I had a very early start last week catching an early morning plane to Belfast, tip-toeing out of the house so as not to wake the children or the dog. I went to the Public Record Office in the suburbs of that city, near a small station called Balmoral Halt, to read the typescript of the memoirs of Thomas Kilgallon, manservant to Sir Henry Gore-Booth, and later butler to Lissadell. It is a terrifically interesting document as first-hand memoirs by servants are few in number, but give a real insight into the complex and industrious communities that were the bedrock of country house life. I shall be using this material in a lecture in a couple of weeks. I also looked at the Lissadell day books which list who dined in the dining room and how many in the servants hall, day after day for decade after decade, a way of life that seemed unchanged from the early 19th century until the late 1930s. I was slightly grupmy to have spent all day indoors on this beautifuly day, but en route back I fell into a long and enjoyable conversation with someone called Corrie McCrum who had been researching her family history and had enjoyed a visit to the farm where they all came from, putting together memories that are all too easily lost; I felt glad that she had had a sun-filled day. The best history is both a conversationand a portrait.
On Tuesday I scooted down to Chavenage to conduct an interview for the Field magazine column on collecting I am writing at the moment. It was great to catch up with my friends there, despite the torrential rain. This is is still my beau ideal of the English country house, with three generations of one family cheek by jowl, and a feelign of open house for friends and visitors; the house was recently featured as the manor house in Lark Rise By Candleford on tv, which all helps , I think. For the column, see The Field next month.