M is for…

MY FIRST DAY AT HAM HOUSE!

Yesterday was a big day. If you read ‘B is for…‘ you’ll know that I had signed up to volunteer at Ham House and was yet to have my first day. Well, that day was yesterday. And it went fabulously.

I was scheduled to be shadowing another volunteer baker in the kitchen for the day but when I got there, unfortunately the lady I was due to be shadowing had been unable to make it so another plan was put in place for me.

As I was keen to get involved in any way, I agreed to the other plan and just kind of threw myself into it. I spent the morning with a room guide in the kitchen, learning about the history of the kitchen and chatting to visitors, getting used to the type of things they ask, etc.

The kitchen has a distinctly different feel to the rest of the house. Instead of looking at beautiful lacquered cabinets from afar or admiring wall hangings, the kitchen is about touching and feeling and getting involved. There are dishes all around the room holding herbs and spices. There are even a few rudimentary pestle and mortars where visitors can grind up some spices and smell the aromas which are released. The signs around the room say ‘please touch me’ and visitors are encouraged to pick up the food and smell. There was a ball of dough and a rolling pin for children to roll out and pretend to make bread.

Down the huge elmwood table which has been there since the 1600s, there are bowls of fresh vegetables and herbs which have been brought over from the garden. There was rhubarb and kale and Jerusalem artichokes and something called, I think, school’s honora. That’s what it sounded like anyway. I haven’t the foggiest idea where the name comes from.

My first half was spent in the kitchen talking about all this stuff to visitors. Then, on a quick tea break, I swotted up on 17th century herbology (that’s a word, right) and the second half of my day was spent making nosegays.

Now, before you burst into hysterical laughter, it is just a little posy. They had various names, at one point even being called ‘tussie-mussies’. The term nosegay comes from the idea that it makes a gay smell for one’s nose.

The gardens have recently had a trim so there was a glut of lavender and santolina…

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… so I brought handfuls of it down from the Still House, which smells AMAZING, by the way…

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… and worked away in the kitchen making my nosegays and giving them to the visitors.

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As washing wasn’t so popular in those days, a lot of people were quite stinky. There also wasn’t the sewerage systems we have now. So lots of things smelled bad. The nosegay would be tied to one’s lapel and when encountering a stinky situation, one could turn their head and bury their nose in their nosegay.

Different herbs and plants had different meanings so when someone gave you a little nosegay as a gift, the specific herbs they used meant something about their relationship with you. For example, lavender was for love, rosemary for rememberance, fennel for flattery, roses were to ‘rule me’, whatever that meant.

One of the others I remember was that marigolds were for marriage because I was talking to a lady who said she is getting married at Ham House next weekend and I joked that I would give her a nosegay with marigolds in for the occasion.

It was brilliant fun as people were constantly interested in what I was doing, asking me questions and taking the nosegays and smelling them. I felt like a fountain of knowledge, when in fact my knowledge had been gained over a fifteen minute tea break.

Anyway, my next day is Tuesday, when I will be shadowing a baker so will have more stories then too. Keep an eye out!

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7 responses to this post.

  1. What fun!

    Reply

  2. Great to be doing something you love.

    Reply

    • It was good. I also really enjoyed it because I wasn’t being paid, I think. Because there was no ‘obligation’ to be there, I knew I was just doing it because I wanted to.

      Reply

  3. yay! this sounds like so much fun!

    Reply

  4. […] Sunday, when I had my first day at Ham House, another volunteer who’s been there for 15 years was talking about his oven being broken. He […]

    Reply

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