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Life in Guildford House in the late Seventeenth Century

What would life have been like for the Childe family, living in Guildford House in the 1600s?

Seventeenth century life at Guildford House

The household

A typical household for a house the size of Guildford House would have been seven or eight people.

The Childe family consisted of John and Olive and their three children. This suggests that there were only two or three servants in residence, which was typical for an attorney's household. John Childe may have had an income around £150 a year.

It is likely that there were two female servants and one manservant. The man would have mainly looked after the family's horses, stabled behind the house. He may have slept in the house or could have had lodgings by the stables. It is unlikely there was a coach. Saddle horses and a pillion for Mrs Childe would be more usual at this level of society.

The two maids might have occupied the space now known as the attic rooms at the rear of the upper storey. The front room on the top floor could have been the master bedroom. The Painted Closet may have been a private space for the mistress of the house to read, pray or study.

A major bedroom would be unusual on the top floor, but the quality of the staircase reaching to the full height of the building and the high ceiling of the room itself suggests an important use. The smaller rooms would have been suitable for the children.

The rear room on the middle floor may have been an additional bedroom. It may be that John and Olive had separate bedrooms, as is certainly known from inventories of other houses at this time. In that case, the Pine Room would almost certainly have been his and the top floor room, hers.

The mistress and servants

The maids would have been paid around £2 a year, but they were provided with their food and clothing as well. Households often had a significant turnover in staff but nevertheless they would have freed Olive from doing housework.

Typically the house would have been swept twice a week from top to bottom, sand being scattered on the floors. Fine silver sand was mined in Reigate for this purpose. This may well account in part for the worn condition of the stairs.

It is not certain to what extent the children would have been brought up by the servants rather than their mother. The use of wet-nurses to feed babies certainly led to less maternal bonding and many mothers saw their role in instruction and discipline, "honoured" rather than loved.

Although she had at least two maids, it is highly likely that Olive Childe was personally involved in cooking. Gervase Markham wrote The English Housewife in 1615 and editions were reprinted regularly throughout the Seventeenth Century. He gave a very clear idea of what was expected of a wife and cookery was prominent amongst her duties. First of all she must have skill in the garden, growing herbs and salads.

The Childes had a separate garden on the opposite side of North Street, with a fine brick summerhouse. As well as a pleasure garden, it was almost certainly a kitchen garden.

Another of the domestic arts the mistress was expected to practise was medicine. The mother was both nurse and doctor to her family and was required to know how to prepare a range of herbal remedies. Much of this was done in the stillroom. This may have been a separate room near the kitchen or simply have been carried out in the Brew House. A still was essential, not only for preparing remedies but also perfumes and cosmetics.

 

The Parlour (and other rooms)

The grand front room of the house was certainly the parlour, and it is known that the Sheriff of Surrey entertained the Judges there when they came to Guildford for the Assizes. The elaborate plaster ceiling would emphasise the importance of the Childes.

At street level the front door was reached by a low double staircase with an iron balustrade. Inside would have been the hall. At one time the main room of a house, by the time Guildford House was built, the hall had become simply an entrance area. Here there might have been a table and chairs for clients, and beyond them a private study or office for more confidential work.

This may have been what we now call the Alcove. There may also have been a room for a clerk to assist Mr Childe.

Beyond that, a door would have led into the family's private space. The room at the rear, with its beautiful oriel window and plaster ceiling was probably the dining parlour. The window gave a view down the garden and orchard to the portico leading to the stables. A flight of wooden steps led down to the courtyard. The kitchen and cellars were downstairs and these were very much the domain of the mistress of the house.

Clothing

As far as her clothing is concerned, we may be sure that Olive's was of the best quality and fashion, although probably not as expensive and ostentatious as the fashions of Court.

At the Restoration Period she would have worn a gown, probably of a woollen material for everyday use in winter and of silk in summer. Silk was being manufactured at Spittlefields in London by this time and there was little difference in cost between silk and good quality wool.

This would have been worn over a 'pair of bodies' or corset, often stiffened at the centre front by a wooden strip or 'busk'. In practice, this meant it was impossible for a fashionable lady to bend over! No doubt the serving maids had more practical garments.

Over her gown she might have worn a waistcoat for warmth and this might have been fur lined in winter. She would also often have worn an apron. It would have been plain linen for household wear or finely-worked as befitted the mistress of the house. She may have had three or more complete outfits of clothes, at a time when most working women had only one.

She could expect to get at least one new outfit each year, costing perhaps £1 for the gown and eight shillings for the bodies or stays. The old clothes would have been handed down to the servants or to the poor.

Food and drink

Daily meals would have been breakfast of beer and bread, dinner, taken by the middle classes at one or two o'clock, and supper of bread and cheese, etc.

Gervase Markham, who wrote The English Housewife in 1615, was quite demanding as far as dinners were concerned. He assumed that servants would be available but expected a housewife to be able to serve a series of elaborate dishes on her own. What he describes as a humble feast for entertaining friends should consist of:

  • Shield of brawn with mustard
  • Boiled capon
  • Boiled beef
  • Roast beef
  • Roast Neat's Tongue
  • Roast pig
  • Baked Chewets
  • Roast goose
  • Roast Swan
  • Roast Turkey
  • Roast Haunch of Venison
  • Venison Pasty
  • Kid with a pudding the belly
  • Olive Pie
  • 2 Capons
  • Custard or doucets

This would have been served with salads, vegetables, etc. This he described as an "ordinary entertainment". It may well be that the Childes set their table with the newly introduced forks and followed the fashion of the court by adopting French recipes.

Olive would also have been expected to look after the wine and beer in the cellars. French wines were heavily taxed after 1678, leading to a fashion for port, malmsey (a strong sweet wine), Madeira, etc. In a household such as the Childes, food and drink might cost from £10 to £20 per person per year.