Summoning the servants

Having nothing better to do, I walked to the local stately home which is now owned by the council and open to the public.  It started life as a manor house at the heart of a working farm, but by the end of the 19th century more money could be made selling the land for housing than from corn and wool.  so land for housing took over from agriculture.  I guessing (I should have bought a guide book), but the transformation from farm house to pile started around 1860, at that time water would have been from a well, candles and lamps would have provided light, with open fires for warmth and one or more ranges for cooking.

As time went on, hot and cold running water became available from lead piping.  A big central heating system was installed with cast iron radiators and iron pipes.  This implied a “boiler room” somewhere in the basement, but not wanting to appear weird, I did not ask to see it.  I found a solitary gas mantle in the servant’s which suggests that they largely skipped over gas technology and went straight to electricity or someone had done a good job of disposing the piping.  The house was extensively lit with electricity which might have been installed before the Great War, there was no mention of where the supply came from, it is conceivable that there was a steam driven dynamo in the basement along the boilers, maybe this is the guide book.

In the centre of the “working” area comprising the scullery, kitchen, laundry, pantries and small rooms where one might hide for a fag or half hour with yesterday’s Times, is a row of bells mounted on coiled springs.  Originally, these appear to have been worked by an elaborate system of wires and cranks, the remains or which are visible all over the house.  These mechanisms were common in the slightly grand houses on the other side of the railway track by which we live.  A couple of dog walking acquaintances have found them in walls and lofts.  As every room in the house appeared to have a bell, maintaining them must have created employment for the local handyman.  Were these bells ever silenced by clipping a clothes peg the cable, a form of sabotage there would have been easy to conceal.  A variation on this theme exists in the main bedrooms, these may have been kept locked while the occupant slept (I choose my words carefully), however, unlocking them to allow the delivery of food, drink, shaving water and the removal of night soil in the chamber pot would have meant leaving the bed.  However, a system of ropes and pulleys allowed the door to be unlocked without leaving the covers.  This sort of explains socialism.

The wires and cranks must have been a source of frustration as they were at sometime replaced by actuators which I guess were powered by some lead acid accumulators and activated by push buttons in the family rooms.  This is where the story ends, but I have a lot sympathy for shop works who wander around with headsets so they can be directed as required, it is probably a good thing that these were not available in the Edwardian era.

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About SolarBucket

I trained as a mechanical engineer in the 1970's and then spent most of the following 25 years doing sums and software for Oil and Gas Exploration. Current interests are the study of wind and solar resources.
This entry was posted in Energy, History, Lighting, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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