UNDER HOUSEMAID - 1931
I was about 16 when I first went to Hammerwood. I had read the advertisement
in the daily newspaper for an under housemaid at Hammerwood Park, at the time I
was working at Crawley Court, Winchester.
I went to the domestic staff agency in London, who sent me for an interview
with the Housekeeper from Hammerwood. We had the interview at the seat of the Pollen family in Ebury Gardens.
I had already worked three years at Crawley Court, starting when I was thirteen. I was very apprehensive about starting this new job. I should have
been used to meeting people, but had it drummed into me that you speak when spoken to. Anyway, the interview was in my favour, and I got the job. A week after, I travelled down to Hammerwood by train and was met at the station - that was the first time I had been in a car. My first impression was the long drive down to the house. There were twelve in staff indoors.
The Pollen family consisted of Colonel and Mrs Pollen, Derek, Pamela and
Barbara - all extremely nice, although I didn't see much of them, and if I did
happen to meet them had to stand to one side until they had passed by.
My first job after getting up at 4.30 was to do about four large grates, made
of steel. After cleaning out the ashes and laying the fires I had to burnish the
steel posts with a square of chain mail with a leather back. It was extremely
hard work - but that was one of the lowest jobs, and gradually I became third
housemaid and was allowed to polish the furniture and wash the paint. They were beautiful rooms, and most of the furniture was in the Georgian or
Regency style, except for the Chinese Room which had appropriate furniture,
curtains and chair covers. From what I remember, it was done in a soft yellow.
There were no fitted carpets in any of the rooms - there was a space of about a
yard of parquet flooring all round the room, which had to be polished every
morning with beeswax, which we had to mix up ourselves - beeswax and turps. A super smell.
We had to do most of this work before breakfast in the Servants' Hall, for
which we were allowed about an hour. After that we went and made our own beds,
and cleaned our bedrooms out. We had always to keep them clean and tidy as Mrs
Pollen used to pay a surprise visit, while we were having our lunch.
After we had done our bedrooms, it was time to sort out Colonel Pollen's bedroom and bathroom, then the children's rooms - they all had their own
bathrooms - then on to any visitors' bedroms and bathrooms. It took most of the morning, though we did have fifteen minutes for coffee break, but we had to
finish by lunchtime or there was trouble, even if some of them stayed in bed until 12 o'clock.
I think we had our lunch about 12.30, around a very big table. We were
allowed to talk, but as the Housekeeper was there we had to be careful what we
talked about. After lunch the kitchen staff cleared the table and washed up -
they didn't have lunch with us, they kept to the kitchen.
After lunch, if it wasn't our half day, we had to wash and change into our afternoon attire, which consisted of a brown dress, cream apron and a small
cream cap. When we'd changed we had to go to the Sewing Room and mend the linen which had been torn by the laundry. Mostly it was turning sheets side to middle - very boring. I didn't enjoy it at all, and was glad when it was tea time, after about 6.30 when most of the household had retired to their bedrooms to change for dinner. Before this, we had to go around the bedrooms with brass cans of hot water, to put in the china basins in each bedroom, with a towel over the top to keep it hot. These were very heavy, and all had to be cleaned with Brasso the next day.
When they were all dressed in their evening clothes (which took them about an hour and a half) and went down to dinner, we had to scurry round the rooms they had been using and tidy them up - brush the grates, put more fuel on, tidy the papers and magazines and plump the cushions up - ready for their return. Then Brown the Butler used to bring in the Grog Tray (drinks) for their return from the Dining Room.
Then we had to go upstairs again to turn the beds down for the ladies and lay their night clothes out. We then had to take their day clothes away to a special room to be pressed, and shoes to be cleaned, all ready for the next day. I liked this part of the job as they had such lovely clothes, as this was part of my working up to a ladies' maid. Their underclothes were pressed as well - not very surprising as we used to find most of the clothes on the floor of the bedrooms, where they had dropped them. By then it was our own supper time - a great relief as it was a long day.
Christmas was rather nice at Hammerwood, with all the fires blazing. the
house was really full up with the Pollen's relations; it was such a happy time.
We were usually asked what we would like for Christmas, and had it within
reason. Everything was laid out on the billiard table. We had to stand in line and wait for our name to be called. Then Mrs Pollen gave us our
present and wished us a Happy Christmas. But we didn't have any time off - we had to go back to work immediately. The visitors stayed a few days then went
back to their different homes, and Col. and Mrs Pollen usually went back to their flat in London with Barbara, Pamela and Derek, to go to different dances
and for the New Year.
So - we were able to clear all the mess away and have a breather.
The next upheaval was the spring cleaning, when the Pollens went away on
holiday. Everything was washed - china, paint, windows and the carpets that could go outside were put on a wire line and beaten with a carpet beater. It was
a filthy job, and we were smothered in dust so we were glad to be able to jump in a bath - although there were no bubble baths in those days, just a handful of soda and oatmeal soap. There were no shampoos - you might get an Amami shampoo if you were lucky - otherwise it was a soft soap which was a super green but did nothing for your hair. There were no hair driers either - you had to dry it in front of the fire, which did wonders for your face. On Sundays, we had to behave and go to church with the family. It was a long walk up to the church and back, but as housework on a Sunday was lighter, we didn't mind so much.
The nicest part of the year was going to Scotland with the family, where they
had a house. We were by the sea, which was rather nice, and we were able to swim
and work wasn't so hard. The place itself was called "Gullane" - there were
quite a few large houses round about, but it was nice and peaceful. Those that
were left behind were cleaning, all ready for the family to come back to
I earned 10 shillings a week.
DRESS IN 1931 - We wore cloche hats, which I used to call "PO" hats, and the
daughters, Barbara and Pamela wore beach trousers in the summer with very wide
bottoms, and short sleeved blouses in matching materials (lounging clothes),
with very, very pointed shoes. They wore these in the grounds. It was the
'flapper era'. They wore very wide bandeaux round their hair, and hanging down
related or associated :-
The Hungry Forties