Christmas is a busy time in any household but spare a thought for the many servants in the Edwardian country houses who had the onerous task of getting preparations underway for the luxurious Christmas parties. Here at Polesden Lacey Mrs Greville usually had around 10-12 guests for the Christmas period with a constant flow of people passing through the house from Christmas Eve through to New Year. Mrs Greville had multiples of staff to help her cater for all her guests needs and ensure that they were well looked after and entertained on a lavish scale. Maintaining high standards was the number one priority.
As well as making sure that the best food and wine was available in great quantities the guests’ bedrooms were of equal importance to ensure both comfort and luxury. Polesden Lacey had 15 guest bedrooms, 9 of which were en-suite, so could easily accommodate the Christmas guest list. Once the guest list and room allocation list had been received from Mrs Greville it fell to the Head Butler, Mr Bole and Housekeeper, Diana Davidson to oversee all proceedings and ensure that all the staff were working together to ensure the guests were comfortable and well looked after during the whole Christmas season.
In preparation for the Christmas party Mrs Greville would also have allocated her guest bedrooms in order of status.
Where do you think you would have been allocated?
Diana Davidson would then allocate the linen to the house maids with strict instructions which bedrooms they were for. All linens for the bedrooms would have been laundered (often by external laundry maids) and the beds made up in plenty of time before the guests’ arrival.
Diana Davidson was Mrs Greville’s Housekeeper during the 1920s and 30s. She married Jesse Hewins the Under gardener in 1935 when she was 39. Mrs Greville wrote a letter to her to thank her for sending a piece of the wedding cake – “I had some and so did Mademoiselle (Mrs Greville’s personal maid) also both of the dogs had a taste and wished you good luck and happiness…Yours truly Mrs Greville”
As Housekeeper Diana was in charge of the hiring and firing of the female staff, the provisioning and upkeep of the stores of the household, she oversaw the spring clean, managed the housemaids and would take charge of the linen and china stores. Phew that is quite a lot to manage!
Diana would have been expected to buy all the linen, keep regular checks on its condition and care and store it on carefully labelled shelves in large linen cupboards. In most grand households linen was kept in three main categories – ‘best’, ‘family’ and ‘servants’. A cyclical system would be in place to ensure that linens were evenly worn and when starting to get old and ‘past their best’ they would be moved into the next category.
When the linens came back from the laundry Diana would have been responsible for checking over their condition and setting aside any repairs which would later be given to the housemaids to mend. Once repairs were made and conditions checked then the linen would be moved to the next category down and new linens promptly ordered. Any last minute pressing and starching would then be carried out in the linen room before being taken up to the bedrooms.
For the first time this year we will be opening up the doors at the end of the West Corridor that lead into the Linen Room. Visitors will have the opportunity to look inside and see where Diana Davidson kept control of the linens and made sure that the very best standards were always maintained. Various items from the handling collection will be on display here during our Christmas event (every weekend from 29 November to 21 December) so that visitors can discover more about servant life.
Why not come along and take a glimpse behind the doors yourself.