Meet Jean Davis - volunteer extraordinaire

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Meet Jean Davis, one of Ickworth’s many volunteers who help to keep the house running behind – and in Jean’s case – in front of the scenes! Jean tells us about her seven-year love affair with Ickworth and how she progressed from the sewing circle to starring in one of Ickworth’s most important ‘below stairs’ roles…

Tell us about your history of volunteering at Ickworth
I started with the sewing circle seven years ago and then I was asked to take part in the children’s events and role playing. I used to play Mrs Sangster, who was the head cook and house keeper here in the 1930s, for school events and the occasional tour for other visitors.

At the moment, one of the more fun activities I do is playing the head housekeeper, Mrs Irene Seddons, on living history days where we bring the stories of the basement servants to life. Whilst Mrs Seddons is a fictional name, her role is based on the real life experiences of the head housekeeper at Ickworth during the early part of the 20th century. In order to play this Mrs Seddons as realistically as possible, I've researched and found 'back stories' to the life she would have led here, so her character story starts at Knebworth Estate where she was born and I talk about the life journey she had which resulted in her coming into service at Ickworth. 

How long have you been volunteering at Ickworth and what was your motivation?
Seven years in July. I just love the place. I love the basement…if I go above stairs I don’t feel as comfortable - I think I was a servant in a former life! It’s a privilege to come here and be part of it. I do like going behind doors that you don't normally get to see. Not only do I work on living history, but I help with lots of events, children's storytelling, tour guiding and sewing with the sewing circle, it's such a variety and great fun.

What’s it like working as Mrs Seddons on living history days?
It’s lovely. The thing I think is best about it is that it brings the house to life. People can touch things and experience things here. We work from the oral history archives from local people who worked on the estate – they remember vividly what it was like. They worked hard but had a nice social life and quite a laugh .... a bit like now really!

What have been your most memorable moments?
There have been loads. We were all dressed up for the official opening of the Ickworth Lives project in May last year and the retiring Director General of the National Trust, Dame Fiona Reynolds, came. We were standing there and she arrived in a vintage car and that was a memorable moment. Some of the ladies who had worked here and were part of the event said it was the first time they had ever been in the front entrance. It looked lovely, with all the staff looking the part.

What do you like most about volunteering here?
The variety of things you can do. There is no bar to what you can do for the National Trust and I would thoroughly recommend it - you get to work in this wonderful setting. I come two to three times a week in different guises, and when I come, I get this feeling of coming home.