Thursday, April 25, 2013

Paxton House Exhibition

Servants – emerging from the Shadows”

Paxton House 21st April to 31st October 2013.

Stories of Drunken Butlers, Fat Cooks and Wayward Dairymaids

My attention has been drawn to what looks like a most interesting exhibition at  Paxton House near Berwick (below)

Paxton House

In Country House like Paxton there is usually ample evidence of the lives of the owners and their families. The lives of their servants are less well documented. However in the writings, wages books and household account ledgers of the Home family there are valuable fragments of information. When these are put together, the working lives and characters those who served the Home family in their various houses, begin to emerge from the shadows.

As well as hard facts such as rates of pay, terms of employment, cost of uniforms and servants perks, there are more personal glimpses of the people themselves; the butler who struggled with alcoholism was given a second chance after stealing his masters whisky but finally “let go” after drinking the “spirits of wine” or “ meths” for the lamps; the coachman who fared better, avoiding the sack by joining the Temperance Society and was still in the Home’s employment 10 years later. 

Several of the servants stayed with the family for many years, rising from footman to butler or housemaid to housekeeper. Mrs Robb, the Housekeeper eventually left to marry an elderly potato merchant from Fife. “He’s no much to look at” but “he will leave me very comfortable.”

Some of the most exciting finds were photographs although usually the servants are on the sidelines of a photograph in the family album. There are grooms holding horses, a coachman seated on the carriage and nursemaids and governesses with the children. The Paxton gamekeeper is pictured with his dog, and the rather homely dairymaid with a bucket and her ginger cat. In some cases the names are known but sadly, most are anonymous.

An exhibition well worth a visit.

Ronald Morrison

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