Even more cool facts about Ham House

(This is a follow on from two earlier posts about the house.)

A few days ago, after sorting out the harvest from the garden, I went on a Behind The Scenes tour in Ham House. It was fascinating. We squished and squeezed and poked about these little passages, learning about the world that the servants occupied.

We started outside the house, learning about how the West Door, which is the door on the side of the building that the volunteers and staff use, was a later addition. It was part of the refurbishment in which a whole new section was built on the back of the house.

image

It reflected the changing attitudes to servants at this time. Previously, the servants had not had their own passages and rooms. They had walked around among the family doing their jobs. When everything French started to become fashionable, there was a move toward copying their system of the servants being out of sight so that the family did not have to witness a slop bucket or drying linen being carried around. It was believed that these things should happen behind the scenes.

image

This affected the nature of the servants work. Up until this point, people had slept where their work was. The lady-in-waiting to the Duchess would sleep on a pallet on the floor next to the Duchess’ bed. The kitchen maids slept on a raised wooden plinth underneath the kitchen table.

image

And the ladies in charge of the linen cupboard and wardrobe would sleep in a small room built in to the corner of the room in which the linen was kept.

image

(It’s an office now but all the office furniture has been built in a non intrusive way so that it could be taken away and the room would still be preserved as it was.)

In the same office is this old fireplace from 1610 when the house was originally built.

image

As I was saying, because the servants were starting to be kept out of the way more, there were secret passages built in when the refurbishments were made. There were also servants’ staircases and dorms and bedrooms in the very top floors so that they were hidden and out of the way overnight.

These areas are fascinating to look around. There are two lengths of roof and one side was the mens’ dorms and the other was the girls’ bedrooms.

image

The little girl in me was bursting with excitement at being allowed into the forbidden secret parts of the house!

One of the bedrooms on the girls’ side had been made up to look how it probably would have at the time.

image

There were a few later time periods also showing their faces. There is the lift that was put in during the time of the 9th Earl of Dysart (early 1900s) and a bell that was installed in 1789.

image

(The date is on the top of the bell. You’ll have to zoom in a bit, probably.)

Whilst stumbling around in these fascinating rooms and corridors in the roof….

image

…we came across a lot of rooms that are currently being used for storage, as Ham House has no external storage facilities. Back in the main part of the house, rooms that the Duchess’ sisters stayed in are full of beautiful old furniture or bits and pieces that are not currently on display. These rooms were part of the new build which had left windows marooned in the strange places and occasional telltale signs of the old outside wall, now in the middle of a suite of rooms.

image

We finished the tour downstairs, in the servants’ dining room where some scenes from Downton Abbey were filmed. Any watchers of Downton may remember the scenes in the Crawley household, when they set up a soup kitchen during the war. Well, this is that very room! (Sorry, the light wasn’t great.)

image

image

So there you go. A sneaky insider’s look at Ham House. Don’t tell anyone I let you in!

Advertisements

10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by steviepreater on September 8, 2013 at 07:38

    Great post! I’ve been meaning to go there for ages. I read your other ones too, do you mind me asking haw you got into volunteering at Ham House? It’s something I’d be interested in doing, as a history student and lover of all things historic.

    Reply

    • I just went along and asked! And they said yes. Some places have lists of people waiting to volunteer but some places can never get enough. It’s quite a big operation at Ham House and 68% of the National Trust’s workforce are volunteers so there’s always something for a volunteer to do there 🙂

      Reply

      • Posted by steviepreater on September 8, 2013 at 20:07

        Good to know. I’m out of the country for a year, but when I return to London next September I’ll definitely look into it. It looks like an amazing experience being able to live history like that!

      • It is! You should definitely get in touch when you get back 🙂

  2. Very cool, Laura! Fascinating, what the house tells about the lives of the servants. Great pics, too!

    Reply

    • Yes. And about the changing nature of servitude at the time when the house was at it’s heyday. We are lucky at Ham to have such a fascinating period of time preserved so well. Which is why I spend most of my waking hours hanging around there, working, volunteering, going on tours, washing vegetables from the garden….!

      Reply

  3. I am sooo coming to visit next time I am in London!

    Reply

  4. Nice history lesson – good pics
    Scott

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: