The Regency Maid-Servant – Part two

Continuing the Regency maid-servant’s “sketch of character,” we find she must suffer irritations all day, and without complaint.

In 2001’s Gosford Park, Lady Sylvia McCordle is the mistress of a great country house. The head house maid is Elsie. One evening, while entertaining a host of guests, her ladyship finds the temerity to interrupt dinnertime in the servants’ hall to inquire about a vegetarian meal for a tiresome American guest.

Cook pointedly turns her back on her. The housekeeper then assists, receiving a wealth of thanks and relief.

Elsie is an Edwardian-era maid-servant. But for purposes of illustration, she is timeless.

Elsie is an Edwardian-era maid-servant. But for purposes of illustration, she is timeless.

For the maid, there is no such luxury of ignoring a request nor expecting thanks for fulfilling it. She must obey the summons, whenever they come, even to the point of interrupting her meal. How she handles these annoyances without complaint, suppressing the very human reaction of irritation, makes her a far more interesting character than Cook, and even the housekeeper. Her position in the “down-stairs” hierarchy affords her no cushion.

She can’t always be successful, however, and:

“..she gets into little heats when a stranger is over saucy, or when she is told not to go down stairs so heavily, or when some unthinking person goes up her stairs with dirty shoes..”

— La Belle Assemblée; or, Bell’s court and fashionable … N.S. 15-16 (1817).


“..if there is a ball given that night, they throw open all the doors, and make use of the music up the stairs to dance by.

There are distractions. One of these might be a fellow servant singing a new song. If in town, she might espy a neighboring house’s maid through an open window, and enjoy an impromptu chat. Even better, a troop of soldiers might be going by.

And after the day’s work is done, and dinner is finished, interrupted or not, there is a bit of a candid discussion of the day’s events with the others in service, without regard to hierarchy. Surprisingly, she might play a game called hot cockles, which obliges her to kneel, blindfolded, her head on the lap of another, her hand palm-up on her back, all to guess the identity of whoever walks by and smacks it.

How others treat the Regency maid-servant is even more instructive. Tradesmen stop in at all times of the day, delivering their goods to the house. “Come, pretty maids,” says the milkman, followed by the butcher, the baker and the–well, you know the drill:

“…all with their several smirks and little loiterings.”

And if she is dispatched to pick up a bit of butter, the grocer makes a big deal out of it:

“For her, the cheese-monger weighs his butter with half a glance, cherishes it round about with his patties, and dabs the little piece on it to make up, with a graceful jerk.”

Along with the sailor and the schoolboy, we are told, the maid-servant is “a creature of sheer enjoyment,” and relishes the holiday more than “the rest of the world.” If in London, she’ll have been to Vauxhall, and the Tower with its beasties, and viewed all the tragedies at the playhouse, for they are far more to her liking than comedies.

If country-bred, the fair is her favorite, for it is there she can truly forget her place in the world, and be treated much as they are up-stairs.

“Here she is invited in by courteous, well-dressed people as if she were the mistress..(they) call her Ma’am..and says..Be good enough, Sir, to hand the card to the lady.”


Regency Brothers – Tinker, Painter, Soldier and–Arsonist

We love the Regency era novels of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion for the same reasons we like the Edwardian era dramas of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. These are stories that take place in stratified societies with rules the plot must heed like lodestones. If they stray too far they will offend the reader.

It sounds like a recipe for boredom and might well be–but for the persons that threaten to upset one’s beautiful world. Characters like George Wickham, Mrs. Clay, Mr. Parks and Tom Branson.

This post is an introduction to four brothers of the Regency, whose contributions, some dubious, enriched and horrified the Beau Monde.

Syon Park's conservatory to hold beautiful plants for the Duke of Northumberland (taken by Phill Brown - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Syon Park’s conservatory to hold beautiful plants for the Duke of Northumberland (taken by Phill Brown – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

The Martin boys were among twelve children born to William Fenwick Martin and his wife Isabella in Northumberland. The family was decidedly lower class, the father being somewhat peripatetic in both lodging and trade. He had at one time been a fencing master but also built coaches, tanned hides and kept taverns.

Such an unstable environment was perhaps unsuitable for raising children and they were sent to live at various times with relatives before both parents died in 1813.

The sons were as follows:

The Tinker:  William– the oldest. An inventor and philosopher who “tinkered” with machines and ideas.

The Painter:  John — the youngest. An artist and historical painter to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.

The Soldier:  Richard — the second oldest. A quartermaster in the Guards, serving in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo.

The Arsonist:  Jonathan – the third oldest. Arguably the most famous of all.

They entertained the ton, existing in the beautiful world that was all around them, but forever out of reach.

Perhaps their stories will entertain you as well.

Northumberland cottage (photographed by Brian Norman and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Northumberland cottage (photographed by Brian Norman and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

“The Hostess from Hell” – Holland House Part Two

Elizabeth Fox, Baroness Holland, was the daughter of a Jamaican planter.  Married off to Lord Webster, a man twenty years her senior, she gave birth to three children before falling in love with another man, bearing him a child out-of-wedlock.  Not two days divorced, she married her lover Lord Holland.

Lady Holland with her son – Louis Gauffier

The ton could not forget her scandalous past and so declined to receive her.  No matter, Lord and Lady Holland did their own receiving, hosting the most influential men of the day at Holland House.  The few women who came were fellow Whigs, the Duchess of Devonshire and that fashionable marchioness from Berkeley Square, Lady Lansdowne.

Baroness Holland was the complete opposite of her husband.  She was gruff where he was affable, imperious when he would give way.  Long, boring discourse was not tolerated at her table–her ladyship was known to dispatch her footman to admonish the offending guest.

Thomas Moore, which this blog christened Regency Poet of Wine and Love, once said, “poets inclined to a plethora of vanity would find a dose of Lady Holland now and then very good for their complaint.”

“I’m sorry you are going to publish a poem,” she said to Lord Portchester.  “Can’t you suppress it?”

And to the great English poet, Samuel Rogers, she advised, “Your poetry is bad enough, so pray be sparing about your prose.”

Lady Holland reminds me of the Gosford Park character Constance, Countess of Trentham.  There is something sinfully joyous about her acidic observations.  This one she offers to the American film and radio star Ivor Novello:

LadyTrentham: It must be hard to know when it’s time to throw in the towel… What a pity about that last one of yours… what was it called? “The Dodger”? Novello:   The Lodger. LadyTrentham:   The Lodger. It must be so disappointing when something just flops like that.

Lady Holland lived to the age of seventy-four.  When tentatively shown Byron’s memoirs, which were none too complimentary of his hostess at Holland House, she shrugged.

“Such things give me no uneasiness; I know perfectly my station in the world, and I know all that can be said of me.  As long as the few friends I am really sure of speak kindly of me, all that the rest of the world can say is a matter of complete indifference to me.”

Temple of Diana

The principal house featured in my manuscript Notorious Match, Northam Park, boasts a large parkland reaching upwards of one thousand acres.  Much of it was laid out by the eminent landscape architect Capability Brown (1716 – 1783).

A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country. Lancelot Brown is commended throughout the world as the master of the English landscape garden, but at home, he is frequently dismissed as a vandal who destroyed large numbers of illustrious formal gardens. 

–“Great British Garden-Makers:  Lancelot “Capability” Brown,” Country Life, Feb. 20, 2010

Brown’s new style of gardening design eschewed carefully trimmed hedges and formal flower gardens (think Hampton Court) for a more natural environment with grass-covered undulations leading down to carefully installed lakes and trees.  The effect was beautiful, providing a panoramic view from the great Palladian houses being built as country residences for the wealthy.

One of the charactertistics of this new landscaping style was the garden temple, an outdoor feature normally given a classical design although many favored a more Gothic bent with the rise of Romanticism.  These would be placed not far from the main house, but within the natural setting of these “gardenless” gardens.  From them, you could look across the estate through a long-viewer while keeping your eye on the children as they bowl on the manicured lawn nearby.
Many times these beautifully designed structures were simple rotundas, like the one pictured above from Beachborough House in Kent in a painting attributed to Edward Haytley, circa 1745.
Several, like the one at Northam Park, were much more grand and served a variety of functions–greenhouses, etc.
I particularly adore the lovely one used for the shooting party lunch in Robert Altman’s mystery Gosford Park (2001) at 1:40.  Clive Owen, anyone?  Yes, please.
Northam Park’s landscape feature is called Diana’s Temple.  It is very similar to the one of the same name at Weston Park, pictured below.  For a wonderful view of the restored interior, with its remarkable plasterwork, see this exquisite photo from Country Life.  It looks just like a piece from someone’s blue Wedgewood collection.  This temple was designed by James Paine (1717-1789) who also designed the stables at Chatsworth House.

photo copyrighted and licensed by Simon Huguet