The Victorian Staff at the Winsford Towers Estate, Devon, UK were divided in to two main groups, Victorian Gardening Staff and Victorian House Staff.
The 31 garden staff (pictured) clearly illustrate the sizeable resources wealthy Victorians were prepared to invest in their private gardens. It’s hard to imagine hiring this many staff, just for the private gardens of a husband and wife who were NOT royalty.
The Head Gardener was the most senior staff member after the Estate Steward. The Head Gardener was responsible for ensuring a continuous supply of fresh fruit and vegetables from the estate garden to his employer’s table wherever that might be, throughout the year and regardless of any inclement weather. A terrific responsibility, but one that carried great kudos in the community at large.
Every week Maria Medley was in London with her house staff, they travelled with her been London and County Devon, the best available produce was collected from the gardens at Winsford and sent by train to Paddington Station for collection and delivery to Maria’s home in Park Lane.
Fresh milk, cream, butter, eggs, pork, chicken, duck, pheasant, beef, lamb, venison and trout also made the journey from the dairy, farm, forest and lake on the estate to London. For this system to work smoothly there had to be close co-operation between the Steward, Cook and the Head Gardener for each to plan ahead and prepare.
The Head Gardener and his family lived in an elegant detached cottage on his employer’s estate and received a £100 annual salary. The Steward, who also had a property on the estate provided, is to the right of the man in the centre back row with the big hat.
Estate records show that during the winter months, when the flower gardens looked like a ploughed field awaiting the spring sunshine, the garden staff were reduced to just six men including the Head Gardener.
Victorian House Staff
During its hey day around 1885 – 1919 the Winsford Tower Estate, of which the present Winsford Walled Garden was only a part, was itself only a part of the total property owned by Mr & Mrs George Medley – a very wealthy Victorian couple.
They owned property in Park Lane, London and would reside there for much of the year, but every summer they moved their household across country to their 700 acre country estate in North Devon, in the South West of England leaving only a skeleton staff in London.
The household staff group photo taken outside the Winsford Tower main house in 1902, clearly shows the Butler flanked by the footmen. The Housekeeper is equally visible (centre right) together with Cook (centre left). The remaining ladies included chambermaids and Maria’s personal maid. This group were Maria’s personal entourage (her husband had died by the time this photo was taken), and they would accompany her to whichever property she was staying.
In an age when there were no washing machines it is interesting to note the starching of the clothing, especially the ladies creases. Compare this photo with the one with the gardeners above! We have names for the Butler, Cook and Housekeeper at the time of Maria’s death in 1919 unfortunately, we are unable to verify these same people were working in 1902 when the photo was taken for the Coronation celebrations of King Edward 7th and Queen Alexandra (26 June 1902).
The Estate Steward was the most senior employee at the Winsford Tower Estate. He had overall responsibility for the smooth running of the estate and all the rented estate properties, which included about half the nearby village of Halwill. The main property surrounding the main house included a farm, forestry, dairy, accumulator house (for electrical back-up), generator house (for all electrical power), blacksmith, garage (for the very latest motor vehicles!) and carpentry workshops.
The Winsford Tower Estate in Devon was not only entirely self-sufficient it also supported the family when it was in London – which was most of the year. When Maria was ready to leave London to travel to her country estate for the summer, staff would be sent ahead to ensure her personal needs would be attended to ready for her arrival. Her Steward and Head Gardener who were based on the estate full-time would call up additional local employees and travelling journeymen to support the permanent estate staff in preparation for the season’s summer visit. The number of outdoor staff employed during the summer was extensive. They would include farm, forestry and garden staff, and at least a carpenter, blacksmith, groom and a mechanic. The latter three would be for both horse drawn and motor vehicles owned by the family at the turn of the century.
We have counted a total of 47 staff from 1902 photographs who were all dedicated to looking after one elderly lady. They do not include for example, the staff who were looking after Maria’s property in Park Lane during her absence.
Maria Medley’s Will is an open window into the world of the Victorian estate. We have discovered from reading three successive Victorian family Wills at Winsford that the wealthy Victorian often made their Will during the last two weeks, in order to use them as a very powerful lever to inimidate and coerce family and employees alike.
Here we include some clear examples of this power taken from Maria’s Will of 1919 in which she bequeathed the following: Her Steward, William Craig, £3000 (equal to ten years’ pay). Her Butler, Champion, £1000 (probably equal to ten years’ pay). Her Maid, Augusta Daity, £200. Her Head Gardener, Pope, £100 (equal to one years’ pay, so he must have lost her favor during her last year). Her Lodge (Gate) Keeper, Ann Steward, £300.
“All employees at the time of her death, £5.
All employees who had been in her service for upwards of ten years £30 (probably equal to one years’ pay for the majority). Inflation makes direct comparison of Victorian salaries with those of today totally meaningless, a more realistic approach is to compare equal purchasing power (the price of a loaf then and with the present). However, in order to give the above figures some perspective, it is interesting to note that at the same time that Maria made the above bequests she bequeathed £80,000 in cash to her nephew.
Maria commissioned the building of a hospital in the village (now known as the Winsford Centre) and paid for the staff in memory of her husband George Webb Medley who died in 1898. The hospital was gifted to the village on her death for the benefit of local people. During the following decades the surrounding villages contributed a great deal in order that their village hospital was fully equipped for the benefit of everyone in the surrounding communities.
The NHS ultimately squandered the gift to the locality, the NHS even removed all the medical equipment it never purchased or owned which really angered so many. Since then local community has been forced to buy back its own village hospital building!!! The empty shell was finally put into public trust and became know as the Winsford Trust which has since turned the empty building into a centre of community activity for all ages.
We are indebted to the generosity of both Mrs Wendy Easterbrook and her son Christopher Easterbrook of New Zealand, for their considerable help in providing us with photographs from the time when Mrs Easterbrook’s grandfather, Mr Charles Prior, was Head Gardener at Winsford circa 1902. They have also provided photographs taken by Mrs Easterbrook’s uncle on a visit to the estate during the 1930′s which show the estate already suffering following its division as a result of the death of Mr Medley-Costin in 1933. We would also like to show our thanks for the family anecdotes, pictures and details sent to us by all those who wish to remain anonymous.