Choosing the Lake District as a suitable place for a holiday home or one's country retreat is nothing new; for the past 200 years, the presence of the large estates and grand houses has played a very significant role not only in shaping the landscape but in our local economy too. For the next four weeks, "The Way We Were" will be recalling the grand households at the height of their Edwardian splendour both upstairs and downstairs, through the personal memories of both employers and employees.
Many of the grandest Victorian Lakeland mansions were constructed by wealthy industrialists who made their fortunes in cotton or mining or the iron and steel industries. Many families only visited their Lakeland homes during summer, leaving a small skeleton staff to caretake and look after the gardens. Other newly endowed families chose Westmorland as a family seat and came to live permanently.Their households flourished, their staff catering for an annual round of house parties, garden parties, dinners and balls, from mid-Victorian times up until the 1914-18 War.
Nothing was ever the same after that War. Many of the sons went to fight and never returned to inherit, dying in the mud of Flanders or The Somme alongside their butlers, gamekeepers and gardeners. The houses became more difficult to staff; the depression years of the 1920s and 30s brought a change in the fortunes of many families whose wealth had depended on those industries worst hit by depression, and gradually the estates were sold off, divided up, and the houses turned into flats or hotels.
Although being 'in service' usually referred to the young girls and women who worked as cooks, kitchen maids, house maids, parlour maids, nannies and ladies' maids ,there were plenty of positions in service for men, too. Most jobs provided cheap living accommodation or a tied cottage on the estate, and considerable numbers of men and boys were employed as butlers, valets, flower and vegetable gardeners, estate workers and game keepers.
In addition to this, many of the larger houses in the area boasted stables and coaches staffed by uniformed grooms and liveried footmen. Each house was known by the colour of its livery, a glory which was short-lived after the arrival of the first horseless carriages and cars. The grooms and coach drivers naturally became the first chauffeurs; and it wasn't long before the empty stable soon became the garage, with one chauffeur-mechanic to do the work of half a dozen stable boys, grooms and coachmen.
However, in the early 1900s, the big houses were still running on a full quota of staff:
"At Rydal Hall, when the Squire was still there, they had about thirty-two staff. The Squire himself had four children, and the staff consisted of the governesses, including the ordinary governess and the French governess; the nanny and the under-nurse, the butler and the footman and three house maids, the house-keeper, the cook, the kitchen maid and the scullery maid; a coachman and a footman and a groom who used to ride on the front with the coachman; then there were three woodmen out in the woods, three gamekeepers and the gardeners," one lady recalled.
Even the smaller, more modest houses along the Brathay Valley such as Ashley Green and Nanny Brow all kept a staff of four or five maids inside and a couple of gardeners, while The Croft at Clappersgate was just one of many houses well known for its smart green liveried grooms often to be seen out with the carriage and pair.
"All those houses along the main road to Windermere, they all had their carriages and pairs and their different uniforms - some were brown and some were green."
Some members of staff stayed so long in service they were almost regarded as part of the family. One new nanny stayed just a fortnight before declaring that she was so homesick, she would have to leave. She was persuaded to stay the month:
"At the end of the month she'd settled down and she stayed with us till the day she died forty-eight years later. She was the most precious friend we could have had."
The family that owned Balla Wray in the early 1900s visited only in summer from their Newcastle home, but never without a full entourage and the second-best silver:
"Grandmamma had constructed three or four large wooden boxes with padlocks, and into these boxes would go the kitchen paraphanalia and the silver and china - she had a full set of plated silver for Balla Wray, not the genuine silver...they took a special coach on the train and into this went the boxes, three servants, the carriage, the coachman and two horses, so they filled the whole carriage."
Even the sewing machine, the silver teaspoons and cake-stand would be carefully packed, and the journey proceeded by tram and train to Windermere, where the servants were loaded into an open wagonette and a cart took the luggage. But what did the servants think of the annual pilgrimage? Were their employers aware whether they enjoyed it or not?
"Well, I don't think I would have known that, because servants were easy to get, and if you sent one away, well, you got another one quite quickly. We had a frightfully ancient cook, she quite enjoyed it, I think."
Fraternisation between staff and the family was not encouraged by either side, especially in the kitchen. "Children were not much encouraged to go into the kitchen. It depended very much on the servants as to whether you were allowed to go in the kitchen, and we weren't encouraged; the servants were masters of the kitchen, yes, and I don't think I wanted to go into the kitchen very much. That lasted a long time, until one had reduced one's servants, when eventually we only had one."