take off of the heat and gradually mix in the six eggs. Cut the ginger into small pieces and add to the preparation. Spread a mould with butter and pour mixture in. Steam for an hour and a half. When done, serve with custard and ginger syrup.

November – Diary of a Housemaid


November 1935

The other servants at Ickworth have now become what I can only describe as my extended family. Quite how so cold a house could have become a home I cannot explain, but this is exactly what has happened. Mrs Seddons, the housekeeper, who filled me with such terror on my arrival, has shown herself to be the mother of the entire household. If you work well and follow the rules she is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. But I can recall numerous occasions on hearing her shouts echoing through the corridors, directed at some lazy or forgetful housemaid. The level of obedience she commands just by the sound of her approaching footsteps is awe-inspiring.

I have made many good friends during my time here. Rose Stringer is the name of the senior housemaid who has charge over me and another maid named Florence. Both these girls have become like sisters to me. We spend every moment we can spare together, gossiping and imagining our future lives as wives and mothers. Thomas, a footman, Jim, the odd man, and John, the hall-boy often tease us saying that we will never marry and will remain at Ickworth for the rest of our lives. The boys are always teasing us housemaids! But, then again, we are often teasing the boys too.

Autumn in the kitchen

Autumn was a busy time for the cooks at Ickworth. With the shooting season beginning, Lord Bristol would invite many guests to his renowned parties. After a crisp and muddy day’s shooting out on the estate, the men would be anticipating the evening’s meal.

Downstairs, alongside tackling the washing up in the scullery, Arianna would be peeling the vegetables and once Mrs Finkle had perfected the delectable sauces, help to load up the silver trays.

Upstairs in the dining room, Thomas would serve the guests in the Rotunda, ensuring the cutlery shines like a mirror and that their port glasses sparkle in the candelabra’s light.


Autumn Cobnut Cake:

6ozs cobnuts, shelled
6ozs butter
10ozs self-raising flour
4ozs golden syrup
2 teaspoonful ground ginger
¼ pint single cream
1 medium sized fresh egg, beaten
3ozs Demerara sugar, (extra to sprinkle)
3 pieces stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped

Preheat the oven to 325ºF/Gas 3. Grease and line a 6 or 7 inch round cake tin.
Put the shelled cobnuts on a baking sheet and put in the oven for about 30 minutes until toasted. Leave to cool slightly and then roughly chop. Put 5ozs of the nuts in a bowl with the flour, ground ginger and chopped stem ginger. Put the butter, syrup and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, then the egg. Add to the dry ingredients and mix. Turn into the tin and level the surface. Scatter with the reserved nuts and a little
extra sugar. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until just firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.Take care not to over bake this cake or it will dry out. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Crab apple jelly
4kg crab apples
2kg  caster sugar
1 lemon, juiced)

Wash the apples and place in a saucepan with enough water to cover the fruit. Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit is soft, about 30 minutes.
Pour the pulp into jelly bag or several layers of muslin and let it drip overnight into a pan.
The following day, measure the juice and add sugar in the ratio of 10 parts juice to 7 parts sugar. Add lemon juice and bring to the boil, stirring to ensure the
sugar is dissolved. Keep at a rolling boil for 40 minutes and remove froth. When the jelly is set pour into warm, sterilised preserving jars and tightly seal while still slightly warm.
Spiced parsnip and apple soup
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
8 oz parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 large Bramley apples, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 pints of hot vegetable stock
2 teaspoons of curry powder
2 tablespoons mango chutney
A teacup of double cream
Salt and pepper.
A little oil or butter.
Fresh chopped parsley.

Heat oil in a large saucepan, and cook onions until transparent. Add parsnips, onions and curry powder and cook a little. Add stock, salt and pepper, and bring to boil. Turn down to simmer until veg is soft. Add chutney, and pass through a sieve until smooth. Reheat, and
served topped with a spoon of cream and fresh chopped parsley.

Diary of a Housemaid – October




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.

art deco divider


Diary of a scullery maid – September


Arianna Diary logo

Written by Sienna James


Dear Arianna,

I write to you from my bed. It has not yet been two full days since dearest little Frederick was born, and for one of the first times he is sleeping.

His papa is quite awed, Freddie is his first child remember, and neither of us could be happier. In the recent weeks he has been turning our cottage’s attic into a nursery of sorts and I have been recalling the toys you and James used to play with when you were new-born babes.

Freddie was pronounced a ‘healthy lad’ by the doctor and is curled up, all red-faced and scrunched, but mercifully quiet. I am afraid this will be the last time I can write to you for a short while as Freddie will take up all our thoughts and attentions. He is such a dear thing.

When will you come to visit us, Arianna, to see your half-brother? Perhaps in a few months when Mr Fairfax and I have become more used to having a baby in our cottage. And James too, I miss my eldest son.

I shall say goodbye for now – I imagine Freddie will wake soon enough



Arianna Diary divide

Gracious, when I picked up this letter this morning I didn’t know it would contain such news. Of course, I have expected it all through September but had heard nothing and so assumed that my mother would write a few weeks after her baby was born.

My half-brother, Frederick. James, Arianna and Freddie. I must say those names fit together nicely, but it is terribly odd thinking mama has a third child now. It was always just James and I. I wonder if he has heard too, perhaps I will visit him this Sunday.

Earlier, when I first read the letter, I spoke to Rose, one of the housemaids. Aparently she has several younger siblings at home and her home is just a walk away. I’m not sure whether I like that idea or not as being so far away from Derbyshire has meant I have been able to distance myself from mama’s new husband and family.

I can hear the trolley’s wheels clattering on the uneven stone flags. Dinner is on its way! I helped prepare some pasties for the servant’s supper and washed the blackberries for the pie Mrs Finkle managed to prepare with some of the leftover pastry.

Blackberries are such a wonderful autumnal taste, don’t you think? The blackberry crop in Suffolk is much better than Derbyshire’s too.

Here comes the trolley around the corner. I’m famished.

Diary of a Housemaid – September


September 1935

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.


art deco divider