The Diary of a Housemaid is a fictional account of the life of a housemaid named Rose Bailey based on oral and written accounts of life below stairs at Ickworth House in the 1930s. Set in the basement of Ickworth House, now a National Trust property in Suffolk, Rose describes the everyday life of a housemaid; the people she meets, the work she performs, and what she gets up to in her spare time.
Born during the last few months of World War One Rose grew up in a little village situated on the Ickworth estate. Though Rose is a fictional character, the Bailey family did live in Chevington in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Her grandparents, George Bailey and Jessie Whyte, were real people who worked as servants at Ickworth in the 1890s. They married and moved to Chevington where they had five children. Twins Rena Maria and George William were their youngest, and George is the father mentioned by Rose in her diary. Although in the story Rose describes how her father fought and was wounded in the war his name actually appears on the war memorial in Chevington. Grounded in history The Diary of a Housemaid seeks to describe the life in Suffolk between the two wars through the eyes of a seventeen-year-old girl, her hopes for the future and the joys of the present.
My name is Rose Bailey. I am seventeen years old and have been working as a housemaid on the Ickworth estate for three weeks now. I come from a nearby village called Chevington. Father is employed in the village as a farm labourer but the recent years have not been kind to him. Work in the fields seems to have dried up and his war-wound has started to cause him pain. Sometimes he cannot even leave the house. This is why I went into service. My family needed the money. I am the eldest of five children. My fifteen-year-old brother, William, is also in work, as a bricklayer in the village. My other brothers and sister are still at school.
I am glad to be working at Ickworth as both my grandfather and grandmother worked here as a groom and laundry maid in the reign of Queen Victoria. In fact, this is where they met! I like to scurry through the corridors and imagine that I am walking in their footsteps. Although I am a hard worker and I always do as I am told (in fear of being in trouble) I do spend a lot of my time daydreaming. My mind is just full of stories. My schoolteacher once told me that I had to put these stories aside and start living in the real world. I have done just that, and have realised that living in the real world is a story in itself. That is why I have started this diary, and, maybe, one day, I will read back on it and relish the tales to be found in this Diary of a Housemaid.