Diary of a Scullery Maid – November 1935

Arianna Diary logoWritten by Sienna James

As I write this I’m sitting by the fire in the servants’ hall. Maggie is next to me, flicking through a magazine and Ava is opposite, writing to her brothers, both oblivious to me.

In a way, I’m really the one to blame for what happened today. But they didn’t have to make me feel so stupid! I was exhausted! I was aching too, and longing for something more exciting than washing dishes. It was only a small thing, but now I feel as though my confidence has been broken.

The kitchen was becoming heated as the dish the Cook had prepared for the family upstairs was taking longer than expected, and so she was in a terrible temper. And then two of the housemaids Ava and Connie “had the cheek” – that’s how Cook put it – to ask when the servants’ dinner would be served and when to bring the trolley through. I’m surprised they left the kitchen alive.

Of course, I was washing up. I haven’t done anything else for the last three days and I was completely fed up with it all – with Cook’s temper, with the heat from the fires, the noise, the sores on my hands, Maggie’s voice as she told me to hurry up, and my back which was aching from stooping over the sink. Making a mumbled excuse, which apparently Maggie didn’t hear, I escaped for a minute and made myself a cup of tea. I shouldn’t have. I was being disobedient. But I did it anyway.

When Maggie found me I was sitting on a bench drinking tea. So foolish of me! She gave me a grand ticking off, and some of the housemaids who were in the hall started to giggle. Maggie said later that I should be very glad it was her and not Mrs Seddons who found me. But she got herself into a terrible rage and marched off to tell Cook, who scolded me badly – shouting at one point about how scullery maids need to learn their lowly place in life. I feel so humiliated and such a fool.

“You hadn’t even earnt a break!” Cook exclaimed afterwards, two patches of red on her cheeks.

I should never have become so comfortable here! Right now, I feel like running away from everything – like Jane Eyre when she ran away from Mr Rochester. Poor Jane slept on the moors and made up a new name when she found sanctuary at last. I remember that story so well – a neighbour lent it to me in Bakewell. Jane is such a such a strong and powerful character! But I cannot run away – there are no moors nearby, just miles and miles of park and woodland all part of the Ickworth Estate.

I wonder, now, where my home is! In the first few months I knew I had left “home” behind in Bakewell. But then I became happy here and Ickworth began to feel like it was meant to be. Now I am surrounded by strangers and I cannot understand how I could have felt included in their lives when they are all so different to me. Higher in the ‘pecking order’ – that’s how my brother James would put it. Apparently chickens have a hierarchy too – they peck at the lowest hens! That’s what I felt like today – peck, peck, peck. I wish James and I could meet more often. He always makes things better – but our days of rarely coincide.

I’m no longer sure who my friends are now. I had thought my friends were Maggie and Lily and Laurence, but Maggie is the one who told Cook, Laurence is too busy flirting with the housemaids and Lily doesn’t seem to be bothered that I am hurt. I do wish I was back home in Bakewell!








The Hall Boy’s Journal – The Great Flood, Nov 1935

[The weather was appalling for the first three weeks of November in 1935. According to The Times, during the first 17 days of the month, the south of England had experienced twice the amount of rain normally expected in the whole of November. As a result the ground was saturated and many counties suffered from great floods. Hall Boy, John Mayhew, describes a very wet November at Ickworth House, Suffolk.]

November 18, 1935

Rain, Rain, Rain

It has been raining constantly for two weeks now! The basement gets ever so dark, but at least we have electric lights to get us through. At home Ma and Pa are relying on candles.

Of course the weather has not put off the shoot. It actually makes it easier for us beaters. The birds cower in the bushes and scrub, away from the rain, and get startled so easily. Only the best shots are hitting them though. The store rooms for game in the house should be twice as full as they are now – at least, that is what Jim told me.


November 23, 1935

The Great Flood

The Estate flooded today. Not all of it, of course. That would surely require the construction of some kind of Noah’s Ark!

It was the porter’s lodge that got hit worse worst of all. Poor Mr and Mrs Smythe had to move all their worldly possessions to the upstairs room. The water just kept coming in. It was running like a stream from the main house, down the hill, and gathered to form a pond with the porter’s lodge right in the middle of it. Most of the house staff were busy keeping the room in the west corridor of the Rotunda from flooding – that room always leaks something terrible. I helped the gardeners and gamekeepers at the lodge though. We were all armed with brooms and developed quite a routine between us sweeping water out of the house, and preventing it from flowing straight back in agayn from outside.

The problem was, it just kept on raining! The heaviest I have seen in a long time. God, I hope Ma and Pa are alright. I’ve not known the shop to flood, but then I’ve not known such rain! I will make an effort to see them at the weekend in case they need a helping hand. Ma has been on at me about it – I haven’t been home since Pa’s fit.

Anyway – we managed to stem the flow by placing sandbags and logs in the doorways. I cannot see how the Smythes can live there now though. It will be ever so damp! Lord Bristol will have to get another place on the Estate for them to live – though I bet it will be Mr Prosser (the Estate Manager) who will sort it all out.

What a day! I am soaked through. All the warm water was used by the others and I have only a blanket or two left in the cupboard. I think when all else have gone to bed I will sneak in the servant’s hall and make the most of the embers in the grate.


Here is a photograph of the flooding in Kent. I cut it out of The Times once everyone had done with the newspaper and thought I would paste it in here. Our floods warn’t quite this bad, but what a month of weather!

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Diary of a Scullery Maid

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November 6, 1935

I have never seen fireworks before last night – it was quite a sight! Almost all of the servants gathered outside in the grounds by the scorching bonfire, wrapped up in woolly scarfs and coats. Luckily, what with all the rain we have been having so far this month, it was a clear night so I could see the starts brightly overhead.

Everyone was jolly – Maggie giggled under the depths of her scarf, Mrs Finkle wore an indulgent smile and when I spotted Laurence amongst the housemaids he grinned and gave me a big wave.

When the fireworks started they were magnificent. When I was younger, in Bakewell, sometimes James and I would peer out of the attic window to try and spot fireworks from the big house on the hill, but we only ever saw the tips of white light.

These fireworks were something new to me and as they started my heart gave a great thump at the noise. I gave a little squeal and shoved my fingers into my ears. After a moment I became used to the “bang” and began to realise their beauty – they lit up the sky in a scatter of great, golden light. Like stars falling.

“Goodness!” breathed Lily, her cheeks rosy red as the fireworks lit up the Rotunda and left wisps of orange smoke in the inky sky.

Arianna Diary divideNovember 11, 1935

Papa was in my thoughts for much of the day and I just need to have my feelings down on paper. It somehow clarifies things for me.

At eleven o’clock this morning we remembered the fallen and I found tears rising up behind my eyes as I thought of home. I wondered how Mother was thinking of Father, now she has a new husband. I never knew Papa, but that does not mean I cannot love him. James loved him and that is enough for me – James knows who is good and he says Papa was a noble and worthy man.

Now I’m lying in bed scribbling this and remembering what Father did for the War. Although he survived after fighting in Ypres, he was wounded on the Front Lines and scarred for the remainder of his short life.

I just hope James will never have to face terror and cruelty like Father had to. I will pray for Father once I’ve turned the lamp down. It is right to remember all of the soldiers who died for us. I wouldn’t be here in this grand house if we hadn’t won, so I’ll be thankful for that.


The Hall Boy’s Journal – “The Poppy”


Poppies growing in the walled garden at Ickworth House

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Well, that was a waste of time! I suppose I should have twigged on a bit earlier but I thought Pa would feel proud to see his son donning a poppy on his breast. I’ll start from the beginning shall I?

Today was my Sunday off and, after Church, I set off to visit home. Ma sent Alfie, a boy from the village, round to the House a few days ago to pass on a message for her (she never trusts the postal service). Apparently I haven’t been to visit often enough – and coming to think of it, she is right. Time just speeds by. A day turns into a week and so on, so forth. I sent a message back – cheeking that Alf should charge Ma a telegram fee – to let Ma know that I could make it today.

I trudged down the lane to the shop – soaked through with all the rain – and came across an old lady selling red paper poppies. She was hauled up in the porch of St. Leonard’s, staring out miserably at the weather. I suppose rain is not a paper poppy’s friend. Her face lit up when she saw me running up ta her.

“Penny for a poppy, lad? All proceeds help the families of those fallen.”

Now, I’m saving up my wages for a pair of skates but I searched through my pockets for a bit of spare change. Finding a copper in amongst my stash of marbles (I always carry a few around with me just in case someone is up for a game, you know) I brushed it clean with my sleave sleeve and handed it to her.

I got to choose my poppy – and I picked the biggest, brightest one of them all. She also gave me a pin so I could attach it to my jacket. Of course, I waited until I was home to pin it on. As I said – rain is not a paper poppy’s friend.

I hid in one of the outbuildings before I walked through the back door, pinning my badge of rememberance remembrance (funny word that) onto my lapel. I then entered the kitchen, brimming with pride. Ma rushed up ta me, nearly choking me in a hug, and then scolded me for neglecting my family. Before I could make my excuses she squeezed my cheeks together and kissed my head (I hate it when she does that), lead me to the table and placed a plate in front of me piled high with bread and dripping. Now, Ma’s bread and dripping rivals that of Cook. Cor – she ain’t half a good baker!

Pa came in from the shop for his lunch not long after. I wasn’t sure if he noticed me at first, so I stood up and muttered a, “Hello Pa.”

“Alright son.” He helped hisself to my plate of dripping goodness. He had a slice of bread half in his mouth when he just seemed to freeze – like one of those statues placed around the Estate. His eyes were fixed on the poppy. I unpinned it to give him a better look,

“Got it on my way here. Only cost a penny, too!”

He didn’t respond though. The bit of bread fell from his mouth to the floor and Ol’ Bill (Pa’s dog) snatched it up straight away.

“Pa?” I asked – my confidence and comfort of being at home waining. “Pa?”

He then turned an awful shade of grey gray grey and fell to the floor – Bill sniffing at his feet in case he had dropped any more crumbs for the licking.

“Pa?” I panicked now and called for Ma. She ran into the kitchen and rushed to Pa, scooping him up in her arms. He looked like an overgrown infant child. He was sweating, breathing funny and crying like a babe. I was taken aback – and I’m embarrassed to say, rather scared scarred of him. Ma seemed to know what to do though. Without looking up at me she demanded,

“What happened John?”

“Nothing. I just showed him my poppy and he…”

She looked up then and saw my badge. She then held Pa’s head in her arms, stroking his hair and cussed at me,

“You careless, stupid boy!”

I was shocked at this. I bought the poppy for him! To show him how proud I am of his going to fight for King and country.

I left pretty soon after that – the poppy discarded in a hedge farther down the lane. It was only after I returned to my room when I understood what had happened. Poor Pa – perhaps he doesn’t want to be reminded of the Great War. Perhaps he just wants to forget.


I wrote a letter home today with my apologies. I wrote it to Ma so she could choose to read it to Pa, or not. I don’t really understand why Pa reacts like he does when he is reminded of his time as a soldier. I suppose Jim, too, says very little about it, and I haven’t really heard much about the War from the gardeners. Come to think about it – most of what I have heard has been told to me by Ma and from what I have read in books and magazines.

The Hall Boy’s Journal – “Those Footmen…”

2 November 1935

Those footmen really think a lot of themselves! Prancing around in their red waist-coats and acting as though they were the Lord of the manor hisself. It makes me blooming mad! They need to get down from their high horse (or whatever that saying is) and join the rest of us in the real world. A servant is a servant, after all!


those footmen

Two footmen, Laurence and Martin – Photograph taken by NT photographer Philip Mynot


I suppose I should explain my little outburst there – letting my feelings get the better of me again. I mean, Laurence, Martin and Harry are nice enough chaps. They just make me feel so inferior sometimes. I know I am actually lower than them in the pecking order of things here, but surely us chaps should stick together. The whole House is full of girls – there is only a handful of us men.

What really got my goat yesterday was when Martin and Laurie dismissed me from the servant’s hall. I had just finished cleaning the grate and decided to join them for a cup of tea, a bit of a rest, when Martin gave me a right funny look and said,

“Hello Laur, who’s this sooted scamp headed our way?’

Sooted scamp! Well, I know I might have taken on some of the dust from the grate but I’m no sweep’s boy! Laurence smirked and joined in the game, waving his hand at me,

“Away with you soot boy! You’ll mess up our threads.”

Of course I just stood there, expecting them to laugh at their joke and then invite me over, but instead they turned their backs on me and started sniggering. I stormed out of the room, and I am not too proud to admit that the anger I felt inside me erupted into a tear or two. I know they were only cheeking me, but still – they were hall boys once! Why pick on me now?


Recipes from the 1930s Kitchen

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The kitchens in the basement of Ickworth House (a National Trust property in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk) have been carefully renovated to reflect what life would have been like for cooks and other kitchen staff in a big house during the 1930s. During Living History events and the ‘Cooks in the Kitchen’ events the kitchens come to life. Volunteers, having been trained in inter-war cooking techniques, make the most amazing dishes using traditional methods and recipes. From personal experience I can say that these dishes smell and taste fabulous – a little taste of life as dinner guest at a great house in the 1930s.

We have now collected hundreds of recipes from the 30s at Ickworth and I will share some of these with you here on this blog.

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Braised Pheasant

October welcomed shooting season on large estates like Ickworth House in the 1930s. Beaters, like hall boy John, and gamekeepers prepared the ground for large shooting parties hosted by their masters – hundreds of game birds could be collected in a single day. The birds would be hung in store rooms and then prepared by kitchen maids and, sometimes, scullery maids for a grand feast celebrating a successful shooting party. Sienna’s October edition of the Scullery Maid’s Diary illustrates this. Here is a recipe for braised pheasant – a dish for those ‘upstairs’.


1 Pheasant

Slices of fat bacon

1 or 2 veal slices

Salt, pepper and sweet herbs

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Prepare and truss a Pheasant as for boiling

Line a stew pan with slices of fat bacon and one or two thick slices of veal

Put in the bird, seasoning it well with salt and pepper

Add a few sweet herbs

Cover with more slices of bacon and veal

Cover the stew pan down perfectly air-tight, and put it into a moderate oven and cook it for two hours

When done, put the bird on a hot dish

Strain over it some of the gravy that will have run from it whilst cooking

Garnish it with sliced lemons, and serve

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A more down-to-earth recipe – served both upstairs and downstairs

Makes about 18 biscuits


8ozs medium oatmeal

2 tsp. plain flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp. melted butter or bacon fat

About 4 fl ozs warm water

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Preheat oven 375 F (190 ‘C / Gas mark 5)

Lightly grease 2 baking trays

Mix together the oatmeal, flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda

Stir in butter and about 6 tablespoons of warm water until a firm dough is formed

Turn out a knead lightly until smooth

On a lightly floured board roll the dough to the thickness of a penny

Cut into small discs or triangles

Bake for about 8-10 minutes until lightly coloured and crisp

Cool on a wire tray

Serve cold

The Hall Boy’s Journal

A Walk in the Park

I managed to get all of my responsibilities done by mid-afternoon. What a rare occasion! Especially during shooting season. Usually I am at the beck and call of the odd-men and gamekeepers but I haven’t really seen them at all today. Jim rushed passed me towards the east corridor so quickly that he had to shout back a “morning John” and I had no time to reply at all. I suppose I was quite put out at first, you can always rely on Jim for a good laugh, but he must have had something particularly important to do in the Round house. Perhaps the boilers are playing up again. They are always playing up – but far better to have boilers to heat up the water than me with a kettle on the stove.

Finding myself with nowt to do I made an effort to busy myself in the servants’ hall – perusing through books, making boats out of the housemaids’ letter paper, that sort of thing. Miss Edgeley, the head housemaid, managed to sneak up on me – which is quite something as the sound of Miss Edgeley’s footsteps marching down the corridors have become legendary. She does it on purpose, stamping as hard as she can on the flagstone floor, so the housemaids know she is coming and can get back to their duties and stop their gossiping.

“Mayhew! Why are you moping around and cluttering up my servants’ hall?’

I jumped as I hadn’t heard her approach. She put on a stern voice but her face and her eyes were smiling – she is always smiling. I just gave a sheepish grin in reply, shrugged my shoulders and told her that I had nothing to do. After she scolded me for shrugging (with a smile, of course) she suggested I take a walk in the park. Quite why I hadn’t thought of that myself, I don’t know. I suppose I am so used to being in the basement that I forget there exists a world outside.

It was perfect weather for a walk too! Clear and crisp, the morning fog having completely cleared. Any leaves that still hung on the trees were dripping with dew and the birds were making a right royal chirping chatter all throughout the estate. I walked down past passed past the pond, the Church and the walled garden – keeping clear of the gardeners just in case they enlisted my service. My mind was on the trudging adventure through the park that lay ahead of me, and I didn’t want to waste this opportunity to explore because a gardener needed help dead-heading and the like.

The feeling of freedom that went through me this afternoon as I stood alone on the edge of the canal, surrounded by fields and woodland! You would have thought I had never seen a tree, a duck, a meadow of grazing sheep, before. I’m a Suffolk boy – I knew of these things before I was even born. They were just mundane objects of everyday life – now they are things of beauty.

Oh Lord, I do hope I’m not turning into one of those creative sorts, all dickie-bows and poetry. Pa will have a fit. He has no time for all that. He is all facts, figures, and the daily grit of life. But, really, to not be moved by the parkland surrounding Ickworth, especially in late autumn, you would have to have lost all your senses!

Luckily I had thought to bring my sketchbook and a pencil when I left the House so I could make some attempt at capturing what I saw. I have enclosed two sketches of a sparrow and a woodpecker I saw in the woods to the left of the walled garden. The woodpecker, in particular, was a right poser. I may have added a few inches to his waistline. I’m still a little sketchy at drawing – a little pun there – but I don’t think I am too bad at it.  I have pinned a few pieces on the wall of my bedroom in the House and they certainly give a bit of character to the dull little room.



All the birds were out today – all but the game birds. They seem to know what’s good for them at this time of year! I even saw a huge great hawk circling right above my head. You’ve got to feel sorry for the four-legged creature he had his eyes on. There is no escaping the might and strength of that bird!

I didn’t venture too far from the canal. I didn’t want to get lost and miss tea or be late back for my evening chores, plus I am never too sure how the tenant farmers feel about people roaming on their land. I walked to up to the Fairy Lake – and not a fairy in sight; surprise, surprise! There were three lovely swans commanding the water though, and several noisy moorhens popping in and out of the reeds. I cannot wait until the winter properly sets in. Sam, one of the gamekeepers, has told me that all the boys who work on the estate skate on the lake when it ices over. No skates, of course, just the worn-down soles of old boots and a good deal of balance on your pins – sorry, legs – Ma hates it when I use slang. “That’s what comes of reading too many penny novels”, she tells me.

Well, I’m going to sign off now. I seem to have rambled on for long enough – another walking pun there! Till the next time I am inspired to put pen to paper,

John Mayhew

Hall Boy