A volunteer is building a picture of what life was like living and working on a country estate in the 19th and 20th centuries, after spending months sorting through Kelmarsh Hall’s archives.
As part of an on-going archive project, Ian Howden, along with other volunteers, is learning about the former residents, servants and tenants of the Kelmarsh Hall estate.
Ian, a surveyor with an interest in genealogy, has been going through the numerous letters, books, ledgers and newspaper cuttings that were kept by the Lancaster family and date back to around 1902. There are also a number of older documents from the de Crespigny family, who were relatives of the Lancaster family.
“I’m trying to build up a picture of life at Kelmarsh, including the servants, tenants and other people involved in the estate,” said Ian. “I’m approaching it by looking at the village as a whole. It’s quite an interesting country estate and it’s been an insight into how a country house was run.”
Among the treasures that Ian has unearthed is Mrs Lancaster’s recipe book, which includes instructions for prune medicine, beef jelly, pheasant cream sauce and even bath salts and pot pourri.
Through his research, Ian has been able to identify and put names to the key workers at Kelmarsh Hall, including coachman Thomas Duffell, who earned roughly £1 a week during the Edwardian period. There are also details of the gardener in 1851, who was employed by the Angerstein family and judged the produce and flower show at Market Harborough town hall. Ian has also built up a picture of former butler William Seagrove, who later tried to save Kelmarsh village school from closure when pupil numbers dwindled to just eight.
Ian’s research will help to inform the development of a new history project at Kelmarsh Hall – the restoration of the ‘below stairs’ basement area which will tell the stories of those who worked at the hall. Thanks to a £1.2m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, visitors will be able to see rooms such as the laundry and bake house recreated, while schools will be able to make use of a new education space.
Ian, who lives in Leicestershire, said: “This research is building on my own interest in family history. I have always enjoyed visiting Kelmarsh Hall so when I saw the advert for a research volunteer, I knew it would be something I’d enjoy doing.”