A servant's life at Ickworth

Living History re-enactors having tea in the senior servants' sitting room at Ickworth

Life as a servant was subject to the whims of the resident family and their guests; it was hard graft with incredibly long hours. There was a strict hierarchy amongst the servants and life could be incredibly tough. 'Ickworth Lives' tells the stories of the servants who lived and worked here in the 1930s. Make sure to come and visit the basement on a 'Living History' day.

The corridors at Ickworth hold the secrets of servants who have looked after the resident Hervey family since 1829. Based on oral archives gathered by our researchers since the 1980's, today the basement tells the stories of those who lived and worked here in the 1930s, looking after the 4th Marquess and Marchioness of Bristol.


In 1910 the 4th Marchioness of Bristol, Lady Theodora Hervey, a lady of considerable inherited fortune, became concerned by the hardships of her servants. She renovated the Rotunda basement and kitchens with the latest technology such as electric light and hot water boilers. Though the servants during this time undoubtedly had a hard life looking after the whims of the family all hours of day and night, our research reveals a good relationship between the servants, the 4th Marquess and his wife. Our story brings to life the Rotunda basement and the finishing kitchen which were used when the family entertained on a grand scale.

Hands on exploration

As you wander downstairs through the corridors and rooms, you’ll discover life in the 1930s. It’s a real hands on experience - you can open the drawers and have a rummage, discover the tools and materials that would have been used by the servants and even tap out a letter on an original 1930's typewriter – the best question we've had is "where's the screen?". It was not all hard work of course. In the Servants’ Hall, you’ll find a shove ha’penny board scored into the dining table, you can play cards, bagatelle or tiddlywinks, bash out a tune out on the piano or sit and relax with a 30’s newspaper or magazine.

Enjoy the sights, sounds, and delicious smells of a country house kitchen
A group of Living History cooks holding up dishes they've made

Living History

Have you ever wondered what life would be like as a servant in the past? What the busy corridors in the basement of a great house would feel like? How kitchens preparing sumptuous meals would smell and how the chit chat in the servants' halls would sound? On Living History days, our volunteer interpreters bring the basement to life by re-enacting a day in the life of the servants from the mid 1930s. They won't talk to you but you can follow their footsteps whilst eavesdropping on all the gossip, secrets and goings on for the day. Will the Hall Boy manage to steal some of the cooks' cakes, or perhaps he'll get caught writing a secret love note? There are a couple of Living History days each month of the year and you can find the dates on our ‘what’s on’ page. We also have a number of ‘cooks only’ days, where the Living History cooks prepare special seasonal meals. On the cooks days, it’s a chance to chat to them about their work and training using traditional 1930's tools and methods to cook meals and treats for both the servants and the resident family.

Read all about it

Whether your interest has been sparked by a visit or you'd like know more about life for servants in the 1930s read all about it in the Ickworth lives blog which provides a little bit of that experience for you.

Our characters, though fictional, are based on the real life experiences of the servants who worked here in this grand house. You can follow the diary of Rose Bailey, a housemaid, the Hall Boy's Journal and the diary of a Scullery Maid. You can gaze at photographs of the living history servants in action, follow traditional recipes and find out just what happened ‘this week in 1935’. Our blog is a little taster of the goings-on in the servants' corridors at Ickworth House.

Thank you

Until 2005, the Servants' basement under the Rotunda housed our second-hand book shop and tea room. This meant we were unable to present a fundamental aspect of the story of Ickworth through the stories of the long-forgotten staff who worked here. Our desire was to tell the complete story of this grand house and include the life of the Ickworth servants. In 2008, we were fortunate to secure funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Wolfson Foundation, Biffa Award, Suffolk County Council Corporate Regeneration Fund, The Worshipful Company of Grocers, The Scarfe Foundation and many other generous private donors from all walks of life which enabled us to undertake our Ickworth Lives project and open this space for you to visit. In March 2012, we completed the project and now you can enjoy this space as it was intended.