Sunday, 4 May 2008

Staying local

Bob picked our destination for yesterday, and he picked the closest big thing he could find. We went to the Audley End House, which is about 30 minutes from here. Well, Google maps says it is. But we went a different way, so it took a little longer, but still it was not too far. Knowing it was so close, and didn't open til 10, we had a leisurely morning getting ready, and even gave Ella a bath before we left.

In case you don't click on the link, I will tell you about it. They have a newly opened "service wing" where the servants worked - a dairy, laundry, and kitchen. When I say newly opened, I mean they were packing down the walking surfaces as we arrived; someone said this was the first day. There were several actors in period costume (supposed to be 1880 - I don't know why I use the phrase "period costume" - that's so dorky. Which period?) - two laundry maids, a dairy maid, a cook and scullery maid, plus a gardener. They were really into the characters, not just standing there going "The cook would have been..."

So the first thing we saw was the laundry. It was about empty when we got there, so we looked around at the sinks and washboards, and the head laundress started talking to us. She comes from a laundry background, and makes 20 pounds per year. She asked if we were interested in the trade, and so we played along and said we'd been thinking of finding work for Taryn. She seemed keen on the idea, but said we'd have to talk to the housekeeper.

Next was the dairy. The dairy maid was busy trying to work a new churn, outside, so we got to explore the room alone. Lots of heavy milk pans, some butter molds and whatnot. We stepped outside to see the churn which they were trying to seal by filling with boiling water to make the wood swell. Yeah. But the fire wasn't going good in the kitchen, so the water wasn't quite boiling.

The gardener was there, and asked if we were coming to dinner with the Braybrooks (lord and lady of the house) or... We said we had talked to the laundress about employment. "Oh," he says, "You don't want to work with Eliza - she's a Methodist and tries to convert everybody. Did you know Methodists SING in church?!" He was very talkative and knew all the gossip around.

Then we went through the kitchen, but it was quite crowded, and the cook was all in a tizzy because the fire wasn't going, and the Braybrooks were coming home earlier than planned. But she did show Naysha how to knead the bread dough.

So we decided to go into the 'big house' because they close at 2:30 and we didn't want to miss it. Well, the tone was different in the house. We knew enough to park the stroller outside without being told, but we didn't realize there was no photography allowed in the house. SO first thing Bob was going to take a picture, when a guide came rushing up, "No pictures!" Oh, well! There was an introductory talk to begin in 5 minutes, so we waited for that, and as we waited we got to see this guide nearly tackle some people to try to stop the photography. Seems like it'd be a lot easier to put up a sign, or maybe just tell people as they come in the front gate. So that was kind of off-putting. Then one of the boys tried to sit in a chair, of all things! Gasp! I would have got him down, but the guide saw him first, "No, no!" Yikes. Then we see another guide helping a visitor put rubber caps over the heels of her shoes, because stiletto heels are not allowed, either.

So the talk began. The talker was very quiet, so we had to strain to hear, but it was nice to know some of the history of the house. She ended her talk with the desire that we would "see the house, not as a museum, but as the family home it really was." Right. Family home where you can't touch, sit, photo, wear shoes....

But we made it through the house, which really is quite interesting. There are two library rooms, a couple of bedrooms, several other rooms (dining, drawing, etc), and several rooms full of displays of stuffed birds and small animals. One case of hummingbirds. Riah couldn't get over the fact that someone killed all those animals, though we tried to explain that was how people learned about them. There were guides in most of the rooms to answer questions, and most were friendly and informative, though one did yell at somebody because their cell phone rang. We had to keep after the children to not touch anything, stay on the path, etc. It was a little stressful. But as we were toward the end of the tour a man who was behind us complimented us on our well-behaved children. I said, "We try." He responded that many people don't. True. But anyway he thought they did very well, and it was nice to see a family like ours. Big sigh of relief. We haven't got that in a little while, though we used to hear it all the time.

By the time we finished the house we were famished, so headed to the car for our lunch, which we ate on a blanket in the grass. When we first started taking lunches with us, I thought it was a hillbilly thing and felt funny about it, but there are dozens of people picnicking all over.

After lunch we went back toward the house to use the toilets, and then we walked around the grounds. There were formal flower beds with a water fountain in the middle, a "wilderness" with trees and wildflowers, and a large meadow with a "folly" at the top of the hill. Then down the hill, and I remembered there was supposed to be a kitchen garden, too. It was down a path on the other side of the house, past the creek. The kitchen garden was inside a brick wall maybe12 feet high, and it was HUGE. There were all kinds of fruit trees along the walls, and around the beds on wires. There were two BIG greenhouses, a vineyard, and lots of veges. A lot of things that I couldn't identify. Most were marked with variety but not type.

This part of the story described a lot faster, but it was a good half of the day, and we got our exercise in with all the walking and pushing and carrying.

About 5 minutes down the road was a big old barn, that Bob and Taryn and I saw when we were here for a week in 2000. That took about 15 minutes, as there really isn't anything there but the barn and a few info panels.

We stopped for a minute in a little village between the barn and the house that had some very interesting old buildings, and Bob took some pictures. Then we came home and had the chicken I roasted Friday night, with mashed potatoes, biscuits, and green beans. Yummy, but late.

I think we were all ready for bed by the time we got there.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful tour. The pictures of the grounds (I guess it is this place) are great. I just can't wait for you to find a flea market. I have a list when you are ready, ha. jc

Anonymous said...

I see now it is a different place. I was speaking of the Abbey Garden pictures that are so beautiful. jc

MamaOlive said...

Yes, Bob is a day behind on loading the pictures.
Email me your list. On the way to church today we passed two 'boot sales' that seemed pretty large and varied (we didn't stop).
Or better yet, come see for yourself. :-)

Ganeida said...

That looked interesting ~ particularly the gardens. I like espalliered (sp?) trees & such a space saver! I hope your kids remember this when you guys go home again. Travel really does give you a more cosmopolotian outlook.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see you are doing all the leg work to find the perfect place for us to visit the one day we are in your area! Ha. Can't wait to see you. 40-something days and counting.

MamaOlive said...

I'm sure the girls will remember it, probably better than I will. And Azariah will build on the things he has learned, even if he forgets the experience itself. The little ones will have to sort through the thousands of pictures.

Lorella, anything you see or hear about, just pick. We'll gladly go again, or do something else entirely. Can't wait to see you.