Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Calke Abbey - Part 4 - showers,Egypt, toilets, peeling paint, and beer

 One of the first showers.

This is a very early shower. Wellington is said to have used one just like it, and I remember reading Mrs Gaskill's account of Charlotte Bronte, and how she also had one of the new fangled shower-baths. I wonder if hers was like this? I bet it came as a shock the first time she used it!

This gentleman on the right is Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, who was a well known Egyptologist.

This painting hangs on the wall opposite a small room used as a library (below)

All the books and papers that Sir John had acquired in his life time ended up with the Harpur-Crewes. They sent the papers to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and books were put in this room and forgotten about.

The National Trust tell me that someone is currently sorting through them for treasures.

As I mentioned in the first posting of Calke Abbey, I have an interest in the more human side of stately homes. I was delighted to see this in a room just off the above library.

You can see a hand in the above picture. This is showing you where the servants would fill the box with earth. In the hole under the seat would be a chamber pot. When you had finished you business, you used the brass handle by the side of the hole, and pulled. This released earth on top of your doings.

You then rang for a servant who came and emptied the pot for you. Earth was thought to be a much pleasanter way of dealing with such things than water.

The house as you can see is far from being a stately home. Most of it is a maze of unpainted corridors and shut up rooms like this one.

The Harpur Crewes were a very eccentric family who simply hated to throw anything away. Because they had the space therefore, they simply kept everything and when a room was full, they closed the door andstarted on the next one. The National Trust estimate there are over 10,000 items stored in this way.

Above is a room filled with lamp fittings and another room with cupboards full of umbrellas.

On the left is Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe's bedroom with Victorian wallpaper. It's been left as he abondoned in in 1876.

The bed is covered in a miriad of things including a headless doll, papier mache easter eggs, light fittings, stags heads, walking canes, etc etc.I wonder if his new wife had any idea what she was letting herself in for?

One of the rooms had this rather charming bed with embroidered quilt on it, right at the back. I thought readers of The Happy Apple might like this.

This spooky corridor is a tunnel approximately 100 metres in length with a very uneven floor and steep stone steps at the end. It was for servants coming into and out of the building from the brewhouse at one end.

They kept servants underground so that they didn't have to look at them. They obviously cluttered the views!

I wasn't enamoured of this space and would hate to have been caught out without light in it. It must have happened at some point.

Finally for this series of postings on Calke Abbey, I'll leave you in the brewhouse.

They apparently brewed between 300 and 400 pints of beer a week here.

The stronger first brewings went as best to the family, but it was then brewed again to make a much weaker beer called small ale. This was drunk by all the servants, having an allowance of 8 pints a day.

Beer was sterile unlike the water which wasn't. Cholera arrived in the 1830's and water was unsafe to drink even before this, so beer was a sensible alternative. Unfortunately it was mildly alcholic, and gives rise to the saying that someone who is tipsy is "one over the eight" meaning 1 more than the 8 pints daily ration.


  1. I don't think there'd be any fear of me getting through 8 pints of beer in a day! If I did I wouldn't have got much work done, I'd have been too busy checking out the plumbing! These posts have been fascinating Annabel.

  2. Yep, me too Julie. I struggle with half a glass of wine at lunch time. I'm really an awful lot safer sticking to tea.