Kitchenmaid at Titlarks

Titlarks Hill, off the Chobham Road, is now in Sunningdale, but this area was once in Valley End. Hilda Pearce was a kitchen maid at Middleton, a house at the top of the road, and wrote about her experiences in 1995.

“I was interviewed for my first job at Middleton, Titlarks Hill, at my home in Shirebrook, was approved, and given the job as kitchenmaid.

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Titlarks Hill, in 1934. ( O.S. map X 7, 1934. With thanks to the Surrey History Centre.)

“In due course I left my home with mixed feelings. I had never been more than seven miles from home, and the thought of travelling to London was like going to the end of the world. Very adventurous – and then, arriving in London, having to change stations – from St. Pancras to Waterloo – was another milestone. After all that a TAXI from Sunningdale Station to Middleton, Titlarks Hill. I was really living it up!

“Arriving at the house I was introduced to the rest of the staff – seven in all, by my cousin, the Cook. They included a nanny – a very proper person in charge of one child. I was bewildered, but was soon knocked into shape by my cousin..

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Servant’s bell board, from Polesden Lacey House. (Image courtesy of the National Trust, Polesden Lacey.)

“The house was on Sunningdale Golf Links, and when I was at liberty to explore, I thought I was in heaven. After leaving a mining district this was so beautiful, walking over the links. I would just sit and absorb the lovely scenery around me for as long as I could. I spent hours this way, and very often walked to Sunningdale Station to the shops over the links so long as I kept out of the way of the golfers.

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Titlarks Hill and Sunningdale Golf Course, Sunningdale, from the south, in 1931. (Image courtesy of Britain from Above).

“After a short while I realised that to get anywhere I ought to have a bicycle. This I aimed for, and eventually bought one on the never-never, paying 2 shillings and 6 pence down and the rest at 10 shillings per month for a year. The bike cost £6.2.6d. I was so proud of it and kept it shining bright – for a while, anyway. I did have outings. One half day a week, and two weeks paid holiday in the year, and when there were dances at Sunningdale Parish Hall, so long as I was accompanied by an adult I was allowed to go – cycling with a long dress pinned up around my waist.

“I had a spate of breakages at one time. It went on and on, and finally, after I had broken six pudding plates all at once, my cousin was so angry with me that she said she would no longer tell Madam about them, I must tell her myself. I waited in fear and trepidation in the scullery and Madam appeared. “Well, Hilda, what have you broken this time?” When I told her and apologised and offered to pay for them – at that time they were 12/6d each! – Madam burst out laughing, turned to go out of the scullery, then said “I will have to buy enamel ones, but there, you would probably chip them!” My cousin was furious, thinking I would have had a severe wigging!

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1930s Staffordshire tea set. (Image courtesy of the V&A Museum.)

“Madam was such a sweet lady and attended my wedding a few years later. During my time at Middleton, Madam was very interested in a place along Chobham Road which was then called The London Mother’s Convalescent Home, where 10 mothers and babies came from town in turn, usually for a couple of weeks each. Basket prams were provided for the babies, and one would often see the Mums proudly pushing their young around – it was such a change from the East End of London. A lot of ladies in the vicinity, Madam included, used to have the Mums up for tea, and one I remember was a wizard on the piano. She loved getting on the grand piano in the drawing room, (when Madam was away.) I stayed happily at Middleton for two years and then moved on to Royal Lodge.”

 

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This was first published in the Windlesham magazine, Feb. 1995, and is reproduced by the kind permission of the magazine and Lynne and Keith Pearce. Hilda wrote 3 articles about her life in service;

Windlesham Magazine. Jan 1995 “My progress from Middleton to Royal Lodge.” Hilda Pearce.

Windlesham Magazine. Feb 1995 “Kitchen maid at Titlarks Hill.” Hilda Pearce.

Windlesham Magazine. March 1995 “Back to Sunningdale from Royal Lodge – 1929. Hilda Pearce.

 

 

Below Stairs

“If it had not been for the big houses in this neighbourhood – Hyams, Chobham Place and a few others, this church would never have been built.

“In one of those big houses alone there were over 40 servants. Those were the days when the gentry went to church – mainly Matins – in the morning and the servants to Evensong. It is said that when they returned home in the evening they had to report on the Vicar’s sermon. Poor Vicar!”

The Rev Roney Ackworth, speaking at the centenary of St. Saviour’s, identified with the Vicar. I feel for the maids, sitting in the pews and trying to sum up the address in a few words.

The large houses in Valley End were major employers. In 1901 there were 27 people resident at Highams, including 15 servants and their families. The staff came from Scotland and Wales as well as from the south of England.

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Ribsden – one of the “big houses.” (Photo courtesy Joan Weymouth.) 

This is no surprise, as in Victorian and Edwardian England a huge number of people were employed as domestic servants. It was the main employment for women.

The work could be strenuous. Mrs. Beeton recommended that a Cook should rise at 6am, (7 in winter,) light the kitchen fire, brush the range, clean the hearth, rinse the kettle, clean the kitchen, sweep the kitchen stairs, sweep the hall, shake the hall mats, prepare the breakfast room – and then cook breakfast.

Servants could be vulnerable to ill-treatment. One tragic case is that of Emily Jane Popejoy of Bagshot, who went to work as a maid in Kensington in 1898. She died within a year of the ill treatment that she received from her mistress.

So what was it like working in the mansions of Valley End?

Joan Weymouth can remember her parents and grandparents talking about life in the big houses.

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The staff at Ribsden, having tea in the garden. (Photo courtesy J. End.)

“A lot of girls went into service. Well, they had to, because you didn’t get a bigger house, if you got more children, and girls grew up, and they kept the boys at home to work and it’s what happened. And you got a lot from Wales. But then it was a home, you had to get somewhere.” Servants were given accommodation. Ribsden had 10 servants living in.

There are stories of mothers searching for a place to employ their daughters, and deciding on the the furthest – so that the girls couldn’t run away home. There were happier reasons for a servant to move.  Staff could travel long distances to find a good place.

A good employer was someone to keep. When the Christies came down to Ribsden, some of their staff chose to move with them, and to live the rest of their lives in this area.

“My grandfather, Harry Carnell, came down in the late 1800s and he came down from Matlock in Derbyshire with Mr. and Mrs. Christie to Ribsden. He came down as a coachman.

“My Mum’s mother’s side, they came down from Northamptonshire. My Mum had 2 aunts (in service at Ribsden) and her mother was ladies maid to Mrs Christie. My grandmother was the ladies maid there, and her sister was the housekeeper, my Auntie Annie.

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Annie Foster, Housekeeper at Ribsden, and her sister Louisa. (Photo courtesy Joan Weymouth.)

“And that’s how they met their wives, the other people in the house.”

Harry Carnell, the coachman at Ribsden, met Mary Foster, the ladies maid, and they were married in 1898.

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Harry Carnell and Mary Foster on their wedding day. (Photo courtesy Joan Weymouth.)

The big houses enjoyed a friendly competition. “There was rivalry between the big houses – but not nasty, it was just that you wanted the best. I can remember my Granddad saying that our carriage went faster than that one. But they were all friends.”

St Saviour’s Church was decorated with floral displays for the big festivals, and old photos show incredible arrangements of plants and flowers. They were put up by the head gardeners of the big houses, vying with each other.

Joan’s family had good memories of Ribsden, and Mrs Christie.

“Mrs Christie looked after her staff. She sent my grandmother, because she had a bad heart, down to Brighton for a month.

“If you got a good employer, you were made.”

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Sources.

With thanks to Joan Weymouth. All quotes by Joan Weymouth.

“Time will tell,” sermon by Rev. Ackworth on the 100th anniversary of St. Saviour’s Church, Valley End. In Chobham Parish Magazine, July 12th. 1967.