Monday, May 15, 2017

Ickworth House - how the servants lived.

Kitchen dresser
 Last time I visited Ickworth house we couldn't look inside as it was closed. This time after being sent on roundabout route by my sat nav we arrived in plenty of time to see the whole house, galleries, as well as eat a delicious lunch.
Bedroom for visiting gentlemen valets.
I often write about the servants' quarters, domestic offices, et cetera but had never been fortunate enough to actually visit one. The first thing that struck me was the size, like a rabbit warren beneath the main reception rooms. The second was that the flagstone floors and lack of heating would have made it unpleasant to wander about – mind you – the servants were not dressed in the skimpy clothes of modern times so perhaps did not feel the cold.
I was impressed by the size and luxury of the bedrooms and sitting rooms put aside for the upper servants use. Upper servants would include valets, personal dressers, housekeeper and butler. The bedroom for the visiting gentlemen valets was considerably larger than my own and was very well appointed. We were told there would have been two beds in there back in the day.
Kitchen sink in servants' hall.
Upper servants sitting room.
 One of the guides told us an amusing story about the butler that was there around nineteen hundred, Mr Royal, who was too fond of tasting the master's alcohol. When he was discovered drunk one day he was sacked without reference.
In the basement there were also preserving pantries, the hall boys' room, a finishing kitchen plus the wine cellars and a room put aside specially for storing trunks and suitcases. This had a dumb waiter so these items could be packed in the bedrooms and then be transported to the basement and out to the waiting carriages.

Upper servants sitting room.

There was a spacious sitting room which also included a dining table and chairs also for the use of these upper servants. They would eat their main course in the servants' hall with the lesser mortals but then retreat to their private space where they would have their dessert and tea served.
Kitchen range -circa 1900

Servants' Hall

The bells that servants had to answer.
As you can see from the sadly out of focus picture there was room for fifty or more in here. After they had eaten and everything had been cleared away by the scullery maids they would play cards, bagatelle, or in the case of the women get on with their own sewing.

There was a row of bells that would have been connected to the main reception rooms and bed chambers. Each one was numbered so whoever ran to answer it could tell immediately who was summoning assistance.
I think it would probably have taken at least ten minutes for anyone to make their way from the basement to the upper floors as the house is so huge.
We also looked around the first floor and the ground floor but I will save that for next time.
If anyone is ever in the vicinity of Bury St Edmunds, in itself a city worth visiting, I can highly recommend Ickworth House. The grounds are beautiful, the house and family portraits interesting and the restaurant excellent. A bit limited in choice, but all home-made.
When I was a teacher many years ago we used to judge the course we attended by the quality of the food we were served. Not much has changed there, then.

Fenella J Miller
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Elizabeth Bailey said...

Fascinating. So envy you seeing all that. I write about it too and have to throw it together in my mind from research done. Definitely putting that trip on my bucket list.

Fenella J Miller said...

I try and visit two stately homes every summer - we are going back to Kentwell Hall later this year.

Unknown said...

What a riveting post, Fenella. I don't think I've ever seen the bedroom of a gentleman's valet before! I just love the details of how the system worked below stairs.

Megg Nicol said...

It's always fascinating to see how people lived 'below stairs'. In fact they seemed to live rather well I think...I rather like the thought of walking through a 'living' section where everyone is actually still living there...but I guess that might be like sleeping in Selfridges shop window!

Fenella J Miller said...

Megg, Kentwell Hall does hold 'living' history days -although I've never been to one. I'm sure not all servants were so well treated as they were at Ickworth.