Douglas Jeffery

Nephew of Knole's Housekeeper, Bertha Jeffery, in the 1920s

Interviewed by Wendy Ferguson, 1988

This is a rare interview with a descendant of a family in service to Knole Estate since 1881, continuing through the first half of the 20th century.

Douglas Jeffery’s grandfather worked as carpenter and joiner, and witnessed the 1887 fire of the Knole Barn. Douglas’s father was Adin Jeffery who also worked as Knole’s carpenter and joiner before becoming Estate Steward. Douglas’s aunt was Bertha Jeffery, the Knole Housekeeper. These interview excerpts capture some key moments in the life of a great country house.

In 1921, Bertha, always known as Mrs Jeffery, worked alongside Wilfred Booth, the Knole Butler. She had two housemaids under her supervision and worked at Knole for 25 years.

The Knole Cook was Edith Baker, and she had two kitchen maids working under her charge. The outdoor staff employed by Knole Estate included a relatively large number of gardeners, labourers and garden boys. 

Grandfather's memories of 1887 Knole Barn fire

My grandfather came to Knole as a carpenter in 1881, and he was aged 35.  And he brought his wife, four daughters and his son. And he started, he had this relationship with Knole lasted altogether about 60 years or so.

In 1887, there was the famous fire at Knole which started in the Barn. We had some letters from Scarborough from Mortimer [Lord Sackville], enquiring about the fire about what happened, and so forth and so on. But it was really rather, it must have been rather a cause for consternation for the staff at the time, because imagine that place being consumed by fire. It was a terrible thing. I mean, it had been, there had been this danger of fire; I suppose, there was a fire back in the early part of the 14th century or something like that. But, this must have been quite, rather alarming.

Interviewer: How extensive was it, this great fire in 1887, I think you said it was?

DJ: Well, it burnt down the barn which was full of hay at the time. It spread to a lot, a number of buildings round the Stable courtyard. It was, as I say, had it not been for prompt action, in those days it would have been quite serious because of course there were no chemical fire extinguishers or anything like that. They had to summon the fire brigades from Sevenoaks, which were horse-drawn vehicles. [laughter] And they even got them from Maidstone and Tonbridge as well.

Aunt, Mrs Jeffery, Knole Housekeeper for 25 years

Interviewer: Your aunt, I believe, was the Housekeeper at Knole for many years?

DJ: Yes, for exactly how many years, I’m not quite sure, but certainly from 1915 when I was born, you see, she was the Housekeeper then. I’m pretty certain. Well she first went to Knole in the early 1890s, when she left school, I think. In fact, she was bound to have done, I think. I know very little about her early career at all. But certainly, she did about 25 years as a Housekeeper.

Interviewer: She was very much respected by everybody that I have spoken to.

DJ: Yes, oh I think she was respected alright, no doubt about that. She knew her job, and did it very thoroughly. Like the rest of the staff, really, she put everything she’d got into it. I mean, Knole was her life actually, and so much so that, well, I’ve heard her say she didn’t like going away at all. She hated holidays! [laughter] She’d much rather spend them at Knole. Nevertheless, she did go away occasionally. She was not a widely travelled woman by any means

She met a lot of interesting people in the course of her career of course. It was her, she invariably took parties around the house, round the state rooms when they were open. Although she never talked very much about people; in fact, none of my family did. They were extremely discreet; in front of not only me but if there was anybody else.  They were certainly not gossips.

This page was added by Veronica Walker-Smith on 07/03/2023.

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.

Popular keywords

These are the most popular keywords used on the site. The more popular the keyword, the bigger the font size.

View all the keywords used in this catalogue.