Welcome to the latest addition to the Ickworth Lives blog.
We’ve read about the daydreams of a housemaid, the misadventures of the hall boy and the musings of a scullery maid – we now hear from another young domestic servant: the footman.
Romain Arrayet writes about the life of footman Thomas Brown, the character he plays at the Ickworth House living history events. Inspired by memories of footmen who used to work at Ickworth House in the 1920s and 30s, storylines that transpire during living history performances, and his fictional character’s back story Romain provides an insight into what life might have been like for young men in domestic service.
Bonjour. Je m’appelle Thomas Brown. I am twenty-eight years old and I am a footman at Ickworth House. Let me tell you a little about my life before I came to live here.
I was born in the year 1907 in a small town in Suffolk where my family own a farm. My father William Brown still lives there with my older brother Harry. My mother Mary died a few months after I was born – I never knew her.
After Mother died it was too much for my father to look after both of us boys as well as the farm so I was sent to live with Mother’s sister who lives in France, in a town called Amboise. She is my aunt but as I grew up she became more like my mother.
Aunt Rose and her husband Henry live in a little cottage just on the outside of the town. You see, they don’t have any children of their own so they looked on me as their son and gave me all the love and affection that parents give to their children. Because I grew up in France I have a French accent – it has its advantages and disadvantages. Laurie, one of the other footmen, loves to tease me about it. But I managed to charm a slice of cake from Cook yesterday so I don’t suppose I can complain. Forgive the spelling errors – I am hoping that by writing this journal my English will improve.
When I was around huit heiht eight years old, Henry took me to the grand house where he worked as a valet. I was trained as the hall-boy – yes, I was very young. Yet so many of the men were at the Front Lines that the gentry were desperate. By this time the Great War had started and most of the men had left the town and the Manor. My uncle too had joined-up to play his part. Not many men came home. Henry returned wounded – he had been sent to the Western Front and was shot in the leg. It was impossible for him to walk without a stick.
, the family I was worked for the family I worked for suffered a number of deaths which meant that a few years later, with no male descendant, the house was sold.
At that time my life was in France. It was the summer of 1920 when my aunt told me I was going back to Angleterre. Aunt Rose and I made the Channel crossing by boat and when we arrived it was the first time I had seen my father and brother since I was a baby. We had sent Christmas and birthday cards, but I was still scared to meet them. Aunt Rose stayed with us a few days and then took a boat back to her life in Amboise. I would like to visit her and Henry soon as I still miss them and the French countryside.
After about two years of working with Father and Harry, I was still hopeless at the farm duties. At the age of fifteen my father sent me to work as a hall-boy at the impressive hall in Long Melford with the instructions to send half my wages home to the farm. Soon I was promoted to footman and I learned the art of polishing cutlery so you can see your own reflection.
But I never felt like a proper footman there – all the senior servants knew me as the hall-boy and still treated me so. In 1930 I saw an advertisement in the Bury Free Press for the job as footman at Lord and Lady Bristol’s estate in Suffolk. I wrote to the butler, Mr Fox, and after a few weeks moved to the impressive country retreat – Ickworth House.
And so here I am now, scribbling away in the servant’s hall. Mr Fox would like me to set the table for dinner soon so I’ll sign off.
Au Revoir for now.
A photograph of Romain Arrayet as Thomas Brown