LIFE BELOW STAIRS

AT GAYHURST HOUSE

 

BY ESTHER WESLEY

 

 

Esther Wesley who is now in her mid-eighties still lives in Stoke Goldington. In August 1990 she was persuaded to make a presentation to The Stoke Goldington Association about her life “In Service at Gayhurst House”

Below is a verbatim transcription taken from a recording of Esther’s talk.

Although the period covered was only three years (1937–1940) she never returned to London and has lived locally ever since.

Sadly there are no personal photographs but we have illustrated these pages with photographs of the house and gardens.

This is nothing about what the butler saw, or anything like that, it is just a running of what it was like for the three and a half years that I was employed at Gayhurst House.

I feel that before telling you about the actual inside I ought to tell you of my arrival there because that was the beginning of my three and a half years working inside a house that was to become my home.

Well, I was put on a train at Euston Station by a friend of the family and off I went alone to Bletchley Railway Station on a steam engine train. When I got there, there was 2 ladies waiting for me and one was a mature sort of lady and the other one was a very good looking young woman who drove the car.

Bletchley Station c1937

I left school in the Easter time which was the April of that year and by the time I really started at Gayhurst House, it was the end of the time for the remains of the primroses to be blooming and the bluebells to be blooming because coming through from Bletchley, which of course at that time was riot built up as it is now and there was some very beautiful countryside and with me living in a town it was all quite eye-opening and everything was looking very wonderful.

Lodge and Gatehouse

Listen to Esther Wesley talk about her arrival at Gayhurst House

Well, I arrived in due course to the Lodge at Gayhurst House and it wasn't until I went through the gate that I had this sort of feeling of wondering what it was going to be like. We went up this long drive and it was all very beautiful and then we went through the church gate, as we always knew it by and round to the tradesmen’s entrance. Now, the tradesmen’s entrance is just to the left in the corner of the big front entrance door and there was this very thick dark looking door with some big metal studs in a huge chain hanging off the side with like a big handle in it and you put your hand in it and pulled it down and it rang absolutely all over the place and everybody knew there was somebody at the tradesmen’s entrance.

However, with the older lady saying goodbye to the young woman that had taken me in the car, I was duly shuffled into the house and along the stone passages and up what I later knew to be the back staircase and it was scrubbed so white that you could have eaten food from it and of course, little did I know that, that was going to be my job, because I was to be third housemaid of three.

Gayhurst House Front from across the fields

Now I think before I carry on I ought to tell you that there was a staff that lived in Gayhurst House of ten, there was three in the kitchen which was the Cook, the kitchen maid and the scullery maid. Then in the housemaid department there was the head housemaid and the second housemaid and I was to be the third. Then in the pantry there was the butler, the footman and then besides that there was the lady's maid and I think that is all. Those ten people were the backbone of the establishment. They were the people who kept the place ticking over on the inside and there was quite a large staff outside which had to do with jobs inside like the chauffeur and the gamekeeper and the estate carpenter and the laundry maid lived in. Then there were all the gardeners and there was seven all told also one of the people that was employed outside worked in the gardens and his wife helped to rear the chickens. They lived in the Lodge at that time where now is the Sir Francis Drake public house and the woman reared the chickens with broody hens and that her pride and joy, that was her little part of the estate.

Going back to the duties of the housemaid, the head housemaid was of course like a mother figure. We were young and she took the second housemaid and myself under her wing, although the second housemaid was a lot older than I was: she was about twenty one and she came from Nash, which was not too far away. The head housemaid was a Scotswoman and very thorough. She expected to be treated with respect and what she said was law. She expected a very good job done by her housemaids and like that she was very satisfied. The third housemaid did the bedrooms of the housemaids, the lady's maid and the laundry maid and all these rooms were on one landing and the 2nd and 3rd housemaid shared a room, so you got to know one another very well and that was all helpful when you were living away from home. The lady's maid also had a workroom along the landing and we talk about the upstairs and downstairs with gentry, but there was also an upstairs and downstairs within the staff.

The Oak Staircase

When the third housemaid was going about her duties on the landing, doing all the separate rooms, if we were to hear hand put on the door handle within the room that the lady's maid used, whether it be in her bedroom or her workroom, you had to quickly disappear. Even if you were half way out of a door, you had to pop back very quickly because you wasn't supposed to have been seen when the lady's maid was trotting along.

You would have one half-day off a week and these half-days you did not finish until 3.30 - 3.45pm and then being a very junior, if I went anywhere I was supposed to be back in by 8.30pm. The Gayhurst church clock used to chime very loud and clear and when you were hustling up the drive and you got to the church gate and the blessed thing went 'dong', you knew that you was late, and when you got inside, who should be waiting for you but the head housemaid. She would look at her watch and she would say, "Esther, you are 5 minutes late", and I would say "I am very sorry Martha, but I think the church clock is fast". There was no getting away from it, she would say, "It may be a little but you are still not on time. Make sure that when you go out again you be in on time". So I would say "yes, alright then", and that was that.

Then we were always encouraged to go to the Gayhurst church which we went to on a Sunday. It was fitted in with your morning work, and that was where I used to go. It was whilst going there that I was prepared for confirmation in the Reverend Leachman's time and was duly confirmed at Hanslope Church, just before I was fourteen years of age. Wesley’s used to run a bus and everybody used to clamber on.

Gayhurst Church

There was also an upstairs and downstairs when it came to eating the meals and it was something that took me quite a while to get used to. We used to have our breakfast in the servants hall. There was a large room there with a huge table and then it had glass windows one end and a big open doorway. Along outside ran a concrete track and a huge tea trolley rushed up and down there with a footman behind it. In those days most of the shoes had leather soles and heels and we always knew when he was tearing up and down it. It was a welcome sound at times. However, when it came to the midday meal, the butler and the cook and everybody would congregate into the servants hall and we would all sit and eat the meal. The most peculiar part about it was that as soon as the butler and the lady's maid and the cook had eaten their first course, we all had to put our knives and forks down, grace was said and off they trotted to the housekeeper’s room to have the sweet. That was a most peculiar habit but that was what was done. Breakfast times, we ate quite good food and there was nothing skimpy about anything, perhaps not a lot of variety, in fact we got absolutely cheesed off with dabs for breakfast, although they were lovely little fish but one did get rather tired of them. We did not eat the same as they ate at the front.

Listen to Esther Wesley talk about the uniforms

Another thing was we all had to wear a uniform. That was a very strict arrangement. You were already given a list, through the post, when you were engaged to work there, of what was required, so many morning aprons and so many morning caps. Afternoon caps which represented what we used to call the nippy caps which was the nice little white thing with the black velvet through it. It was just for the housemaids actually because the kitchen staff didn't wear that. It was blue and white in the morning, a blue dress and a white apron, similar to a nurse’s style apron, and a white hat that went over and black shoes and stockings. In the afternoon, which wasn't until 3.30pm - 4.00pm time we wore black and white.

Another job for the third housemaid was to help in the laundry after the washing had been done and it was dried out on the drying green which was also the place where the carpenter had his sheds and all of his tools and everything. Of course, there was irritation on both sides because the laundry maid accused the carpenter of putting his dirty hands on the wet linen and he accused her of always being his way and flapping the washing when he wanted to go in and out. She was a middle aged lady, a spinster who had an elderly mother and I believe she came from somewhere in Walthamstow. They called her Topsy because she had curly hair and if the carpenter, who was a Stoke Goldington person and had family here, really wanted to annoy the laundry maid he used to lift up her hair and shout into her ear because she was hard of hearing and she absolutely hated it but that was his way of getting back at Topsy.

Monday evenings, the third housemaid had to go into the laundry and help fold the linen and it was a huge pile of table cloths and sheets and all of the linen of the house including the housemaid’s aprons, caps, and dresses, but the housemaids were responsible for washing their own personal clothing. All the other was to do with the household and that went through the laundry. It was quite a tough little job really. You had to fold them a certain way and shake them all damp arid Ada the laundry maid had a huge roller that was a mangle and it came down in stages, it rolled and went along and rolled and went along and it was all made of wood it was like wooden slats with big rolls and she had to roll this wretched thing and it was quite tough for her. Then the airers were very tall - like doors in the wall - but you pulled them out and they came out on very large wheels and big tubular rails and all of the linen hung over them and it was pushed into the wall. I never knew the basics of it all but they aired in there.

The laundry maid used the ordinary flat irons for the ironing and there was all sorts of irons, polishing irons etc, and everything used to look absolutely immaculate, as if it had just been produced from the factory, she was so wonderful at the job. So that was another job that the third housemaid did. Usually on Wednesday or Thursday, along our landing was the housemaids’ sitting room. It was in there that the housemaids had to sit and mend all the linen of the establishment not her ladyship’s personal things because the lady's maid was responsible for that.

All Sir Walter’s clothing and all the linen of the household, some furnishings if they had come through the laundry, had to be repaired by the housemaids, and quite frankly we were almost invisible menders at one time. We were even sowing the hem that had come of a pure silk gent’s hanky. I wish I had the eyesight now, however, also all the lovely linen underwear and things that we used to have to darn and that was that part. Then it was all piled up and then the head housemaid, she put it away into the appropriate places ready for when it was required.

The Main Hall

The next thing was the wages. Now at the end of the month, at certain time of the morning on a certain day of the week, absolute precise, you had to put on a clean morning apron and cap and down you trotted to her ladyship’s sitting room. She would have the door slightly ajar because other people had already been in, the senior members and the top brass, she would seem to know you were there find she would say "Come in" and off you would go in and do your little curtsy, you would be very rude if you did not curtsy. She would say to you "how are you getting on?", and you would say "very well thank you m'lady", with another little bob. She would say "Have you written home to your mother lately?", and you would say "Yes m'lady", whether you had or not then she would say "I have had some very good reports of your work and you are settling in nicely, and Martha tells me that you are quite happy here. I hope it will continue to be like that for you and that you keep well and here is your wages".

Her ladyship always dressed in brown and she had a brown crepe de chine dress on with a little silk vest on and she always wore a flattish sort of brimmed hat of the very finest straw and we always saw her with a sort of Marcel Wave short hair do which was a lovely shade of brown. Unfortunately her ladyship was not in the best of health. She was a very poorly lady; she had the shakes rather badly. I suppose today you would call it Parkinson’s disease. She also had a slight paralysis. She sat in this armchair and she had a little table at the side and on it was a very shallow wicker basket and inside were all these little buff envelopes that the secretary used. (Miss Cook was the secretary and she came from Newport Pagnell). She usually made all these envelopes up and you would say "Thank you m'lady", and curtsy again and back yourself out of the door. Of course when you got away you were so elated because you had got some money. Of course when you opened it guess what it was: a whole month’s wages - 1.00. It stayed like that until I had been there for about two and a half years when the second Housemaid left and I was promoted to second housemaid.

Although I was young, evidently the quality of my workmanship entitled me to be promoted. There was a little story to my promotion. Working in that big house, I suppose not all houses are that strict but there was a very strict code of practice that there should be no familiarization amongst the staff. No matter if you were high up or low, you were not to get familiar with other members of the staff. Of course the inevitable happened and old Dod the old rascal, he was the butler and his eyes were everywhere. If you were five minutes late he would put the bolt along the tradesmen’s entrance door arid everyone knew that the staff was out.

The Stone Staircase

The second housemaid was caught having a cuddle behind the room screen with the footman and Dod, the rascal that he was, tipped off her ladyship. So they both in turn had to go on the carpet and get a dressing down and were given the option of which ever one was to leave, because they were very very strict there. I suppose they thought that if that sort of thing went on then work would not get done: there was a very strict code of behaviour.

By that time the war was on because war broke out during the time that I was there. The second housemaid had a married brother living in Coventry, who had been called up and his wife had been left in Coventry, and so the second housemaid had talked it over with the footman and she said she would be the one to leave, so in a way she was sent to Coventry. She went and stayed in Coventry until such time as she and the footman got married because they did eventually and they settled locally after the war. I was very sad to see my companion leave and it meant that I had to get used to somebody different to share the room with.

There was another girl came in due course, she was called Jean Cherry and she came from Oxon and all went well for some time until somehow or other she got to know that she was older than I was, but I had got a position above hers and it did not go down very well. We did overcome that and things ran smoothly. After all, we were there to do our job, we were not there to show our authority in any way, and we just had to do a good job.

On my princely sum of 1.00 a month I brought myself a bicycle for 4 7s 6p with saddle bag, bell and a pump, from Freddy Friday's shop in Newport Pagnell. To get this bicycle, I could have saved from my 1 a month until I had got all my money together, but Martha, the head housemaid, knowing the Fridays so well because they were local people, had this arrangement that I could buy this bicycle at so much a month, but to be able to do that, I had to have the then footman, (the footman changed about 4 times whilst I was there) the first footman was a Welshman, a tall rather good-looking man who came from the Rhondda Valley, and he had to go with me to Newport Pagnell to sort of stand surety that I would pay my little bit each month. So it was duly done and I was a proud owner of a bicycle.

Not having had a new bicycle, I wanted to be on it all of the while, and going out from the tradesman’s entrance to the very sharp left turn on loose gravel, I came a mighty cropper, first time on it, and the handle bars went round the wrong way. However that was soon put right. On another occasion, I was coming down Blakelands and I got in a panic near the end and went straight across the road and down in a ditch. I absolutely froze because of the speed the thing got to.

Then of course, as the time went by that I was there, sadly lady Blanche died and it was quite a sad time for everyone there. The housemaid part of the establishment was more intimate with the way of life rather than the kitchen staff were, because the kitchen staff did a jolly good job of turning out the meals, but the housemaids had the more intimate side of the rooms etc, and I can remember quite clearly going into the room and seeing her ladyship lying there with a rose on her pillow, but the thing that took me a long time to get over was, I could not believe what I was looking at. She had two long plaits of iron grey hair. I could not work it out. Of course I realised afterwards that the nice head of hair under the hat when she presented the wages was actually a wig. I did not know about wigs or such things and it came as a bit of a shock that that was how she looked.

The man whose wife used to rear the chickens, unfortunately he drowned himself in the lake. He must have stepped in near the brick wall and just disappeared. I also knew along long while afterwards that the chap who had been the carpenter had also hung himself. It seemed like a place of doom.

Listen to Esther Wesley talk about whitlows

At Christmas time, the servants all got together in the servants hall and we had our usual little bits of fun and eats and everything. The second Christmas that I was there, it wasn't quite so enjoyable because I had whitlows come on all my fingers and thumbs. The head housemaid, after we had our breakfast, she used to gather up the spare bread and take it upstairs into a little room up there and make the bread poultices and hopping around round on the floor with these bread poultices which was not very nice. I ended up down at Northampton Hospital, I still have the scar today of where I had a huge whitlow. I actually went in the car driven by Mr Peters the chauffeur, so that was something very extra special. It took me quite a long while to get over that.

Because of me having these things come up so regularly on my fingers, her ladyship called for me to go down and see her and she said she was very sorry to hear that I had got these bad fingers, she did hope that they were healing up because if they were not then I would have to go back home to my mother. So if I could not work I wasn't wanted. But in due course they did get better. The real cause of that it appears the soft soap that I used in large tins and rubbed on to this very stiff scrubbing brush, used to prick my quick and the dirty water used to get in and that was what caused them.

The cleaning equipment there was not modern and to sweep the carpets, one used a very large very hard brush with a very big head on it. To keep the dust down we used to wet a lot of newspaper and tear it into strips and make sure it was pretty wet and flick it over the carpet and then give it a jolly good brush and that used to hold the dust a little bit but it took ages to dust the room afterwards because it was everywhere. Also the third housemaid was equipped with a cleaning box which was similar to what we have now a big plastic square bucket but it was made of wood. There were sections in it. There was your black lead and we had bluebell in those days, it was not called Brasso, and there was lots of emery paper which I used think "what is the emery paper for”. I soon found out.

The fire irons on most of the fire grates were of steel. They had to be burnished up to look almost like silver and to do that you really had to put some elbow grease into it. It was not just the fire irons but the fenders as well. A lot of them were steel and they had this thin sort of iron bottom which was black leaded. You got up in the morning and downstairs by 6.30 am all dressed up in your morning outfit ready to start on the grates. That was the first job. You had a large piece of white sheet which they called a half sheet and you were never ever to be seen not using it and you put it down and in due course you cleaned the grate.

The thing was, anytime without any warning, the head housemaid would suddenly appear and inspect what you had done to make sure you were doing the job properly and if not she would either give you a slight reprimand or she would give you a little encouragement and tell you the proper way to do it. In due course you would make sure you didn't do it wrong again.

It was the same with the polishing, there was no aerosols or such things as creams, it was all homemade beeswax which was brought in bars and it was put into a large Ronuk polish tin and it had a big press-on lid and there was a stick that you beat it up with and you mixed it up with so many parts turpentine, ronach and the beeswax. If you didn't have muscles when you started then you certainly did then because in lots of the rooms there was not wall to wall carpeting it was like a large square of a very nice carpet in the middle and around it was quite a wide surround of beeswax floorboards and you had to really get going on it.

Also in the house was the front staircase, now this was a really beautiful staircase. It was not only decorative, it was solid and wide and deep steps and that was bees waxed and it really looked nice although it was really hard work. There were some long landings in the house with two little steps at the bottom. There was no such thing a squeezy mops, they just were not invented, you just got on your hands and knees and did what was required. With the polished landings, they were bees waxed every day, they were not even done every week, because they were riot used as much as in the rooms or passages lower down. You had a cotton mop on a long handle which you put a duster underneath and you swished it from side to side and you really put a lot of vim into it. Then the head housemaid would come along and she would get on her hands and knees and she would look along it and there would probably be a weenie sort of a triangle that you had actually missed just going to and from and she would call you and she would say "Esther, I would like you to do the landing over once more, I think it could look better than it does". Without any ifs or buts and being a bit of a perfectionist myself I wanted to make sure that I had done a good job, so with that, over I went again and it was alright.

When there was anything on in Stoke Goldington, we were encouraged (if it fitted in with out working time), to come over and participate in what was going on because they liked the maids to be happy and to feel that they were not completed incarcerated in the mansion and so Martha used to ask if it was possible for whichever one it was to have an extension, because you had to have permission to have an extension, which would probably be until about 10.00 pm.

The wooden hut was in this village at that time and that was where the entertainment took place but to come over, we had to be chaperoned and it was always the job of the footman to escort whoever it was into the village, see them safely at the destination and then pop off back to the house, which we came on bicycles. Usually they would try to make so them was one from the kitchen and one from the house so that there was two going together. We would come over and join in whatever was on. In due course about 9.45pm time, this chappy, whichever one was there at the time, would come and collect us and off we would go back. One particular time - this was in the latter years- when the footman was there who was caught kissing in the dining room, it was me and the kitchen maid who came over and we were back a little early, there was not much entertainment, and we decided that we would make a move and it was a lovely evening and we thought we would have a walk around the lily pond in the grounds, which was Sir Walter’s pride and joy.

Her ladyship’s hobby was watercolour painting. She painted very beautiful pictures, mainly of flowers and scenery, but Sir Walter loved the garden and he had a little canvas waterside sort of shed and also a little boat which was made by Wesley’s and my Jack was the one who put the pitch into the creases to stop the water getting in as he worked there as a young man and they had this little punt up there that Sir Walter went in to or one of the gardeners went in to, to clear the weed from of the pond.

The Water Gardens

There must have been some roses hanging about, I already had my boyfriend who later became my husband, Jack Wesley. and we walked around the pond and somehow or other I got my face all scratched from the roses and didn't I have some explaining to do when I met up with Jack, I don't think that he is really convinced to this day that, that was what really happened.

The Rose Garden

Time went on, not a lot of changes but I had been there about three and a half years and I began to think that with the wages being so small, and my experience that I had gained whilst being there, that I really not only could do but was worthy of something better. I left there and went elsewhere and I took on another job which was as a house parlour maid which included waiting table and everything. So really my three and a half years at Gayhurst House was a chapter in the book of my life and I just turned the page over and that is the finish. All the rest is another chapter.

I will tell you how I first met my husband Jack. At that time of day, Wesley’s who also did building repairs among numerous other things, used to do jobs at Gayhurst House. They came to mend a window. At that time I was still third housemaid. I knew Jack when I was quite young, I had not been working there that long. This man was outside and this young fellow was with him and in those days Jack always wore a beret, that was his part of the uniform, and his father used to always smoke a Woodbine that was his uniform. However, I went into the room thinking that they had finished but their faces were still peering through the glass. I sort of smiled and he sort of smiled and that was it. The father said "There is a do on at Stoke, are you girls going to go?” to which I replied that I did not know. However, I did go with another person from the house, but the thing was that I thought that they had been clean and tidy. They had cleaned up all of the mess. Guess where they had flung it, under the carpet.

We came over to Stoke Goldington; I think it was a jubilee of some description. I had already dressed up in the recreation ground and the big tree that is there now was only a little tree on the right as you go in. I had a loan of a costume as the Pied Piper of Hamelin and a girl from the kitchen who was Canadian, she was a niece of the cook, she dressed up as Canada with the ears of wheat and what not and we came over to the hut and Jack was there with a lot of the other chappies of that time and he was smoking at the time. Not a very nice meeting in a way because he threw a cigarette end and it fell in my lap and I was not very happy about it. Anyway that was the sort of breaking of the ice. That was the beginning of quite a lot of meetings.

When I first left school, to be in domestic service was not even thought about and I started work in a tailors. I used to catch a train from where I lived in Dagenham and go up to Aldersgate in London and there I worked for a Jewish firm and of course being impatient, I could never see myself getting on to the machines. I was doing all the tacking and in due course I left. It was a case of economics really because my train fare was 11 shillings arid I earned 10 shillings and being the eldest of 8 children it was just not on.

There was a sort of conference on between mother and father and mother having been in service herself as a lady’s maid, she thought that perhaps after all domestic service was for me and that is how it came to be. It was done through an agency in London. A Mrs Hunt was the very select agency for domestic staff for males and females, everything from the tweeny maid right up to ladies maid and butlers, she did the lot and it was a choice of whether I came to Gayhurst or went to Surrey and I almost went to Surrey but the housekeeper had already engaged somebody and then with Mrs Hunt doing all the correspondence I was duly selected and mother was written and off I went.

The war was on and I had already changed my job from Gayhurst House and went as a house parlour maid to a very nice family at Olney, and I was very happy there, then the Government got more demanding and everybody who was not doing work of national importance was to do war work and there again fate or destiny or what ever you would like to call it - when that happened I wanted to go into the Women’s Royal Army Corps, to go with the big lorries and that was always my ambition but I was already friendly with Jack.

You can guess with all this rigmarole about love and not wanting to part and the rest of it and so I decided as Jack had not been called up because working with the cattle lorry, he was considered to be doing work of national importance and he was deferred for that length of time. Anyway in due course I thought it over and I was really torn, I did so want to go in the army and then I sort of thought well the only thing I can stay around here and do work of national importance was to go in the Women’s Land Army and so that is just what I did. I was able to get a job quite close and I was at FiIbarn Farm there has now been done up into a very posh place. I worked for Howards Keys there and milked the cows and all the rest and that is another chapter.

When I was at Gayhurst House before it was suggested to me would I like a little home to go home and see my mother and I said yes I would. It was all arranged for me. I always went home by train.

I was happy there because once I was there it was my home and I was busy and I did not really think of anything else. I had always had a strict upbringing so it did not really come as any hardship.

Listen to Esther Wesley talk about banquets

The banquets was not in my region. The banquets would be to do with the kitchen and senior staff. They had a lot of entertaining there. During the hunt season we would see the hounds out the front and the butler would be out there blowing his chest out and the silver salvers would appear with all the wine on and us maids would be peeping out of the window.

When we had done the work which was the rooms that were actually being used, we had to use the afternoons to keep the gallery bedrooms spick and span. All the gallery bedrooms had four poster beds in them and they were not used but they had to be kept fresh, carpets had to be flitted, you had to keep the moths out of everything because they were not used. You did a room an afternoon because they were very large rooms and all the bedding, the canopies had to be looked over.

The grate had to be cleaned, although they were not used the steel used to go quite mottled. Us housemaids did our own personal washing, and we had a little area where we could hang it arid this little area was along our landing and up a bit and you got yourself on the a flat ledge roof, it was only a small area and up there was a clothes line and that was where our drying ground was. Sometimes it seemed quite nice to be able to get up and breathe in the fresh air because it probably was not your day off and the only time you came outside the doors was the evening that you went to the laundry (and that was only 50 yards from the tradesmen’s entrance), or if you pegged your washing up on the roof, other than that you waited until it was your half day.

The Back Door

I remember when the war broke out. we did not have the opportunity of sitting about listening to radios, I do not remember seeing a radio in the servant’s quarters and no such thing as television but the news came through somehow that war had broken out. It was funny really because being quite young and naive about all these things, every time an aeroplane came over I was peering out to see if it was a German because that was how it got you - you were all sort of worked up.

Listen to Esther Wesley talk about the blackouts

Every time we went out on the bicycle I had to have a lamp on it with either a slit or a hood on it because of the blackouts. My bicycle was my friend because there was no where much to go and time was so short, I did used go quite often to Wolverton pictures and when it was my half day off, I would scuttle off to the pictures and make sure I was back home. I remember one evening, when I came out, somebody had stolen the lamp of my bicycle, and I came all the way back from Wolverton, back way, with no lights.

I only saw Sir Walter when he happened to come through from the front into the pantry and have a word with the butler or footman. You heard his footsteps, as I say the shoes in those days were mainly leather soles and you could not help but hear them clonking on the slabs everywhere and when people walked about, you just knew somebody there. He really had nothing to do with us staff only the pantry people and the outdoor workers and those that had occasion to call like the chauffeur and gamekeeper and then he used to go out and talk to the carpenter and of course the head gardener.

The gardener, Mr Ted Whiting and his little wife Mary Anne. She was such a tiny little lady. There was always fresh flowers in the rooms downstairs that were used. All year round there was flowers, Lilies, Roses, Freesias - all sorts of things even out of season. The gardener and his helpers used to produce and they he used to bring them round on a sort of trolley and they were set up in baskets which gave it a nice little finishing touch.

The Walled Kitchen Garden

There was some very nice art up there. When I became second housemaid I used to do that because when you became second housemaid you did the rooms through the front, but when you were third housemaid you did the servants rooms, but you did not do kitchen staff rooms.

The kitchen staff for some reason seemed to be little unit to their selves. We did not do their rooms, we did not see them, and the housemaids had no occasion at all to go into the kitchen. Another thing the housemaids did, there, there was no running water in the bedrooms and about two of the rooms had an attached dressing room which had a type of bath which was very heavily panelled, almost like a huge pulpit with a hood on it. You did not have pull chain toilets you had lift up toilets chains and they were polished and they were all very nice.

The housemaid, at a certain time of day. towards evening after tea, used to have to fill brass water cans, they were either brass or copper and they used to be filled with hot water and taken along to the bedroom and placed in the wash basin with a linen hand towel over the handle. That was for her ladyship and Sir Walter and the lady’s maid to wash before the evening meal. They would always dress for dinner and we had to wait until we knew that they were sitting down to have their meal before we went to the room to empty away what they had used - the slops so called - then it had to be wiped around and cleaned up ready for the next day.

The new lady was the niece of Sir Walter, because she was the daughter of the late Lady Carlile's sister whose husband was the rector of Milton Keynes church and there was Betty and her brother George, and George ended up captain in the army. They always used to go to Bournemouth every year for her ladyship to recuperate and the niece went with them because the Lady Carlile was a wheelchair patient.

In the house was a lift; it was not a mechanical lift, it was one that you pulled the ropes and poor old Dod was in charge of this. The bell used to ring and Dod would get ready and stand by the lift and it would either have to go up and down and he would work this thing with ropes and she used to get in it and Dod would pull up the ropes and he would curse because I was quite a heavy job.

The gong used to go at mealtimes and it was riot just a "Boom" it worked into a great crescendo. It was a big one on a stand and it had a stick with a sort of leather knob on the end of it and it would rattle all through the house.

Miss Cook must have paid us when Lady Carlile died. I honestly cannot remember how I got my wages, because really, reflecting on it, I was not there all that long after Lady Carlile died.

My working day started at 6.00 in the morning and ended after 10.00 at night because it would be while they would be having their evening meal that we would be getting ready to empty the slops and after that you would fill the hot water bottles and they did not have to be cold when they got to bed. We did not have to make up the fires: they had one of the gardeners come in and fill up all the coal and the logs and the head housemaid used to go through the front rooms and very discreetly went in, usually when they were not in the room. They expected everything to be done and nothing wanting. It worked by the clock.

I must say, thinking it over, the training that I had there has held me in very good stead for all the work that I have done since.

Listen to Esther Wesley talk about Christmas

We had a party at Christmas and it was not all that hilarious. We would have a few balloons and some eats and we did have a little present which we gave each other. We never had a present from Lady Carlile. We were paid for everything that was done and we did not expect perks.

In those days, if visitors came, there used to be a lady come there who was actually one of Lady Carlile’s sisters, because she was really far better bred that what he was and she had a sister, Lady Coot, who used to come quite often and it was customary then for whoever had done the bedroom to find that she had left sixpence underneath the wash bowl, that was your little tip, but that did not come very often. When you got it you were not expected to keep it because not only had you done a job in the room but also somebody else had had to do something else for her so it was split.

I have been back up there once, not since all the development has been done but I have tried to retrace the servants landing but a wall had been built across half way down the landing and it had given it an entirely different appearance and the place where we used go through to hang the washing on the line, the door was still there but it did not seem to look the same on the roof. Whether it had been altered structurally I honesty do not know. I was asked to go up there, having worked up there. A lady who had brought a flat up who was an antique dealer, she got in touch with Mrs Carlile-Dover and asked if she knew of anyone who could go and clean it for her after it was built and she suggested me and I did go up and have a look but I could not recognise it as it used to be. There was two doors there of the original rooms but all the rest had been completely obliterated because of the wall.

I must add that when I was met at Bletchley station, the very nice pretty young woman who drove the car was Hilda Wesley then. She came with a blue which was their taxi. She had the most gorgeous Titian coloured hair that I have ever seen on a woman. It was a beautiful colour in a very neat bob. I never ever thought that destiny would put me into the family.

Esther Wesley Stoke Goldington August 1990

 

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