Unique collection of portraits at Erddig

For nearly 200 years, Erddig’s servants were recorded in portraits, photographs and verse. Nothing of such breadth survives anywhere else in the world.

Explore the servants’ quarters at Erddig and discover walls filled with paintings and photographs of the people who worked below stairs; celebrating loyalty, length of service and hard work.

The portraits were commissioned by the Yorke family. The tradition was started in 1791 by Philip I who commissioned a set of 6 portraits from John Walters of Denbigh. Amongst others, the portraits commemorate:

  • Jane Ebrell, house-maid and spider brusher, aged 87;
  • Jack Henshaw, gamekeeper, aged 59;
  • Jack Nicholas, kitchen man, aged 71;
  • Edward Prince, carpenter, aged 73.

Crude Ditties

Philip I also initiated the custom of writing doggerel verses about each servant, which were published as ‘Crude Ditties’ following completion of the paintings.

The verses are charming, light-hearted and full of affection for Erddig’s loyal servants: Jane Ebrell is referred to as “the Mother of us all” whose enthusiasm for cleaning is recorded by her Master:

" From room to room, She drove the dust, With brush and broom, And by the Virtues of her mop, To all uncleanness put a stop."
- Philip Yorke I

Celebrated in verse

The portraiture custom was continued by Philip I’s son, Simon. In 1830, Simon commissioned three servants’ portraits from William Jones who had trained at the Royal Academy School; and once again, the servants were celebrated in verse.
 
The three servants painted were:
  • Thomas Pritchard, gardener, “Our Gardener, old and run to seed,/ Was once a tall and slender reed”;
  • Edward Barnes, woodman, “Long may He keep the Woods in Order,/ To weed a walk, or trim a Border”;
  • and Thomas Rogers, carpenter, “Another Chip from Nature’s Block/ Is added to the Parent Stock”. 
 
Later, the Yorke’s recorded their servants in photographic portraits which are still on display in the house.