The Footman’s Story – part 1

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.


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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.

After 1918, 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.

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A photograph of Romain Arrayet as Thomas Brown

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Diary of a Scullery Maid – June

Arianna Diary logo

Written by Sienna James

 

I’ve been here for just over a year now. I must say, it seems much longer as I have settled in better than I ever expected I would. Those first couple of months of aching limbs and sore fingers seemed to drag on forever, but now I can proudly say that Ickworth is definitely my home.

I’ve enjoyed the work in the kitchen today – the sun makes me happy although Cook doesn’t like working in a hot and stuffy kitchen.

Today we made lots of lovely summer treats for the family. Of course, Jim was in and out of the kitchen every other minute hoping for a spoonful of cream or an off-cut from the pastry tart. Cook shooed him away each time, clucking in disapproval like a hen might cluck if somebody touched her eggs, but I just giggled.

What a difference this warm weather makes to everything! Nancy says I sound quite middle-aged when I say that, but it is true. Now it’s June the sun is strong and sets so very late in the evening. Last night the sky was filled with blood red streaks of a sunset.

To make best use of the gorgeous weather John, the hall-boy, and I went for a little stroll around the park. We didn’t walk through the Italianate gardens of course – I wonder what Lord Bristol would have said if he’d seen his scullery-maid and hall-boy frolicking in his gardens?! John and I didn’t chat much; we listened to the birdsong and he seemed to recognise most of the tweets. He really does love the outdoors and told me he’d been walking around the meadows and woods before and admired the flowers.

“It’s not as girlish as it sounds,” he informed me quite importantly. “I like the flowers at this time of year. I still prefer watching the birds though. Look, Arianna, there goes a magpie.”

I really cannot remember all the different birds he showed me – their names are far too complicated. We spent a pleasant hour wandering the estate. It’s not like when the housemaids and footmen go out and flirt ‘abominably’ (that’s Miss Edgeley’s word). No, it was more companionable than that, as though he was a brother of mine.

Speaking of brothers, James and I managed to meet up on my half-day off. I caught the bus to the village where he works and we bought ice creams from the dairy there. Dear old James. He’s still head-over-heals for Charlotte. We’ve both settled in remarkably well I think – we’re so very much happier than we were in Bakewell.

John and Nancy are calling me so I’d better sign off for now.

Goodnight.

The Hall Boy’s Journal

Ickworth hall boy, John Mayhew, describes his latest adventure in the ongoing series written by Eleanor Betts, historical researcher and consultant for the National Trust.


 

The weather has perked up somewhat in the last few weeks. The muds pretty much dried up and I’ve started walking the grounds again during my hours off. Sketchbook and pencil to hand, of course, just in case I spot a subject to study.

Now, I’m not one for flowers really – I’m more of a bird man – and maybe it’s because it was such a long, grey, dull, bear bare winter but I keep getting stopped in my tracks when walking the woods and meadows to admire the beautiful spring blooms. I’m blooming mad, I reckon, taking a fancy in something so girlish and silly as flowers. Either that, or I’m destined to work in the gardens.

Them gardeners don’t half give me a right rollicking when I pass them with my sketchbook – all jest, of course. ‘Here’s our little Constable out on a jolly…Enjoying the fruits of are our labours are we?!’ I first thought they were calling me a peeler, but have since found out that this man Constable was some painter and not a member of the police force. And, ‘enjoying the fruits of our labour’ – well, that’s a gardener’s joke if ever I’ve heard one! Especially those chaps as work in the walled garden. Anyhow I reckon they’ve imagined some gripe with us house staff – probably because they spent the freezing winter outside in the snow and rain. Well, I can tell them with some certainty that it warn’t much warmer inside! A good deal drier, I will admit, and there was far less white stuff lying about inside to make snowballs with – just the frost on the window sills.

So when I was out last week I managed a few sketches and thought “hang on one measly minute! I wonder where I placed that journal of mine?” I knew I’d never keep it up. I mean, what’s there to write about over the winter months – and how to keep a shivering hand still enough to scribble a few words?! Well, I’ve got some sketches to paste in now – to fill up those pages – but it didn’t half take me an age to find the blasted thing. I turned my room upside down – quite literally at one point (well, it’s its contents at least).

I’m one of those chaps who once started on a mission never gives up until its it’s completed. Silly really, and what a pile of mess I was faced with afterwards! There came a point, my books scattered across the floor, my bedding pulled about and my mattress overturned, that I began to suspect the journal had been lifted by prying hands. I was just about to confront Laurie – that footman is always the chief culprit – when the journal made itself known to me. Somehow I managed to jolt the shelf high up above my bed and the blooming book fell right on my head! They do say that authors make their mark on the world through their words, so I suppose it goes without saying that the written word can make its mark on the authors too – a horrible purple bruise sort of mark right above my left eyebrow! I looked quite a sight and got the sympathy of the girls at tea – of course I made up some daring adventure to explain it.

So I have my journal to hand again and I am determined to keep it up this time – I’ll try, at least. Here’s to the summer and to many more adventures on the Ickworth Estate.

Writing off for the day,

John Mayhew, Hall Boy.

And after all that – I’ve only gone and mislaid the sketches.