Upstairs, downstairs

PUBLISHED: 11:10 09 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:09 20 February 2013



Essex Life gained exclusive access to the newly-renovated servant rooms unveiled at Audley End later this month. Here we give you a sneak preview

AUDLEY END has a new look. Fear not, the spectacular Jacobean mansion set amid stunning gardens and one of the county's most popular tourist attractions hasn't been cloaked with a new, modern façade. However, visitors can expect a new experience if they visit Audley End from May 16. An 18-month restoration project has just been completed which has seen the renovation of the house's servants rooms. For the first time visitors to the house can gain a complete picture of what life would have been like for the 25 or so servants employed at Audley End as well as the fifth Lord Braybrooke and his family. The £1 milllion project is the first part of a three-stage restoration which will later include excavation work of Audley End's two wings which once extended from each side of the house, almost reaching the water to the front and a redevelopment of the stable area.

Exclusive access
Essex Life was given exclusive access to the newly-restored servant rooms by kind permission of English Heritage to give you a first glimpse of what visitors can expect. On special re-enactment days, costumed characters from the Past Pleasures group will bring these rooms alive with the sights, sounds and smells of life as a Victorian servant working in one of the most celebrated households in the country. Visitors will be able to tour the kitchen, the butler's pantry, the laundry areas, the game larder, the cook's sitting room and the dairy among other rooms, with hands-on exhibits and audio-visual projections helping to tell the tales of times gone by.
It is the exciting culmination of dedicated research for English Heritage historian Andrew Hann, who was challenged to put together the facts that would help recreate this world of illusion.
'Audley End is a fascinating place and a well-loved landmark in Essex, but these rooms tell us a different story of Audley End,' says Andrew. 'It is much more an everyday experience where people were working day and night to keep the house functioning to make sure the family could be served all their dinners and their clothing was kept nice and clean.

A new look
'We chose to focus on the period around 1881, when the house was owned by Charles, the fifth Lord Braybrooke, because we know in that year there was a damaging fire in the kitchens. It started in the chimneys and spread throughout the kitchen and into the larders, so the kitchen would have needed a complete redecoration at this time and a replacement of different materials.
'Visitors will now enter Audley End through the new visitor centre and then make their way through the service area before reaching the main house, following the routes the food would have taken on its way to the dining room.'
Andrew's research has also revealed some very interesting details about Lord Braybrooke and the habits of the house, such as Lord Braybrooke's insistence on weighing family and guests while they were at the house and naming each of his cows.
But there were certainly perks to being a servant at Audley End. The servants received two annual treats. A Christmas dinner on December 27 in the Servants' Hall and a Servants' Ball in mid January.

Coming to life
'There was a heirachy even among the servants, with the cook, the lady's maid, the butler, the housekeeper and possibly the gardener dining separately from the lower servants, probably to the extent where the lower servants wouldn't speak to the higher servants unless spoken to,' explains Andrew.
'The higher ranking servants had a separate treat, the Stewards Room New Year Party on January 1. Higher and lower ranking servants appear to have dined separately even for Christmas dinner, as the higher servants still eat in the Steward's Room when the other servants are enjoying their Christmas dinner and Servants' Ball.
'It was a hard life, but it would have been seen as quite an accolade to achieve a position in the house of Lord Braybroke.'
From this month, it is a life you can experience re-enacted before your own eyes.

An interview with Mary Ann Bulmer, first kitchen maid at Audley End in 1881

How old are you?

How long have you been working at Audley End?
For about three years

Where are you from originally?
I am from Yorkshire.

What are your duties here?
I am immediately below the cook who prepares an awful lot of the more difficult, often French-influenced dishes, for the family. I am in charge of preparing the food for all the servants, including the upper servants like the cook, the lady's maids and the housekeeper who all eat together separately from the rest of us.

Do you like your job?
I do like working at Audley End, it is a good house to work at. This position is a good one to have too; I like turning out well prepared food. When I was maid, I had to do everything and it was back-breaking.

What are your favourite meals to prepare or eat?
I enjoy making chicken pie because they can easily go wrong and it is very gratifying when they turn out well. I rather like eating chocolate pudding and we occasionally get it down from the top table.

Is this your first position?
No, when I was 15 I was working in Scarborough as a general servant and I have worked my way up. I want to be a cook one day, so I am learning as much as I can here.

What's the biggest event you have worked at here?
The marriage, a few years ago, of Augusta, the daughter of Lord Braybrooke. The family had to hire in extra cooks and staff from the village for such a big occasion.

Do you get to see your family?
Well they live in Yorkshire, so I only get to see them on the rare
occasions I get a short holiday. But the postal service is excellent so we write to each other all the time. I love receiving their letters.

Do you have any friends outside of the house?
Not really. It is actively discouraged to have 'followers' or male friends

Do you like the people you work with?
Most of them, but I do not like the first laundry maid, I think she is just trying to find herself a husband.

The role of Mary Ann Bulmer was performed by Annie Gray from Past Pleasures

To find out more about Audley End House, visit the website

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