Country House Living
Dillington is devoted to making its guests happy. From the moment you enter the Gothic doorway, you feel welcomed. There are vases of flowers, delicious home-made cakes for tea and nothing is too much trouble for the staff. Even when I stupidly locked myself out of my bedroom one evening, the caretaker came over to let me in, with a smile and a ‘It’s no trouble.’
When you actually live in a country house, as I did as a child at Hall Garth, it doesn’t strike you as odd that the entire staff: cook, butler, nanny and nursery-maid, Mrs S. who came in to clean, Mrs T. who did the mending, my father’s groom and the gardener, were there solely to ensure my family’s comfort.
My mother didn’t have to do a thing: the cleaning, cooking, laundry etc were all done for her. She didn’t even have to look after us children. The groom cared for my father’s hunters. The gardener grew fruit, vegetables and flowers for the house and looked after the pigs, hens and ducks.
My bedroom at Dillington was in the old servants’ wing in the attic. Interestingly, it was laid out exactly as at Hall Garth: a corridor with two larger rooms at either end and three smaller rooms on one side. At Hall Garth, the end rooms were occupied by the cook and the butler. They were pretty Spartan with lino, thin curtains, old iron bedsteads and whitewashed walls. The three small rooms (once housemaids’ rooms) were filled with junk, including an old linen press, warming-pans and stone hot-water bottles.
At Dillington, my end bedroom was warm and carpeted, with TV, a comfortable bed and tea and coffee to hand. Two of the three smaller rooms were now modern bathrooms, so I had my own bathroom as well. As I went up and down the forty-two stairs to the ground floor, I spared a thought for the housemaids at Dillington who had once climbed the same stairs, probably with jugs of hot water or scuttles full of coal for family members and their guests.
It was a moment for reflection. How could my mother have been happy doing absolutely nothing, being waited on hand and foot? And, worse, how could the staff’s bedrooms have been so shabby and stark? They worked really hard, they deserved proper carpets and comfortable beds.
I’ve only ever seen Dillington in August but, next February, I shall be back to teach The Infinite Variety of English, a look at the huge variety of writing in English, from diaries and love letters to novels and poems. It should be fun. I’m looking forward to seeing the house in winter, perhaps under a blanket of snow with the skeletons of its magnificent trees glistening with frost and having another week of gracious living.
Photos: Top: Dillington House from the front.
Middle: Hall Garth, my childhood home
Bottom: Dillington House from the back