Sunday, October 4, 2009
Keeping Their Place by Pamela Sambrook
I'll confess straight away that my pinny doesn't come off its hook in the pantry every single day but often enough. Keeping Their Place: Domestic Service in the Country House by Pamela Sambrook arrived last week and I know this subject is one of interest to several so I'll share a bit of it with you. It's an excellent book for dipping in and out of, although I can see it as being one of those books that has you saying to yourself 'I'll get going after one more page' and you're still sitting there an hour later. There are chapters regarding the recruitment of servants, their accommodation and clothing, food and drink, recreation, relationships with other servants and employers, health, old age and death. Stories are largely told by the servants themselves through letters or journal entries, which are quite rare among this group. Dorothy Fudge at Colonel and Mrs Adam's, Marnhull 'There was only one bathroom, which we staff were not allowed to use, but when our employers were away we had a special treat of a hot bath every night! Otherwise, we maids had a hip bath in our bedrooms, which meant carrying the hot water up to them when we had a bath. We also had a basin, and a jug with cold water. On frosty mornings, the water in the jug had a thin layer of ice on it: it was lovely how warm it made me feel afterwards! But the other maids wouldn't wash until the breakfast was over and they were able to take hot water up to their rooms.' Edwin Lee on servants' food at Glynliven, Caernarvonshire 'Strangely the food for the staff at Glynliven was not good, consisting for the most part of a plain unappetising succession of stew-like meals. When I was first there we were only served one pudding a week, rice on Sundays, tacky stuff. Whether our old gentleman suddenly though that we'd moved into more enlightened times I don't know but after I'd been there a year we were allowed stewed fruit every Wednesday.' Sarah Sedgwick 'I was one of a family of ten. My father was one of the gardeners on a big estate...I was earning by the time I was twelve...Children were staying at the house, and I was engaged to take them for walks. I earned four shillings a week.' 'Although there was a laundress for large things, we did all the small washing, and the nappies, and of course all the children's mending. The clothes to be worn the next morning were always pressed over-night, but it was the ribbons that took the most time.' This book features a range of stories so it is not all frivolity below stairs nor is it misery and despair. You will find a bit of both and more. I laughed when I read of two servants trying to put out candles by spitting over a railing above! Quite gross but youth of a certain age will find fun wherever they can. In flipping through the letters and reminisces I could happily sit with this book, a pot of tea and some toast for the rest of the morning but I have work to do!