Rufford Abbey’s ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ storytelling event

LIFE in the ‘Downton Abbey’ era of a Nottinghamshire country house will be brought to life by storyteller Nicky Rafferty tomorrow.

‘The Housemaid’s Tale’ – Tales and Tea with Storyteller Nicky Rafferty, takes place in the Savile Restaurant at Rufford Abbey Country Park at 3.30pm.

Nicky has spent months researching what life would have been like in those times when Rufford Abbey was owned by the Savile Family. Nicky will set the scene for the event by welcoming guests to the restaurant the day after King Edward’s visit to the Abbey in 1904.

Nicky, who will be in period dress, will talk about her time as a housemaid and latterly as housekeeper at Rufford Abbey. She said: “It has been fascinating to explore the history of this area – as well as finding out more about life in the Abbey for the domestic staff, looking in detail at conditions of employment; wages, duties and hours of work.

“I also researched what their own family homes and schools would have been like in comparison to those of the privileged classes and what was going on elsewhere in that time period in terms of politics and major historic events locally and nationally.

“There was a strict social hierarchy that we don’t have today and this was observed just as keenly below stairs as it was above. There was tremendous loyalty and pride that went with working for a family like the Saviles, similar to feelings generated by celebrities or corporate brands in modern times.”

Nicky will talk about:

Some anecdotes about the King’s visit to Rufford Abbey

The hours staff had to work – often 18 hour days and a day off each fortnight

How one hapless footman had to retrieve a hot potato from a lady’s cleavage

Other gossip and merriment from the ‘Big House’.

Nottinghamshire County Council was in the news last autumn after a book first published around 25 years ago by a Nottinghamshire authoress depicted Rufford Abbey as a real-life Downton Abbey. Nina Slingsby Smith, wrote “George, Memoirs of a Gentleman’s Gentleman” to record her father’s life in gentleman’s service.

Nina’s father George started his career earning £8 per week as a gardener’s boy, working in the grounds of Rufford Abbey, then the magnificent country estate of Lord and Lady Savile. He rose in the ranks to the position of Hall Boy. Later in his career he then went back to Rufford Abbey, as first Footman of seven.

Linda Hardy, Parks Development Officer at Rufford Abbey Country Park, said: “I have read excerpts of this book to visiting schoolchildren and they have been fascinated.

“We are very much looking forward to welcoming Nicky Rafferty to the Abbey as her event will also help bring to life what the abbey was like above and below stairs in its ‘Downton Abbey’ heyday.”

“The Housemaid’s Tale” – Tales and Tea with Storyteller Nicky Rafferty is from 3.30pm – 5pm. £5 adult, £3 child. £15 family (2 adults, 2 children).

Price includes Cream Tea (or children’s picnic for Little Ones) with cream scones in the former Victorian Kitchen. Tel 01623 821310.