William Hughes first came to work at Knole in 1928. After five decades of service, he was interviewed on his retirement in 1983.
Second Footman at 17, then rose to become Lord Sackville's butler
Interviewed in 1983
Service as Second Footman at Knole
W.H.: Well you had (your uniform) for the mornings what they call Parson’s grey. That was the morning. That was mainly for silver cleaning, you had a green baize apron and in case you had to answer the door or phone. If the phone rang, you put a jacket on, and you went through to Lord Sackville or you couldn’t find him, or if he wanted you, you were partly on duty but you were silver cleaning. It was your day off if you were silver cleaning, otherwise you were on duty all day and then you was dressed in tails, red waistcoat, stiff shirt and white tie and you were on more or less, just doing nothing for the day, just forwarding calls, waiting on lunch and tea and dinner. You were on for the day.
Now tell us about the silver cleaning.
W.H.: Well you all had – it’s still there – in the pantry there was a large table affair, thin narrow table. And you all had your own drawer and your own instruments, in the way of brushes, leathers, and your own saucepan and you made your own mixture of… and the main instruments in cleaning silver was your thumb and finger. You cleaned; you used the thumb with the finger. And you rubbed until the stuff that you put on, disappeared. And the main thing you used the brush for, in the case of stuff that was … what have you, was just to brush it out. Then the spoons and forks, you brushed between the fork. But always washed eating instruments, and leathered them before they go on the table.
Were there any particular pieces that were awkward to clean?
W.H.: Oh yes, there were the candlesticks. They were all fish and owls and all owls’ heads and they were difficult to clean.
Would you have had to do shoes as well?
W.H.: My job was to clean Lord Sackville’s shoes, because I was the Second Footman. I was more or less the stooge for the butler. I pressed all Lord Sackville’s clothes. Cleaned the golf sticks. Cleaned all his shoes. He was a man who wore anything up to 5 pairs of shoes a day. Each pair he wore, you cleaned the next day. It was cleaned for the next day and the laces were taken out for the night and washed, put on a hot water pipe, dried, ironed and put in the shoes. You never knew what shoes he was going to wear, so you had to get all his shoes ready. He took the choice. He didn’t ask you. He would take it on.
The First Footman's duties
W.H.: I was Second Footman for about 2 years, 3 years, and I became First Footman at the age of 21. And I was reckoned for that time I was the youngest First Footman the Lord had had. And I had a man of 28, 27, above me, and I’d to give orders to, and he’d been in service for Ionger than I had.
Yes, that must have been a bit awkward.
W.H.: It was awkward but you get on with these things. You learn to be tough. Lord Sackville was a major-general with a good army record. He must have spotted that I was a bit of an hard one. He always gave me credit for being a bit firm.
That’s it. Now we’ve heard about something of your duties as Second Footman. Now when it comes to First Footman, what does he do?
W.H.: You go further up the stairs as when you’re First Footman. There’s more responsibilities. We didn’t have a valet. We had a valet. The butler and him never saw eye to eye, because he wanted to do valeting of His Lordship himself. So Booth took to valeting. I’d lost the job, moving up, of being his understudy, [the butler] Booth. But now I became more of an understudy to him. Because when he was out, or not about, he took me into his confidence. And he was very, very strict and a very good butler. I was about the only one he would talk to. He was a very kind man to the young girls and the staff. And they all thought the world of him. But the young footman didn’t; he was just, but very hard, very thorough. And you had to watch your p’s and q’s with him. It was my job, if he was out for dinner; but I became Lady Sackville’s right-hand man as it were. I had to do all her wants. The bell would ring. One for the butler, two for me. So when it was two, nine times out of ten that was for me, and Lady Sackville. I had to clean her shoes; I had to take her breakfast up. It became the other way. Instead of watching the breakfast go up with the butler, it was my job to take her tray up to her room. The maid answered the door but I would place the tray in front of Lady Sackville.
Becoming known as 'Prince of Knole'
I always said to everyone – at the end of my service, when he (Lord Sackville) died, there goes my father. Because he was my father figure. Everything that I – I watched him. I acted him, in a way. Many, many times, I was given the name ‘Prince of Knole’ because I loved clothes. I used to go up many time and look at his suits. He had rows of them. Marvellous stuff. I would try and get as near as I could, to his colours, the ones I liked. I’d go up to Parkers and Selfridges – fancy trying your luck with things like this, when you knew he’d paid, in those days, £90 to £100 for a suit. I went up to Selfridges, with £10, £20 in my hand, I’d try and get a suit like Lord Charlie’s got in his wardrobe. I did manage to have a good collection of my own. I was a bit of a saver, and we had quite good tips. We did pick up quite a bit of money. And I used to like a little gamble on the horses. I’d often come up, and if I did pick up an extra few quid, then I’d spend it on clothes. So in that way, probably, I got the name ‘Prince of Knole’.