For many years the halls and corridors of West Horsley Place played host to a daily hive of activity, during which the wants and needs of its residents were satisfied by the house’s many staff. Today we are a small team and sadly employ no cooks, however the busy comings and goings of centuries of domestic servants have left their impression upon the house.

The east wing of the manor house is dedicated heavily to the accommodation and roles of the servants, and contains the important kitchen corridor. It begins close to the front door and exits through the east range, taking visitors half of the width of the building. Along it are the numerous spaces in which those employed below stairs would carry out their work. Worn flagstones, tiles and brick flooring along the kitchen corridor are a testament to thousands of steps spent carrying, fetching preparing. This corridor is the heart of service life at West Horsley Place. Travelling through it from the entrance hall, servants would pass the small hall in which they ate their meals and found some rest between activities. Beside the hall is the butler’s room, allocated to the overseer of the employees of the house. This room faces south into the large carriage sweep, so an attentive butler would always be aware of the arrival of his employer or their visitors. Opposite these rooms is the pantry. With its thick exterior wall and large, recessed arches, it is well designed for the cool storage of perishable goods.

Continuing east towards the old kitchen one finds the electric bell system, an ingenious means by which the occupying family could call servants to them. Country houses such as West Horsley Place are often designed to keep servants out of the way, and therefore out of sight. Because of this it must have been difficult for the owners of these properties to get the attention of their staff. A successor to the sprung bell system, the electric bells at West Horsley Place are of a type that first became seen in English country houses in the 1860s. These bells were sounded using switches in the family’s rooms and guest rooms, and were interpreted using the indicator board. A polished wooden frame surrounds a glass panel, upon which the names of rooms are laid out with corresponding apertures. The board was designed to move a coloured disc at the sounding of the bell, signifying where servants were required. It is also at this point in the corridor that the historic wood and bakelite telephone can be seen still attached to the wall.

At the far eastern end of this corridor one finds themselves in the kitchen lobby. From this room the scullery, old kitchen and a small storeroom can be found. A door on the north wall leads to a small room from which stretches the servants’ passage, a single storey brick structure that winds around the lilypond garden to the west range, a distance of approximately fifty metres. This passage connected the old kitchen to what was once the dining room (now the library) on the west side of the house. The passage has very thin walls and would have been bitterly cold in the winter; servants would need to be quick to avoid serving cold food. It is also from the room leading to the servants’ passage that the stairs to the first floor servants’ rooms are accessed, demonstrating the close proximity of the servants to their work at all times of the day.

The old kitchen and its adjoining lobby are large, impressive rooms despite the deterioration that they have suffered. The kitchen itself, having once been double-height before the creation of new servants’ accommodation on the first floor, its home to a large and beautiful leaded casement window, likely of Tudor origin. Through this window to the east the small, low building of the game larder can be seen. This room has no windows on the south side, and is well ventilated with metal grates in the brickwork to reduce the likelihood of mould forming on the meat stored here. The kitchen is filled on the north side with sturdy wooden cabinets, and the centre of the room is dominated by a massive wooden Victorian table. It is not possible to guess how many meals were prepared on this table, or how many hours were spent chopping, peeling and kneading. Despite the toil, nicked fingertips and sore arms, it is lovely thought that this table was likely the source of much joy throughout its life. The numerous cooking implements that would once have occupied this space have likely been whittled down over many years as the occupancy of the house diminished. Though we no longer have in our collection the range that once stood within the large fireplace, one can imagine it was an impressive affair. Copperware has been sold off, and only some of what was likely once an impressive collection of dinner service remains.

An interesting item that has fortunately remained in the house is the device designed to clean and sharpen the knives used in the kitchen. It stands approximately four feet high on elegant iron legs, and upon these is a mechanism that appears almost clockwork in origin. A circular wooden barrel, it features a large handle at its front and seven pairs of rounded wooden jaws at intervals around its rim. Smaller, tabletop examples of this device can be seen in other country houses but this is certainly among the larger examples. The knife cleaner was designed and manufactured by Kent’s, a company established by George Kent in 1806. The enamel plaque on the front of the device cites a 1903 patent, providing us with a useful date after which it must have been manufactured.

Peering inside the openings beneath the sets of wooden jaws, one can observe the turning of tooth-like protrusions. These are central to the device’s operation. After use, dirty knives would be inserted between the jaws into the openings where they would be held tight. The user would pour in a powder designed by Kent to aid in cleaning, and rotate the handle. The protrusions inside the machine are alternating rows of bristles and tough leather, and as the internal wheel rotates they scrape knives clean from any stubborn food and stains. Kent’s powder added a shine to the steel as it gently polished it clean. The instructions still attached to the machine are very specific about its correct use, including statements that ‘The carver must be cleaned by itself,’ and ‘Small knives must not be cleaned with large ones.’ It certainly seems a temperamental machine, so much so that the angle of the knife is crucial. With an accompanying diagram of a crookedly placed knife, the instructions simply state ‘NEVER LIKE THIS AT ANY TIME.’ The kitchens of England and its colonies clearly embraced the invention however, as by the end of the 19th century Kent’s had sold over 100,000 machines. A second enamel plaque on the machine’s wooden barrel states ‘TIME & LABOR SAVED’ (sic), a good ambition for any new invention.