Florence Wadlow, who has died aged 100, was one of the last survivors of the pre-war generation which served “below stairs” in the great houses of England.
As a young woman in the 1930s, Florence Copeland (as she then was) worked as a kitchen maid at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, then home to the 4th Marquess of Salisbury, before securing a post as cook to the 11th Marquess of Lothian at Blickling Hall in Norfolk.Posted by Jill Fallon at February 10, 2013 4:20 PM | Permalink
Her days were long, her accommodation spartan, her pay meagre. Yet she looked back on those days with affection, and in old age became a much sought-after source of information about what it was like to have a “life in service”. She was unimpressed by the ITV series Downton Abbey, saying: “They have got it wrong. They should have talked to people like me.”
Florence Georgina Copeland was born on December 8 1912 in West Ham, London, the daughter of a Billingsgate fish porter who was killed in the Great War. Having taken Flo and her younger brother to live at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, her mother remarried and had three more daughters.
Aged 16, Flo went to London, where she found work as a kitchen maid for a retired Army officer and his two unmarried sisters in South Kensington for £20 a year….She was allowed one bath a week. For time off, she had one half-day a week and every other Sunday.
Late in her life she reflected: “Somebody asked me once if living in a big house like [Hatfield], and seeing all the marvelous furniture and silver and everything they had, was I ever envious? I never was really. I was always very interested but I can’t ever remember wanting it.”
Still in her mid-twenties, she was young to be in charge of a kitchen. She generally worked a 15-hour day, getting up at 7am to make the bread rolls for breakfast and prepare the rest of the meal — “eggs of some kind with bacon, fish (perhaps haddock, kippers or kedgeree). There might be kidneys or sausages, and cold ham on the sideboard.”
In 1940 she married Robert Wadlow, who worked at a limekiln at Heydon and served with the Royal Norfolks in the Far East during the Second World War. He was taken prisoner in 1941, and she did not see him again until the end of the war.
Florence Wadlow had two sons with Robert, and lived in a cottage at Heydon for 50 years before retiring to Fakenham in 1998. Her husband died in 1983.