Archive for the ‘Social history’ Category

Life below stairs

September 26, 2011

 

Cultural historian Siân Evans has just published a book entitled Life Below Stairs, about the lives of the cooks, butlers, housekeepers, footmen, ladies’ maids and governesses who kept country houses running smoothly in the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

The Servants Hall at Penrhyn Castle. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

A wide social chasm separated servants from their employers, but a clear place in the hierarchy and a certain degree of security could make being ‘in service’ an attractive proposition.

The Brushing Room at Penrhyn. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The book describes how the different servant roles were defined and how the work was divided up, so that the mechanism of the country house could provide a seemingly effortless way of life.

A royal visit: King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visiting the Treasurer's House, York. ©NTPL

For special events, such as royal visits, the system would be stretched to the limit. In July 1894, for instance, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, visited Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd, together with 35 other house guests, who all brought their own servants with them.

Part of the kitchen at Penrhyn. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Over the four days of the house party, over 1,150 meals were provided, including 89 dishes for the Prince of Wales – a known gourmand – and the other main guests.

Copper jelly moulds in the kitchen at Penrhyn. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The whole occasion seems to have been a triumph, testament to the specialised skills and organisational capacity of the staff – although there must have been a few sighs of relief – and perhaps even the odd nervous breakdown – afterwards.

Forty winks at Ham House

August 16, 2011

The Duchess's Bedchamber at Ham House, Surrey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Ham House in Surrey will be hosting a series of guided tours exploring sleeping habits in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The State Bedchamber at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

Dr Sasha Handley of Northumbria University has been researching historic sleeping patterns. She will talk about how, where and when people used to sleep in houses such as Ham.

Oak bed dated 1660 at Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The tours will take place on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 August, at 12:15, 14:00 and 15:00. They will be open to all visitors on a first-come-first-served basis. Yawning during the tours will be actively encouraged.

How were they used?

March 9, 2011

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Our curators have been puzzled by a group of objects in the collection at Attingham, in Shropshire.

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, J. & P. Munn, New Bond Street, London, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

These small, dainty containers, made of cardboard and porcelain, have been described as card racks. They seem to date from around 1820.

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

They were clearly designed to be hung from a wall or another vertical surface, but as they are only about 15 cm tall they could not have held anything larger than calling cards or small items of stationary.

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, English or French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Their varied and sophisticated designs seem to indicate that they were fashionable objects which played a role in the social life of the house. 

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Were they used to collect visitors’ calling cards? If so, why were there so many of them in the same house and why did they come in sets of twos and threes?

One of a set of three card racks made of porcelain, this one showing a view of Attingham, Coalport, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Do leave a comment if you know more about the use of these Regency relics.


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