I Remember…

Living at Langleybury House

by Jill Tidmarsh

When my husband took up a teaching post at Langleybury School, around 1970, we lived in Langleybury House. During the three years that we lived there and as we were both working, it never occurred to me to consider the house’s past history. Only recently I discovered that my grandmother originated from Abbots Langley and as a result of subsequent research I have made contact with new (to me) relatives, which has proved extremely interesting. This started me wondering about the history of Langleybury House and I feel quite honoured to know that I once lived in a place connected with such names as Francis Bacon and King Charles I!

Living at Langleybury House gave an insight into what it must have been like to serve as staff in those days when it was a family house. We occupied a large flat on the top floor, overlooking the main lawn area and which I believe faced roughly north, because we never had sun in the room. I think this could have been the servants’ quarters. There was no central heating so it was incredibly cold. And I imagined how difficult it must have been for the servants in the past. We had a coal fire in the lounge and electric heaters in the other rooms, which comprised two bedrooms and the most enormous, lofty bathroom in which I'm sure the temperature never managed to rise much above freezing in the winter and not much higher in the summer! The rooms were very much as they must have been since the house was built with wood panelled walls and tall shuttered windows with window seats. I spent a lot of pleasant hours sitting in these windows, overlooking the lovely view of the lawns.

At the back of the flat was a long, stone staircase leading to a door, which in turn led out to the back lawns. This I believe may have once been the tradesman’s entrance. From here a considerable walk took us to the area for hanging the washing and to put rubbish in the dustbins. Later, when my son was born, to visit the bins or put out the washing was a marathon. I would first have to take his pram downstairs, then, carrying the washing in one arm and baby in the other, go back down the stairs, and load him into his pram before walking to the washing lines. Afterwards, I walked back, took him upstairs and returned for the pram once more. With the washing, emptying the rubbish, shopping, fetching coal, etc., these chores might have to be done several times a day!

We also shared the flat with a very large family of mice and would often see one sitting on the back of the sofa or the top of the curtains having a wash. We tried on many occasions to get rid of them but there must have been so many, this proved an impossible task.

A short walk from the house were the walled gardens with their ancient lean-to greenhouses. The gardens were probably still laid out much as they had been in the days when the house was a private residence. The school used the area for teaching gardening to the pupils and it was nice to see that they seemed to be keeping it in the traditional ways of days past.

Across the courtyard at the front of the house was the stable block, the top floor of which had been converted into four flats. The original stables, being underneath, remained unaltered. After the arrival of my second son, life in the main house became too difficult and we were fortunate to procure one of these stable flats. Here we had our own small garden and life was much easier, although the bottom of the garden did back onto a grain store where we then swapped our family of mice for what seemed to be an even bigger family of rats! Fortunately for us they lived in the store and on its roof and never came into the garden.

A staircase led from our flat up into the clock tower from where the old clock had to be wound every day. Someone came in daily during term-time to wind the clock but during the holidays it became our responsibility. The stables beneath, being unaltered, made it quite easy to visualise the scene as it must have been when the horses were housed there and the coaches were in the courtyard – where too you could almost hear the sound of hooves on cobbles as they waited for the master!

Although in some ways it was rather romantic living there in today’s ‘modern’ times with all the conveniences that we have today, how hard life must have been for the servants in those days. Despite the difficulties we faced at times, I’m very glad that we have had the opportunity to live at Langleybury House, even for a short time, and as such, to have shared in its history. n


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