Joan Padfield’s reason for joining the house staff at Knole was different from most: it was preparation for a life as a ‘slum sister’ in the Salvation Army. Her aunt’s response to the nine-year-old Joan was that, in order to serve the poorest people in Britain, she would need to know how to clean and cook – and have all the skills she might develop as a maid in a great country house.
Joan went to Knole in 1942 to learn how to clean and cook
Interviewed by Daphne Eatwell
Fire-fighting on the roof in the War
Part of my duties was on the fire fighting rota. The footman and I, we were delegated to a part of the roof, and it was wonderful to be up there, to look around. My mind wasn’t on fire fighting, it was on looking at the view at night, how lovely it was, and there was a bucket of water and a stirrup pump and we were told to be on the alert for incendiary bombs because the place could blow up. But no incendiary bombs fell when I was on duty, to my regret, I’d have loved to – Leslie would have done the stirrupping and I would have done the squirting with the water. But when you think, how foolish to expect that we could put a fire out, with a stirrup pump! Great faith, you know, and we were there.
Housemaids and Lady Sackville
How many housemaids were there?
JP: Two of us – but the retired housemaids, there were two who lived on the estate and they would come in to do heavy work and to help us out, especially when what we called the showrooms had to be given an extra clean.
Now the reason you lived on the estate, was that because their parents had a house there … or was there another house the housemaids could live in?
JP: No, this was a sort of bonus, after long years of employment. Some of them as I said came to retirement; they had worked there, some, since the age of 13. Maybe their whole life had been spent at Knole. They were lovely people. They had started, like me, as under housemaids, or whatever, and they’d stayed because it was a community in itself. I mean, we hardly knew there was a war on because there were the orchards, there was the farm, plenty of venison, and the gamekeeper would bring in the game…
And you mentioned before about the food parcels that Lady [Anne] Sackville had from America…
JP: Yes, well, Lady Sackville was an American. She had been an actress – that was how she met Lord Sackville. Because of being in Britain during the war she was sent a number of food parcels, cans of butter and cans of bacon, cans of cakes and biscuits, and all this food she would put in the cupboards in the old kitchen and she only possessed the key, so that on special occasions, if they gave a party or meal, then the bacon and the butter and the cake would come out to be used, so it was quite interesting. But she had quite a phobia about any design which included peacocks. She would not have a peacock of any description in her bedroom and draperies, and there had been one or two cushions apparently which had been disposed of, and of course in the draperies in the showrooms quite often a peacock would appear, so I don’t know how this was coped with, but then she didn’t go into the showrooms very much.