Another week, another hall.
However, this one holds a special place in my heart as I have a personal connection with it. In 1920, when my great grandmother was just 14 years old, she started working at Burton Constable Hall as a Chambermaid. Chambermaids specifically look after and clean the bedrooms of a household and with this one having quite a few, I’m sure it would have been a relentless task. I have visited this hall a handful of times when I was a child but never really understood (or even cared) that I had a connection with this grand estate.
It was strange walking up to the house yesterday, in it’s large intimidating size, thinking that she would have done the exact same thing 95 years ago. Having just left school at a mere 14 years of age, barely a teenager, she started work here – something that would now be classed as child labour. Although I agree that that is too young to start your working life, I think that the work ethic that they once had has sadly dwindled away. Practical skills were necessary to survive back then but now, it’s a miracle if someone under the age of twenty knows how to use an iron.
We booked onto a special ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour of the house which was an unbelievable eyeopener to the way of life that the servants, and my great-grandmother, had.
First, we were led up a hidden wooden spiral staircase that took us to the North Tower which gave us breathtaking (partly because of the beauty & partly because it was a long way down) views of the estate’s grounds and surrounding areas. My Nan relayed the fact that her mother told her that she would have to cross a fair few fields to catch the bus home the one afternoon she would get off every fortnight. It’s unimaginable to think about having to go and live in a strangers house, working from dusk till dawn, no family around you and an hours bus ride from home.
Secondly, we visited the servants quarter. Peeling wallpaper adorns the walls and forlorn iron bedsteads and broken furniture still remain in the rooms – it was like stepping into a time warp and nothing has been touched in years. It felt strange walking through these rooms thinking that my great-grandmother once lived here, numerous questions circling in my head. Had she seen this exact wallpaper that was still clinging on for dear life today? Had she slept in one of these beds? Did she have friends here?
On our way to the next room we descended a grand staircase whilst someone was playing the grand piano in the below, not unlike something out of a Downton Abbey scene. My Nan said that my great-grandmother used to peep through this very staircase with the other maids, watching the numerous balls that happened below as the glamorous women swished around in their gowns as they hoped they would do one day.
Our next stop we visited was the Waterloo Room. Every wall was covered in hand-painted wallpaper of the battle of Waterloo and although it not being to my taste, I can appreciate the many hours of meticulous painting it took to create the scenes with such intricacy. A thing that interested me in this room was the many boxes that lined the shelves, labeled with the surrounding villages names. Apparently they used to hold the deeds to every plot of land and all the information on who owned what (now held at Beverley’s Treasury) and there were still even boxes for villages like Cleeton that have now sadly been lost to the see because of coastal erosion.
Last stop we visited the Cellar. The guide brought to my attention the fact that back then there was no mains water supply and clean water was a rarity so people drank a lot of beer, hence the sign below.
I’m guessing the majority of that era were constantly tipsy, not unlike our own really.
Sadly, my great-grandmother’s time here as a Chambermaid lasted only about a year as her mother, my great-great grandmother, found out she wasn’t getting fed enough and often went hungry so moved her to work at Mulgrave Castle in Sandsend near Whitby. Although the ending is a sad one, visiting Burton Constable helped me feel closer to where I come from, albeit a working class background. I’ll leave you with this picture of Gladys, my great-grandmother from when she was about 9/10 years old.
Have you been to Burton Constable before? Do you know anything about your family background/history?
I’d love to know what you have to say!
Hope you found this interesting (sorry if it was a bit boring).
Ciao for now