Manor House Lady Olliff-Cooper
"I do think it will take time to get over my guilt at having people to do things for me, but how will I ever return to the grind of normality?" Lady Olliff Cooper
Lady Olliff-Cooper
Lady Olliff-Cooper

Lady Olliff Cooper's Day

Lady Olliff-Cooper with Sir John at the Empire Ball
Lady Olliff-Cooper with Sir John at the Empire Ball

Edwardian Life

An Owner's Guide to life in Manderston House

A Typical Day in the House

How to talk to your servants

The People: Anna Olliff-Cooper

Anna: Thoughts After Leaving the House

What expectations did you have about entering Manor House?
I expected the life of the idle rich would consist of oodles of free time - I even worried about being bored. In fact with 3 or more hours of every day spent changing my clothes and another 3 or 4 hours spent in rigidly formal meals, there wasn't enough time to do all the things I wanted to do. I hoped to have time to sort out all my mid-life angst, to rethink my priorities, and again I found myself so caught up in the reality of Edwardianism, that I did very little conscious thinking at all an Edwardian wife is not required to think, that would be frowned upon, only to be compliant and look decorative.

Do you think that taking part has changed you??
Despite this, I have found myself changed by the experience, I have spent most of my life looking after people, my family and my patients. Three months of being waited on hand and foot have made me reluctant to return to a life of serving others. I find I am more confident, more willing to ask for what I want instead of putting everyone else's needs first, and more able to say no when that is what I really want to say. I am not sure those around me think that this is a change for the better!

Has anyone said that you have changed since you have returned to the 21st Century??
Despite our very delicious, high fat, hugely calorific meals and remarkably little exercise, to my great surprise I lost weight slowly and steadily. I was never hungry. It was virtually impossible to eat much of anything in my exceedingly tight corset. So it appears the way to diet successfully must be to eat very slowly, very tiny quantities of beautifully cooked food, every few hours.

What do you feel you've learnt?
In my three months as an Edwardian I wasn't tired, I wasn't bored and, with my wonderful maid Morrison to chatter away to, I wasn't lonely for female company I was surrounded by beauty and part of a community both within the house and in the village. I was also happier than at any other time of my life. I came to realize what is really important to me.

Have you remained friends or stayed in contact with anyone from the household? Why?
I have remained in contact mainly with Morrison, my maid, and Edgar, the butler. These are the two members of the household who were closest to us, and I admired them so much. They gave us their unconditional support and loyalty. I felt honoured, humbled (and unworthy) to receive such devoted service from them. We shared a remarkable experience, which has bound us together and their continuing interest and support means much to me. An Edwardian lady would not be expected even to know the names of lower servants, certainly not to speak to them, so regrettably I didn't get to know the other members of the household, except from afar.

What did you enjoy most?
Morrison's ever cheerful face, Edgar's internal smiles, John's surprise and pleasure the first time he saw me dressed for dinner, singing in the marble hall, carriage rides, the footmen throwing open the dining room doors, clocks chiming, descending the silver staircase, going to the opera in that ridiculous feather concoction, leaves swirling across the green lawns, riding side-saddle, Avril wobbling along on the bike, the Manderston diamonds, footmen on the tandem, Jonty leaping down the steps in his riding tails and breeches, Guy as a page boy at the ball, the aching beauty of the house and grounds, and above all - fun. I had wonderful, privileged fun.

What did you like least?
Leaving. I could have stayed there forever, and would in time have come to think of my 21st century life as some curious and highly unlikely, futuristic dream.

What did you find the hardest aspect of the role you assumed?
I was very fortunate. I was living the life of a very wealthy, respected aristocrat. It was like existing in the centre of a glittering golden bubble. It's hard to let that go. I was saddened by my sister's distress. There was an ongoing pull in opposing directions. On the one hand I wanted to alter things in order to make life more comfortable for her, but on the other I wanted to adhere to authentic way of doing things in Edwardian times.

What did you miss most from the 21st century? Did you ever give in to temptation?
Zips - Oh those endless tiny buttons, poppers and hooks and eyes, all forever coming undone and popping off. My electric toothbrush and proper toothpaste - our gums really suffered. Elastoplast - it was difficult to cover blisters with only bits of lint, and they got infected. And shampoo - after the first abortive attempt with Morrison's dread egg and oil, I didn't wash my hair for 10 weeks. I did find a sachet of shampoo in the recesses of a drawer that had been left behind, and, no, I didn't use it.

Do you think that the 21st century can learn anything from the Edwardian era?
Our experience in the house showed me that if you want to get a project off the ground quickly and efficiently then you need to impose a hierarchy. This is not to say that such a hierarchy is necessarily fair. I don't think I was any more worthy than Morrison to be the mistress. But if everyone has a place and everyone pulls together, a huge amount can be achieved. So even if it is unfair it may be better for everyone than the anarchy of egalitarianism.

What did you like and dislike most about the Edwardian era?
I loved the order, the quality and the beauty of the life-style the lack of litter, crowds, queues traffic and background music. Having said that, we were of course living the life of very wealthy Edwardians and it may be possible to have the same experience of quality in life now, if one were sufficiently rich.I grew to love the elegance of the fashions of the time, but this elegance came at quite a price.

The corsets were an essential underpinning to the look, and were exceedingly restrictive. It was impossible to sit comfortably for any length of time, On 'bad corset days' it was impossible to sit at all. Any sort of exertion caused shortness of breath, and the restriction of the circulation to the brain made me feel muddle headed, vague and quite dependent.

If you could have your time at the Manderston again is there any one thing that you would have done differently?
I wish I had recorded my thoughts and feelings more at the time. At the beginning I felt totally bewildered by the rush of new impressions and experiences. Very soon after that I had become so immersed in the Edwardian life-style that it just seemed normal, and not worth recording.

Did you find that the Edwardian setting changed the way that men and women related to each other? How do you feel about it?
In Edwardian times there wasn't the blurring of the male and female roles that we have today. Women didn't expect to be equal to men, but were treated more like engaging children, (and real children, were by and large ignored). The very restrictive clothing reinforced a sense of child-like dependency. I found this curiously restful, at least for 3 months. Whether I would have continued to do so, or whether I would eventually found it irksome, I can't say. The whole way of life was curiously distancing emotionally. Despite spending a much greater amount of time in each other's company, it was very difficult to have any private conversation, as we were always conscious of being overheard by our servants.

Any other stories you want to tell?
I am quite a reserved sort of person. I went into this project because I thought the opportunity to travel in time would be fascinating, and it was. I was surprised to find how very seductive being at the top of the ladder can be, and I now understand why celebrities cling so hard to their fame and will go to such lengths to stay in the limelight. I can also understand now, how kings of old truly believed they ruled by Divine Right. If we began to feel a right to our superior place in society after only three months, how much more so must someone who has been told from the cradle onwards that he is God's chosen ruler.

I was quite disturbed to discover how quickly the 21st century ways of thinking could be altered by a change of environment. Attitudes that would be alien today, such as the belief that everyone had a God given level in society, from which they should not stray, seemed both right and natural within a very short time. It makes me wonder which of our 21st century attitudes will be regarded with incredulity in centuries to come.

UPDATE: 2003
Anna is still working as a doctor in a casualty ward. She and John are still in touch with Edgar and Mrs. Morrison.


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