In Service at the vicarage in St. Ives, Cambridgshire c1907
Well then I stayed home for a little while but I got a position as a kitchen maid in St Ives in Cambridge. ….it was a vicarage, in a vicarage. But it was a very, very hard place there, the work was terrific, I used to have to kneel on the tops of the range to clean the flues out.
How often did you do those?
Oh about twice a week I had to coz they had great big ovens, very big ovens. If I got up too late after 6 o’ clock I used to have to stand on the kitchen table to heat the water in a saucepan. Over an ordinary gas flame, the ordinary old fashioned flames you know? Oh I had to do that many a time.
They had a lady’s maid she used to come down ‘bout 7 o’ clock for the lady’s bathwater and they used to have hip? baths in the bedroom, she used to have to bath…. and the gentleman only, was allowed to use the bathroom.
They had a bathroom?
Oh they had a bathroom yes, but only the gentleman was allowed to use it.
It must have been very early days.
Oh it was a beautiful vicarage, it was a huge vicarage, the staircase was a lovely one of those, lovely round staircases that when up… a big square hall. But weren’t allowed to use those stairs, we had the servant’s stairs to go up. Same as we had the servant’s hall where we had our meals, and never the same food as they had in the dining rooms, quite different food.
Was it good food?
Well it was good, but it was plain… but it was joint on Sunday and “done up” until Wednesday. Then we’d have another one on Thursday and that was “done up” until Saturday. But it was never what they had in the dining rooms, was always different what they had.
What did they have in the dining room, can you remember?
Well all sorts, they used to have a lot of their stuff up from the army and navy stores in London. Lobsters and things like that. And I always remember they used to drink a lot of “Salutarous” water… come up in bottles from the Army and Navy stores. I don’t know what special water it was…. I s’pose it was some health water you know.
Oh and they always dressed in the evenings in evening dress, with trains! This is a vicar’s wife mind and her mother, Mrs Hamilton-Bell was her mother’s name, but I can’t remember the vicars name. But they were oh… really gentry they must have been because… She had a son that was a major in the army at Aldershot. And he had about one of the first, I should think, motor cars that ever came out, one of those very, very high ones. And the chauffer that he had was a soldier, and he was a married man with 7 children. When he used to bring him up, he [the chauffer] used to be ever so sorry for me he said he would never let one of his girls go into service. I used to have to work from 6 o’clock in the morning to 10 o’ clock… 10 half past at night. Course it used to take me ages to wash up the dinner things!
What time did you have off?
No Unions then!
No, No! One half day, one Sunday afternoon, a fortnight. And then I was just allowed to go out for a walk you know and back again and that was all I had. Eight pounds a year was my pay…. Eight pounds a year, I used to get that monthly. And I don’t know what could have happened but I must have been I suppose a little bit saucy to the cook and she made a complaint to me to the lady in the…. I had to go into the dining room when this was reported. But I can always remember, course as a youngster naturally I burst out crying… and I said and it was very unkind of Elizabeth to tell tales about me!
You can remember saying that?!
Yes! I can remember so well saying it, just like it was only yesterday!
It was a lovely place, they had a gardener there and an under-gardener. Oh! It was a beautiful kitchen garden. And when he came, he used to come in with the vegetables, every day fresh vegetables, he was awfully kind to me, he always used to bring me in some… either some peaches or apricots in his pocket and he’d quietly give them to me. I used to take them up in my bedr… My bedroom was up three flights of stairs! A little attic room, with just bare boards in it which I used to have to scrub.
Did you have to share it or was it your own?
Yes I used to share it with a house maid.
Really “Upstairs Downstairs”!
Yes, yes. The lady’s maid she had a special room outside Mrs Hamilton-Bell’s bedroom. I used to have to practically wait on her with different things. In the mornings before 8 o’clock I had to do three fireplaces, the study, the dining room and the drawing room fireplaces.
And that was clear out the ashes first…and then…. ?
Oh yes, all that sort of thing. And then there were three bedrooms upstairs to do, their bedrooms ‘cause they all had fires up there you see. So it was all fires everywhere. And the kitchen range I used to have to see to that. But oh it was a terribly big… But what I used to enjoy most of all was when I used to have to wash up was to scrape up the…. ‘Cause I was so hungry you know I didn’t have enough food a growing youngster. Used to like to scrape out the lovely sauces that she used to make, with anchovy sauce and all that sort of thing.
Still do it now!
Well it used to be lovely there I used to enjoy that! Of course they had all the luxury’s that you could possibly have that you… today you know. I don’t think that he had any pay at that vicarage I think it was a private living really. Because they always seemed to have plenty of money.
I remember they had a jumble sale once, and they put some lovely things, and they used to wear those boa’s, the lady’s maid used to make a lot of things for them and she used to make those boas, in like “fissues”, and all that sort of thing. And they were made of net the boa’s and then she’d have long silk ribbons you know hanging down from it. ‘Cause trains on their dresses to everything. And the lady’s maid got rid of a navy blue skirt once, she said would I like this navy blue skirt. And when I went home finally, I was really…. I told my mother if I couldn’t leave I was going to run away, and I’d been there six months then. And when I went home and my mother met me at Walham Green, we lived at Fulham, she met me at Walham Green station she had a shock! I had a navy blue skirt with a train on it!
How old were you then?
I must have looked terrible. When she told me about it you know after years about it… but when she saw me with this skirt on, and I forget, I think I had an like an ordinary motor hat on and, you know a straw hat that they used to wear then. But I always remember I thought I was quite a lady with this train you know, I thought it was absolutely wonderful to have, especially as it was one that the lady’s maid used to wear. But oh... I used to have to do the lady’s maids room and make her bed. And I know one morning she caught me... I used to just throw the bedclothes over! She said you set that bed and make it properly you know, and I was so disappointed because I often just used to throw the things over and cover them up, you know! It was wicked you know the way that they made you… just for eight pounds a year.
It’s ridiculous isn’t it?
Yes. Terrible you know really. ‘Cause, as they said you had your food… such as it was. But you couldn’t help yourself to anything, it was just given to you what there was on the table, but it was very, very rigid.
There was a butler, they had a butler that when I first went there, the butler had been to the Boer war and he’d picked up drink. And one evening they wanted the shutters put across in the drawing room, and he wasn’t there. And he wasn’t there… he wasn’t there to put these shutter over. And he’d gone down the end of the drive, down there was a little pub at the end, and he wanted a drink. He did it two or three times. Well somebody must have split on him, and he came… they had him on the carpet about it it was quite a to-do, and they gave him the sack. But then they had another one and he was a very quaint fellow. Course when we went to church we had to file in, we had our own row, we had to file in, and when I first went there I hadn’t any gloves. I was pulled up because I didn’t have no gloves to wear to church. And he… it was, it was summertime, it was a very sunny day one Sunday, and he thought he’d go to church with a straw hat on. Oh he was pulled up on the carpet… butlers should always wear a bowler hat! Wasn’t allowed to wear a straw hat! But oh it was very, very rigid with everything that was there, what we had to do. I just was… really I got to that state that I should have run away from the place. I wrote to Mother and tell her I couldn’t come home, I intended running away.
And was there any reaction to your leaving?
They took back the old kitchen maid that left previously. She’d gone somewhere else, she was an older girl. I was really too young for the job actually, because it was such a great big stone kitchen. I was supposed to get on my hands and knees and scrub the floor but I couldn’t do it! I wasn’t… I couldn’t get the work done in time with everything that was there, what with the washing up, loads and loads of washing up as I say I used to be washing… and I can remember one occasion when the chauffer came with the major once. He came out to help me, it was about 10 o’clock, and all this washing up I had to do, he came out… but the cook came out and told him “No look that’s her job” he said, “Leave her alone” he said, “You come away from it.” Oh and he used to feel so sorry for me, you know, he said “I’d never let a girl of mine go to service.” Said “It’s terrible…” Still! I mean I learnt a lot… it’s all experience, I learnt a lot from that. I had some marvellous places of ? in London after that. Came back to London, and of course, there you were well respected and you were treated more as one of the family.
NB: There follows some background comment from Philip Grosset who hosts an excellent St. Ives website at saintives.org.uk
"The vicar at the time would, I think, have been the Rev. Oscar Wade Wilde
(who was apparently very proud to be distantly related to the famous Oscar Wilde).
The old vicarage of All Saints, where your great grandmother
must have worked, was pulled down in the 1960s, but its grounds used to occupy most of the space between the churchyard and Westwood Road, including
what is now Clare Court. The present vicarage in Westwood Road just takes up a very small part of this area. The pub mentioned might have been the
Bricklayer's Arms or the Spare Rib, now on the sites of nos. 2 and 5, Church Street, or the Dun Horse, that still survives as a pub but is now known
as The Aviator, in the corner between Church Place and Ramsey Road.(PG)"