August 2008

A Domestic At Wimpole Hall

Neville Chuck

Ian Waller’s recent ‘Upstairs & Downstairs’ illustrated talk inspired me to write an article about my mother Mary Chuck (nee Charter) of Arrington, who was domestic servant at Wimpole Hall for Lord and Lady Clifden whose main seat was at Lanhydrock in Cornwall.

Mary, was the only surviving daughter of Albert Charter, the miller at Arrington Windmill until the wind blew the top off in the late twenties or early thirties. The Charter family have lived in the area since 18th century.

Having had her 14th birthday in March 1917, Mary entered service four months later at Wimpole Hall for Lord Clifden. Her wages were £13 per annum, which included her board and lodging.

A former Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Lord Clifden had succeeded his cousin as the 6th Viscount Clifden, which included the Wimpole Estate.

“I slept in one of the rooms at the top of the house, which overlooked the avenue. When the family came, we had our food in the servant’s hall. In the winter we had to ‘spring clean’ the place.

Mary had every other Sunday afternoon off and every Wednesday afternoon.

“But I had to be back on duty at 9 pm,” Mary said.

“It was hard work for a girl of fourteen, I had to clean the saucepans, using sand and lemon also the fireplace fenders with emery paper.

“I had to lay the kitchen cutlery on the large table for the cook in the kitchen, do the vegetables and wash the floor of the long servants passage all for five shillings a week.”

Mary said, “The family only had cabbage when they came here, because the kitchen maid at Lanhydrock left slugs in them.”

"One day the scullery maid from Cornwall, asked the cook who had big pans of oil fat to fry fish in, ‘How do I know when it's hot?' To which the cook replied, 'Put your finger in' and that's just what she did. She had terrible burns.

"We wore print dresses that her ladyship gave us. The first Christmas I was there we wore white aprons and caps and black dresses in the afternoon.

“Ethel Pretty was the housemaid and I the kitchen maid. There was a cook and her husband, Mr and Mrs Bernard. He was the butler.

"We had to attend Wimpole Church every Sunday morning. We sat in the front row for servants, in the Chapel. Her Ladyship and people in the congregation were facing us. I didn't like that. We had to wear close fitting toke hats, like pill-box hats. “she concluded.

After two years at The Hall, Mary went to work at The Rectory next door, as parlour maid. Here she had to wait table, which she hated.

 
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