By Viv Wilson in Life at The Hall, Growing Up In a Stately Home | 2 days ago
GARDENERS’ WORLD AT HOAR CROSS: In it’s heyday Hoar Cross Hall had around 28 people employed to keep the 20 acres of grounds tidy and weed free. In Victorian England the most common of all male servants was the gardener. At Hoar Cross the head gardener had numerous under-gardeners known affectionately as ‘digging slaves’! They were responsible for producing fruit, vegetables and growing luxury items in and out of season, much of it under glass. Adjacent to the house was the carp pool and greenhouse area along with a palm house; next to these was a walled kitchen garden. This supplied the house with all its fruit, vegetables and herbs. The palm house produced palms and pot plants along with flowers for the house; these would be brought across to decorate the main rooms when an important function was on.
The ‘bothy’ house was in one corner of the kitchen garden. (A bothy is a simple dwelling on an estate, usually used for gardeners and other workmen). Here lived the ‘bothy boys’ who were young under-gardeners. Their job was simply to sweep the pathways all day and keep the leaves at bay!
There were two elderly chaps, Mr Knight and Mr Dukes, who were solely responsible for the south garden – however, their task was complicated by the fact that they couldn’t get on with one another! Grass was cut by a horse drawn mower, a task carried out by the chauffeur of all people! One of the family told us that back in the early days the head gardener was pushed around in a wheelchair when he was older, inspecting the lawns – apparently if he saw a weed amongst the blades of grass he would tell one of the gardeners to pluck it out straightaway!
Emily Meynell Ingram employed a Mr Rowley especially to carry out her plans of planting the yew hedges, of which there were many. At each side of the garden was a long walk bordered by yew hedges down to the ha-ha wall at the bottom. Across the bottom of the gardens were smaller square gardens (including the st...
By Viv Wilson in Life at The Hall, Growing Up In a Stately Home | 28th February 2021
WHAT THE BUTLER SAW! Anyone who’s seen Downton Abbey will remember Carter the butler. He is exactly how a butler would have been in the 19th century and, strangely enough, the butler at the Hall during the early part of the 20th century was also called Carter!
Although most big houses had a house steward who was in charge of accounts and general running of the household, a butler was more commonly engaged by the wealthy. He was usually a grand, authoritarian figure, commanding respect and awe and most of the servants would have been scared to death of upsetting him! He was dressed like a gentleman of the period and generally ran the household with an iron fist.
As I said, the butler at the Hall was called Gus Carter and he was with the family for over 40 years, joining the staff in the mid-1930s. When the family left the Hall in the 1950s and bought the smaller Hollybush House in nearby Newborough he went with them until his retirement. He and his wife celebrated their Diamond wedding anniversary in 1972.
Mr and Mrs Carter on their Diamond Wedding Anniversary
However, when at the Hall his main duties would have been looking after the wine cellar and silverware or plate as it was known. This was kept in a room next to his bedroom so he could keep an eye on it and make sure no-one stole anything. Similarly with the wine cellar, he would have kept it all under lock and key so none of the servants could have a crafty drink when no-one was looking. There was actually a Chubb walk-in safe in the basement where, I assume, the more valuable items were kept for special occasions. Near to the butler’s room was a Chubb wall safe, which would have been used for keeping guests’ valuables in while they were staying at the Hall. Not unlike a hotel nowadays! He also waited on table at all the meals and at night, secured all doors and windows and checked the fires were safe before retiring to bed. If there was no valet in the house then the butler would als...
By Viv Wilson in Life at The Hall, Growing Up In a Stately Home | 21st February 2021
THE KITCHEN MAID’S STORY: If you were young, free and single – oh, and very well-to-do – the 1920s were the decade to be a part of. The upper classes had lots of time on their hands and enjoyed post-First World War delights such as the theatre and jazz clubs.
Not so for the lower classes, in particular a young girl who was to become the kitchen maid at Hoar Cross Hall in the 1920s. The ‘depression’ after the First World War brought stark poverty to her home and many like her. Her name was Jean Rennie, and she was extremely intelligent having won a scholarship to Glasgow University to study French and music. However, the £5 bursary she got was taken by her father and used to buy whiskey in his local pub. Her hopes of a career in music were dashed and she needed to find employment.
Jean was now known as Jenny and had many jobs as a servant, including one in a castle in the Highlands! She was, in her own words, a good housemaid but never a good servant. With memories of hungry children fresh in her mind she could never get used to the wanton waste of food left on plates, in the homes she worked in. Her mistresses were always untidy with stockings, shoes and underwear “flung everywhere” and powder “spilt lavishly” – this always rankled with her and she never really got used to the ways of the aristocracy.
She gradually travelled down the country and eventually found a job in London. Although she was still a scullery maid, she worked under a skilled chef who taught her much and she hoped for a career as a cook. Her employers were good and so were the wages. When she got the job at Hoar Cross Hall she could not only read a menu (in customary French) but also write one and prepare many of the dishes herself. Lady Dorothy Meynell was very impressed with her and as her husband, Hugo Meynell was about to take a small shooting party to their Laughton estate, she asked Jenny to go with them to do the cooking. Jenny recalled how thrilled she was to r...