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The Lady’s maid, Sophie Leech, had to check the mistress’s bedroom and that the fire in there was lit. She laid out the Mistress’s clothes for the day carried in hot water and helped her dress and did her hair. It was a necessity for the mistress’s hair to be brushed for at least twenty minutes to make it shine. Sophie would tidy the room and then begun sewing and ironing. At the end of the day the she would have to undress the Mistress and brush and curl her hair. The cook, Sarah Drew, was in charge of all the cooking and controlled the store cupboard.
She was also in charge of the Kitchen maids. Most of them couldn’t read or write so as I saw all the bottles and jars were numbered so that when the Cook wanted, say the salt, she could say ‘jar number 6’ and they would know which one to get. The Head Nurse (nanny) Caroline Belliss, She was in charge of the care of the children, who saw her as more of a mother than their true mother. She looked after, clothed and fed them. Also she was in charge of the nursery maids.
Then there were the lower servants; the kitchen maids, the gardeners, the housemaids (cleaners), Footmen, a scullery maid, a nursery maid, dairy maids, grooms, a hall boy, a stillroom maid and laundry maids. Most of the servants had to be invisible to the family all of the time, with exceptions of the butler etc. Evidence of this was that they had to use separate, smaller back staircases. The tour guide informed us that if they heard any of the family coming they would have to make themselves scarce or turn to face a wall. They had to work on the bottom floor.
‘Below stairs’ as it was called. The luxury of the Abbey did not continue below stairs. I saw that it was cramped and the working conditions must not have been good, for example there were not air-vents or anything so when doing things like polishing silver the fumes must have been terrible. Obviously there were none of the modern conveniences to lighten the load of the housework. They had no vacuum cleaners but rug beaters instead. A mangle, dolly plug and a bucket replaced the washing machine. In the kitchen there was a large box containing ice.
The tour guide explained how it worked. As there was no electricity like in a modern refrigerator, in the winter huge chunks of ice would be cut from the lake and stored in the ice house which was a very deep hole in the ground so subsequently very cold all year. The ice from the ice house was then put in the top of this box and the cold air would circulate, cooling things such as butter and milk. However when the door was opened warm air would rush in. therefore the door was limited to being opened twice a day. This required incredible organisation.
And the Cook had to plan the meals for the day so she knew what ingredients she needed when and what to take out. Also in the kitchen there were different ovens for different types of cooking as the heat could not be controlled as easily. As the tour guide explained there was one for roasting meat only this had a tiled back and a very high heat. Then there was the stewing range. This had no fire but hot coals placed under hotplates to give a gentle heat. Lastly there was a very large baking range with a medium heat. As at least one of these would be on most of the time it would be very hot in the kitchen and not too pleasant.
There was however a very innovative construction; a high dome with windows in the ceiling. Apparently this was designed along the original monastery lines. It enabled the hot air to rise and let light in. this would have helped the temperature in the kitchen. One building, 35 occupants, many different experiences. There was the luxurious lifestyle of the family. Reflected in the furnishings, fashionable decoration, the visitors and the money spent on the purchase and restoration of the Abbey, the ‘modern’ technology such as the heating system and the fine artefacts such as the lion rugs.
The Webbs also did a very good job of keeping the history of the Abbey alive. They opened it for Tourists who were interested in Lord Byron and kept the old door for example. This would have also made them money. The words that scream out to me now are luxury and wealth. Though the children had a good childhood for those days with expensive toys and education they lacked love from their mother and father who had the very Victorian opinion that children should be seen and not heard. They also spent a lot of their time cold and cut off from the rest of the house in the attic nursery.
The servants were the worst off in house. Being ignored and expected to be invisible to the family. They had hard jobs and lots of duties. However, generally this was not a bad job for those days. They got paid reasonably and had food, accommodation and clothing provided for them and it was a respectable job. Many of the servants would be earning money to send home for their families. All in all the people in Newstead Abbey were quite well off compared to the rest of the country. They may have had troubles and challenges but who doesn’t?
If I was a Victorian the prospects of working or living at Newstead abbey wouldn’t seem too bad. Part 2 – How far are current interpretations of Newstead accurate reflections of how it may have been in 1871? In many ways the current representation of Newstead Abbey is accurate to what it would have been like in 1871. For example the furnishing is either original or a replica of what there was. The decoration is mainly restored from how it used to be when the Webbs lived there or re-done in the most accurate, Wealthy Victorian style.
A lot of the original artefacts remain, for example the lion rugs and the Antlers. The way the Abbey is decorated gives an impression of stepping into another world the, world of 1871 which I’m sure is a contributing factor to it being an accurate reflection of the Abbey in 1871. The Nursery is a good representation of how it was in 1871 as there has been no further heating systems installed for comfort. The tourists of the Abbey get a realistic view of the cold that the Webb children had to endure every day of their lives until they reached their teens.
And the contrast between the bland, starkness of the children’s room compared to the nursery maids room with its fire and homely additions gives the impression that the children were treated as lesser beings than their ‘superiors’, which is exactly how the general Victorian attitude to children was. The kitchen in the Abbey is another extremely good representation of how it may have been in the days of the Webbs. As the tour guide informed me it was restored originally by Thomas Wildman and designed along the original monastery lines.
This is how it would have been when it was bought by the Webbs. The architecture of the kitchen still remains in tact and the fascinating structure of the domed ceiling, which acted as a primitive air conditioning system, is still a prominent feature of the kitchen today. Two of the ranges in the corners of the room original and the third is not but if you were not told this you would not be able to tell the difference. There is still the original small hand-washing sink cut into the wall.
On the shelves are bottles and jars with numbers on them, as there would have been in 1871, so that the cook would have been able to tell her illiterate kitchen maids which jars she wanted. There were the full range of cast iron saucepans; even the smallest was difficult to lift. All sorts of other objects make the kitchen extremely authentic; jelly moulds; dried herbs hanging over the stewing range; a broom; various pestle and mortars including one at least a meter in diameter for grinding flour; a soap dish and a ‘Codd’ bottle.
This last object was as we were told an invention of that period for keeping carbonated drinks fizzy. It involved a marble in the top of a glass bottle. Overall the kitchen gives a good impression of how it would have been in 1871. However in the kitchen there are things that weren’t as they were in 1871. The fridge and the butter churns would not have been in there. They would have been in the Dairy.