Person of the month: Sarah Fogg

Abandoned objects in the kitchen at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

Every month, we’re stepping back in time to meet characters from Calke’s past. Join us on this journey as we discover the people who lived and worked on the estate, and then meet their modern-day equivalents who help to keep Calke alive today.

We’d like you to meet…

The Cook

Sarah Fogg

Sarah was born in 1815 to Richard and Mary Powell, in Llandyssil, Wales. In 1848, she married James Fogg in Scarborough, Yorkshire, where they were both working at Hovingham Hall for Sir William Worsley. Sarah was working as a cook, James a butler, but after their marriage Sarah left service to look after the home, and eventually her two children, Mary and William.

In 1851, Sarah lived in Scarborough with her children, and a servant called Hannah Bird, who is likely to have been a nurse. Her husband appears to be living in Paddington, London, as a visitor to Thomas and Elizabeth Bright. In a letter to Calke’s House Steward, Charles Palmer, Sarah suggests that her husband had died – but it seems that James had left her, and as a result, Sarah was looking for work.

Cooking at Calke

At some point, Sarah Fogg moved to Burton on Trent, where she worked for Mrs Peel for two months. She applied for a position at Calke and was interviewed on 18 Feb 1855, but accepted a temporary position first, which allowed her to provide her own uniform. She stated in a letter to Charles Palmer that the temporary engagement would:

" …furnish me with the means of obtaining suitable apparel for a gentleman’s establishment without making the sacrifice I otherwise must have done, that is to have disposed of some articles of household furniture which I have left and which I have a great desire to retain for my dear children’s advantage."
- Sarah Fogg

It seems that Sarah was keen to work at Calke; she wrote again on 27 Feb and spoke of the ‘evil’ of temporary cooks – it seems that Calke had a succession of temporary cooks at the time – and vowed to stay at Calke for many years, should she be appointed.

Records of servant wages suggest that Sarah was taken on at Calke, where she waited on Lady Crewe. She must have left at some point before 1859, because she wrote again to Charles Palmer to ask for a recommendation, speaking very highly of Calke:

‘I wish I had the chance of coming back to Calke Abbey again, I should appreciate a good situation, and I never found a lady with more pleasure than Lady Crewe.’

A modern-day cook

Ben Burbidge, Head Chef

The kitchens in the house might not be in use anymore (the pots and pans are a little rusty…), but there are plenty of mouths that need feeding every day at Calke! Head chef Ben tells us a little about the work he does at Calke.

Head chef Ben (right) on pizza oven duty with chef George (left)
Chefs at National Trust Calke Abbey in Derbyshire
Head chef Ben (right) on pizza oven duty with chef George (left)

'I’ve been at Calke over four years, and part of my job is to choose seasonal menus to complement the National Trust cookbook and create recipes from local ingredients. We have multiple food and beverage outlets at Calke, including the restaurant, café and pop-ups like the BBQ, so organising the food and deliveries for them is a huge part of my role. As Head Chef, I also lead a team of five chefs and work with local suppliers such as Hallifields (a local butcher) and Heath’s Farm Shop. We’re also working on reducing waste in the kitchen, which is really important to us as a conservation charity.

'There are elements to my job that are desk-based, including plenty of computer work – something that Sarah Fogg wouldn’t need to do back in 1855! Plenty of my time is spent in the kitchen, and I do cooking demonstrations for the public, which is a really enjoyable way to share what we do in the kitchen.

" I love working in the setting that I do, it’s so different from other places I’ve worked and every day presents me with a new challenge."
- Ben Burbidge, Head Chef