Diary of a Housemaid: Christmas Special


25 December 1935

It is long past midnight and poor Florrie is looking quite annoyed that I have yet to extinguish my lamp but I am still too excited to sleep. I have had the most wonderful day! Before I can settle my head on my pillow I must write about Christmas Day at Ickworth in my diary. I have never experienced a Christmas quite like it! At home we eat beef or, if we are lucky, chicken, but for Christmas lunch today I ate half a banquet. There was a whole turkey, roast potatoes, gravy, mince pies, Christmas pudding and many other mouth-watering treats. I felt a little guilty eating such a glorious meal with my family sitting around a comparatively empty table at home. I considered saving them some but I do not think that turkey and Christmas pudding would transport very well in my coat pocket and Father was given some venison by the Head Gamekeeper as a Christmas gift.

Of course the Christmas lunch was just one part of my day – though a rather important part according to my often grumbling stomach. My day began as normal; waking up at six o’clock and preparing the fires in the rooms upstairs. I then came down for breakfast and had a very jovial conversation with the other housemaids. We were all experiencing Christmas away from home for the first time and in the morning it did seem as though we were missing out on an important event that should be shared with family. Of course, I realise now that the staff at Ickworth are our family!

Anyway, once everyone had completed their morning duties we were called up to the main hall in the Rotunda – the large cold room that is a nightmare to sweep! I could hardly believe my eyes when I ascended the stairs. There was a huge tree placed in front of that scary statue under the main staircase. It was beautifully decorated; covered in toys and lights. Some families from the estate arrived and Lord and Lady Bristol led us in singing carols. Gifts were then handed to the children of the visiting families. It was so lovely to see their happy smiling faces. It reminded me of my younger brothers at home. I do hope they had a good day as well!

After the communal festivities the cooks prepared lunch. We ate first, Lord and Lady Bristol choosing a late lunch to allow us our little party. Then we performed our afternoon duties. Towards the close of the day the footmen and hall boy cleared the servant’s hall of chairs and pushed the tables to the side of the room. We housemaids had made some paper chains and the boys hung them around the room. We then spent the late afternoon and evening dancing and playing games as one of the ladies maids played the piano. What a night! What fun!

And that is not the end of it. Next week, once the post-Christmas hunting season has finished, Lord and Lady Bristol throw a servant’s ball! A ball! I am so excited. I am told that it is held upstairs in the Library. Miss Edgeley says that food and drinks are provided and that Lord and Lady Bristol attend at the start. Apparently Lord Bristol then dances with Mrs. Seddons, the housekeeper, and Lady Bristol with Mr. Prosser, the estate manager. John, the hall boy, made me laugh. He said that the highlight of the night is not when Lord and Lady Bristol join us but when they leave. He remarked, and I quote, “that is when the fun starts”. I am just so excited to be able to dress-up and go upstairs. To walk those grand corridors and dance in that elegant room as a guest rather than a member of staff in uniform. The promise of this ball will help me through the week – I have been warned that the post-Christmas hunting season proves a very busy time for us housemaids.

It seems as though Florrie has fallen asleep even with the light of my lamp and my furious scribbling with this pencil. It was an exhausting day. I suppose I really should put my diary down for the night as I do have to be up at six again tomorrow and I believe I am not that far behind Florrie in drifting off into a deep sleep. Happy Christmas everyone. I hope your Christmas celebrations will be as enjoyable as mine have been.

Rose Bailey

This Week in 1935: CHRISTMAS WEEK

22-28 December:













A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE: a woman who had been blind from birth found she could see this week in 1935. Miss Madge Brewer (25) had her sight restored after ten delicate operations were carried out at the Bath Eye Infirmary. The Times reported how, ‘she had expected to find the human features beautiful, but her impression of most of them was that they were ugly. The only beautiful things, in her view, were flowers.’

A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE: King George V’s Christmas speech was broadcast to his people throughout the Empire. A recording of the speech can be accessed on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRX2yAlte48




Diary of a Housemaid #13

DofHM dec

December 1935

Is it just me or have the chilly stone corridors become a little warmer and more welcoming now that Christmas is almost here? Perhaps it is the heat and the glorious smells coming from the kitchens, I don’t know, but everyone seems to be in the most jovial of moods.

Yesterday Jim, the odd man, John, the hall boy, and some of the gardeners erected the largest Christmas tree I have ever seen in the main entrance hall. They spent hours trying to haul the beast through the double doors, and what a mess of it they made! Florence and I spent just as long sweeping up the pine needles that littered the floor. Everywhere I turned there was a fresh pile of the little sharp green things. But all the hard work was worth it when I saw the magnificent tree adorned with candles and decorations that glistened in the light. Of course I only got a fleeting glance as the Marquis and Marchioness were expected back from London, but that fleeting glance was enough to warm the spirit ready for Christmas.

Rose Bailey


This Week in 1935: 8-14 December

8-14 December:

A TAPOMETER FOR TYPISTS: this week in 1935 it was announced that the United Steel Companies in Sheffield had introduced a novel scheme to increase output and relieve the monotony of a typist’s work. The machine was called a “tapometer” and recorded the number of taps made by each typist in a day. If the number of taps reached a certain standard by the end of the week the typist received a bonus of five shillings. To launch the new machine 200 typists took part in a typewriting contest in which two cups were awarded.

THE SECRET OF STILTON: The Times this week in 1935 provided its readers with Lady Beaumont’s Quenby recipe for Stilton. So here it is:stilton

GERMAN BALOONISTS DOWN IN ENGLAND: three German balloonists had to make a forced landing in South Cockerington, near Louth, this week in 1935. They had been in the open basket hot air balloon for two nights and a day, participating in a race from Gersenkirchen, near Essen, to Norway.

THE POPULARITY OF THE CHRYSANTHEMUM: There was a society for everything in the 1930s – including Chrysanthemums. This week in 1935 the National Chrysanthemum Society, which was established in 1846, met for its annual dinner at the Connaught Rooms in London. Mr. D. B. Crane, chairman of the Floral Committee, and Mr. E. F. Hawes, chairman of the Executive Committee, were each presented with watches in recognition of their long periods of service.

AUSTRALIA’S CHRISTMAS GIFT: this week in 1935 Australia sent Britain a special consignment of lamb as a Christmas gift. This was the fifth year of doing so and in 1935 two of the recipients included Mr. Malcom MacDonald, Secretary of State for the Dominions, and the Lord Mayor of London.

THE OLDEST ROYAL SERVANT: A little story for the Living History volunteers at Ickworth House: Mr. William barker, the oldest Royal servant, died at Windsor this week in 1935. He was 91! He had been born on the Royal estate at Windsor and entered into the service of the Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria’s mum) when he was 15. For four years his task was to wheel her about the grounds in a bath-chair. He later became a gardener and the vine-keeper at Cumberland Lodge. Under King George V he was granted a cottage on the Castle grounds for life and both the King and Queen visited him on his 90th birthday.

This Week in 1935: 1-7 December

1-7 December:

WALT DISNEY: an article appeared in The Times this week in 1935 chronicling the ‘genius of Walt Disney’. It stated that, ‘Mickey Mouse is the only public figure in the world today who is universally beloved’, and remarked, ‘in years to come, when most names which are now a by-word will have long been forgotten, it is probable that Mr. Chaplin and Mr. Disney will be remembered as the only two really great artists of this present film era.’

A KING’S BOUNTY: this week in 1935 a woman from St. Neots received the King’s Bounty (£4) after she gave birth to quadruplets. A container of human milk and four nurses from the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street were also sent to assist in the care of the four babies.

A MAN WITH TWO WIVES: two different women claimed the body of a man at an inquest that was held this week in 1935, both claiming to be his wife. Frederick Kirkley (49) was an economist and died on Armistice Day. The coroner found a veridct of “suicide while of unsound mind”. He married Gladys Kirkley in 1909 and together they had three children. He deserted her in 1928 and sent his family £1 a week until 1931. During that time he had been living with another woman, having married her even though he had Gladys had not divorced.