Christmas Day at Ickworth – 1935

The Hall Boy’s Journal: 26 December 1935

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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.