Sunday, April 21, 2013

Where did everybody sleep?

If the Clibborns of 17th-century Moate, Ireland, had from 4 to 10 regular servants, in addition to 7 to 9 children (counting an orphaned nephew and niece) — where did everybody sleep?

Although John Clibborn's house was called the Castle, it was a tower house that didn't have as many rooms as we might imagine. Let me describe the layout for you — the rooms and arrangement are real; who slept in which room is fiction in progress.

Main Floor

The main or ground floor has a dining room (where the Moate Quakers probably worshiped), a sitting room, and a kitchen. A small room off the kitchen is called the servants' quarters; the cook likely slept there. Although there might not have been the great differences in hierarchy among servants that we see in shows like Downton Abbey (set 200 years later), I don’t know if the cook would have shared the closet-sized space with the kitchen wench. The girl probably slept on the kitchen floor in front of the fire. The bottom of the two-story round tower (hidden by a tree on the left in this picture) served as a dairy or pantry, similar to a root cellar.

The First Floor

The first floor (second floor to Americans) has four bedrooms: one above the dining room to the west (the window on the right), one off the stairway, one at the end of the hall (window on the far left), and a round room at the top of the tower that can only be accessed through the other bedroom. (I wanted very badly for the heroine of the second book to live in the tower room, so I wrote the story that way.)

17th-century bedroom exhibit - National Museum of Ireland
My novel sets John Clibborn and his wife in the west room. I imagine their bedroom as something like this 17th-century exhibit at the National Museum of Ireland, with the addition of curtains on the bed and a rug or two. (Do I see stacks of rushes on the floor? I think not!)

For the first book, the bedroom at the end of the hall is the nursery and the tower room is for the older girls. In the second book, all the girls live in these two rooms.

The Clibborns had such a reputation for hospitality that I made the room off the stairs a guest room. In the real life, however, guests may have bunked in rooms with the family.

Guests aren't the only ones who slept with family. In poorer households, according to MacLysaght, family and guests slept together on the floor. In wealthier households, according to Pepys' Diary, the chamber maid slept in the bedroom with her master and mistress. That gives new meaning to one of Pepys' diary entries (I can’t find the exact quote): The wench up early. Dallied in bed with the wife a while. That concept of no privacy is so alien to our culture! At least they had curtains on the bed.

The Top Floor

The second floor (or third) has the same pattern, except without the tower. So that's three bedrooms on the top floor. While it was common for siblings to share rooms, the older children must have been separated by sex. So I imagine the boys on the top floor, with their youthful energy to take them up and down that extra flight of stairs. Perhaps the steward had to share a bedroom with the footmen, unless the junior servants slept on the floor in the boys' rooms.

Settle bed
Servants' beds (or children's) could be pulled out from under the main bed. Another hideaway sleeping spot was the settle bed, which served as sofa-bench during the day and folded out into a mattress-holding frame at night. For this novel, I put a settle bed in the Englishes' cottage instead of the Castle.

So the house servants were scattered throughout the house, not in some separate wing. I presume field hands slept in their own cottages each night. But what about the permanent outdoor servants?

Remember the bawn, the walled courtyard on the east side of the Castle?  I forgot about the house-sized room at the far end from the kitchen door. It’s substantial (the current owner of the Castle uses it as her shop. Vague memory tells me the inside of the bawn is like a stable, but the large room could house several servants, including the gardener and the stable hands.

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