My expectations on entering the house were three fold:
I always wanted to see a great country house in use, as when visiting them as museum pieces I get the feeling that I am looking at a corpse. I wanted to see the house alive, and this project provided the best opportunity to establish whether the house would come alive again, if used as in its original context.
The other aspect was, would it be possible to recreate life in a manor house by simply dressing as Edwardians? My expectation was that it might be possible, if all the participants were serious about the endeavour.
I also went in with the expectation of enjoying myself, having fun, and possibly making friends in the process, of at least 2 or 3 of the participants.
No, I do not believe that participating in Manor House project changed me. However, like all experiences in our lives they leave an imprint in our psyche, and in that sense this project has been no different as having spent time in a foreign country. I am now aware that I sometimes look at objects, events, films other artistic endeavours with different eyes. I will pay more attention to certain details for example, when I went to see Gosford Park I took note of all that happened downstairs in a way that I would not previously done so.
Yes, friend of mine of long standing felt and told me in no uncertain terms that I had become 'wrapped up in myself' and that I was 'insensitive to other people's needs and worries'. It certainly shook me to the core and since then I have made every effort not to have a repetition of that unfortunate event.
Needless to say I did apologise for my behaviour, as it did cause my friend offence. I am happy that she spoke to me sternly. However the strength of our friendship is such, that I have not taken umbrage to her remarks, and if anything our friendship is strengthened.
One of the things I learnt in the house was that it developed its own dynamic. This was manifested in a number of events that took place within it. One of those events was that 'TIME OFF' became a burning issue, and it event bubbled over to the point of rebellion by the ranks of the middle and junior staff. The most interesting aspect of this situation was that in the historic period we were re-enacting the same thing had taken place, as documentary sources of the period demonstrate. The lesson here was that history was genuinely repeating itself, given the same set of social and environmental circumstances.
The other event that is also well documented, especially in diaries of the period, was the enjoyment the staff derived from attending church services on a Sunday. When reading these sources, prior to entering the house, I thought it was seeing the past with rose tinted spectacles. What I found instead, was that it did give a lot of pleasure, as it was an opportunity to be out of the house, meeting other people. It also provided a moment in which the staff was able to sit down and have a rest, not only during the service; but also, later, at the social gathering after the service.
I made it a point to contact all those who participated in the project. By letters, by sending Xmas cards and ringing all them at least once. My effort was rewarded, as with the exception of the Tutor, everybody has responded.
I believe this has happened because the experience we lived was extremely concentrated. After all we lived nine years in three calendar months, and this was bound to forge bonds with those taking part. After leaving I presume that there has been a desire to see each other, not as people in service at the beginning of the 20th C, but as whom we are today in the early 21st C. And it is a surprise how different we were in some instances in the house and outside it. The real pleasure is in finding that we like what we see now, to the point that it would surprise if some of the relationships do not develop into full friendships. At the time of writing the indication is that it will exceed the two or three persons I had originally considered possible.
There were two things I enjoyed most about my experience in the house.
At a personal level the camaraderie that existed downstairs, given the social stratification and the discipline that the butler considered was necessary to run the household, was simply amazing.
At another level what I enjoyed most was to see the staff put their hearts and souls into the great events and social gatherings that took place in the house. These were glittering occasions, and I will only mention a few: such as the political dinner, the bazaar, the Raj dinner, and the empire ball. During these functions the house hummed and was full of life and one did have a glimpse into the reason why these houses had been designed as they were. This was to show the position in life of the family and their friends. To see and to be seen.
It also showed me how the house functioned, and in this particular case, how later insensitive alterations increased the workload of the staff serving the dining room. This was due to the removal of a dumb waiter and the closure of a staircase that give direct access that connected the dining room to the servant's hall at basement level. The exit door of this staircase was immediately adjacent to the kitchen entrance. The distance travelled was increased by some 50 yards to the service staircase, going up the stairs, opening two sets of doors, walking across the dining room, with heavily laden trays.
It is interesting to note that on these great occasions we did become 'the new Edwardians', and the proof for me was that during these events I was oblivious of the camera crew, as I was concentrating on the task in hand.
The aspect I least liked was when the middle ranking and junior staff entered into a trough of dissatisfaction with life in the house. The effort required to improve their attitude and boost morale was exhausting.
However the worse moment was towards the end of the project. The staff were genuinely physically tired and emotionally drained. In my perception their reaction was to vent their frustration against the family. This became particularly noticeable during the last week, and it culminated in a refusal by the chef de cuisine to cook the family's dinner, on the last night they were in the house. I found this distressing and it did lead to an unpleasant atmosphere downstairs. The family were also very distressed, especially as they cared for the well being of their staff.
One of the hardest jobs as a butler was to find the right balance between running the house efficiently, within a framework of hierarchical difference, coupled with strict discipline and simultaneously trying to maintain a friendly disposition towards the staff. I also found that trying to maintain lines of communication open between the family and the staff was an elusive proposition. The incidents during the last week in the house, was an indication to me, that I had not been successful in that endeavour. My only consolation was that in the Edwardian era the family would have had concerns for their staff, but would have only communicated through the butler. So from that point of view we were also truly Edwardian.
The two things I missed most during my time in the house was not being able to speak to my daughter on a regular basis, and not having my verifocal spectacles.
All the things I had listed before going into the house as things that I would miss, like having a daily shower, I did not miss in the least.
I never knowingly give in to 21st C temptations.
I believe that the 21st C has some lessons to learn from our forefathers.
To have pride in our country and it's outstanding achievements.
To have pride in ourselves, they way we present ourselves and in the work we do.
To respect others and our immediate environment.
The apparent lack of a philanthropic attitude from the wealthier people in our society. Like those who provided public buildings at their expense, Carnigie springs to mind, or to endow educational, sporting or other activity type establishment.
What I liked most about the Edwardian era was the sense of order that existed, something I do not perceive today. What I disliked most was the strict hierarchical differences that existed then. You were either 'upstairs or downstairs'.
In my view though little has changed in some respects. Today we have a 'new upper class' made up of meritocrats, the 'luvvies', the mega stars/sports persons, etc. They apparently have many of the trappings of yesteryears, and we euphemistically call things by different names to denote the same relationship between those who are served and those who serve.
The only thing I would probably try to do better would be to convey more forcefully to the servants the real concerns the family had for their well being. Like wise I would make an effort to explain to the family that the servants were extremely tired after such intensive and concentrated work.
However it should be noted that it would not have then been a truly Edwardian experience. The whole object of having servants and a butler, as a buffer, was to have the service and not the worry of the daily going on of downstairs.
From my experience in the house the Edwardian setting changed the nature of the relationship between men and women. In that context the word 'setting' was represented by the prevailing social order Ð upstairs downstairs- , the code of conduct that regulated all society, the manners that were expected from all walks of life. Furthermore the strict separation that existed between men and women; their tasks were different, they slept in segregated quarters, and the subservient role women had in that society contributed to my change of attitude. Couple all of this with the restrictive clothing that was worn by both men and women and it is not surprising to find that the setting, in my view, had an effect on the participants.
Its difficult to express how one felt, but there was a certain amount of safety keeping within the parameters set by that society. What I feel now is that it was difficult in that atmosphere to develop any proper friendships, something we can do more easily in the 21st C.
There are a couple of incidents that I know for a fact, that are not filmed, and that they may be of interest.
The first incident relates to the Hunt Meet that was held in the grounds of the house.
Imagine what the natural consequences are if a sizeable number of horses congregate in a place, when they eventually leave there is much mucking up to do.
As the butler my belief was that the task of clearing the fore court to the house would fall on the stable boy. It was not a household responsibility to clean up that mess.
Our hall boy, Ken, was anxious that it would not be his task and I assured him, that he need not worry. My mistake, as he himself had asked to work in the stables, it actually was his job to do so.
On the Sunday morning prior t going to church, my error was brought to my notice. It was only after we had returned from church and had our Sunday dinner that Itold him it was his job. As I could see he was about to explode in anger, I made a sign to him not to do that, as I would need to punish him yet again. Instead I told him I would teach him a lesson. I would come with him and help him in his task. So we did, and eventually he asked me, what lesson was I going to teach him.
My reply was that there were no tasks that were menial, all tasks in life were important. The other aspect of the lesson was that no matter how exalted you were, it did not demean a person to carry out lowly tasks. Here was I the butler collecting horse manure with the hall boy! In the Edwardian era it would have been an unacceptable proposition. However on questioning him as to whether he thought any less of me because I was helping him, his reply was that it did not affect the perception he had of the butler.
I hope he understood what the lesson was.
The other story also has the hall boy as a participant, but on this occasion Robin, 2nd footman, and Tristan the coachman and groom accompanied us.
We were going to speak at Duns Church Lady's Guild meeting. We had a fantastic evening and the ladies told us they had never laughed so much. It was a real comic act.
However the nub of the story is that on the way back I spoke about the importance of education, and the subject has, I am told, impacted Ken, who has now decided to go back into full time education. That is if I understood the story correctly.
Hugh Edgar is working as an architect. He looks back at the experience as "fantastic" and felt that they all learnt something about themselves. He would consider doing other reality TV programmes if they suited him.