My working days at Wimpole in the 1900s

First published in Orwell Bulletin June 1982

By Gladys Jarman (nee Goates )

I was 16 when I started work at Wimpole Hall in 1915 for Lady Clifden and family. I was employed as a maid and kitchen help for which I was paid £12 a year.

Photo:Wimpole Hall around 1920 to 1930

Wimpole Hall around 1920 to 1930

I would get up at 5am. My day's work started straightaway. My first job was to get the kitchen range alight, cleaning out other grates and lighting fires when the family were in residence. I would then scrub all the stone passages, from the steward’s room to the back door.

8 am breakfast. I was ready for a break as I always had to do the hardest and dirtiest jobs.

rabbit every day for the servants

I then had to take hot water upstairs, then clean the Housekeeper's room, clean the flour rooms and still rooms in the basement. It was then time to help out in the kitchen, to wash and prepare vegetables and clean all poultry and game. Lunch was at 1-2 pm. There was no need to guess what was for dinner; rabbit every day for the servants, the housekeeper was very mean in those days.

After lunch I had to sweep the servants' quarters, sweep the stairs and clean the Roman bath. I then had to get the housekeeper's tea in her room and then have mine in the servant's hall and to wash up.

I looked forward to Wednesdays as I always had the afternoon off

I looked forward to Wednesdays as I always had the afternoon off, 3pm to 7pm. I usually finished duty about 8.30pm. I went straight to my bed very tired ready for a 5am start. My own room was right at the top looking down the avenue. My frock that I wore in the morning was very cheerful, it was white with pink stripes and I always had to wear a big apron and cap. In the afternoon I changed into a black frock with a big apron but it was not a stiff apron as in the mornings, but made off a finer material. If there was a big party at the Hall, I had to prepare everything for the meal, poultry, game, veg etc. Also I had to do all the fetching and carrying for the head staff. There were quite a few for me to wait on, a butler, 2 footmen, housekeeper, and housemaid, then myself (dogsbody) and another woman to help in the kitchen.

When the family were at Wimpole, they brought extra staff from their other homes, either Bodmin in Cornwall or Stanhope Street London.

I had to see my visitors in the servants' hall

I was allowed visitors but I had to see them in the servants’ hall but I was not allowed to give them anything to eat. I had one week’s holiday a year but no holiday pay. I left Wimpole for a short time, but came back to work again in the early 1920s, for the Honourable Gerald Robartes. This time the work was much easier. I was employed as a housemaid and was working upstairs, helping the lady’s maid. I would be fetching and carrying for the daughters of Lord Clifden, Miss Eva Robartes, Miss Mary Robartes and Miss Constance Robartes when they came to visit. I had to put their clean clothes out and get their baths ready. I also had to clean out grates and light fires before they got up in the morning.

the Honourable Gerald Robartes held big shoots at Wimpole

They would all come to stay at the mansion about twice a year but the Honourable Gerald Robartes held big shoots at Wimpole so there was always plenty of work to do. There were two other sons who came, called Victor and Cecil.

Even though the family were away we worked very hard, everywhere had to be spring cleaned. The lord and lady always praised me for the way I cooked and served vegetables.

I remember the days well of working at the mansion.  

This article was published in the Orwell Bulletin of June 1982 but was written some years before when Gladys Jarman was 80 years old. At that stage Gladys still lived in Wimpole village.

This page was added by Pat Grigor on 05/04/2013.

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