Reminiscences of Clara Taylor - Lady's Maid to Dame Eva Anstruther
In 1948, Clara Taylor was invited to write a short memoir of her time (1907-1914) as Lady's Maid to Dame Eva Anstruther. Her reminiscences are reproduced below and are provided by courtesy of cousin, Robert Maxtone Graham, Dame Eva's grandson. The papers were amongst those of his mother, the writer, Jan Struther, poet and celebrated author of the classic "Mrs. Miniver" - Joyce Anstruther - the daughter of Harry Anstruther and Dame Eva Hanbury-Tracy.
The Hon. Eva Isabella Henrietta Hanbury-Tracy was born in 1869 to a landed and titled family where servants were many and their duties (and status) were well-defined. She was the eldest child of the fourth Lord Sudeley. She grew up in Gloucestershire at Toddington Manor, a vast Gothic-style mansion with rooms that numbered in their hundreds. After her marriage to Henry (Harry) Torrens Anstruther, M.P. , servants were a part of their household too. It is told that she never cooked a meal in all her life nor did she ever have to dress herself.
In an era when clothing was both cumbersome and complicated and where a change of clothes for the lady of the house was "required" perhaps four or five times a day, the duty of dressing fell to the Lady's Maid. This position ranked highly in the household - on a par with Butler and House Keeper. However, as will become clear, "dressing" and the care of clothing were not the only duties expected of Miss Taylor! Dame Eva Anstruther died in 1935.
far as I can remember, I went to the Hon. Mrs. Anstruther
in the late Autumn of 1907, Joyce being then about seven
years of age. When being interviewed for the position of
Lady's Maid, one of the questions I asked was, "Do
you keep dogs?" This seemed to amuse Mrs. A., and
she wanted to know the reason for asking this question so
I replied, "I do not want to be a dog's maid."
(everlastingly trotting out across the park, excercising
the pet, and brushing it down daily, although I am very
fond of animals). I learned afterwards that she much
disliked "lap" dogs "with bulging
eyes". I felt later that my remarks had got me the
post, and, also, because I had dark hair and dark eyes.
If Mrs. A. liked you, well and good and she would be
"good friends" otherwise, "make yourself
as scarce as possible". She liked only efficient
people around her, and would not tolerate inefficiency.
She would leave people to get on with their jobs and
seldom visited the domestic quarters of the house.
She seemd to possess me body and soul and, on occasions, would not hesitate to ring for me during the night for a hot water bottle. How I hated going down the dark staircase and through the large, old hall on my way to the kitchen to boil the water. It was only for that reason (i.e. body and soul possession) that I left her in 1914, as I felt I wanted more freedom. I was sorry to leave her, and we had always been very good friends. It often used to be in the morning, "What are you going to do today?" and in the evening, "What have you done today?" I once said, "Why do you always say that?" The reply was, "It is good for you.". There was so much to do, running up and down the stairs, waiting on her, telephoning, shopping, repairing torn garments - for she was rough on her clothes - copying Paris dress models, etc., that the days seemed very full and slipped away quickly. She always trusted those who worked for her and, among other things, I used to be trusted with her cash and had to keep her supplied with small change for taxis and so on. She was very tolerant in many ways, and I remember that once I lost a string of Baroque pearls - or, I supposed I had lost it - and she never murmured. I had put it in the front of a small drawer in her room, wrapped in tissue paper and I think that, somehow, the paper must have been thrown out. The string was one of several more that fitted closely round the neck with a clasp.
Her relations with H.T.A. (Harry Anstruther) were distant and they seldom did things together and, as far as I remember, only went out to dinner parties together. He seemed devoted to her but his attentions seemed to be unwanted. Mrs. A. once said something to me about, "there may or may not have been happenings in the past" and I feel this must have been the case, as H.T.A. was spoken of at times as "having had a colourful past" but I personally know little about that and it may only have been rumour. He had a kindly disposition and was good-natured. Some years after I left, he sent a cheque for £5 because he had heard that Latts (Alice Latimer, Parlourmaid) was ill in hospital. He indicated that we were to share this, but that if I thought she needed it more than I did, to pass on the whole to her, which I naturally did. He was fastidious and slow in manner, whereas Mrs. A. was just the opposite. Mrs. A. once bought a pretty paste bracelet in the form of small leaves from the Parisian Diamond Co., and when dining alone (which they seldom did) with H.T.A., put it on, saying, "Mr.A. will not notice that I have a new bracelet." Afterwards she said, "I put up my hand this way and that, touched my hair and so on, but he did not notice it." Lala (the childrens' Nanny) told me that in their early married days she had heard they were devoted and that they made "a lovely pair". She must have been very pretty - always very good looking - with her pretty blue eyes and brown hair in her young days.
Mrs. A. was most punctillious. On Mondays, her mother, Lady Sudeley, used to arrive at 12o'clock and Mrs. A. would never keep her waiting a moment - she seemed to have the greatest respect for Lady Sudeley. Her daily routine consisted of being called at about 7:50am with a basin of hot water, soap and towel being brought to her bed, followed by her breakfast tray, letters and papers. Afterwards, she wrote letters and did a lot of telephoning, then she interviewed the cook, and had her bath about 10am. [Soon after] out in the car, or to the Den to write or she sometimes went to Cliffords Inn to write where she had a small office. Then home, or out to luncheon. Out again at 3pm, in the car; home to tea, then change into a rest gown - which she used to call a "slut". She would dress again for dinner. Bed about 10:30 to 11:30pm. I used to sit up until 11pm and, if she was late, you would find her clothes, evening dress as well, all in one heap on the floor. She used to buy lovely pieces of material for making up into dresses (really expensive pieces for those days) and occasionally liked to go through them, but she would not be content with unfolding a little of the material, and would unroll yards - poor me, who had to roll them all up again very smoothly! She once said that she would like me to have a job as Private Secretary to someone like Lady St. Cyres - I felt that to be a great compliment. The Dame gave people the impression that she was heartless - or, shall I say, "light of heart" - as though she had not much deep feeling, but I imagine that this was a "put on" manner, as she surely could never have written the poems that she did, which seemed so full of emotion.
I had all sorts of jobs to do at times, writing some of her personal letters, etc., and even helping with decorative painting of the dining room walls at Pan's Garden - I think I did most of it; she drew the lines - which were a riot of colours, the colouring powders being brought from Italy, I believe, where she went on an occasion on which I did not accompany her. I had some very enjoyable trips abroad with her. Once, when we were out in Pau - where there was a colony of English people - I told her that a gentleman had wished me "good morning" and swept off his hat, then said he had mistaken me for Mrs. Westmacott. Mrs. A. said quickly, "What a cheek! What a cheek!" - and I wondered for a moment or two what I had done. Then she said, "If you only knew what she looked like, you would be insulted."
Mrs. A. used to keep a drawer for unwanted presents, which she used for other people, and weren't some of them odd! She would give one confidence and make one do the things one was shy of doing. She had a very good business flair, and seemed always to be visiting antique shops, buying and selling, re-arranging furniture in the home, and often paying visits to the Caledonian Market on Fridays. I was commissioned to sell her clothes and used to have 10% of what I obtained for them. She once asked me to try a new source, somewhere in Piccadilly. I went there once and got quite a good price for some clothes but I very much disliked the "nice" buyer, a lady, and felt I didn't want to contact her again: when I told Mrs. A. she replied, "When you meet people that make you feel like that, don't have anything to do with them." I have always felt grateful for that advice.
Mrs. A. was devoted to her son and would listen to him quietly when he would be giving her his ideas about things and people and would reason and argue with him: one would have thought she was talking to someone very much older. She would say it was good for him. Mrs. A. did not like D.T.A. (Douglas, her son) calling her "Eva" and sometimes told him to call her "mummy" or "mother"; but he did not respond and delighted in calling her Eva. It was easy to see that he was her favourite child, and, although I never heard her speak unkindly of Joyce at any time, Joyce seemed to be left more in the company of others - but she would always read with pleasure the stories, plays and poems that Joyce wrote. Joyce always seemed to enjoy the time that she did spend with her mother and she was such a happy, eager and enquiring child and full of fun and got amusement out of very small happenings. She was most affectionate, but she used up too much nervous energy and, in consequence, suffered from nerves at times, such as clearing her throat when there was nothing to clear. The Doctor said there was nothing wrong and that the trouble was worse for other people to listen to.
Joyce was a great favourite with the household. One day, a small niece of mine was visiting me with her mother and she and Joyce had great fun jumping on my "springy" bed from the pillow. Up and down they went - I really had to stop them for I feared that they would fall off, or break the springs. At one time, Joyce used to name people after trees and I was called an "Alder". She also used to say that I had a "Tracy" nose. She was full of ideas. How Joyce worshipped her brother, some seven years older than herself. She would hoist a large Union Jack from the Nursery window the day he was coming home from school; they were great pals. Douglas was good at missing exams at the end of term, generally managing to get a feverish cold or something else at that time. On one occasion, just as he was due to return to school, he was caught hanging out of the window on a very foggy morning trying to catch a cold!
When I first knew him, he was nearly fourteen and very quickly made friends with me. He asked if I made "Tailor-mades", and said he would call me "Tails", which he does to this (1948) day. At one time, he and a friend went to France for a few weeks and he returned with a large, full-grown beard. How horrified Joyce was, and indeed, everyone else. She would have nothing to do with him until the "beastly" thing was shorn off. I must say, he looked awful.
I left the Dame in 1914 but was soon back, helping her with Camps Library, where I was placed in charge of the D.V.G.O.'s Depot (Sir Edward Ward's Comforts Depot) at Horseferry Road, a post for which the Dame had recommended me. When this duty came to an end, I went home to keep house for my father and, after he died, the Dame asked me to go abroad with her for a spell, and, although I would much like to have gone with her, I refused because I felt it would be difficult to get away afterwards - the "body and soul" feeling putting me off. Soon afterwards, through the Dame's good offices, I joined the firm of George Kent Ltd. where I have been very happy, and completed my 25 years with them last March."