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Manor House Rebecca Smith
"One day in town I had my bag and umbrella - a little girl ran up and said "Are you Mary Poppins?" I just nodded. She ran away beaming!". Becky, housemaid
Rebecca Smith
THE PROJECT|THE HOUSE|THE PEOPLE|EDWARDIAN LIFE|YOU IN 1905|TREATS|SNOB QUIZ
Rebecca Smith

Watch the video diaries

The First Housemaid: Daily Duties

Everyone looks forward to letters from family and friends
Everyone looks forward to letters from family and friends

Edwardian Life

A Typical Day in the House

How to Address the Family

Upstairs
Downstairs
The People: Rebecca Smith

Becky: Thoughts After Leaving the House

What expectations did you have about entering Manor House?
I didn't really have any expectation other than that I guessed it would be hard work and a challenge. But also a fantastic opportunity to relive a period of history - I just hoped that I would appreciate it fully!

Do you think that taking part has changed you?
I definitely see things differently and notice much more the unnecessary materialistic clutter of modern life when I first got out it overwhelmed me having to choose clothes, being used to owning one outfit and my bag!

I have more confidence in who I am as a person. I think I got to know myself better.

I value time with friends much more and watch very little television

Being in the ECH has made my body intolerant of modern chemicals - my eczema has flared up badly with the processed foods and polluted atmosphere.

Has anyone said that you have changed since you have returned to the 21st Century?
Friends have commented that I am more confident in myself and don't get swayed by other people's opinions as I sometimes did.

My mum says she thinks I'm clearer about what is important to me in my life and another friend told me that I seem more focussed and less drifting as if I 'have found myself somehow'

What do you feel you've learnt?
Apart from the practical aspects of my job (learning how to use a Ewbank carpet sweeper effectively!) I also learned a lot about myself.

I now know I can cope with any situation life throws at me and that I have the ability to establish good relationships with people of all ages and status and fit in with a group of very different people - I also became aware of the ways I handle various situations.

My most nerve-racking experience but rewarding when I mastered it was learning how to dress Miss Anson in her wig! This achievement greatly boosted by confidence!

I believe I did also learn a lot about how life was for the servants in the big houses of Edwardian England

Have you remained friends or stayed in contact with anyone from the household? Why?
I think initially it was crucial for everyone's sanity to stay in touch with at least a few fellow Edwardinarnians! We are the only people who really know what the whole experiment was like and how dramatic a change it felt to return so suddenly to modern life.

Downstairs we became so close, like a family, that I can't imagine not keeping in contact - I really miss the communal mealtimes and evenings by the fire.

What I also am very glad of is that I have stayed in touch with Avril Anson [Miss Anson] who I liked so much in the house.

What did you enjoy most?
I truly did enjoy so many things! I kept telling myself to keep looking round and appreciating where I was and what I was doing because it so quickly became normal!
t was fantastic working in such grandeur surrounded by amazing antiques - but actually having the privilege of using them.
I enjoyed the strong bond we created downstairs and especially how we all pulled together so well in the busiest toughest times.
I loved how we became so slick and organised in our jobs and that we truly did learn to run the house efficiently.
I enjoyed meals together and chats around the fire.
I enjoyed conversations and a lovely walk with Miss Anson.
I enjoyed no worries of food, money, clothes or appearance.
I truly enjoyed the last trek upstairs each day knowing bed and sleep awaited me!

What did you like least?
I least liked:
being treated as inferior because of my job
never getting a lie-in
the extreme tensions and emotions which arose so frequently. Everything was blown out of all proportion because we were living in such an intense controlled environment.
The fact that sometimes there seemed to be no logic or reason for things that occurred. As lower servants it was not our position to give our opinions and therefore often - even if I could see where the problem lay - I had to be very careful and diplomatic about when I made my point so as not to be labelled disrespectful. Very difficult!

What did you find the hardest aspect of the role you assumed?
The hardest part was definitely dealing with people - not actually the job itself.

One of the hardest aspects was that my role was very much dependant on decisions and actions of the housekeeper with which I did not always agree. My status however meant that I was not in the position to voice my opinion

Being watched and constantly criticised at the beginning was very frustrating - although we developed a better relationship over time

Another very difficult thing was that unlike the First Housemaids in Edwardian times I had not gained my position by working my way up the staff hierarchy. It was random that I was given that particular role - and arriving at the same time as Jess and being good friends, I sometimes felt she didn't like me having to tell her what to do! Once we established her role as 'Fire Starter', though, this improved greatly.

What did you miss most from the 21st century? Did you ever give in to temptation?
I missed personal space and the ability to do what you want when you want. (One day though when I really had had enough of everyone I did take one of the bikes from outside and cycled to Duns. I sat and had a coffee with a chatty old lady and then cycled back - it was fab, and certainly did the trick.)

I missed hearing music, although we did create our own musical entertainment.

Strangely I really craved beans on toast! It's my comfort food and the first thing I had to eat when I got out!

I missed lie-ins

I missed finishing work at the end of the day and leaving it behind to go home. We lived our job all the time.

I definitely missed freedom of speech and equality.

Do you think that the 21st century can learn anything from the Edwardian era?
Yes! It was far better sitting in the Servants' Hall at night talking round the fire than watching TV! We really got to know each other well.

As servants there was no competition or focus on materialistic things like image and fashion as there is today. We were more content with who we were not what we had.

There was certainly less pressure in those days - no phones, faxes or emails demanding attention all the time. I was physically busier but far less stressed.

Definitely the natural products used in Edwardian times were far healthier and better for us than modern chemicals and processed foods - since leaving my skin has been dreadful!!!

What did you like and dislike most about the Edwardian era?
I most liked the very close family community which we established downstairs; the open acceptance for who you were and what you did and the fact that you didn't have to sorry about what to wear, what to eat etc.

I most disliked the lack of equality and respect from upstairs to downstairs and to some extent within the staff hierarchy.

I
always resented the fact that some family members demanded a spotlessly clean home - and yet heaven forbid if they actually caught us doing the work! We were meant to turn to face the wall so as not to offend their eyes - I mean how degrading!

If you could have your time at the Manderston again is there any one thing that you would have done differently?
I am glad that I was true to myself in the house and have no regrets about what I did - however, if I were to do it again I would make a real effort (even when exhausted at night) to keep a record of my thoughts and feelings.

At the time everything became so real and every emotion felt so normal that I kind of felt I'd remember them forever.

I did 'diarycam' a lot of my thoughts but I never actually wrote them down - often it was only later thinking back on an event that I realised the significance in terms of our Edwardian study.

Did you find that the Edwardian setting changed the way that men and women related to each other? How do you feel about it?
I certainly felt that the men were more dominant both upstairs and downstairs.

Downstairs the housekeeper allowed herself to become subservient to the butler and only really started to absent herself in the last week. This had big implications for the way the female staff under the housekeeper were treated, in relation to the treatment of the male staff under the butler's control. We often felt the inequality of this.

Between the male and female lower staff initially there was a wariness, and people kept to male / female zones, but once we got to know each other I felt that the men were quite protective towards the women - as members of a family would be - I thought it was really nice!

Any other stories you want to tell?
It meant a lot that family and friends made the effort to write so often. Mail was SO important, especially at the start, it was the only link with home and it was really lovely hearing each others news when we read out snippets of out own letters - we really felt we got to know each others friends and people laughed at my mums talks of conversations she'd had at the hairdressers!

One day in Duns I had my bag and umbrella and a little girl ran up to me and said "Are you Mary Poppins?" I just nodded and she ran away with a beaming smile on her face - it made me chuckle!

Bedtime was FAB! No more work, no more corset! Jess would be out of her clothes and in bed in 10 seconds flat, while I savoured the fact that I could relax and really enjoyed sitting on the edge of my bed without my corset on and just breathing - BLISS!

We had the fire on and a candle lit and it is a memory I'll never forget - truly Edwardian!

 


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