Saturday, 14 September 2013

Copper Sinks and Chinese Silks

The poshest back door I've ever seen! Much nicer than
the front I think. 
It seems a while since I posted a Saturday Snapshot – we’ve been away three times over the last few weeks (the Man of the House teaches, so he has to take time off during the school holidays) so we’re completely out of routine at the moment. Anyway, the new term has started, so normality is slowly re-establishing itself, and for this week’s Saturday Snapshot I thought I would post up some more of the photos I took when we visited our elder daughter and her boyfriend in Plymouth.
Saltram's front entrance,
These were taken at Saltram, a beautiful Georgian mansion about a 20-minute walk from Lucy’s home in Plympton. During our visit we looked at an old map on the wall and were fascinated to discover that the housing estate was built on land which once belonged to the ‘big house’. We were also intrigued to learn that the house featured in Ang Lee’s film of Sense and Sensibility (the  where Emma Thompson played Elinor) – Saltram was ‘cast’ as Norwood Park, the home that Mrs Dashwood and her daughters are forced to leave when her husband dies.
Part of the saloon, where guests would have been
 entertained. It is very ornate indeed!
The estate gets its name from the salt that was harvested on the nearby river estuary, and the original house seems to date back to Tudor times, but was extensively altered and enlarged in the 18thC, when it was acquired by the wealthy Parker family, who became Earls of Morley. It was they who had it fitted out in the fashion of the day, with no expense spared. Each generation added and embellished, keeping it sylish and luxurious. Most of it was designed by the great Robert Adam, and the ornate drawing room (or saloon, as they would have called it), with its decorative plasterwork and furnishings, is considered to be one of his finest interiors. The walls are packed with paintings, and there;s golden gilding, and glittering crystal chandeliers, and it's all very beautiful, and very opulent, but a bit overwhelming - almost intimidating. A room to impress visitors perhaps, rather than somewhere for the family to curl up and relax.
Oh dear, this is saved upright, and it's doing  that weird
thing again, but you can get a glimpse of the ceiling, and
the chanderliers, and some of the paintings. 
At the same time formal gardens were created, and a landscaped park was established, forming artistic 'natural' views from the windows.
Is it time for lunch yet? I love  the clock
perched up on the roof.
There are so many rooms and corridors I wonder if guests or new members of staff ever got lost! I certainly would have done: I have no sense of direction, and without the Guide Book I might still be wandering round and round searching vainly for the exit! There are the most incredible bedrooms, with four-poster beds and adjoining ‘dressing rooms’ – the walls of one bedroom and dressing room are covered in exquisitely hand-painted silk, all the way from China, showing little Chinese scenes. And there’s a grand staircase, and a dining room with a table laid out with out with silver cutlery and delicate china and glasses. It all looks so posh I would be terrified of eating or drinking, but I guess this was what the Parkers were used to. 
Oriental Art: A room papered with hand-painted
Chinese silk..
Then there's a mirror room (more Chinese paper and decorations here - chinoiserie was very popular in high society), a garden room, a map room, a study, and a wonderful library, lined floor to ceiling with leather-bound books, and there were lots of little bookshelves in the other rooms, so I like to think the family enjoyed reading. I get the impression they were very cultured; they were certainly patrons of the arts, and the place is packed with paintings, many by Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was a friend of the family (he was brought up in Plympton, where his father was in charge of the school).
The big hearth, with its open range and roasting spits.
But, as with so many period houses, it’s the areas where the servants lived and worked that are the most unforgettable. There must have been an army of people employed here (in the house and on the land) to keep the family in such luxurious style, and it must have been such hard work. With no electricity, the only form of heat and light would have been open fires and candles, which must have created a lot of smoke and soot, so the maids must have been constantly sweeping and dusting and cleaning and polishing. There were clothes to be laundered and pressed, bedding to be regularly aired, acres of carpets to be beaten clean, and what seems like miles of woodwork to be polished.
Copper pans on the cooking range. This was state-of-the-art
kitchen equipment in the 1880s. The range would have been
buffed  to a shine with black lead.
In the kitchen a whole host of staff must have been kept busy cooking for the family, guests, themselves, and their fellow workers. The servants ate plain, filling fare made from cheap ingredients - the sumptuous dishes served up in the dining room were obviously considered to be far too good for them, and I guess there was the cost to be considered as well. Kitchen staff didn't just do the daily cooking. Sure, they baked and roasted and boiled and fried to produce meals for everyone, but there were no fridges or freezers remember, so food had to be preserved using traditional techniques, which were very labour intensive. There were jams, pickles, and chutneys to be made; meat to be cured, and fruit fruit to be bottled. Butter was churned here, and I am sure they would have made cheese as well. And on top of all that food preparation, there was cleaning to be done...
The original slow cooker: A hay box, used for long, slow
cooking in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The kitchen was remodelled in 1913, but still has the great hearth and roasting spits, as well as open range installed around 1810, so you get a pretty good impression of what it was like working here a couple of hundred years ago. And the huge, cast-iron, coal-fired closed range which stands in the centre of the room also predates the early 20thC revamp, dating from 1885. There’s a pantry, a scullery, a butchery, a larder, and the most incredible collection of copper utensils I’ve ever seen – some 600 items ranging from minute intricately shaped sweet moulds up to gigantic, plain saucepans, and all gleaming like new pins. There were even copper sinks in the scullery for washing the pots and pans! Just imagine the scouring and polishing that must have gone on to keep it all in tip-top condition!  I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: progress is a wonderful thing where housework and cooking are concerned!
Dining in style - but this room was a long way from the kitchen.
There must have have been an awful lot of fetching, carrying, and lifting as well. I bet most of the staff ended up with back problems. They were cooking for vast numbers, and the pots and pans were enormous - they must have been so heavy when they were full of food. In addition, the kitchen quarters are a fair old distance from the family rooms (this is always the case at these places - the landed gentry didn't want to be disturbed by common things like cooking smells and noise). So food, and hot serving dishes and everything would have been carried backwards and forwards to the dining room, which must have been a task and a half. Makes you wonder how much stuff got dropped, spilt and broken!
No, it's not a giant's watering can - it's for filling baths
with water, and you have no idea how heavy it was!
But the worst job of all must have been carting hot water along the corridors and up the stairs to the bedrooms, where it was poured into 'hip' baths so the family, and their visitors, could wash themselves. And when they had finished, the dirty water had to be heaved away and disposed of!  Metal hot water cans, which look like watering cans for a giant's garden, were used to transport the water. When full, one of these containers weighed around 13kg, which is 28.7lbs, or just over 2 stones - and it took around six of them to fill a bath! It was one of the duties allocated to chambermaids, who were usually about 15 years old, and I cannot imagine how they coped. Neither my daughters nor I could lift the full can displayed in a sink in the scullery, and even the Man of the House struggled to move it, so how these young girls managed I just don't know. They must have staggered under the weight, and walked along with the hot metal can banging against their legs, which must have been permanently bruised, and hot water slopping over their feet. 
The family make a new friend!dd caption
The gardens and grounds would have been just as busy, for Saltram would have been pretty much self-sufficient, producing fruit and vegetables for the estate, raising animals and poultry on the estate farms to provide meat, milk and eggs, and even growing its own grain and brewing beer. Timber was grown on the estate woodlands and sold to shipyards and barrel makers in Plymouth, so foresters were employed, as well as men to work in the sawpit and the mill where wood was processed (though neither of these has survived). But the stables can be seen, as well-built as the house itself: top quality accommodation for top quality animals - race horses were bred here. 
In the pink! Waterlilies in the formal pool.
Exotic plants from all over the world can be seen in the formal gardens, which were largely developed in the 19thC, and are a joy to behold, with winding paths leading you through all kinds of little areas, and fabulous flowers and foliage, all very lush and green. 
The orangery. Isn't it beautiful?
There's an amazing orangery, built in 1773 in neo-Classical style - so says the Guide Book. I'm never sure exactly what that means, but it has pillars, and lots of glass windows, and is all in proportion. It looks like something from Versailles, and best of all, it is still used to over-winter citrus trees. How cool is that? We were tremendously excited to see little green fruits hanging from the branches (the trees were all lined up outside in the largest of large pots, and appeared to be thriving, despite the vagaries of the English weather). We so hope these are oranges, but one small, unripe citrus fruit looks much like another to us. However, the trusty Guide Book only mentions oranges, so I shall assume we have seen oranges growing outside an orangery, and that makes me happy!
Citrus fruit growing outside the orangery - you can see from
the water droplets that it was a bit rainy that day.
We even saw a ha-ha, a kind of ditch, running along the edge of the lawn in front of the house to separate it from the fields where cattle still graze, down at a lower level. I’ve read about ha-has, but don’t remember seeing one before, and there's a duck pond, as well as an ornamental pool with a fountain and water lilies. 
Don't push! Younger Daughter and the Man of the House
by the ornamental pool.
The house and its lands remained in the hands of the Parker family for more than 200 years. They were still here during the Second World War, when an American army unit set up camp in the grounds. But the property suffered bomb damage, the family fortune dwindled, and life changed - people were no longer prepared to spend a life of drudgery 'in service', and by the 1950s there only two servants left to look after the elderly fourth earl, who was childless, and his bachelor brother. So when the fifth earl succeeded, everything was transferred to the National Trust.
A shady spot in the garden.
Like all NT properties, it isn't cheap to go round, but the house is wonderful. There's masses to see, including photographs and portraits of the family, and lots of information about the way (and their servants) lived, with a special focus on the late 1700s and early 1800s.  And the gardens are an absolute delight - there are plenty of labels telling you what the plants are, which is nice if you are not much of a horticulturist. You could spend a day just roaming around outside, and I gather the remaining parklands have become a wildlife haven, with rare species of plants and animals, which I think is rather nice, but you need to know what are looking for.
Don't let Mum loose in the library - we'll never get her out!
We thoroughly enjoyed our day out, and saw so much it's hard to know what to write about. In addition to the house and garden there's a lovely little cafe, a shop, charming follies in the grounds, and the old chapel has been turned into a gallery for local artists and craftspeople. And there were second-handbooks stacked in one of the old stables. Just for once, I didn't find anything I wanted, but I thought it was a lovely touch. 
And so to bed!
Saturday Snapshots is hosted by West Metro Mummy - click to follow links and see photos from other paticipants.


  1. That looks great! I would love to tour that!

    1. I am sure you would enjoy it. The place doesn't seem to get a very high profile, but it really was wonderful.

  2. I LOVE seeing places like this...thanks. FANTASTIC shots.

    And..thanks for stopping by my Saturday Snapshot.

    Wanted to let you know...the empty street one isn't New York City. :) It is Washington Street in Hoboken, NJ. The photo is taken in front of my son's building. I can see across the Hudson to Manhattan. NYC is VERY busy.

    1. I'm sorry, us Brits get horribly confused by the geography of the United States - I really must get a decent atlas!

  3. I was doing fine...until you showed the library! Covet-ness has taken over.

    1. It has to be one of the nicest libraries I've seen - I actually felt as if I'd like to curl up in a chair and read...

      No wonder my daughters were anxious to hustle me on!

  4. I adore the kitchens in these old houses! I never get over how they did things way back then. I think I prefer my 'slow cooker' to theirs!

    1. I much prefer modern kitchen gadgets! Nostalgia is all very well, but it must have been such hard work. Like I said, progress is a wonderful thing!

  5. Oops! Posted two pix the same! No idea how I managed that. All corrected now though.

  6. Old kitchens are so fascinating to tour. I love that range. Not sure I'd want to cook on it but I admire the look of it.

    1. My grandmother had one. nowhere near as big as this, but it was probably pretty old, and she used to cook all sorts of stuff on it, but she was used to it!

  7. Looks like a great family adventure -- fun and historic!

    1. Our younger daughter went down to Devon with us, so it was a real family holiday, which doesn't often happen now.

  8. What a magnificent house. Downton Abbey could have been filmed there if Highclere Castle wasn't available. And of course, I remember Ang Lee's Sense And Sensibility. It's exciting to see movie locations. What a wonderful trip you must have had.

    1. It was a perfect day! And I love the film, but had no idea that's where some of it was shot - I was really surprised, because they don't make much of it. Lots of places would flag it up no end to try and attract more people.

  9. What a great way to spend the day!! Love all the photos!

  10. I loved that I actually recognised a couple of the rooms from the movie :-)
    Great pics.

    1. It's great when you spot something like that, isn't it! Mind you, I never imagined Norwood being quite as grand as this!

  11. Lovely photos and isn't it great that the NT now lets us take photos inside. I haven't been to this house and now we live so far north I doubt we'll ever get to it, but you never know! Anyway it's good to see what it's like.

    I can't take part in Saturday Snapshots this week as my blog has problems - and I can't upload any photos!!

    1. Hope you get the blog fixed. If you ever make it down to the south west I think you'd love this property. Some parts of the are are touristified but this wasn't, and the volunteer guides were very helpful, and it wasn't really that busy.

  12. What a fabulous place to visit. I always find the kitchens the most interesting part- old cooking methods seem so strange now-that hay box is fascinating, I've not heard of it before, or seen anything quite like it.


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