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UPSTAIRS - DOWNSTAIRS AT IGHTHAM MOTE

18 SEPTEMBER 2003

Upstairs - Downstairs at Ightham Moat


IGHTHAM MOTE - LIFE UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRS

Heather Woodward of the National Trust, gave a very interesting, illustrated talk on Life Upstairs & Downstairs at Ightham Mote. It has been described as secluded and enchanting and a ‘Hidden Sight at the foot of the Valley’. The owners were all people of note ie Squires, JP’s, MP’s, Royal Courtiers etc and families of Knights, Squires etc. It was said to be a place to rest, eat and pray & is 650 yrs old. Architects were rarely employed but plenty of builders & with no building restrictions, there are approx 7 different types of chimneys. Int timber – 1250 older than HMS Victory. Shoes were found in walls etc, builders used to place them by doors/openings to ward off devils etc.

The East side was the Servants part & kitchen, with a cobbled footbridge to the area. Coke was brought in 2 ½ ton loads by barrow from Borough Green by the 2 Leftly Bros. The Privvy – guard robe – had tube like sticks to dislodge anything that was stuck. The Expression ‘The Wrong End of the Stick’ came about from when the wrong end of this stick was picked up! 100 Years Later - Sir Thomas Colyer Ferguson put up Elizabethan timber to cover the walls & Lady Mary Ferguson had water pumped to the bathroom. A Memorial to Capt Riversdale Colyer Ferguson’s son who died in battle, is at Evesburgh.

There was a Stewpond that stocked the various fish for the kitchen, near the Watercress, which was said to be good for Baldness & Gout. In the 19thC people used to fish in the moat from the windows of the house. Terry Thorpe (son of the Cook) was the only child there in WW2 & also fished the Moat, which is poss Anglo Saxon.

The houses by the stables are now Holiday Cottages. The middle house used to be the main entrance to Ightham Mote. There were 156 nesting boxes close by & a Dovecote was always near a house as the birds were far too valuable to be lost. Freshly killed pigeon tied to the head/foot apparently cures melancholy feelings! Not trying that one!! You would walk in the Courtyard to pay your rent & see the 1798 Hr Clock with 1 hand only. You would also see the only Grade 1 listed Dog Kennel in the World, for Sir Thomas Ferguson’s St Bernard Dog - Dido, who was fed out of a washing up bowl!

Medieval – there was a slot, usually in a large door/gate behind which was a chamber. Parley slot! - most educated people spoke French & to pass through, you either gave a password or passed a piece of paper through the slot – hence Passport!!

The Great Hall – 37’h ceiling & an earthen floor with straw, which was only possibly changed annually! Sir Richard Clement – a Courtier put emblems in a window to show allegiance to the King. The hall was used for eating earlier in the day, then straw mattresses would be put down for the servants to sleep on (palliasse). Meat/veg was served on trenches–flat bread & gravy would soak in – you could eat your plate.

Dame Dorothy of East Malling married Sir Richard Selby, after which her fortunes changed, we saw her in a picture with 1 tulip, which cost
£1,000 then. The Selbys lived at Ightham Mote for 299 years until 1889.

Servants - There were 27 at the end of 19th Century, after WW2 there were 7, performing the same duties as the 27! The maid used to scurry along the passageways banging empty dishes to scare the rats. There was a pecking order - the Cook & Butler used to sit at opposite ends of the table & the Kitchen Maid came after the dogs! The Bathroom was full of rats & nicknamed ‘The Chamber of horrors’. Servants had to be up early to light the fires before the family were up & ready for their breakfast at 08.30, lunch at 12.30 – 1pm, afternoon tea at 4pm in the Library where Lady Mary would wear her hat & dinner at 7.30pm. Potatoes were always mashed. During WW2 servants slept in the Crypt, after which it was used as a prison.

General - Locks last approx 100 yrs & there was a squint window in the Chapel. There is no ice house & Electric was installed in 1955. Billiard Room – one of the volunteers used to be a housemaid & made all the lampshades how they used to be.

Charles Henry Robinson (US) was the last private owner & preserved Ightham for the future & said ‘Ightham is the only house in England I would want to own’ and left the property to the NT in 1985. £9.4m has been spent on conservation & will be complete in 2004. The 4-6ft deep moat was emptied each time the scaffolding was put up. The Archives are mainly domestic – letters etc, garden plans inc walled garden, orchard.

Last Revised: 7 March 2005

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