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HALL BOY
 
JIM CHESSON

I first went to Hammerwood when I was 11 years of age, and I attended the local school. There were about 60 of us there.
 
At Christmas time we all had to gather at school and parade up to Hammerwood House, as it was called. The Pollens were there then. We were seen in, but had to leave our winter coats and boots in the Hall. Then it was into the Drawing Room where we all sat on the carpeted floor and we were entertained with Punch and Judy and various games. When that was over we went along to the Servant's Hall for a high tea.
 
When we had all eaten as much as we could, we then went back to the Front Hall, where we all received a Christmas present. Miss Barbara Pollen would come down the main stairs dressed as Father Christmas. All in all, we had a marvellous time. That was our Christmas party.
 
The other highlight of the year was our Summer Outing. We had to meet at the school and the char-a-bancs (as they were then known) used to arrive. Mrs Pollen would also arrive, by car, with hampers of food and bottles of lemonade which were then loaded into the chara'. Then, in single file, we had to file along to Mrs Pollen and she gave us half-a-crown each. Then, it was on the coach and, when loaded, away to Brighton. We had wonderful times. Half-a-crown was a lot of money between 60 and 70 years ago.
 
After I left school I used to go to the local dances, which were then held at the school, where I met Helen - one of the girls who worked for the Pollens in the kitchen. Through her I met John Adams the footman, and I got to know several of the other girls - then the chance came for me. The Hall-Boy was leaving and the girls said "Why don't you apply for the job?'. I did - I had an interview and got the job.
 
It seemed so strange moving into a big house like Hammerwood. There were eleven staff inside - two ladies maids, three house maids, three in the kitchen and three in the pantry. My day started at 7o'clock in the morning - and I've known it go through until 1 and 2o'clock the next morning when they had house parties. I had one half-day a week, and a Sunday half-day once a month. For that I got 8 shillings a week and my keep - and thought I was doing well.
 
My work consisted of keeping the Servants' Hall clean and tidy; laying for all meals; getting all the meals in from the kitchen and clearing away. Out by the back door was a bell rope, which rang the big bell on the wall which is not there now. I had to ring that for breakfast, lunch, tea and supper. All the china went back to the kitchen; all the cutlery I had to take to the pantry to wash and dry - that was kept in the Servants' Hall. All of the dining room glass and silver was left in the pantry - silver in the safe and glass in the cupboards. Once a week I had to scrub the flagstone floor from the swing doors to the back door.
 
Also once a week I had to clean out the parrot's cage and polish it - Polly was a so-and-so; I had to take her into the still room in her cage. There was a stand there and we had a spare perch - so you had to hold one end and put the other end into the cage for Polly to stand on, lift it out and put her on the stand. Sometimes she was good, and another time not so good. If she felt like it, and was bad tempered, she'd put one foot on and, like a flash, she'd be up the other end and have your finger. One morning she did that. I flung Polly and the perch back into the wooden sink, and turned the tap on. She got soaked, but out she came, flew out and around the still room; she was just going out of the door when Pop Brown, the Butler, was going by. And it was a race, who got to the back door first - Mr Brown won. We got her back into the cage and he said to me: "You bl___y fool, Jimmy - had she gone we'd have all gone". Anyhow, Polly was a clever bird. When the Pollens were away, she lived in the Servants' Hall with us. When they were at home she went into the Dining Room on her stand, and the Colonel would feed her with grapes. When Mrs Pollen was in her room, dressed and ready to come down to the Dining Room for the meal she would ring her bell to alert the Kitchen and Pantry that she was ready. When Polly heard that bell she would call out "Manson, Manson" (who was the cook and housekeeper) and "Brown" (the butler). Then if the telephone rang, it was "Hello - Hello" until it was answered.
 
Then there was Jeany Jack. She worked in the kitchens, but had a wonderful laugh, and Polly could take her off to a T. Then there were spaniel dogs - Dot, Puppet and Rufy. She would call them all by name, and also whistle them. She gave us many a laugh.
 
Before I went there to work they had a black spaniel; he was a tartar. We were all allowed to go to the local 'hop'; after the dance - as usual - some of the boys would see a girl home. But if this dog was around they had to walk up the drive backwards, or he would have their heels.
 
Pop Brown was a very nice man, but things had to be done right. We had two big mahogany sinks where all the silver was washed. We had to use primrose soft soap and the water had to be so hot you could hardly keep your hands in it for long. Anyhow, each article was washed separately, and placed on the mahogany draining board. Then cold water was poured over to take the suds away but, before drying, you had to put really hot water over so that they dried easier and you had to bring the tea towel up between the tines of the forks. Once you got used to it, it wasn't so bad. Then there was keeping it clean when they did entertaining - we were kept busy, more so evenings and nights. Evenings started off - the Dining Room was laid. Once Mrs Pollen rang the bell, it was all stations at the alert - getting the first course from the kitchen to the sideboard outside the dining Room door; as you collected the next course, and so on, so you cleared the remnants of the previous course away - silver to the pantry, the rest to the kitchen. At the same time I had to lay the Servants' Hall table, so that when they'd finished eating in the Dining Room the Ladies used to retire to the Chinese Room and the men sat talking, smoking and drinking. During that break for us, the staff had their supper and when the supper was finished, so that was cleared. Then, it was a case of clearing the Dining Room.
 
When all the cleaning and washing up had been done, then it was a case of all clothes and shoes. Boots which the men had worn that day were brought to the pantry - that included ladies' shoes. All boots had to be washed with warm water, soft soap and a sponge then wiped dry and polished. Even the instep of the sole had to shine. The most I ever washed and finished in an evening was twenty pairs. After they were finished, then it was the clothes - the footman and I, we did them between us as we had to go all through them. On spots we had to use Scrubbs ammonia, then it was the pressing - we had two big irons, the type they used on billiard tables. They used to stand on the kitchen range so that they were really hot. Then it was the white clothes, which we had to moisten as we pressed so you had to have a stiff brush to tap over the piece you'd just ironed before lifting the cloth - it was supposed to stop a shine on the clothes. When all the clothes and shoes were done, they had to be ready to go up to the rooms first thing next morning.
 
For us it was bed time. Still, we had some fun, as well as work; we had good food and a good bed. Miss Manson - the housekeeper - was very good. She often gave me things to take home - such as sugar, tea and jam. Also Mr Brown, if there were any surplus clothes or shoes going, he would say "would you like them, Jimmy?". They were better than anything we could buy. An uncle of mine used to give me 10 shillings for shoes and shooting boots a pair. Derek - the Pollen's son - his clothes fitted me well, but not the shoes or boots.
 
We used to get a lot of different people as guests, but I think the one I liked most was General Sir Ian Hamilton. His wife, Lady Hamilton, was Mrs Pollen's sister, but she suffered from asthma and at any time - day or night - Martin the Chauffeur was called out to take her back to London. Often the General would go back to London on a Sunday, after lunch.
 
Lunch used to take a long time - as we used to say, the men were in there drinking, and putting the world right. So we used to get a ball and bat and play a game of cricket in the back courtyard. Well, if Martin was bowling or batting, the General would walk from the Dining Room, through to the courtyard, stand by the back door and say "Martin, when you are ready we will get back to town". He was never in a hurry and Martin and the General would walk off together, like brothers.
 
The Pollen's chauffeur's name was Warner, known to us a 'Pop Warner'. They had two big Daimler cars, and a Chevrolet. A Mr Waterhouse would drive that. He was like an odd-job man. Pop's Daimlers were his pride and joy - it didn't matter what time of day or night he came in, they were hosed down and chamoised over; before going in for a meal or whatever.
 
Mr Davey was head gardener. If I remember rightly, there were six gardeners all told.
 
The Daveys and Warners lived up at the back of the adjoining garages, stables and the big power room, as they used to generate their own electricity. Also, there was Bert Still - he was a Wood Reaf - he used to look after the woods, and everything away from the house and gardens. The woods used to be super - they had gravel paths, well looked after, and along them used to be seats with drop down backs to keep the seats dry when not in use. The seats were recessed off the path with rhododendron, and lily of the valley at the back and either side.
 
Also, at the bottom of the wood was the lake with a nice boathouse. If the people were away - and the weather good - we used to go down, get the boats out. The girls would be either knitting, sewing or reading whilst we were fishing.
 
The Pollens had a home in London - 2 Hyde Park Gardens - and a place at Dornoch in Scotland.
 
I must mention - we had the post twice a day. In the morning it was Old Ben - he used to get a full breakfast in the Servant's Hall. In the afternoon it was Reggie - he used to have his tea with us. They used to cycle out from East Grinstead, and we were at the end of the line.
 
Also if there were any builders on maintenance I used to have to lay a table in the Soft Water Room, and they would get a hot dinner. At one turn, there were contractors in doing the central heating; they were working in the cellars, where the wines and such were kept. Pop Brown booked it all in, and it was booked out bottle for bottle. At one turn, some was missing. Pop reported to the Colonel and the contractors were out, and never let in to finish it off.
 
There were two oil fired boilers under the Servants' Hall, one for central heating and one for domestic. To light these, you had to pull a switch on the wall, open the boiler door, light a piece of paper and drop it in - and away it would go. But, sometimes you had a blow back, and one did happen when Pop Brown lit it. The big one blew back and skinned his head. He looked awful, with blood all over his face, a very pitiful sight.
 
At that time, another thing happened - Pop's bedroom was on the top floor. Outside of his bedroom door was a 10' wide landing, with a toilet at the end. On the other side of the landing a wall, which separated our male quarters from the girls and the head housemaid had her room there. After we had all gone to bed, Pop Brown heard a tapping on housemaid's wall. Pop knocked the footman's wall, in turn he woke me. He said Flossie (the housemaid) said she could hear someone outside. There were no lights on so we listened through the loo window and could hear strange noises down in the front courtyard. So, in the dark, we told Pop we were going down to see what was happening. His words to us were: "be careful boys". So we crept down to the gun room, got a revolver each - loaded. We quietly unlocked the door, opened it and switch the lights on; and there were the culprits - two cows walking up the gravel, chewing grass from the lawn! It made a good laugh for a long time.
 
I thinks this tells a bit of the life we had at Hammerwood.
 
Two things I must mention - what is the village hall now, the Colonel gave the land, and paid a quarter of the building costs. Mrs Pollen was a C of E, and attended the local church. The Colonel and the rest of the family were RC and went to East Grinstead.
 
I worked full time in the house for about eighteen months. When I gave my notice to quit, Pop Brown said "you bl---y fool, you could carry on until you were forty and then retire in comfort".
 
Although I did leave, Hammerwood was always like a second home to me. I used to go down evenings and weekends to give a hand, and Pop Brown would give me a 1 note - a lot of money then. I first got to know my wife - Kathleen - in 1931 when she came to work at Hammerwood. We knew each other for five years before we married in 1936. We have two daughters and one son - all doing well - and we will have been married 55 years on 23rd December 1991.



related or associated :-
Under housemaid 1931
 
The Hungry Forties
 


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