The Hall Boy’s Journal

The winter of 1935 was far colder than ours has been this year. Some counties had snow on Christmas Day, most had snow throughout January and February. At Ickworth House there is a lake called the Fairy Lake – surrounded by rushes and reeds, populated by moorhens and swans. Domestic staff who worked at Ickworth in the 1930s have recalled how they used to skate on the lake during the winter months. A photograph of some young gamekeepers slipping and sliding on the lake is displayed in the Ickworth Lives exhibition at the National trust property. The following piece is a fictional tale based on the memories of those who used to work at the House.

Snow and Ice and All Things Nice

It snowed again this week and now that the mayhem of shooting season is over I have more time to go out and enjoy it. If the snow is still around on Saturday night Mrs Seddons (our housekeeper) has said she will allow us junior ones an hour or two outside after supper.

Jim is putting together a sledge for us – a ruff ruf rough bit of wood smoothed down with a little ridge at the end to hold the feet of the person up front. Rough is a strange word – it don’t look right on the page!

I know Rose, Carrie and some of the other housemaids are going. The footmen (Laurie and co) are playing it cool (no pun intended there) and are saying that such sillyness silliness fun and games in the snow is for children. I’m going to ask Arianna is she is allowed to attend. The kitchens have laws of their own. Cook is queen there – not Mrs. S. I’m sure she can spare a scullery maid for an hour or two. I knows of a few footmen who could help out if not. They’d like that! Heh!

I went down to the Fairy Lake last Sunday after church and the snow was nowhere near thick enough for a sledge. It now sits a good seven inches on the balustrades outside the House. Good, deep, compact stuff! Just right for bombing it down the hill to the walled garden. I’m so excited – I can’t wait!

It was cold enough last Sunday for me to put my new skates to the test though. I’ve been saving my wages to buy a pair of skates for ages and then, when the time came to it, I only went and got them for free! Mrs. S – the angel that she is – pulled me aside one afternoon and I thought I was in for it. Thought she’d discovered that packet of Woodbines in my side cupboard. Turns out her nephew outgrew his skates and was going to throw them out. She saved them from the skip and, blow me, handed them straight to me!

“I thought you might appreciate these John.” She said.

Not half! Of course I offered my thanks over and over and over again. She seemed happy enouf enough with my response – and it was no act neither. The skates fitted perfect like. I joined a few of the younger gamekeepers on the lake, skating this way and that, up and down (mostly down on my part to be truthful). The boys warn’t even wearing skates! Just ruff rough boots with rubber soles. They didn’t even wear mittens or a scarf! I was wrapped up like a fresh leg a ham from the butchers. These outside chaps must get used to the cold.

What a feeling, though! Joining those silly moorhens scooting over the lake. You feel like your you’re flying, skimming over the fish an frogs cased under the thick sheet of ice. The feeling can’t be beat, I reckon.

Well, here’s hoping the snow lasts for Saturday.

Signing off for now,

John Mayhew, hall boy.

 

 

Diary of a Scullery Maid

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JANUARY

It’s a freezing night at Ickworth so Lily and I decided to head upstairs to our little attic room early. Whilst I write, she is flicking through a fashion magazine and keeps pointing out all the glamorous models.

“The next time I hear of a dance in Horringer,” she said with determination, “I’m going to make myself a stylish new dress. I’m fed up with being covered in sweat and dust and smells from the kitchens all day – I want to look as beautiful as Wallis Simpson.”

“Wallis Simpson?” I giggled. “If you want to look like her, Mrs Seddons will have something to say.”

“But look at her!” Lily held up the magazine to show me a picture. Wallis Simpson was so long and slender it looked as though she’d been pulled lengthways by her hair and toes. “Doesn’t she look so sophisticated and elegant?”

“She may be elegant but she’s ever so skinny,” I replied. “I can’t keep a figure like that when I eat a huge breakfast of Mrs Finkle’s eggs every morning.”

Lily laughed and wriggled deeper under the covers. “Well, you were a little slip of a thing when you first came here. Nobody can deny the highlight of working here is the delicious food. But I’ve decided, Arianna, to get a sweetheart. No matter whether I’m as skinny as Wallis Simpson or not. And he’ll ride down the drive every day on his bicycle to deliver me a posy of flowers freshly plucked from the meadows.”

I laughed at that. What servant girl doesn’t dream of a handsome lad courting her? I like being in the bubble of the Ickworth kitchens but sometimes I wish I could be a housemaid for once and get to frolic about with the footmen. But there’s hardly any time to focus on romance when life here is so hectic. Strangely, though, I like the routine the way it is. I wouldn’t want it altered.

I’ve just flicked back through this journal. From the time I started writing in June when I came to Ickworth, to now: a new year. I have learned so much during those seven months – about my situation as a scullery maid and also about the workings of the kitchen here. Mrs Finkle sometimes calls me over to watch her make a special sauce or whip up a seasonal pudding. Perhaps one day I’ll make a kitchen maid like Lily and not bend over the sink all day. But for the moment it seems unlikely as I am the youngest here. I suppose that means I’ll just have to try hard if I want to climb the ranks. Who knows, maybe one day in years to come I’ll be head-cook and in charge of the whole kitchen? I have just laughed out loud at the thought of it.

Goodnight.

 

The Servants’ Ball, 1935

The week following Christmas was a busy time for the servants at Ickworth House. The Marquis and Marchioness enjoyed the traditional Boxing Day hunt and then threw regular shooting parties for family and friends. The House would have been full of guests, below stairs a hive of activity. Once all the visitors left to start the new year in their own homes, in an act of thanks for all their hard work, Lord and Lady Bristol threw a ball for their staff.

Sienna James describes the servant’s ball at Ickworth in 1935 through the eyes and ears of scullery maid Arianna. This story, and those of the Hall Boy and Housemaid, are all based on the memories of actual servants who worked at Ickworth House in the 1930s and 40s.

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The servants’ ball was bliss! I didn’t realise until a few days before that you were allowed to bring a guest, so I scribbled a quick note to my brother James – he is the only person I know outside of Ickworth – and prayed it would reach him in time. Luckily it did, and he caught a ride to Ickworth on the back of a cart. I had to brush a bit of straw off him when he arrived – I couldn’t have him disgracing me in front of Lord and Lady Bristol.

I think I’ll write the events of the evening from beginning to end so I can re-read it again and again. I was so excited in the afternoon beforehand that I thought I might burst.

“Let me fix that curl for you, Arianna.”

I was speechless when Miss Petcher – she is Lady Somerleyton’s maid – came up behind me whilst I was struggling with my abundance of black curls. In a few deft movements, she had twisted it up into a respectable knot on the top of my head and secured it with pins.

“Thank you ma’am,” I stuttered, not looking her in the eyes. That’s what Lily told me to do with the senior servants.

She gave a smile and swept away – the ladies maids’ gowns are so much more stylish than those of the scullery maids!

With my hair styled by skilled hands that dress the hair of proper ladies I felt ready for the ball. Would Laurence ask me to dance? Would I be limited to a dance with John and my brother? Would I sit at the side, unnoticed, as I was the youngest of the servants? What would it be like upstairs? What would it be like when Lord Bristol took Mrs Seddons for the first dance?

The Rotunda is absolutely magneficent magnificent. I can barely describe the cool marble pillars, the ornate carvings, the stunning colours, the smell of candle wax, the soft padding of our footsteps on the wooden floor, the absolute wealth and beauty that surrounded me…

James raised his eyebrows and whispered in my ear, “bit too posh for us Blackburns, eh Arianna? Different to Bakewell!”

It was lovely to have him with me, looking smart in shirtsleeves and waistcoat – to share little glances across the floor and laugh at his comical faces. I remember how much I miss him, even though he is not as far away as Mama.

When Lord Bristol danced with Mrs Seddons I had to conceal a grin. She seemed more graceful, more affable, when she was in his arms. I wonder if that would happen to me if I danced with an aristocrat. Briefly I allowed myself to imagine a young man on a white steed galloping towards me across the Ickworth estate. No. The fantasy was over in a moment and I returned to reality. I suppose the basement staff aren’t too bad really.

One dance with James…

Two dances with John…

One dance sitting out, looking up at the huge Christmas tree which towered above us…

One dance with Laurence…

One dance with Jim…

I’ll savour the evening forever. I remember laughing in a giddy way when I spotted Martin trying to get fresh with Connie, and when James pulled one of his faces I felt dizzy with happiness.

When I sat for that one dance I was suddenly aware of this coming to a close. All of us had worked doubly hard through the Christmas week as it is prime hunting season and, of course, we had to get everything ready for the family’s party. We hadn’t had the chance to celebrate until now.

Christmas Day was a week ago yesterday and since then I have been recalling this time last year. We were all preparing for Mama’s wedding in the Spring. James and I were still getting to know Mr. Fairfax. We had a little Christmas tree in the hallway and I remember cutting out gingerbread men and James icing them. Last year Father Christmas brought me an orange, some chocolate and new hair ribbons for church – this year Mama sent me a sixpence in a Christmas card and told me to spend it on a new apron. I don’t think so! I’ve got a little tin box in my bedroom labelled ‘hat fund’ – now I’m earning I hope it won’t be too long before I can buy myself a summer straw bonnet.

Yesterday evening was very special. Everyone was smiling. Everyone was looking their best in pretty frocks and smart jackets. Everyone was just having a good time and it was lovely to see. I was sad when I had to say goodbye to James at the end of the ball – I do wish we could see one another more often.

So, now I’m going to turn down the lamp and dream of it all before I go to sleep. I wish we could have a ball every night – but then I don’t suppose it would be as special. Oh, I just wish I could get a jam jar from the scullery and savour all the excitement and enjoyment from last night. The whole night smelled of jam! Then, every time I feel lonely or tired I can open the lid, have a little sniff, and remind myself of my very first ball!

Goodnight.

 

 

 

 

Christmas Day at Ickworth – 1935

The Hall Boy’s Journal: 26 December 1935

xmas9

Merry Christmas! – a greeting only too proper for my Christmas this year. Boy, did I get merry!

This was my first Christmas at Ickworth House, well, as a hall boy that is. Every year since I can remember I went with Ma and my brothers and sisters to the great round house on a crisp winter’s day not long before Christmas. All the children of those living and working on the Estate were invited with their families. We sung carols under this great big tree standing tall and proud in the magnifisent magnificent hall. It was always covered in hundreds of candles and sparkling decorations. We never had a Christmas tree at home. I suppose we don’t have the space – a twig covered in candles just isn’t quite the same (and a bit of a fire risk I reckon). Anyway, after carols every child was handed a small gift from under that great big tree. I got a sixpence once, an orange another year and a toy train the next. Happy times!

This year I helped to erect the tree in the front hall of the Rotunda. Jim and some of the gamekeepers worked to heave the great beast through the doors without knocking anything over or scratching the stone and marble floors. If they had of damaged something, cor, they would have felt the wrath of the housekeeper, Mrs Seddons! The tree was stood just in front of the big statue by the stairs and is so tall that the top almost touches the first balcony on the upstairs landing! Now, it’s not often I get to go “upstairs” – as hall boy my work is in the basement. It was quite an excitement to venture up those stone steps, I can tell you, and emerge in the main hall. And what a strange thing to be in the house and not invited to attend the carol singing! I could hear the voices of my old neighbours flowing through the halls and corridors. I imagined the little kiddies staring hungrily at the presents under the tree. I suppose I felt a little jealous – a little sad to be missing out.

Christmas day as a servant, though, surpast surpassed was more than my greatest expectations. I knew we all had to work as normal and I knew we were all sitting down to a meal together in the late afternoon, but what a meal it was! We had two turkeys (just one turkey costs more than a month of my wages), a goose, hams, trimmings, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, gravy, plum pudding, sweets…the list can go on. The table in the servants’ hall was so full of food that I’m surprised it could take the weight.

At home we usually just have a cut of meat Pa puts aside in the shop and a sponge pudding. Ma said that all the fruit and raisins and such are too expensive to make a Christmas pudding. This year they will eat better. One of the perks of working here is that we get first dibs on any excess stock. I sent Ma and Pa a brace of pheasants and Cook gave me a bag of dried fruit and nuts (the raisins sourced all the way from the other side of the Empire!). I hope Ma finds a tasty use for them. I wish them all a very merry Christmas.

Oh yes – back to the “merry”. At the end of the Christmas meal a great big Christmas pudding was presented to us all. It was so big that we all got a slice. I have now tasted heaven! Soon after though, cor I felt funny! All giddy and that! I couldn’t stop talking, laughing and joking and the like. Even flirting with the housemaids like a common ol footman! Everyone laughed when Cook confessed that the pudding was laced with sherry. With SHERRY! Now, I’m no tee-totaller. I’ve enjoyed a pint of ale at the village cricket club with the rest of them, but never sherry! What a head I had on me this morning! I suppose I’ll be laughing about it soon enough though.

Have a happy Christmas everyone – and a merry one, if you like. But not too merry, eh!

John Mayhew

Hall Boy, Ickworth House

 

 

The Hall Boy’s Journal

I rambled across the Estate again today – my half day off. The gardens are looking quiet quite bare – winter has most definitely set in. The tree have lost all their leaves. Except those great giants on the front lawn. They stay green all the year round! The squirrels are hiding away out of the cold and the grass seems ever tinged in frost or dew.

I decided to walk down to the Fairy Lake – to see if it has frozen over yet. There is a layer of ice there, thick enough for the coots and moorhens, but not yet for the likes of me. I snuck a bit of toast from breakfast and threw crumbs onto the lake. It was ever so funny watching the birds skating around on the ice to get at them. I left the lump of bread there – it can’t be easy for water birds to find a meal in the winter.

I then walked along the canal, though it is more of a stream really, and I found a tree on the edge of the pond that has lots of old initials carved into it. Even though I have walked these footpaths time after time, I have never spotted these marks before. Perhaps they were hidden by leaves. Well, I didn’t have to think twice – I grabbed the penknife my brother Geof gave me for my 13th birthday and carved a neat(ish) “J.M” onto the side of the tree. I wonder who will find it in the future. The tree is sure to outlive me.


Next time you are walking around Ickworth park why not head to the Canal Lake (by the walled garden) and see if you can find the tree covered in the initials of servants who used to work on the Estate.

 

Diary of a Scullery Maid – December 1935

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At the moment I’m writing in bed. It is freezing up here. I feel like a little dormouse, curled up under all the covers in a nest. I’m warm enough now but if I move a limb the cold comes rushing back.

I’ve always known about John Mayhew the hall-boy but until now I never really made the connection that he is the exact same rank as me. Just like how the footmen are the same rank as the housemaids, and the valets are equivalent to the ladies’ maids.

John came into the kitchen on an errand this morning, whilst I was on my knees scrubbing at the tiles – it is a chore I hate as it’s so difficult to scrub the uneven floor. My hair gets in my face and my hands red from the boiling water.

“Hello, Arianna,” he started, his brown face friendly but unsure. He smelt of shoe polish and carbolic soap.

“Good morning, John.” I continued to scrub away, otherwise Mrs Finkle or Maggie would be at me again, I was sure.

He stood over me a moment longer then turned and went to the window, where he had to collect the laundry basket for Jim.

“What are you baking today?” he asked.

“Oh, I won’t be baking anything. I’ll be washing up as normal.”

John grinned. The creases in his cheeks made me think that he grinned often. “At least you don’t have to polish a hundred pairs of boots every morning or sweep out a thousand fires!”

“Anything to get out of this kitchen, trust me.”

He stepped closer and held a finger to his lips, his eyes amused. “Don’t let Mrs Seddons hear you – she scolded me yesterday for slouching when I walk. The old-”

Mayhew!

We both looked at one another for a moment and then John began to laugh. Picking up the laundry basket, he scurried out of the kitchen with his head down like he was a schoolgirl in disgrace. He made me giggle, if I’m honest. I think he’s probably quite funny to be around. He seems like that type to me. A bit like my brother James was when he was fifteen, really.

I should stop writing now as there will be another early start tomorrow. And washing up – more of it now Christmas is coming nearer. The ball is in a couple of weeks! I am so excited – it will be the first time I’ve been upstairs into the house. The housemaids go up to dust every few days but scullery-maids are always stuck in the kitchen.

Goodnight.

The Hall Boy’s Journal: December 1935

The Scullery Girl

I feel sorry for that new girl in the scullery – not that she is that new anymore. She always seems so down at heart, quite quiet and shy. I don’t know her story but maybe I should get to know her more. Perhaps she just needs a friend. She is, after all, the only other servant in this House the same status as me.

 

My Morning Routine on a Cold December Morning

Woke at half past passed five and started on the servants’ hall. The housemaids have been complaining that the room is too cold in the mornings so I am having to get up even earlier than usual to prepare the fires. They are not rong wrong though! The whole house is awfully cold in the mornings. Why cover the floor in stone? The wooden boards at home might let a draft in but at least they warm up under your feet.

I then sorted the fire in the senior servants’ sitting rooms and in Mr Prosser’s office. They should be warming up nicely now. I popped into the kitchens too and helped Arianna stoke the ovens. She seemed happy to have the help. She’s a nice girl. Shy, but nice. She has no family nearby – well, a brother, but she cannot see him that often. I am lucky I have family and friends so close by.

I then loaded the scuttles with coal for the housemaids to take when they prepare the fires upstairs and then refilled the scuttles and log baskets in the hall and downstairs rooms.

I am now waiting to hear movement in the House. Soon the housemaids will be down in their skivvies to start their morning routines. Next job for me – laying the servants’ table for breakfast and helping Jim and Albert with the boilers. Mornings can be the busiest time of day for us hall boys.