Regency Era Servants – Details, Details Part 2

This post is a continuation of the previous one, concentrating on the character of Regency-era servants when working under duress. I think these details are quite illuminating.

The following anecdotes, unless otherwise noted, come from the letters of Lady Williams-Wynn, (Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn; edited by Rachel Frances Marion Leighton, 1920 – my copy is from archive.org).

In 1820, her ladyship wrote in horrified tones to her daughter-in-law concerning the destruction of Wotton House. This fine Queen Anne mansion in Buckinghamshire was the ancestral home of the politically powerful Grenville family.

Built in the English Baroque style, with square apartments and high ceilings, Wotton’s design readily explains its destruction, although that circumstance was not apparent right away. A fire started in the room next to the nursery and soon flames were shooting straight up through the ceiling. Unfortunately, the copper roof confined the heat and flames to the attic, which ran the length of the mansion, and so the fire spread outwards from end to end of Wotton. The fire then traveled back down into the house by the only avenues of escape–the wooden staircases at either end and down the center of Wotton.

A fire that might have damaged one part of the house ended up burning the whole to the ground.

Wotton House, rebuilt by noted architect John Soane, neo-classical architect to the Regency
photo by By Mark Edwards, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia

Lady Williams-Wynn grew up at Wotton. She witnessed many poignant events there, including the untimely deaths of her parents.

“You will easily believe what a pang it has given me to think that all which was associated with my earliest and tenderest recollections should be wiped off from the face of the earth..”

— Lady W.W. to Fanny W.W. Nov. 5th, 1820

Wotton was the home of Lord Temple, son and heir to the duke of Buckingham and Chandos. He, along with his wife and baby daughter, Lady Anna, were in residence at the time of the fire. Their child was only nine months old, having been born earlier in the year in February. Lady W.W. expressed great astonishment that Lady Anna might have died in the fire but for the efforts of his lordship’s valet.

“We are all wonder at hearing from all sides of the peril of the poor Baby without one word being said of its Nurse..”

Imagine the chagrin of poor Nanny. Of all persons present in the house, she should have been the one to rescue her charge. Instead, the business had been left to the valet. One must wonder at Lady Temple’s domestic arrangements for the valet to be present at that particular moment in that part of the house (!)

Moseley, my favorite valet. He had other occupations as well, and now he returns to Downton Abbey to serve the King and Queen.
photo from fandom.com

Such a destructive fire bore investigation and Nanny provided an important clue. It was she, and not the valet, who was the first to see the smoke traveling across the wooden beams of the nursery ceiling. It was she, and not the valet, who picked up Baby and fled. I surmise she delivered her charge into the care of his lordship’s man in order to race back to the nursery to save irreplaceable mementos, such as the child’s christening gown.

Holding the Lady Anna in his arms, the valet could not refuse the hero’s mantle.

Several years earlier, in 1814,* Lady W.W. described the following incident concerning the eccentric daughter-in-law of fellow Whigs, Lord and Lady Melbourne. Apparently, this unfortunate occurrence was all the ton could talk about–the on-dit of that autumn.

The ‘wretched’ Lady Caroline Lamb, as Lady W.W. called her, was already a figure of scandal by the time this latest outrage occurred. Earlier in the year she’d embarked on a well-publicized affair with Lord Byron, having met him in that Whig stronghold, Holland House.

Lady Caroline Lamb by Phillips
She had a thing for pages.

After the affair ended, a surgeon was called to Lady Caroline’s house. One of her pages had suffered a serious injury. Apparently the lad refused to make proper obeisance to her ladyship and received a blow to the head. The offender insisted her instrument of correction was a broomstick and not the poker lying nearby.

In any case, all doubted the boy’s survival.

“It is certainly an extraordinary test of the good humour and kindness of Lord and Lady Melbourne to endure such an inmate, but it is said they do now profess they can bear it no longer.”

It appears Caro’s abusive behavior toward her servants, particularly her pages, was well-known among the ton. Her fellow novelist and confidante, Sydney, Lady Morgan recorded as much in her diary. Caroline did nothing to dispel this, admitting that when she and her page played with squibs, (little firecrackers shaped into balls), the horseplay was often quite boisterous.

On one occasion, the boy threw his squib in the fire. Scolding him, Lady Caroline threw hers at his head.

“It hit him on the temple, and he bled. He cried out, ‘O my Lady, you have killed me!’ Out of my senses, I flew into the hall and screamed, ‘Oh God, I have murdered the page!’ ”

Lady Morgan’s Memoirs: Autobiography, diaries and correspondence by Sydney, Lady Morgan, ed. W. H. Dixon

Vol II (1863)

“The Page Affair,” as Lady Caroline called it, is very well explained here. Some scholars believe these tales of abuse were really a metaphor to describe Caro’s relationship with Lord Byron–that the “pages,” hers and Byron’s, were their literary creations.

Lady W.W. was not impressed, but Lady Cork, famous for her salons and conversation, was.

“..she has persuaded the ton she is a second Lady Cork, to whose salons it is an honor to be invited..She sounds very disagreeable.”

She told Lady Morgan, perhaps teasingly, that she meant to send one of her own naughty pages to Lady Caroline to be reformed. She heard the Melbournes’ daughter-in-law was well-qualified in this regard:

“..’tis said she broke her page’s head with a teapot the other day.”

Loyal to dear Caro, Lady Morgan protested the whole thing was quite untrue–a Tory rumor.

Lady Cork didn’t care if the tale was true or not.

“..all pages are better for having their heads sometimes broken.”

 

*This letter describing the poker incident is undated. The editor placed it among the writer’s correspondence in the fall of 1814.

Regency Era Servants – Details, Details

There are many great blog posts out there detailing the life of a servant during the Regency era. Hopefully these anecdotal bits and pieces from the correspondence of Lady Williams Wynn (1754 – 1832) will be illuminating on the subject as well:

“Has Harriet told you of the accident which has prevented Sir Samuel Hood from taking his seat in the House or Hoisting his Flag? (!)”

Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn, etc.. (1920)

Sir Samuel was the cousin of the more famous Admiral Hood. He commanded 74-gun ships of the line with great intrepidity during the Napoleonic wars. However, he was no match for his maid servant. She placed the warming pan in his bed whilst he occupied it. He rolled over and, well, ouch.

The naval hero was unable to stand or sit for three weeks, her ladyship tittered.

Gilray’s caricature of Sir Samuel Hood’s contest for one of the Westminster seats in the Commons. Along with Sheridan, he is pictured tossing the reform candidate, duelist James Paull, up in the air.

In January of 1808, Lady W.W.’s son was able reassure his mama he was present at the  the reception and dinner for Louis XVIII of France. This took place at Stowe House and given by the Earl Temple (later Marquess of Buckingham). In order not to be late, Henry arrived quite early, around mid-afternoon, only to find the exiled monarch was already on the front steps of the great house, a jam of carriages and people along the driveway.

He was bound to catch a scolding from Mama if he failed to represent the family.

Stowe House, via geograph.uk.org
© Copyright Kevin Gordon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

Henry’s post boy, acting with singular intelligence, drove the carriage around to the back door to avoid the crush. There his master was able to quickly sneak into the house and be part of the delegation when His Most Christian Majesty entered.

The post-boy couldn’t do a thing about the meal, however.

“The dinner, entre-nous (although there are four French cooks in the house) was the worst I ever saw put upon a table, and worst-served than anything I ever saw before.”

After Queen Charlotte’s death, there was a period of time when some of the King’s jewels in her possession went missing. The set, including the Garter, had been put away in a box and forgotten until someone needed that very container to pack up some other odds and ends belonging to the dead Queen.

The box was located in a window seat, the jewels inside.

It was lost for a bit.
Photo via Royal Collection Trust

Lady W. W. relates a similar incident to her eldest daughter, Fanny. Mrs. Ormsby-Gore, of an ancient Welsh aristocratic family, left her family’s country estate Porkington* to go up to London . She left her entire household behind with instructions to perform the various tasks that might otherwise be noisy and bothersome to her ladyship whilst at home.

One such project involved tuning the pianoforte. The tuner arrived but was obliged to break the lock on the pianoforte to perform his service.

“The first thing he beheld was Mrs. G’s full set of jewels, which in the presence of the Butler and Housekeeper he sealed up and delivered to their care.”

Lady W.W.’s ‘Stowe Junket’ story reveals the exhausting labor of servants during large gatherings. The one she relates to her son also took place at Stowe, for her nephew was the Duke of Buckingham. He had invited all the extended family and friends to the christening of his grandson, the ‘Young Hero,’ destined to be the last Duke of Buckingham.

Not even illness could prevent her ladyship’s other son from attending, having gotten permission from his doctor, Sir Henry Halford.

Even Apphia, Lady Lyttleton (see her diamond earrings here) was present, although:

“…why or wherefore nobody knows or could make out, excepting the Duke and Duchess’ having met her in Malvern and having been in her society in the first moment of Ebulletion (ebullience?) on hearing of the birth of the boy.”

A hundred guests were in attendance. Ladies were quartered in the bachelor gallery, men in the Duke’s various houses around Buckinghamshire. Her ladyship records her compliments to Stowe’s old housekeeper, Mrs. Nicholson. This lady, beaming, boasted she gave the maids 190 pairs of sheets to prepare all the beds.

The servants apparently got little sleep. The Duke told her ladyship that ‘not one had their clothes off from Monday to Saturday.’

“I’m the perfect servant–I have no life.”
Mrs. Wilson, housekeeper in the Edwardian country house mystery, Gosford Park

*Later known as Brogynton Hall, the house had been in the family of Ormsby-Gore since the 17th century until they abandoned it in 1985 due to death taxes and the like. Called the House of Tears, it has witnessed an eerie succession of deaths to the occupants.  Pictures of the house can be found here, including the round music room (now demolished) that probably contained the pianoforte.