£1m boost for historic mansion house

A PROJECT documenting the hidden history of life below stairs at one of Suffolk's great country houses has been awarded almost £1million.

Will Clarke

A PROJECT documenting the hidden history of life below stairs at one of Suffolk's great country houses has been awarded almost £1million.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has given Ickworth House Real Lives £999,500 to help put together and display detailed records of servant life at the mansion near Bury St Edmunds, which was home to the notorious Bristol family.

The National Trust, which now owns the stately home, is aiming to give visitors a better idea of life for the people who worked behind the scenes.

Kate Carver, manager of Ickworth House, Park and Gardens, said: “We are all very excited about Real Lives. By involving the local community we have a unique opportunity to make sure the final product reflects their passions and their stories as well as giving Ickworth's visitors an insight into how life was for ordinary people in the heyday of the house and wider estate.

“By capturing the memories of real people we can demonstrate the importance of the connection between Ickworth and the community.”

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John Gayfer, a former footman at Ickworth during the Second World War, welcomed the funding for the project - which he has already supplied with his own recollections.

“I feel privileged to have seen an era which has now past,” he said. “At the time we didn't think it would ever end.

“I think they were in denial about what was going to happen. People assumed the servants would come back after the war but many didn't. Life was good and we ate well but it was very restrictive.”

A newly appointed Real Lives Project officer will work with local volunteers to collect former workers' personal memories.

It is hoped that this will act as a catalyst for people to share their recollections of the house and estate, including evacuees who were billeted at Ickworth during the Second World War.

The HLF has also given £198,500 to the East Anglia Transport Museum, near Lowestoft.

Robyn Llewellyn, head of HLF East of England, said: “Both of these projects will celebrate the lives of real people that make our heritage so rich and enjoyable for everyone.

“Through innovative investment a wide range of organisations, from the entirely volunteer led East Anglia Transport Museum to the National Trust, we are giving local communities an opportunity to take an active role in identifying and preserving their heritage.”

§ Ickworth House required dozens of cooks, a butler, a housekeeper, an electrician, a lady's maid, parlour maid, oddmen, footmen and kitchen maids and scullery maids to keep it going.

§ The mansion's rotunda basement held a kitchen, a servant's hall, a wine store, servants' bedrooms and various corridors allowing servants to remain out of sight.

§ As a footman Mr Gayfer had one Sunday off a month and a half-day on Wednesdays - for which he received 11 shillings a month.

§ Servants' ranks were decimated during the First World War and again following the Second World War from which they never recovered.

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