Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Stately Homes of England

I indicated in my profile that when I first came to America the more gullible USC students wanted to know if I was on speaking terms with the Beatles. Well, it was the era of Beatlemania. But now that we have entered the period of Downtonmania, no one has asked whether I was acquainted with the nobility. Toffee-noses, as my mother would have called them. We believed in Noel Coward’s views on the stately homes of England. Let me tell you a story. The history is a little vague and the assumptions are many.

My dad was an electrician, who spent his entire working life at the Enfield Rolling Mills. This factory was on the Brimsdown estate, in close proximity to the more famous Royal Small Arms factory, where Bren guns and Lee Enfield rifles were designed and manufactured. I do not know what parts, if any, the Rolling Mills supplied to the RSA. I do know that my dad was a foreman, and must have had a job of some importance, since he was excused from military service during the Second World War by virtue of his work being a “ protected occupation”. That's him, second from the right. In addition, his job got us a phone at a time when we would otherwise have put our names on a waiting list. And waited. The phone was a safeguard so if anything went wrong at work, my father could be notified and make his laborious way to work. On his bike. I wrote a bit about our transportation issues here.

Gorhambury House, St. Albans, Herts.
The chairman of the board of the Rolling Mills was the Earl of Verulam (Verulamium for those of you who remember your Roman history and those tedious roads) and the Earl had a stately home called Gorhambury House near St. Albans. I can only recall one time when the peons were invited there. My assumption is—there go those assumptions again—that it was to celebrate the end of the war, which would have made me five and a half and my brother just one, though I don’t remember his being at what my mother would have called “the bun-fight.” Nor do I remember how we got to St. Albans. Bus? Charabanc? But I do remember having to go to the bathroom. It appeared that his Lordship made an assumption too—that the hoi polloi didn’t need to use a bathroom —or perhaps porta-johns didn’t exist in post-war Britain. I remember my mother approaching a teen-age girl who was in some kind of authority position and asking her for help. I am sure she was embarrassed and I don’t remember what noun she used, surely not loo, but I remember so very clearly the girl’s reply, “You can use grandfather’s lavatory.”

So off we marched, through what was probably the kitchen garden and in the tradesman’s entrance. The corridors were dark and bleak and I began to feel sorry for grandfather. Then we arrived at the throne room. I can’t find a good way to illustrate it, but it contained a highly decorated receptacle (somewhat like this) with a high tank and a chain and the whole business was cocooned in dark wood. Spectacular, but I am sure grandfather must have had what my mother would have called a po in his room for use at night when the corridors prooved un-navigable.

And that is my experience with the stately homes of England.

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