Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Book - Real drama at Rufford

THE upstairs downstairs dramas of TV hit Downton Abbey has sparked renewed interest in a book written about life during the same period at Rufford Abbey.

Nina Slingsby-Smith, of Wallingwells, wrote the book about her father George’s experiences as a garden boy and footman there.

Those were the days when King Edward VII was a regular visitor, being greeted by a red carpet and all the staff lined up for his inspection.

There were 50 men working in the gardens alone.

Nina’s father George Slingsby began his career at Rufford Abbey as a garden boy, earning the grand sum of £8 a year.

Nina, who doesn’t want to reveal her age, wrote the book, called George, Memoirs of a Gentleman’s Gentleman, in 1983 and was interviewed at the time on TV’s Pebble Mill show.

She admits to being a Downton fan saying: “Downton Abbey is very entertaining and I watched it every week. It brings a bygone age into focus for the younger generation.”

Rufford Abbbey, now run by Notts County Council, was the magnificent country estate of Lord and Lady Savile.

George’s first encounter with royalty was when King Edward was strolling through the rose gardens, stopping to speak to the men.

Nina says in her book: “His majesty didn’t notice such a minor member of that enormous garden staff, but to George it was really something to write home about.”

On one occasion the house staff were busy decorating the banqueting hall ready for another visit from his majesty.

George had heard about the priceless pure gold 100-piece dinner service embossed with the Savile crest and was desperate to see it.

“To his delight a little parlour maid offered to smuggle him in by the back door on the following night so that he might see the banqueting table.”

“This was strictly against the rules of course, and should they be caught it would be instant dismissal for both of them,” recounts Nina.

When George saw the table in all its splendour he could hardly believe his eyes. The crowning glory was the centrepiece, a four-foot high arch over an enormous tiered dish of fruit and ferns.

From the centre of the arch hung an enormous bunch of the estate’s own famous Black Hamburg grapes, with gold scissors for the king to cut them.

George decided his ambition was to work inside the house and, after moving away from Rufford for a while, he eventually returned as first footman of seven.

While he was enjoying a tankard of beer in the kitchen one day, his dream of meeting King Edward came true when his majesty suddenly appeared unannounced with his little dog.

Nina’s book recounts: “George made a grab for his jacket, but the king held up his hand. ‘Please do not let me disturb you. I am the intruder’.”

He asked for a beer and as George called for a glass, the king said: “A tankard will do nicely, I think pewter improves the flavour, don’t you?”

*Copies of George, A Gentleman’s Gentleman are available to borrow from Notts libraries or can be bought online.

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