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Day 226: Back to Erddig

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Before I get into today's blog, I'll just point out that the final photograph yesterday, a black-and-white pic of some of the servants taken around the turn of the 20th century, includes the last family to own Erddig; they're in the window at the upper left, Louisa Yorke, Simon IV, Philip III, and Philip Yorke II. Seems to me the last family was just as enthusiastic about recording the servants' likenesses as their forebears had been. Philip III is the one who gave Erddig to the National Trust.

Also, I'll point out that the servants in that photograph were standing in front of the original front steps, the 'grand entrance' to the house. I took this picture - which really shows off the Virginia creeper, already turning red by mid-July:

By the time of Philip II and Louisa, the interior had been restyled so the former entrance hall had become the music room, and the front door no longer served as the front door.

Today when you visit the house the tour starts at the outbuildings, past the wagons and farm equipment, then moves into the service yard. The estate was self-sustaining, even down to felling trees and making mortar. They had their own sawmill, and a steam engine to power machines like this one:

It's a relatively early, primitive limestone crusher / cement mixer. I wish I'd thought to have Himself stand beside it, to give scale to the photo. I'd say each of the huge stone wheels was about two, maybe two-and-a-half, feet in diameter and nine or ten inches thick; the pan was something like four feet across. The whole contraption weighed on the order of a ton. Tall order for DIY!

Around this work yard were the storehouses and garages for everything from pony-carts and early bicycles up to fine carriages and a selection of cars. One of the first models of a Land Rover:

The last resident of Erddig, Philip III, was known for riding his 'penny farthing' bicycle, until just about the end of his life. The penny-farthing was an early style with a large front wheel, small back wheel. I'm not sure balancing on one would be very different from any bicycle, but climbing up onto it would be another story. Maybe the old mounting blocks used for carriages and horses would come in handy.

Of the next pictures some are ours, some are taken from the guidebook. I almost always get a guidebook when we go to these sites: it serves as a memento of the trip, and also gives me a lot of information on the families, the histories, and the furnishings and paintings.

Because of approaching the house through the working areas, you come into the tradesmen's entrance, then move through the ranks up to the 'house proper' - the best below stairs areas are the housekeeper's rooms and the estate-agent's office. The tour starts with the bottom rung of the domestic staff, the laundresses.

The laundry areas in these country estates always interests me. The women - always women, of course - who were responsible for laundering were among the hardest-working of all servants. This is a large box-mangle:

Think of it as a super-wringer. The box section would be filled with rocks or iron pieces, anything that would provide heavy weight. Large pieces of fabric, such as tablecloths or sheets, would be placed between rollers, then the box would be rolled over the fabric. Although there was a gear mechanism, using a box mangle was often a two-person operation. I think in the picture you can just about make out the spill of linen processing into the basket.

In addition to the box mangle for large pieces there was a smaller wringer:

They would try to get as much water as possible out of the material before ironing it, so as to have it dry as quickly and as wrinkle-free as possible. Another angle on the small wringer:

In the right on this photo you can just about see a corner of the huge earthenware sinks in this room - there were some four or five of them, large, deep laundry sinks, beautifully glazed. In the background is an item that looks to be a butter churn - it's a small 'mechanical washer.' Put in a few clothes, some sudsy water, close it up, and spin it - very handy, and probably hi-tech for its day.

From the laundry area we went to the side areas of the kitchen - although the main kitchen itself was a large room with several different stations, there was a dairy room, meat larder, bakery, etc. The baker was working the day we were there - oh, I'm telling you, did the bake room smell good! - and he was just finishing a batch of wholewheat loaves. We didn't get a picture that turned out, but later we bought two loaves of the bread. They sell it in the cafe on the estate, for a £1 / loaf. Large loaves, too. We had one with our picnic lunch (still warm). I brought the other home and cut it up into servings, then froze it. There are still two pieces left. What a treat that was.

The first room inside the house itself is the large kitchen. It's a bright, airy room, with lots of wooden counters and tables to work at. There's a huge cast-iron range set into the old cooking hearth - the better part of six feet high and probably eight feet across, or more. It has grills, roasting ovens, and a 'hob' section on which to set pans for boiling.

To one side are some smaller iron cooktops that used charcoal for heating. Because the heat would be less intense and could be maintained for longer periods of time, those were the ones used for pans with sauces and gravies, foods that required long, slow cooking and frequent attention.

Unlike so many of the old kitchens, the one at Erddig has a lot of light:

The Yorke who had the kitchen built insisted on large windows for light and ventilation. In the photograph there's what appears to be a large wooden box, set back on the left. It's a 'meat store,' a zinc-lined box where leftover meats could be stored for the following day. Nothing ever went to waste. If the family had roast beef for supper, the servants often had beef stew the day after.

Throughout the servants' areas are call bells high on the walls:

This picture is from the guidebook cover. All of the family rooms (as well as some of the other sections of the house, such as the housekeeper's room) had levers or bell pulls. You can see the bells are labelled, so a servant could know at a glance which room was ringing.

In the main service corridor, over a doorway, is a copy of what's known as 'The Erddig Prayer':

May Heav'n protect our home from flame,
Or hurt or harm of various name!
And may no evil luck betide
To any who therein abide!
As also who their homes have found
On any acre of it's ground,
Or who from homes beyond it's gate
Bestow their toil on this estate!

More than one old manor house was levelled by fire. The Yorkes became increasingly phobic through the generations about fire in the house, even to the extent of installing a system of early fire extinguishers. Fortunately they were never called upon to test them - perhaps The Erddig Prayer did the trick.

The next couple of rooms take us into the highest caste of servants. The housekeeper's sitting room - complete with sewing machine, personal fireplace, writing desk, and a plush chair - and the estate agent's office (he was responsible for overseeing the complete running of Erddig, indoors and out) are the last stops before the family's quarters.

Moving from 'below stairs' to 'above stairs' we come first to the music room, the former entrance hall:

There were a lot of instruments of all kinds. Not only did the family keep everything (lucky for us), but quite a few of them had some musical training and talent, and would have 'musicales' for evening entertainments. One of the maids is documented as being a good fiddle-player, and she was frequently invited to join in with the family - her violin has been carefully preserved in what had been her room.

Next stop, the dining room:

This room was created from two smaller rooms. I hope the color comes out well on the page; the walls are a beautiful soft green, and the color scheme is green, white, cream, with touches of oak and 'old gold.' The only discordant note to me is that carpet: it's a bright red - blue - yellow - black oriental rug. But by the mid-19th century, clashing garish color was often the order of the day.

Next was Erddig's library:

I'd have this room, for sure. It had windows all along one wall, and was very light. For all it's a large room, it also felt quite warm and cozy.

The last York, Philip III, tried to keep the ravages of time at bay, but he was fighting a losing battle - one of the reasons he gave Erddig to the National Trust. He eventually moved into just a few rooms; as he was the only one living there by the 1960s, apart from a few servants, he didn't really need much space.

The house was never electrified (still isn't), and the gasworks piped in was minimal, mostly into the kitchen areas. Philip had a small portable generator hooked up, though, for one specific purpose: he did enjoy television now and then.

The black-and-white photo shows the drawing room at about the time he signed Erddig over to the Trust:

If you look below the chandelier you can just about make out his TV on a stand against the wall.

A current photograph of the drawing room:

Many of the elements are the same, some - such as the large painting over the fireplace - even in the same places. Because of the layout of the tour, it wasn't possible to stand in the same place to take the picture of today, but you can clearly see the fireplace is the same one. Perhaps this will give you an idea of Before and After.

In the 18th century 'the Chinese style' was all the rage - in fact, that's where the popularity of willowware comes from. Erddig had its share of Chinese-style furnishings, and even two rooms devoted to the theme:

That's known as The Chinese Room. The charming portrait over the fireplace depicts the two oldest children of Philip Yorke I and Elizabeth Cust, she of the shepherdess painting. I copied this close-up-of the painting from the book:

On the right is the boy who would inherit, Simon Yorke II. With him is his sister Etheldred. I know, it's a fine old Anglo-Saxon name, but even so--!

The house is full of knickknacks and souvenirs and ceramics and all the collectibles a wealthy family would accumulate over the course of a couple of centuries. I found this Chinese pagoda to be the loveliest thing:

It stands about two to two-and-a-half feet high. It was made by "Elizabeth Ratcliffe (1735 - 1810), daughter of a Chester clockmaker who was lady's maid and companion to Mrs. Dorothy Yorke, mother of Philip Yorke I." The pagoda (and at least one other such model in the house) is made from vellum (like parchment, it consists of super-thin animal hide, scraped and stretched) to which 'crushed mica, slivers of mother-of-pearl, and fragments of colored glass are glued.'

The photograph doesn't do it justice: it shimmers and sparkles and glows, a beautiful creation. Ms. Ratcliffe was quite the craftswoman - there are examples of her handiwork, silk-flower arrangements and sketches and watercolors and lacy cut-outs (silhouettes and scherenschnitte), dotted all through the house. She was not only creative - she must've had very steady hands!

Although the Yorkes didn't care about most of the improvements modern technology could provide, they were great believers in indoor plumbing. Early on they had bathrooms and toilets installed, some for the use of the servants but most - the nicer ones, of course - for family use. I thought this shower was ingenious:

You fill the tank overtop with hot water, then stand beneath the shower head and pull the lever, letting the water spray over you. There's a catchment basin below the drain in the bottom. Can you just see the handle to the right of the base, that looks like the handle of a tire pump? It enables you to pump the water back up thru a pipe in one of the supporting 'legs' to the tank - sending the water back to the top for a rinse - brilliant! And when finished, you can use the small tap on the side of the catchment basin to drain out the water. 'They say' that Philip III continued to use this until he left the house.

Most of the pictures we took in the bedrooms didn't turn out, but one bedroom was especially worthy of note: The State Bedroom.

Nearly all of the grand estates would set aside a guest room that would be even more spectacular than the master bedroom. It was intended for a visit from the reigning monarch - hence the term 'State Bedroom' - although very few of the nominal state bedrooms were ever used by kings or queens. Often they served as the 'best room' when important visitors came to stay, or when special family members (the in-laws, perhaps?) were visiting.

The State Bedroom at Erddig has been carefully renovated, right down to the original furnishings and hand-painted Chinese wallpaper. The lacquered screen that you can just about make out in the corner to the right of the bed was a gift to the Yorkes from Elihu Yale, c 1682 - yes, the founder of Yale University. The Yorkes may not have been powerful in the upper echelons of society, but they certainly knew some important people.

The colors are still rich, though now the room itself is set back behind a glass wall, so as to maintain climate control, and the whole is relatively dimly lit - another reason our pictures didn't come out, and I've 'borrowed' again from the guidebook. The lacquered cabinet to the right -

- is a scarlet 'Chinese red.' In this photo of it with the cabinet doors closed -

- it doesn't appear to be especially bright red, but it is. The wallpaper and the upholstered seats are a deep blue-green; the bed linens were originally white with 'brilliant, almost gaudy, embroidery in the Chinese manner.' Definitely a room to impress.

From the high to the low - the main bedroom corridor as it appeared in the early 1970s:

The roof had begun to leak so badly, in so many places, that Philip was putting bowls and basins and buckets everywhere - you can see some of them on the floor in the right of this picture. The State Bedroom had water literally pouring through the roof during heavy rains, to the extent that the furnishings were very nearly lost. As it was, the wallpaper had to be painstakingly removed, restored at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, then carefully rehung. Much of the rest of the house was in various stages of deterioration, so it's understandable that the project took years for the National Trust to restore to some of its former glory.

As I pointed out in yesterday's blog, it's unusual to see much that belonged to 'the common people' in the big houses. Upstairs in the attics a few of the rooms have been put on view; they are some of the maids' quarters. They are set up as if for two women per room, though it's more likely that three, four, even five would have shared a single space.

The one that most caught my eye was this one:

It's obviously up under the roof, given the slant of the ceiling. But I still haven't figured out why they bothered with a canopy, unless it was just for 'nice'? The rug is perhaps one of the oldest 'rag rugs' in existence, dating from about 1800 - and it's still quite colorful.

The last stop before going out to the gardens was the family chapel:

Beautiful woodwork, and a couple of large, stained-glass windows. When the weather was nice the family would go into the local village to attend services, but during winter, or if there was a family baptism, or funeral, they would use their own chapel. It's surprisingly roomy, as it was designed to accommodate family members, guests, visitors, and as many of the domestic workers as possible.

A couple of views of the 'private gardens' (as opposed to the landscaped areas at the front of the house, intended for sweeping vistas for public admiration):

Once again, I'm out of time - not to mention space. If SP ever starts limiting uploads, I've had it. Next blog: tour of the grounds.

Goodnight, Sparklers, wherever you are!
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  • no profile photo PHELLONI
    I just wanted to comment on how you had said you don't know why they put the canopy on if its roof was slanted like that. Somebody did actually just lay mention to it a couple comments down from here... but there used to be drapes that surrounded the bed as well. It would hold in all the Heat because it was so hard to keep it heated in there emoticon
    612 days ago
  • no profile photo PHELLONI
    I just wanted to comment on how you had said you don't know why they put the canopy on if this roof with slanted like that. Somebody did actually just lay mention to it a couple comments up from here... but there used to be drapes that surrounded the bed as well. It would hold in all the Heat because it was so hard to keep it heated in there emoticon
    612 days ago
  • no profile photo PHELLONI
    I just wanted to comment on how you would said you don't know why they put the canopy on if this roof with slanted like that. Somebody did actually just lay mention to it a couple comments up from here... but there used to be drapes that surrounded the bed as well. It would hold in all the Heat because it was so hard to keep it heated in there emoticon
    612 days ago
  • PROT358
    Hmmm, I think I'll take my second dinner tonight in the dining room, attach the library to my primary living quarters, my bedroom (which of course would be the state bedroom ... drool), and after dinner I'll retire to the drawing room and the piano. I have always wanted a big library like in Disney's Beauty and the Beast with lots and lots of old books! And the bed with a canopy and drapes to keep out the morning sun, because I am NOT an early riser. I think I could live here!
    3635 days ago
    Thankyou so much for the tour....somewhere I would never get to see if it wasn't for you pics and your blog...
    thankyou so much
    3640 days ago
    You are the ideal tourist, you really learn a lot!
    3640 days ago
    I can't wait for a tour of the grounds. Gardens are so amazing. I think we're going to have to go out to a trust house soon. I've now officially got the bug!
    3640 days ago
    Loved the pictures.Thanks for sharing
    3640 days ago
    How do they maintain climate control with no electricity? Interesting that they did not do a few rooms----that shower is interesting---never saw anything like that before. I think it is neat that you can visit below stairs and also some of the servants quarters above. Wonder if they would have had some curtains around that bed in the attic for the winter to keep draft out?
    3640 days ago
    Oh my!--It is absoluletly gorgeous! And so interesting!!!---And--a far cry from living in Northern Ontario. Imagine! When all this was going on across the pond there, not too much was happening here----perhaps a few Indians---I love the pictures! They show how old everything is and how beautiful! Thanks for sharing all this Kasey. That blog was a lot of work! I appreciate it!----Lynda emoticon --oh---from the North Shore of Lake Huron-
    3640 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/14/2011 6:18:52 PM
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