Kitchen Maid Returns After 74 Years
25 September 2009
A few weeks ago, a waitress in out tearoom told me she had just served a customer who had worked here in 1935 as a kitchen maid. I have always wanted to meet a member of the pre-war household to hear what it was like, and luckily I intercepted Joyce Cotterell just as she was leaving, and so she came in for another cup of tea. She is seen in the photograph standing outside the room where she used to work.
Joyce Griffiths, as she then was, came to Eastnor in August 1935. She was 14 years and 14 days old, and had been persuaded by her much older sister to look for work immediately she left school. She was appointed through the Tombs Agency in Hereford and was not interviewed at Eastnor before starting. There were eleven indoor staff at the time, consisting of a housekeeper, three under-housemaids, a kitchen maid (her job), a chef, a scullery maid, a butler, 2 footmen and a “boots” or odd job man. She said she did not get on particularly well with the others as she was Welsh, but Cyril, a footman, would talk to her as he knew her grandmother.
Joyce’s room was in the Keep, immediately above the Chapel, with a bathroom on the landing outside. She shared it with the three housemaids. By then, the very large old kitchens had been abandoned and a large 4 ring AGA installed in the former butler’s sitting room at the Back Door, where I now have my office. There were 87 steps down from her bedroom. She assisted the French Chef with kitchen duties and also prepared the dog food. She had to clean the grate in the Servants’ Hall too.
Hours of work were 6.30am until about 10.30pm, with a half day off on Thursdays and another half day every other Sunday. Pay was 7 shillings (35p) a week, with no stoppages, but all food was provided. The equivalent today in average earnings terms would be £68.59 or £18.11 based on the Retail Prices Index: www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/
Joyce saw my grandmother once and never visited the main rooms. Her place was downstairs. She missed home and disliked the Chef’s very bad language, to which she, she said, was not accustomed. After receiving her second month’s pay, she packed her bag and left, walking the two miles to Ledbury station and then a further three miles home from Abergavenny. She seemed nevertheless to be happy to be back, albeit briefly, and to be able to show that her memories were still vivid. She was a charming and sharp-minded guest, and she gave me a wonderful insight into the life of Eastnor in the 1930s. I would love to hear from any others who worked here then. JH-B 13/8/09