Monday, 28 December 2015

Servitude is in my genes

Friends will be surprised to hear that there was nothing over Xmas that I enjoyed more than watching the last episode of Downton Abbey. Sorry, got that sentence wrong: it should read "I enjoyed doing nothing more than watching the last episode of Downton Abbey". However, on the very rare occasions that I have glanced at it over the top of whatever I was reading at the time, I have found myself strangely empathetic to the role of the butler, Carson. At times I've experienced a strange feeling of deja vu watching the man go about his duties. At times, I found myself thinking "no, Carson, no! You shouldn't do it that way" when he was setting the cutlery at the high table or placing the wine glasses in order. 
This puzzled me for a long while until I remembered that I came from butling stock. My great grandfather, George Parsons, was employed as a butler to the family of Colonel Lucas Hansard in Hove. He held this position for some 25 years spanning either side of the turn of the nineteenth century. Before that he had been a footman in the household of Thomas Evans Esq, a county magistrate for Sussex. The daughter of this household, Georgiana Evans, married Colonel Hansard and, presumably, this gave my great grandfather the chance of promotion from footman to butler. The name Hansard may sound familiar as this is the family that gave us the famous record of parliamentary business: Lucas was the son of the founder. As far as I can tell, the Hansards did not have a country house but in a rather grand townhouse in Palmeira Square, just off the seafront in Hove.

All the photographs I have of great grandfather George shows him to be a rather elegant man with, I think, the bearing of a butler. The photograph below shows him with my great grandmother, Emma (Kirkham) who, at one time, was a children's nurse for the Hansards. Considering he was born the son of an illiterate agricultural labourer (I know this as he could only sign his marriage certificate with an X), he did well in his life and left £3526 7s 11p and a house in his will when he died in 1932.

And now I must close as m'lady has just rang for her afternoon tea: cucumber sandwiches don't make themselves, you know.

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