Florence Georgina Copeland was born on 8th December 1912 in West Ham, London, the daughter of a Billingsgate fish porter who was killed in the Great War. Having taken Flo and her younger brother to live at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, her mother remarried and had three more daughters.
Aged 16, Flo went to London, where she found work as a kitchen maid for a retired Army officer and his two unmarried sisters in South Kensington for £20 a year. “The parlour maid’s name was Florence, so of course I couldn’t be called Florence too,” she recalled. “They asked me what my second name was, and when I said Georgina well, I couldn’t be called Georgina. That was far too big a mouthful, and too smart really for just a kitchen maid. So they called me Ena.”
She was allowed one bath a week. For time off, she had one half-day a week and every other Sunday. After a year in London, she spent another 12 months at Shenley, Hertfordshire, in the home of Edgar Speyer, a banker and friend of Brahms and Edward Elgar.
Flo then went to Mapleton, near Westerham in Kent, where the butler, Mr Brickett, captained the estate’s cricket team. Now earning £30 a year as a kitchen maid, she learned how to make different kinds of pastry, pâté, sauces and soufflés. Normal meals were four courses; at dinner parties there might be six. She left the job after contracting diphtheria and went to work at a house in Norfolk, where she learned to prepare and cook game. Two years later, in 1935, she was offered the job of kitchen maid at Hatfield House.
This was, in Flo’s words, “a step up the ladder”. Hatfield had a far larger staff, and “the butler was called the 'steward’ there, and we had to call him 'sir’”. Once again there was a Florence in the servants’ hall, and on this occasion Flo was known as Jean (another contraction of Georgina). Lord Salisbury was at that time Leader of the House of Lords, and sometimes Flo would accompany the family to their London house, in Arlington Street, off Piccadilly. At Hatfield, she recalled, it was not unusual to have 20 guests at the house at one time: “And when people came to stay especially other lords and ladies, they’d bring their chauffeur and their lady’s maid with them, and probably the valet. Then there’d be more in the servants’ hall and more in the steward’s room.”
Lord Salisbury liked very plain food: “He had a milk pudding every day. It didn’t matter whatever else was in the dining room, there was a milk pudding made for his Lordship.”
Every morning the servants were expected to attend prayers in Hatfield’s chapel, and these were almost the only occasions on which she saw her employers: “I only once ever spoke to Lady Salisbury and I never did to his Lordship.”
Leisure time was precious, but when Flo was invited to a servants’ ball at a nearby house, she managed to bicycle from Hatfield to London, where she bought some material at Selfridges to run up a dress for the occasion.
Late in her life she reflected: “Somebody asked me once if living in a big house like [Hatfield], and seeing all the marvellous furniture and silver and everything they had, was I ever envious? I never was really. I was always very interested but I can’t ever remember wanting it.”
After she had been at Hatfield for a year, Florence Copeland decided she should return to Norfolk; her mother had fallen ill, and it seemed sensible to seek work closer to home.
In 1936 she was asked to Blickling Hall — home of the Boleyn family from 1499 to 1505 — after the cook walked out in a huff just as Lord Lothian (a former Private Secretary to Lloyd George) was expecting two consecutive weekend house parties. Originally Flo was asked simply to cover for a fortnight, but she was then invited to stay on permanently. Lothian, who had inherited the estate in 1930, sent her to weekly classes at technical college in Norwich to learn how to make more elaborate puddings.
Flo loved working at Blickling, where she was initially paid £50 a year: “You never quite knew what was going to happen. Sometimes his Lordship might come down on his own from London, but that was very rare indeed. Another time he might bring two or three friends, or somebody from Parliament that he wanted to discuss world affairs with.”
During the Abdication crisis of 1936 the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, came to stay for three weeks with his wife. When they left, Mrs Baldwin gave Flo £1, and another £1 to be shared out between the kitchen maid and scullery maid.
Still in her mid-twenties, she was young to be in charge of a kitchen. She generally worked a 15-hour day, getting up at 7am to make the bread rolls for breakfast and prepare the rest of the meal “eggs of some kind with bacon, fish (perhaps haddock, kippers or kedgeree). There might be kidneys or sausages, and cold ham on the sideboard.”
At Blickling she had, for the first time in her life, the use of a fridge: “I think that was mainly because his Lordship was a teetotaller, and he loved orange juice to drink, and of course that had to be fresh oranges.”
Every day Flo would suggest a menu to the housekeeper, Miss O’Sullivan, who would then discuss it with Lothian. All the menus had to be written in French. When preparing a meat course, Flo would reckon on two ounces for the women and up to six ounces for the men. One of Lord Lothian’s favourite dishes was Chicken Maryland, with corn pancakes and bananas.
“I think I only saw Lord Lothian about twice,” she remembered, “and I was there over three years. I think he was a nice sort of gentleman, but they weren’t brought up to be friendly with the staff, were they?” She only once entered the dining room in 1938, when Queen Mary came for lunch (stuffed egg followed by poulet chaud et froid and peaches from the garden served with a mousse and sponge cake), and Flo was allowed to slip in to see the table decorations .
As a young woman in the 1930s, Florence Copeland worked as a kitchen maid at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, then home to the 4th Marquess of Salisbury, before securing a post as cook to the 11th Marquess of Lothian at Blickling Hall in Norfolk. Her days were long, her accommodation spartan, her pay meagre. Yet she looked back on those days with affection, and in old age became a much sought-after source of information about what it was like to have a “life in service”. She was unimpressed by the ITV series Downton Abbey, saying: “They have got it wrong. They should have talked to people like me.”
Flo left Blickling in 1939, when Lothian was appointed Ambassador in Washington. During the war the house was turned over to the RAF and then came under the care of the National Trust. Last year Florence returned to Blickling to “open” her old bedroom there which staff had tried to recreate as it would have been when she worked at the hall. She immediately pointed out that the bedspread was the wrong colour, the lamp was “not right” and that there would not have been a radio in the room.
Lord Lothian had asked Flo to cook for him at the embassy in Washington, but instead she went to cook for the Bulwer-Long family at Heydon in Norfolk. In 1940 she married Robert Wadlow, who worked at a limekiln at Heydon and served with the Royal Norfolks in the Far East during the Second World War. He was taken prisoner in 1941, and she did not see him again until the end of the war.
Flo and Robert had two sons. They lived in a cottage at Heydon where the for 50 years before retiring to Fakenham in 1998. Her husband died in 1983.
Poulet Chaud et Froid
Here is a very nice chicken chaud froid sauce that incorporates heavy cream into the recipe and uses chicken fat in place of butter to build the roux.
• 1/4 cup rendered chicken fat
• 1/4 cup sifted flour
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
• 2 tablespoons cold water
• 1/4 cup cream
1.Combine chicken fat and flour; add chicken stock gradually and heat to boiling.
2. Soften gelatin in cold water, stir into hot sauce and cool.
3.Add cream and chill until it reaches the consistency of soft custard, stirring occasionally.
Over a Hot Stove A Kitchen Maid's Story
by Flo Wadlow
Flo's life in full-time domestic service provides a fascinating story of a world that has disappeared. Flo started, aged 16, as a young kitchen maid in South Kensington and at the almost unheard-of age of 23 was appointed cook at Blickling Hall.
Her story is told with no resentment that the lowly position of servants, such as herself, supported the privileged life-style of her employers `upstairs'. Flo made the most of every opportunity, and after her marriage, continued to enjoy her cooking in every capacity possible, based around the village of Heydon.
Aprons & Silver Spoons
Author: Pam Norfolfk
Aprons and Silver Spoons is the memoirs of Mollie Moran. Her rise from a 1930s scullery maid to ‘big house’ cook is charted in this lively, evocative and wonderfully perceptive memoir which lifts the lid on a world that vanished with the onset of war. Mollie worked with Flo Wadlow.....
For more details go to our page In Print
Flo Wadlow passed away on January 9th, 2013 aged 100 at Queen Elizabeth hospital, Kings Lynn after short illness. Beloved mother of Terrence and Robert, mother-in-law of Bridget and Mary. Grandmother of Paula and Robbie.
Published in the Eastern Daily Press on 11th January 2013.
A service of thanksgiving for the life of Florence took place at the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul, Heydon on Thursday, January 31st.
Flo Wadlow celebrated her 100th Birthday on the 6th December 2012.
Flo Wadlow visited Blickling Hall also Flo in the Norfolk News.
Obituary in The Telegraph
The Waddelow Society is a non profit Family History Group, established in 1988, interested in reasearching the Waddelow/Wadlow name.
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