What do I remember of the 1791 Ball at Kingston Hall: a historical reconstruction loosely based on a letter Frances Bankes sent to her mother-in-law. (D-BKL H/G/1)

Lady Bankes had eight other Ladies Maids join Nancy and myself in working at the tea table.  We all agreed to wear our new fashionable pink and white dresses so we would look as well dressed as the men who had been borrowed by Lady Bankes from the other big houses to serve at the Supper Tables.

The Tea Table was like a shop counter with the fine ladies and gentlemen having to come and collect their drink and cake.  Given people never took notice of us as we moved about serving at parties this was a wonderful arrangement as we could not be blamed for any spills on the new carpets or the fine clothes. We did not have to go into the crowd at any time – Mrs Hills (she was the children’s governess) said nearly 150 people attended. Our stairs from the Master’s dressing room to the kitchen let us bring up fresh water to fill the kettles over the fire and more plates of cakes. None of the guests knew our secret staircase – one of the serving men heard Mr Morton Pitt wondering how there was always hot water and cakes at the Tea Table.

A similar ball or dance, held in an assembly room

We had to make sure there were three different hot drinks – tea, white wine Negus and red wine Negus (hot sweetened wine and water) – and two cold drinks – lemonade and Orgeat (made from barley and orange water) at all time. The cakes were all made by the cook and just the right size for 2 or 3 bites for the ladies – the gentlemen tended to eat them whole.  Cook had decorated them so that the ladies would not stain their gloves.  This was one of the fancy instructions from the mistress for things to be done like they do in London; like the powder puffs and lavender water in her dressing room for the ladies to use to freshen up. Being able to hear the band meant we always knew when the music stopped and there would be a rush for drinks and cakes, but in between we could take turns at peeking into the ballroom.  While everyone was at supper we had to make sure that all the glasses and cups and plates where collected up and cleaned for the dancing continued until seven of the morning.

Once the breakfast rooms were opened we could tidy up the tea tables and put the bedroom and dressing rooms back to their usual state.  The other servants all went home with their masters and mistresses, but we all had to finish putting the house in order before we could sleep.  It was much easier tidying up than the day it took setting it all up to the mistresses tastes just the day before.

Author: Valerie Brenton

Published: 17/12/2018

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Frances Woodley

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