Setting the Scene

Nikki conservation assistant at Ickworth

Ickworth's Servants' Quarters are set as if it were 1935, Nikki tells us about her role in creating this immersive space.

Part of my role within the living history team is to dress the set appropriately for the period of 1935 in the servants’ quarters. I aim to maintain high quality authentic imitation food and props, along with fresh produce mostly taken from our Ickworth gardens.

Tell me how the objects in the Servants quarters differ from other objects in the house?

All our objects are cleaned and treated the same as the rest of our collections to maintain our museum accreditation. However, in our servants’ quarters the props are a handling collection and we encourage visitors to pick them up to feel the nostalgia. In other areas of the house visitors are asked to refrain from touching objects as fingertips leave greasy marks that can eat into the surfaces of the objects, dirt will stick to the residue and cause damage.

How do you ensure the visitor experience is immersive?

Living in our own homes there are always personal items scattered around and I try to implement this in the servants’ quarters, so our visitors feel that the staff have just left the room.  I go to great lengths to set-dress personal items to befit each servant’s role. To set the scene for example, I place cutlery with the imitation food which suggests it is about to be eaten, this gives the impression that the below stairs staff will be returning to enjoy their meal together. Leaving hand written notes and menus drawn up for dinner by the staff suggests a bustling busy servant life. Rigid uniforms, starched aprons and frightfully elaborate food all set in aspic, signifies the intricacies of the hierarchy and etiquette they all adhered to.

Seasonal produce sets the scene
Nikki conservation assistant at Ickworth
Seasonal produce sets the scene

What new pieces of set dressing have you introduced recently?

Earlier this month we changed the route our visitors take through the house, enabling them to leave the Entrance Hall via the stairs down to the servants’ quarters. By having authentic boots and shoes on display waiting to be cleaned and mended instantly conveys to visitors that they are entering a working environment. The visual experience is completed at the bottom of the stairs where they are able to see the contents of our dry goods store and fresh seasonal produce from our Ickworth kitchen garden.

What is your favourite object/story in the Servants Quarters?

I find myself being absorbed with the social stories from the basement, the interaction and relationships forged between Lord and Lady Bristol and their servants. Whilst reading transcripts from our oral archives some of the maids shared a memory of Sundays at Ickworth during the nice weather. On their half day off on alternate Sundays they would roam around the Estate and often bump into Lord Bristol, who would be busy with his wheelbarrow and hoe digging up thistles and knocking down mole hills. They commented that he would always have time to chat to them.

Johnny the hall boy also spoke about the lake being frozen over in Winter and how he would sneak down after dinner to the see the villagers skating in the romantic moonlight. One afternoon Lady Bristol saw him watching others skate and was concerned that he was not joining in.  As he didn’t have any skates, she sent him up to the house to borrow a pair. He was thrilled with the gleaming silver boots and he successfully learnt to ice skate with the others!

When you pass through the servants’ hall into the valet’s room see if you can spot a pair of vintage skates!