Christmas Day at Ickworth – 1935

The Hall Boy’s Journal: 26 December 1935


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




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