Friday, 28 June 2013

Life Below Stairs by Annie Burrows

One of the great things about being a writer of historical romance is that it gives me the perfect excuse to visit the many historical sites of England - under the guise of research...

  I can't remember now what excuse I gave for dragging my husband down to Erddig during last summer holidays - but as it is a National Trust property I could promise him there would be a tea room.  We put it to the test as soon as we arrived, because we set out so early neither the house nor grounds were open yet. Anyway, after fortifying ourselves with a pot of tea and a home-made scone, we had a wander round the outbuildings.

In the stable yard we came across this carriage - 
There was nobody about to tell me I shouldn't, so I climbed in to see what it would have been like to be a grand lady, going fo a drive in one.
The seat was surprisingly comfortable, although it might have been a different sensation when the carriage was being bounced across the cobbles!  On certain days, you can take a carriage drive round parts of the estate, and really get a feel for the period.
Sadly there were no horses or grooms around while I was there, so I had to settle for using my imagination.
(Drive on James!)

I did take a peek into the tack room, just in case there was a groom lurking there...
Those things on the table that look like pies, by the way, are actually leather covers for horses hooves.
By this time the grounds were open, so we went for a stroll.  They were absolutely beautiful, and I took so many pictures it is has been hard to decide which one to include.  In the end, I settled for the view of the back of the house across what is called the canal, but which is in fact a large, rectangular pond, full of the most amazingly friendly and curious fish.  They must be used to being fed, rather than angled for, I think.

By this time I needed feeding myself, so went back to the tearoom for a spot of lunch (chunky, thick vegetable soup and freshly baked home-made bread).  And then we went on a tour of the house.  It doesn't usually open until 12.30, but if you are one of the first in the queue to get in the grounds, you can ask for a ticket for the guided tour which starts at 12 noon.  Because many of the rooms are quite small, they have to limit the number.  Though we missed the tour, we found the staff dotted about the place incredibly friendly and helpful, and if they didn't have the answer to anything we wanted to know, they had files full of information they could consult. 
The unique feature of this house, though, is the interest the family who owned it took in their servants, and the way they immortalized them through both portraits and poems.  The first owner began the tradition, and his heirs kept up with the tradition, right up to Victorian times when photographs replaced the portraits.

One poem which struck me as amazing was written by Philip Yorke in 1912, and was almost prophetic.  It is shown on the right, but as the print is a bit too small to read, I've reproduced it here:

Our sons who from the window gaze,
May live to see far distant days,
When sixty years a-head the change
May be remarkable and strange,
For then their household staff may be
Machines of electricity,
Then radium may disperse their night
And turn its darkness into light:
Their goods from town may order'd be
By wireless telephony
And transit then may quite despise
All other routes than through the skies!

Duly amazed, we returned to the tearoom for one last glass of orange squash and a slice of the most deliciously moist carrot cake I've ever had, before getting back on the road home.

(if you want to sample the carrot out more about life below stairs in Victorian England, click on Erddig )

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