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Working in the ‘Big House’ – life for the Wilsons working for the Murrays

The Big House, the Murrays and Domestic Servants

1896

My father called ‘J.G.’ the ‘Governor.’

He’d been a solicitor practising in Newcastle when his father died and left him the business.

There was his Mrs Murray. Her name was Isabella and she was born in 1867; she came from Wylam and their daughter Miss Ethne. Miss Ethne had a birthday in May and was born in 1894, same age as my older brother Percy. There was a harness with everything in glass cases, saddles etc: Miss Effne had a little Shetland pony with a cream tub trap. She had an Italian Governess for a while, a Miss Rosina Frache, a spinster in her thirties. And later a German Governess who had things thrown at her when war broke out; she was interred. They were locking Germans up. The butcher changed his name and we let him get away with that; he made these excellent sausages. He took the name ‘Butcher,’ which everyone liked. After that we made up our own names for anyone that had a German sounding name. Shotley Bridge was made by a German family; it was a German who had set up the sword makers back in the 17th century.

The house had a butler, called Fry.

A housekeeper, called Mrs Kirkpatrick. A cook, called Mrs Woodburn who was replaced by Annie Ridley. A house maid, called Emma Housby, a laundry maid, Kathleen Robertson, a Waiting Maid, Jessie Brown and an 18 year old lass they called the ‘Dope’ as the Kitchen Maid – her name was Edith Walker. There was a gardener, called Booth, two gamekeepers, Jack Bell, and a Scotsman called Frank Carruthers. Jack lived at Elm Park and Frank was up at Allensford, Blanchland. Bell lived on the other side of the railway; he’d come over to cut the lawns on a Monday, if the weather was good. Bell pulled on a bit of cord and Booth pushed; it wasn’t motorised and you weren’t to use a horse or pony because that would spoil the lawn. They had these big rollers too; they kept it like they were going to play cricket. All you ever saw was a bit of croquet or lawn tennis.

Jack Bell paid the wages for everyone working at the Big House. He kept these single entry estate books up at the Royal Hotel.

We were living in the lodge

As a boy, I used to come up to the yard to fiddle on with the engines. I remember at one time there were these great crates of dinner sets to unpack for the cook.

My father worked for the Murrays and we lived in the cottage at the end of the drive

General Factotum to the Murrays

1896

We were living at Benfieldside, Shotley Bridge, Co. Durham

It was on the road which ran up to Blackhill on the way to Consett. It was eventually sold to the Consett Iron Company for £6,000 and became a students’ residence. It’s now part of Murray Court – opposite Saint Cuthbert’s Avenue which runs down to the Church. Dobson designed the Church, the man who designed Grey Street in Newcastle. So you see, there was a lot of money in Consett at the time. An Estate Agent bought the Big House in 1967, demolished the old house and built all those houses.

My father, Twentyman Wilson was general factotum to the Murrays

The Murrays owned the North Eastern Breweries. My father left Cumberland for Consett in 1894 to take up this position as a Coachman; he later became the Chauffeur when they got a car and they got another groom in. When J G Murray moved into Benfieldside House a relation of my father’s suggested that he apply for the job of ‘general factotum’ and a letter of introduction was prepared for him. This relation was a cousin Mary who was a domestic servant to the Annandales. She married a miner. I took your mother over there on one occasion to pay a visit but your grandmother was funny about it; bit of a snob to tell you the truth. Your grandmother didn’t know her own roots, her father had been a shop assistant when he started out. There was a lot of that going on, people doing well and moving up a peg. JG came from a farming background, his father set up a grocer’s shop, then a wine merchants, from that a pub and another grocers and so on. Once they got a dozen Inns they started the brewery. He had this idea of building a pub with a theatre attached. As the railways spread they built hotels by the stations. There was money to be made if you knew how. Consett in those does was a thriving town.

I had three aunties and two uncles on my father’s side

There names were Sarah (b1853), Thomas, known as Tom (b1856), Joseph (b1861), Mary (b1863), Ann (b1868) and Edward (b1874). So you can imagine, if there was a wedding or something the turn out could be huge. We had big families in those days, five or six children were the norm.

My father did all sorts for J.G: before the motorcars he looked after the horses – they had two landaulettes – everyone got around in carriages and pairs. He also had charge of the garden and would bring in extra men at busy periods to cut the lawns and such. That was done by two men hauling a cutter; none of these mowers you see these days.

Twentyman was well in with the Murrays. He was part and parcel of the outfit.

He used to look after the hunters and would go with J.G. (b1865) and the Braes of Derwent Hounds. Twentyman would take a second horse for J.G. to change onto when his became tired. The Braes of Derwent Hounds still go out – Otis Ferry, Bryan Ferry’s son, is the huntmaster.

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