From St Helena to Kimberley Hall (1950s/60s)

Location : Norfolk, St Helena

Heather Massey came to the UK from St. Helena and worked as a maid at Kimberley Hall in Wymondham. She married and stayed in Norfolk where she still lives. 

 Arriving at Kimberley Hall

I come from St. Helena, we had a wonderful upbringing and we all used to help on the farm. We came from a big family and we all helped with everything. Papa would only let me do certain jobs on the Island, so we went down into town and booked to come over to England. I was lucky there were two of us to go together, that’s the reason papa let us come over. If not he wouldn’t have let us come. That was in November when we came to England. We were 17 years old and that’s the first time we ever left the island; we were 15 days on the ship.

 

The St Helena (supplied)

Lady Kimberley sent someone to meet us off the ship, and then they put us on a train from Liverpool Street Station to Norwich. She told us that when we get there we have to ring the number for Kimberley Hall for someone to come pick us up. But we didn’t know where to go for a phone or anything, anyway the guard on the train wanted to know where we wanted to go, and we said Wymondham. And he said no it’s Wyndum, because the people over here are lazy, so they say Wyndum. So we got in the train with him and we got into Wymondham, he got off the train with us and within the office we saw people waiting there, and they were from Kimberley Hall to pick us up. They came to pick us up, and we thought it was dark, and we thought we were going around for miles and miles, which we weren’t.

Anyway, we got to the Hall and we rung the doorbell where the back door was but no-one was there. So we went to the front door and Lady Kimberley came to the door. The first thing she said was ‘no, you’re not my girls.’ And I thought, now what are we going to do. So we showed her our passports and oh, she was so pleased, because we were white, she thought we were going to be the coloured people. So she said she was going to get in touch with her friends down in London and tell them that she’s got two white girls working for her. Then it was a couple of days later, they had the heating on for days because we were unused to cold weather, and then she took us to Norwich to Bonds and bought our uniforms.

During the day we wore blue with a white apron, and in the evening we wore black. I did the cleaning; Gwen (my sister) was in the dining room. Lady Kimberley had two young kids, and they were following me around all the time. She called me in and I thought I was going to get told off about something, but she wanted me to work in the nursery, which I did. They had a nanny but I worked up there with them in the day, and in the evening I would help Gwen in the dining room, because that’s what she was doing. But they were wonderful people to us, absolutely wonderful, we couldn’t wish for better people. And all the other people who worked up there with us just made us feel so, so welcome. We felt homesick of course, but it was so lovely how they looked after us up there. You wouldn’t think we were the maids really, it was really lovely, and we got up to bits of things we shouldn’t have done.

Kimberley Hall (Kimberley Hall website)

Working at Kimberley Hall

I can remember some of the names of the staff, Pearly Watson, Mrs Head, Mrs Mann, Arthur the chauffer man, the chef. It was a big staff, there were loads coming in everyday. It was the nanny, me, Gwen, and the chef, that lived in. And then one time they had a German couple up there, and they were supposed to be the cooks, but they got rid of them because they weren’t very nice people.

We got paid around twenty pound a month, it wasn’t a lot. But we didn’t have to spend it on nothin’. My role with looking after the children was helping to bathe them and get their meals ready for them, and sometimes go for walks with the nanny with them. And cleaning the nursery up, that was my job. And we didn’t have any washing to do really because everything went to the laundrette. Little Pearly Watson used to do all the small bits and that but we never had to do washing. So we had an easy life up there really. They weren’t babies then, and they were good kids.

I didn’t have to do anything in the evening, because once the kiddies got to bed there was nothing for me to do. So if they had a party, they sometimes had 30, 40 people, then I would help Gwen take the food in. Gwen only had to do the glasses and the silverware, all the rest went into the kitchen for all the others to do. And we also had Roger Moore, the actor, came up there and he used to come help me and Gwen wash up and everything. And he showed us all the cuttings of the films he made, like ‘Reach for the Sky’.

I always remember one evening, they had about 30, 40 people, and all of a sudden there was an almighty thunderstorm, and we’d never had a thunderstorm before. So Lord Kimberley drawn all the curtains, then after we finished all our work we came upstairs, and he came up to make sure we were alright. And when he came up we weren’t in our bedroom, all three of us were in the nanny’s bedroom. He sat with us until the storm was over. And that’s the sort of person they were. He really was a kind man. And she used to love her garden. She was a hard working lady herself, because apparently before she married Lord Kimberley she had lived in Ipswich and had been married to a rich farmer. She wasn’t a Lady until she had married Lord Kimberley. But we didn’t meet any of his other children that he had.

Getting into things we shouldn’t have

We used to go for walks in the afternoon when we thought that Lord and Lady Kimberley had gone out, and we would have to come back and put these big logs on the fire in the lounge where there was a settee with a really high back. I went in the front and picked up this box of chocolates and I said to Gwen ’you have to try one of these.’ When I turned around, Lord Kimberley was lying on the settee. So I said to him, ‘would you like one, my Lord?’ so he said ’no my dear, but you help yourselves’.

Another time, he was going shooting so I had to wake him up in the morning. He was in the dressing room, and as you go through the room his bed was on the side. So I went in and he was asleep so I said ‘morning my Lord’ but no answer, so I shut the door a bit louder but no answer, so I bent over and he woke up, which made me jump. The he said to me ‘could you run my bathwater for me?’ so I said yes and went in the other room. I went in there and used the toilet, then got up and ran his water and made sure that was alright. When I came out I didn’t realise that it mirrored showed the whole lot. So when I went downstairs, and told all the staff about it, and I remember there was a handyman, and he said ‘well no wonder he had a grin on his face, because he could see everything you was doing’.

Being situated in Wymondham we were quite close to Newmarket racecourse, and there was so many people, I can’t really remember all their names. I remember one bloke who had a wooden leg. I remember the tips we used to get from him, we used to love him coming up there. Usually we used to get tips and everyone would share them, but he used to give me and Gwen an envelope with ours in it separately so we didn’t have to share it with the others. And he was going blind, and so when we would go around with the meals and Gwen would go around with the meats, I would follow with the potatoes or whatever, and on this particular evening he missed the plate. Gwen happened to look back at me and we had the giggles, and we couldn’t stop it. She didn’t tell us off or nothing but we just couldn’t stop it, if Gwen hadn’t looked back at me we would’ve been alright.

Days off in Norwich

But as I said, they were wonderful to us. We didn’t know our way around and she used to get Arthur, the chauffer handyman, to take us around and show us different places so we got to know where we were. One morning she said ’oh you girls, I’ve just got some tickets for you to see High Society the film.’ She got some tickets for us, so the next evening Arthur took us up into Norwich. We saw the film and then he picked us up, and it was just so wonderful to be out there with them. They were really lovely, and we had the same food as them, but we had our own dining room.

We used to have Tuesdays off and we used to go to Norwich and meet Gwen’s friend, Minny, and Jarrold Nicholl and his wife, we used to go and have our hair done. We used to go down and have a meal with them. They used to absolutely spoil us, and one particular day one of the girls was on holiday so I had my hair done first, and then I said to Gwen I’ll walk up in the city and then I’ll meet you. So anyway, I thought I’d give her an hour and I looked out and I was running late. The shop was called Curls, it was Debenhams after. I was in there and it was ever such a hot day, and I thought, oh no, I’m late meeting Gwen. So I ran out and I bash myself into the only door that was shut and knock myself out. And my glasses were bent and when I come round I was upstairs on a couch, and they told me what happened. That was the only door that was shut and I happened to go through to it. I went down and we used to go see this chap who used to test our eyes. He used to call us little Miss St Helena, And I can just see him laughing his head off when I walk in with my glasses like that, a bruise on my head. I didn’t break them, I bent them, and he thought it was very funny.

Marrying local men

We were here for two years and then we went home. Then we came back and the Kimberley marriage was on the rocks really, so we paid ourselves over this time. We didn’t come over on a two-year contract we paid ourselves over so they wouldn’t split us up. But then Gwen met her Brian and I met my Brian and we left and got married. But as I said we couldn’t wish for better people to work for. We both married local men. I met Brian down in Wymondham. I forget where Gwen met her Brian. And I met Brian when we went to the cinema in Wymondham. That’s funny how we both met a Brian.

After finishing work at Kimberley Hall I later I worked up at Morley College for a little while, and then I got married, then I had four kids. After that, when they were old enough and all in school, I worked in Woolworths in Wymondham. And then from there I worked at the Mace shop at the bottom of town for Mr Corston, then I worked at the Windmill pub just at the bottom of the road there. I gave up that and travelled about with my second husband Les.

Later contact with Kimberley Hall

When we left, the Kimberley children weren’t at school age, I think they must’ve been about three and five. I’ve never seen them again. We met Lady Kimberley’s children that she had not with Lord Kimberley, but they were grown up. And then there was the gardener, oh he was lovely, the gardener we had up there, he lived just down over the bridge.

We didn’t see them much after that because Lady Kimberley moved to Ireland and I don’t know where Lord Kimberley went to. But I’ve been up there once, and that was years ago. I went up to gather strawberries, and we met the other people who were there. She did ask me to come back and have tea one afternoon because I told them I used to work up there.

The strongest memory I have at Kimberley Hall is how we were treated, and all the other staff up there that we had become friends with. We used to go around Sunday afternoon at Mrs Head’s for tea and that. We had friends, but we lost touch with them afterwards. But then we got in touch with Mrs Head’s daughter Anne, which Gwen sees more often than I do, she lives in Norwich. We still have some contact with those days, but like Pearly Watson and all them, they got married and moved away, and we lost touch with them. We were treated so well up there, I mean Gwen had the key to the cupboards for everything and we more or less had the run of the place. When they first had television they said we could come down and watch television with them, and things like that.

We had a very eventful and enjoyable time during our years at Kimberley Hall. The first year we were over here they even let us go to London to Gwen’s Kent friend for Christmas.

Heather Massey talking to WISEArchive on 10th April 2018 in Wymondham.


Heather is on the right of the picture, with her sister Gwen Browne. Gwen’s story
Crossing the ocean to Norfolk is also on the website.

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