Monday, 29 October 2012

How a 'Ghost' Came Alive!

In September on the Famous Five Plus blog, I wrote about an amazing coincidence that happened on an HF (Holiday Fellowship) walking holiday this year in Exmoor, Lorna Doone country.
It seems that my great grandmother, then aged 22, as shown in the 1851 Census , was a ‘Housemaid’ in the National Trust house where we stayed – Holnicote House  on the Holnicote Estate, Selworthy, Somerset.
I since found a photograph of her and I thought you might like to see it. This lovely lady is Harriet Gregory and I do not know when this beautiful photograph was taken or who took it.
My imagination then really got to work. I pictured her walking round the corridors with her pail and mop; or perhaps scouring pans in the dusky evening light in that back room where we had taken off our sodden boots.

Or was this below her station? More likely she may have been required to serve luncheon to her mistress and master at a grand table in the dining room where we had been served by delightful waiters with charming smiles and foreign accents; or perhaps her duty was to carry a tray with afternoon tea and cake to the spacious lounge where we were entertained with quizzes of an evening.

Maybe she would have spent a morning gossiping with the scullery maid or the butler, as she sat polishing the brass or sorting out the silver cutlery in the small room where I had sipped a gin and tonic at the bar.

Out in the garden did she play with the children of the household, with balls and hoops, when she had a spare moment?  I wonder at what unearthly hour she rose in the morning to rake out the grates and brush the hearths; would this have been among her many tasks?  I was wondering where she slept? Did she have a little room, lit by a single candle, in the attic? Did she get on with the other members of staff and the family she served? Oh, and did she have rough hands for one so young – and housemaid’s knee?
Yes, most of all, I wondered if my maternal great grandmother was happy in her placement and I like to think she was. It is a beautiful place and although the work was probably hard, I hope her employers were kind.  It was a comfort to see from another photograph and explanatory notes made by my sister, that her parents, my great great grandparents, lived in a cottage close by; we must have walked past it. This couple, then, would be the great, great, great, great grandparents of my grandchild and no doubt Harriet would have been living with her loving parents.

As I said in the Famous Five Plus blog, her husband, in 1851 still her husband-to-be, later started the Porlock Brass Band, managed it and compiled a book of rules for the members – my maternal great grandfather! There is a photo of him taken circa 1880 with the band. Did his wife love music too? I can picture her humming quietly as she worked …
I feel the ghost has come alive!!

I hope I can find out more ...


  1. Fabulous, Miriam! And a what a beautiful photo. If her life is ever made into a movie, I think Winona Ryder should play her... they do bear an uncanny resemblance!

  2. Looks like you're having an amazing summer, good for you for enjoying it!

  3. That's a really interesting blog! I think you have the makings of a new novel:)