Former head cook Flo stirs some memories as she returns to Blickling Hall, near Aylsham
Visitors to a Norfolk stately home got a surprise yesterday when the former cook and scullery maid returned to the kitchen where they saw Upstairs, Downstairs-style service in the 1930s.
Flo Wadlow and Kath Graver, now aged 98 and 90, were in service for Lord Lothian at Blickling Hall from 1936-1939.
And yesterday they were back in the kitchen to share some tips on cooking for gentry - and some memories of the “happy days” when they worked together aged just 23 and 15.
Mrs Wadlow and Mrs Graver also caught up with Liz Scott and Bunty Gotts, the ladies who don costumes to re-enact their roles in the same kitchen today.
Mrs Wadlow, who lives at Fakenham, was Mrs Graver’s boss, and the two have remained firm friends ever since they worked together.
She said: “I always feel as though the kitchen at Blickling Hall is my place. We would have lovely big dinner parties. Lord Lothian used to entertain Lord and Lady Astor quite a lot.
“He also had the prime minister Stanley Baldwin here during the abdication crisis.”
She added: “I liked being in service. I always got on very well. I was learning how to cook so many different things, and the food was very different to what we were used to at home.”
Mrs Wadlow said she went into service because she “wanted to see how the posh people lived”.
She said she got the job when she was “too young, really” at 23, because the previous cook got into an argument and “had a paddy” and left.
And she was dismissive of the latest flurry of TV dramatisations of life in service, including Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey.
She said: “They’re not always true to how we used to be. They’re how the programme makers think it was. They think they know it all, but they don’t.”
Mrs Graver, from Foulsham, near Dereham, told how she used to use her half-day off each week to cycle to Alderford and back, while Mrs Wadlow used to cycle to Wells and back.
Mrs Graver said the life of service was tough. She said: “Hard work? You’re telling me. Look at my hands. They tell the tale.
“We did work very hard, but we lived on what the gentry left, so we lived very well. That’s what kept us going.”