INTERVIEW WITH MRS CROCOMBE AT AUDLEY END HOUSE AND GARDENS
We sent young English Heritage Members Ollie and Jack to Audley End House and Gardens to meet cook Mrs Avis Crocombe. Find out how more about life in the kitchen at Audley End, and watch her teach the boys how to make a sweet custard dish for Lord Braybrooke.
Video: Meet Mrs Crocombe
You must be Master Ollie and Master Jack. You both look well-mannered and I hope your shoes are clean. I’m Mrs Crocombe, and I’m the cook at Audley End.
Jack: Is it hard work?
We have to cook for Lord and Lady Braybrooke and all their guests, as well as all the servants. And the servants don’t eat the same dishes as Lord and Lady Braybrooke, so we do have to make a lot of food.
Ollie: Are you the only one who works here?
I’m in charge, but there are four of us who work here. Myself, then Mary-Ann my first kitchen maid, Sylvia my second kitchen maid and Ally Chase who works in the scullery, mostly washing up.
Jack: How does the food get to Lord Braybrooke’s table?
That is the job of the footmen and Mr Lincoln the butler. I make the food in the kitchen and then it leaves through the hatch just by the door. The dining table is on the other side of the house and upstairs, so the footmen have to move very quickly. Mr Lincoln and I have to be very organised.
Ollie: Where do you and the other servants eat?
Most of the servants eat in the servants’ hall, but I sit with the housekeeper Mrs Warwick and the butler Mr Lincoln – the more important servants – on a different table. Mealtimes are the only times we get to see the other servants – they don’t come in here. Even the family and usually the guests don’t come into the kitchens.
MRS CROCOMBE’S STORY
Avis Crocombe was born in Devon in 1839 and was a farmer’s daughter. She became a servant at the age of 13 and worked her way up from kitchenmaid to cook and housekeeper. By 1881 she had become the cook at Audley End House for Lord and Lady Braybrooke, and also worked for the family at their London and Bournemouth houses.
The title ‘Mrs’ was a courtesy title given to cooks and housekeepers, as most were unmarried – a female servant who got married tended to leave domestic service. Mrs Crocombe did just this in 1884 when she married Benjamin Stride and left Audley End to help Benjamin run his London lodging house. She died in 1927 at the age of 89.
Life at Audley End
Audley End was one of England’s grandest country houses. The original 17th century house was transformed in the 1760s for owner Sir John Griffin Griffin, including landscaped grounds by the famous gardener designer Capability Brown.
By the 1880s, when Mrs Crocombe was in charge of the kitchen, it was owned by Lord and Lady Braybrooke and featured some of the most innovative domestic technologies for the era, including central heating. There was also a separate service wing to help with the smooth running of the estate that housed the kitchen, dairy, scullery, larders and laundry room. The service wing has been carefully restored to its 1880s heyday.
Plan your visit
See where Mrs Crocombe worked for yourself by visiting Audley End in Essex. You can wander the beautiful stately home, explore the extensive gardens, meet the horses in the stableyard and visit the service wing where Mrs Crocombe ruled the kitchen.
During the weekends in May to September you can meet Mrs Crocombe yourself and ask her any questions you might have, as well as watching her preparing food for Lord and Lady Braybrooke. You can also meet some of the Victorian servants who worked in the house, such as the kitchenmaids, stablehands and the children’s governess.Plan your visit
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