Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tea leaves and sore knees: life Below Stairs for my Grandma

Taken from the Memoirs of my Grandmother, Kathleen Lovis, 1906-1991

    When the spring came my sisters would find jobs in hotels. My sister Win was going to a hotel in Newquay, Cornwall. It was called "The Headland" and was on a cliff overlooking the sea. There was a beach just below. Win had worked at Newquay the previous year in a smaller hotel called "The Beachcroft." She was going to the Headland as a parlour maid. This meant she had to wait on the servants, maids and valets of the rich guests.
      Mother and Win must have talked it over between them and it was decided that it would be a good opportunity for me to work there too. The only problem was that I had to be 16 years of age. But being 14 at the time didn't stop them from getting a job for me, and I duly became 16 overnight.

   I became a corridor maid. I had no say in it: I was told I was going to work in a hotel with Win and that was that. It was a really hard life for a girl of 14. I shared an attic with two or three others, all older than me. I was the youngest there. We were woken up at 6am and had to be washed, dressed, hair up in a bun and with our equipment ready by 6.30. 
   I had a small cupboard where my polish, dusters and, most important, my Eubank carpet sweeper, were kept. I had no mop when I first started and of course no electric cleaner. There was a sheet of paper on the wall telling me the different jobs I had to do every day. The first week I worked with another girl who "showed me the ropes" as they say. After that I was on my own. I didn't even have a cup of tea to start the day with. Win did. In her job, which I think wasn't as manual as mine, she was able to make herself tea. 
    Before breakfast I had a lot to get through. I started downstairs. First I'd clean the two drawing rooms, or lounges as I suppose they'd be called now. Then I had the billiard room to do. This was a large one and had two huge billiard tables in it. After this I had a smallish corridor to do in which there were some long umbrella stands. Most of this was carpeted with a nice red carpet with a brown lino surround. I had to go all round the carpet with the sweeper, then get on my knees and rub up the lino. This had to be polished twice a week. I had to make sure there were no cigarette ends in the grate. I forgot to remove them once and the assistant housekeeper fetched me from my breakfast to do it. 
   We had half an hour for breakfast and after that my real work began on the second floor. The first floor was the best one, most elaborate, and kept for the richest guests. The second floor had ornate ceiling carvings and was definitely better than the third floor. 
    The stairs was one of my afternoon jobs along with polishing all the brass door handles. I had to thoroughly clean all the bathrooms and toilets every day. On Friday mornings I had to go to the kitchen and collect used tea leaves, which I had to scatter all over the carpet. This was supposed to trap the dust and keep the carpet cleaner. 
    We had dinner at midday for half an hour. I finished around 4pm and had a couple of hours off. My idea of relaxing to buy a few mints and lie on my bed eating them and perhaps reading. We'd have an evening meal about 6.30pm and then I had to start again. This time I'd have to go all round the bedrooms with a chamber maid. We would tidy up and sometimes beds had to be remade. I was also given the unpleasant task of taking mystery bundles downstairs to the boiler room where they were burnt. 
    After a few weeks my knees began to get very sore. I must have mentioned this to my sister and she wrote to our mother how bad they were. She told Win to give in my notice, which she did. It was a surprise to me. The funny thing was, the week I was serving out my notice was the first week we were given cedar mops to use. This meant we'd only have to kneel when  we had to polish the floors. 



1 comment

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

What a beautiful post! I adored both my grandmothers (one English and one Southern US) and enjoyed reading about yours. I include a bit about mine in my blog. I keep their memory alive in the family through cooking.

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