Joshua Crabtree's Diary

Joshua Crabtree’s musings

What happenings here. Mrs Simpson in a bad temper for a week, Mrs Phillips sharp with all the maids and Mr Hunt, the butler, seemingly in his pantry for the whole day. John was harder on me than ever until the horses coats shone as if they were finest silk and the brass and leather a-gleam. I could not see why the whole house was in a turmoil. Mary told me that Miss Martha could barely calm her mother. Mistress was to be heard wailing in her room and having the vapours every day.

Then one morning John rushes into the stable and commands me to make the carriage ready for we are to drive to Tunbridge Wells. He told me I was to ride up beside him and I barely believed him for I am not often allowed away from the stable except to visit my mother or to fetch items for the horses - or John’s porter from the alehouse when Mrs Phillips forbids him more from the house. And, my friends, I was to be dressed as a page boy. Me! A page boy! To be sure, I am not a negro as is the page of Lady Huntingdon. Perhaps the master will bring one back with him from the Indies. I am to have a coat, breeches, boots, stockings and a hat. A whole outfit. How proud my dear mother would be to see me but she will not, for I am to be dressed by John and Mrs Phillips and when my journey is finished they will take it from me until, perhaps, I am to be dressed in finery again.

And so John tells me that the next morning we are to be ready to travel. All day I was polishing and grooming and making ready. Miss Martha came to the stable to inspect my work and she commended me on my horses. I was so pleased I could not speak and John cuffed my ear and bade me be more polite to Miss Martha but the more he urged me with his hand the more I could not find my tongue and Miss Martha laughed and pinched my cheek whilst staying John’s hand with her own.

Before light the following morning we were up and I was dressed in my finery after making the carriage and horses ready. Mrs Simpson had given us a fine breakfast and a basket from which to make our meal later in the day. I have never been so proud and so well-fed. When John was not looking she slipped a piece of pie in my hand but bade me hide it from John and not sully my new clothes. Just after six o’the clock we mounted the carriage and turned the horses to Tunbridge Wells. Brighton is all I have ever known and I wondered what sights would fill my eyes on the journey.

John told me we are to fetch Mrs Vicary. She is a particular friend of Mrs Hankey and has no carriage of her own so Miss Martha has sent us. John offers the thought that Miss Martha may believe that the presence of Mrs Vicary will calm the mistress’s nerves. It is then that I learned the reason for all the commotion and comings and goings. The Master is to arrive the day after tomorrow and has ordered a big dinner to be prepared for the men of business and quality in Brighton. He teased me and said perhaps I am to be scrubbed again and made to stand behind the Mistress’s chair as a proper page. On God’s word I could not do that for I would not know what to do and how to conduct myself. “Oh, do not be anxious on that score”, says he, “For Thomas the footman will soon beat that into you.” Mercy for I am fit to run away fine clothes or no. Seeing my terror he gave me another cuff on the ear and assured me I was far to rough clay to be moulded into service inside. For that I am glad, for I love my horses and for all that he may beat me John is the master I know.

I must write later of the journey and events, for I am sleepy now and we rise early in the stable.

2nd September 1830

I bid you all welcome. I am Joshua Crabtree and I am stable boy at one of the new houses in Brunswick Square, at number 13 and very fine it is, too. I have not seen the inside - how could I? But Thomas the footman tells me it is a grand place indeed. There they have furniture from France and Italy (although why it cannot be English, I ask?) and bright carpets from the Low Countries. They say that the Mistress’s brother brought much of the furniture with him from France after Boney was beat. He was a Colonel in the Hussars and often in Paris. Thomas whispers to me that there are many ladies of high rank and low virtue in that city and indeed in the whole of France.

But to the house. Mary the scullery maid says there is a room inside that saves the maids some work of the most unpleasant kind for it has a stool inside the room where a person might make water or bring forth a stool (ha!ha!) and it is borne away down a pipe! This must be a wonderful device. Mary says the maids have less cause to run round the house bearing chamber pots but it seems Mrs Briggs the housekeeper thinks it gives them more time to carry coals upstairs. I should love to see this room and its stool. Would they had made one for horses so that I should not have so much shovelling and scraping to do in the stable.

Sometimes I may go into the kitchen and sit with Mrs Simpson the cook and she feeds me gingerbread. I am always hungry it is hard work caring for the carriage and the horses and my master, John, the Coachman drives me harder than he would dare drive the horses. It is warm in the kitchen and the range is the most modern and burns very hot. It burns a great deal of coal and Williams, the merchant from Shoreham, is here every week. This house is so modern that water comes into the house from a pipe. But poor Mary must still go to the pump in the yard and so must I for the horses. Once I peered into the housekeeper’s room when I had been with Mrs Simpson. She has her own fireplace and chair. Shutters at the window and rugs on the floor! If that is her room then I cannot think what grand sights would greet me upstairs. I have seen her and the Butler, Mr Hunt, counting out the tableware for the grand suppers that are held here. So many plates and bowls and dishes that I have no idea what they might eat from them all. My bread and a little herring might be lost on one of those plates. And what is done with all the knives? There are small forks, too but I do not have one of those: just my knife. John tells me if I linger and stare more I shall not have need of that even but will eat hay and oats with the horses and the only fork I see is the one to pitch their straw. This is such a fine house that even the horses have servants.

Mrs Simpson is short-tempered this day. She chased me out of the kitchen and she tells me she has a grand supper to prepare. The master, back from the Indies, wants the finest food as Monsieur Careme ever cooked for th Prince at the Pavilion. Mrs Skinner thinks ill of having to cook French food when there are fine English receipts. Mary tells me that the house is all in a turmoil preparing and that Miss Martha is putting her nose in every corner but that the Mistress is in her room weeping and calling for Miss Martha all the time. I know that young Mr Hankey has been in the stables and that has rendered John most unhappy for he is not gentle with his mounts. We are to have guests a plenty and ladies to drive out to see the society and be seen, I do not doubt and we servants are to work all the harder because of it.

I hope the glimpse the fine company but most of all I pray that some of Mrs Skinner’s food may come my way.