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Estate Life Then and Now: Memories of a Friendship

The ‘Our Days’ series was inspired by the memoirs of Kathleen Brown, who lived a long and eventful Lincolnshire life from 1915 to 2020. This week, two people closely associated with today’s South Ormsby Estate, Jacqui Rhodes and Caron Ementon, reflect on the friendship they shared with Kathleen, and what her memories meant for their 21st-century Lincolnshire lives.

“I started work as Housekeeper at South Ormsby Hall in 1996 at the age of 25,” recalled Jacqui Rhodes. “Back then, all the staff were in their sixties and they followed the old ways. When they came in, they’d doff their caps and say ‘squire’ or ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. They were ‘pre-war’ people and were never on first-name terms. Eileen Burrell and Lucy Smith worked there and Dennis Hotchin was on the farm. I did half days, ironing, hoovering or whatever was needed. There were a couple of gardeners too, as well as various ‘as and when’ staff from the community for special occasions.

“I’d married Sam Rhodes and his family lived in the village. The job had been mentioned a few years earlier and Sam thought it was a bit of a lonely way to work. It came up again just after our wedding. I’d done catering at college so I thought I’d give it a go. I took all my paperwork to the Squire, Adrian Massingberd-Mundy, but he wasn’t interested in all that. He just wanted to know who I was and who I was married to.

“The Squire interviewed me personally. Over the years, we became firm friends. We spent a lot of time chatting and laughing, sharing lots of stories. The Squire used to eat his breakfast at the kitchen table and I’d work around him while we chatted and gossiped. He used to get the ladies in the village to darn his socks until I persuaded him to buy a few new pairs. In the end, we were more like family. I’m still close to Miss Perceval too.

“In the old days, people came to the Hall and stayed. Tom Rhodes was my husband’s great-grandfather. He served the estate for 78 years, between the ages of 12 and 90! He was the chauffeur for a while – we’ve still got his chauffeur hat and jacket at the Hall – and later looked after the garden. He married Mrs Massingberd-Mundy’s personal maid and served in the South Ormsby Home Guard. He got a wheelbarrow for his 90th birthday in 1994.

“I met Kath Brown when the Squire and Miss Percival began to organise Christmas parties for old staff-members in their seventies and eighties. The Squire was a true gent and very loyal to current and former staff. Kath and I took to each other because our jobs were similar. Kath was tickled by the changes. She found it amusing that I cleaned windows as that had always been a job for the menfolk.

“I got a strong sense of how much had changed. I start at 0800, whereas Kath started at 0500. I sort out one fire, Kath sorted out many. I carry a basket of logs up one flight, Kath and her colleagues took fuel to many rooms. Kath worked with other maids, serving breakfast in bed, living in, working long hours, getting few days off and doing everything manually. They started very young too. I often work alone with the benefit of electrical appliances.

“When Caron came to South Ormsby Hall, I put her in touch with Kath as I thought they’d get on. Sure enough, they really hit it off and Kath had a new person to chat to. Sometimes we’d visit Kath in Lincoln together. Caron and I first saw Kath’s memoir in its original, handwritten form. Between us, we dictated it and it was recorded onto a CD. Kath got to listen to her stories in our voices and it gave her a lot of pleasure.

“My job has totally changed over my time at the Hall. I used to look after the Squire personally with a few other ladies to give me a hand. Now I’m mainly looking after the house. Many things have changed for the better. I’m grateful to Jan and Jon for coming along and giving the place a new lease of life. I was in limbo for a while after the Squire passed and the Hall often seemed dark and lonely. Now it’s well maintained and it has a future.

“Early in my service, we had 100 guests for the Squire’s 70th. All the ladies would come in to help-out for those occasions, whether they were parties or charity coffee mornings. It felt really alive back then and we’re getting back to that community spirit. The house feels happy again.”

“Jacqui introduced me to Kath Brown four years ago when I joined the team at South Ormsby Hall,” said Caron Ementon. “I would visit Kath at Stones Place in Lincoln as it was on my way to own parents’ home in Nottingham. She was grateful for visitors and loved to talk about South Ormsby Hall and Mrs Massingberd-Mundy.

“I used to work for the National Trust and I’m passionate about history. Kath had lucid memories and she’d enact them with different voices and gestures. As a historian, I found it fascinating to get first-hand, living knowledge from before the Second World War, and I passed on these insights on guest tours.

“Mrs Massingberd-Mundy – the Squire’s mother – must have been remarkably kind and generous as Kath talked about her often and at length. She also remembered Godfrey, Adrian’s father, who was significantly older than his mother. He would only have Kath clean his fire as she was his favourite.

“I was delighted to introduce Kath to Jacqui Scott-Coombes of Heritage Lincolnshire’s ‘Layers of History’ project. I know Kath thoroughly enjoyed sharing her memories, which have appeared on display boards as well as on TV and radio.

“Towards the end of Kath’s life, we wanted to give her a present. Jacqui and I recorded her memoirs onto a CD and I bought her a CD player. She was blind and alone in her room for long periods of time, and I think listening to that CD was a valuable experience to her.

“Kath would have absolutely loved seeing her story on the internet. She was born in 1915, and would have been happily astonished that anyone, anywhere in the world, could see her memories on their screen with just a few clicks of a mouse.”


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