In Ser­vice

Evergreen - - Contents - John Hus­band

The pop­u­lar­ity of TV dra­mas like Down­ton Abbey and, dur­ing the 1970s, Up­stairs, Down­stairs, shows that we have a fas­ci­na­tion with the uniquely Bri­tish master and ser­vant re­la­tion­ship. Many older read­ers will have fam­ily mem­o­ries of par­ents or grandparents who worked “in ser­vice”.

In the early part of the last cen­tury most vil­lages had their “big house” oc­cu­pied by ti­tled fam­i­lies go­ing back many gen­er­a­tions. Our Cor­nish fish­ing vil­lage of Gor­ran Haven did not, hav­ing to make do with Per­haver House, a less- grand Vic­to­rian res­i­dence owned by the newly gen­tri­fied Mr. and Mrs. Drew. Over the years be­tween the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury and the start of the Sec­ond World War, they were bene­fac­tors of many vil­lage in­sti­tu­tions, pro­vid­ing a source of em­ploy­ment for many vil­lage girls be­tween leav­ing school and get­ting mar­ried. My Gran, Aun­tie and cousin all worked there at var­i­ous times.

In the house, Mrs. Drew ruled with a rod of iron. She had a for­mi­da­ble tem­per which Gran dis­cov­ered one evening when serv­ing a bowl of soup. “Take it away, your thumb has touched it!” she thun­dered. Gran got into trou­ble

again when she and an­other maid hatched a plan to steal some of her mis­tress’s straw­ber­ries, ripen­ing in the kitchen gar­den. This ne­ces­si­tated wait­ing un­til the Drews were safely off the premises, and the op­por­tu­nity arose the next Sun­day morn­ing when the Drews left for church. “The bet­ter the day, the bet­ter the deed”, as Gran was fond of say­ing! Her sins found her out, how­ever, as she left her hair­net be­hind, en­tan­gled in the straw­berry net­ting, and she was lucky to get away with a stiff tick­ing off on their re­turn!

There was plenty of fun for these young girls as well, par­tic­u­larly a mem­o­rable ride in what must have been one of the vil­lage’s first mo­tor cars on a trip to Truro, dressed in the head­gear ap­pro­pri­ate for such fast speeds!

It must have been al­most two decades later that my cousin started work at Per­haver House. It soon be­came ap­par­ent that Mrs. Drew’s acid tongue had not mel­lowed much over the years. One of my cousin’s first tasks was to re­lay the mes­sage that a gen­tle­man was ask­ing for Mrs. Drew at the back door. In a ri­poste wor­thy of Down­ton’s Dowa­ger Countess, she was told in no un­cer­tain terms that “If he is at the back door, he is no gen­tle­man!”

Par­lour­maids from Per­haver House, Gor­ran Haven, Corn­wall, pic­tured in about 1910. The au­thor’s grand­mother, Maud Ver­coe, is on the far right.

Maud Ver­coe ( right) and two friends all dressed up for a car jour­ney in the early 20th cen­tury.

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