Staff Recollections in the Time of Bishop Wynne Willson

16th January - 15th February

Staff recollections in the time of Bishop Wynne Willson (1921-1937)

The Palace archives tell of a time when bishop’s households were sometimes quite substantial. Bishop Wynne Willson did not have any children but did, from time to time, house ordinands for 2 weeks before their ordination; they stayed in the rooms above the long gallery. He would also have given hospitality to visiting clergymen and others.

As in other great houses of the time, there was at the Palace a butler’s pantry, a still room, staff dining room, kitchen with a large range -with two ovens and large dressers, a dumb waiter to take food upstairs to the dining room, and bedrooms for the staff.  The present drawing room in the Jocelin block was the Bishop’s study, the Long Gallery served as the Drawing room. The Panelled room served as the Dining room.

The recollections tell of the staff at the time: a cook, a butler (who also acted as the Bishop’s valet), an under butler, a chambermaid/parlourmaid, a ladies maid, chauffeur and under chauffeur, and, of course, 6 gardeners.

An account in the Palace archives tells of Dorothy Day, who started as chambermaid and was promoted to parlour maid which involved her being responsible for the reception rooms and waiting at table. Her wages were £24 per annum.

Dorothy’s work started at 6.00am and cleaning had to be completed by 8.30am, ready for breakfast and service in the chapel which the staff attended; they needed to change their collars for clean ones and apparently Mrs Wynne Willson was very strict about this! At 7.00 am Dorothy Day took a tea tray to Mrs Wynne Willson, lit the bedroom fire, brought hot water, towels etc for the washstand. The butler did the same for the Bishop. At 4.00pm a bell was rung to call in the garden staff for tea.

Image of Palace Staff at the moat door

Peter Courage (son of the butler to the Wynne Willsons), had the job of riding his tricycle every day from the kitchens to the Gatehouse, with scraps left over from the household for feeding the swans. A pole was kept especially to fish him out the moat when he fell in – a regular occurrence! 

The staff recalled that the bishop had 3 cars, and that the chauffer’s uniform was maroon cap and overcoat and a grey suit. Staff were allowed to entertain their friends in the Palace twice during the summer months when the bishop was away fishing in Scotland. During the summer months staff also showed visitors round the gardens.

The nephew of Bishop Wynne Willson recollects that staff were encouraged to play sport - croquet on the lawn in front of the Palace and a ‘sort of free-for-all’ golf in and out of the ruins of the Great Hall! The bishop liked to play golf and apparently played every afternoon with the butler or under chauffeur Staff had use of the car when Bishop and wife were away and the under chauffeur would drive them out into the countryside to  pick blackberries for the cook to make into jam. A free half day was every 2 weeks and staff had to be back in the Palace by 10.00pm which meant that if they went to the cinema, they always had to leave before the end!

 Source: Bishop’s Palace Archives. Photo Copyright: Wells and Mendip Museum.

With thanks to Palace volunteer Rosemary Cooke for compiling these accounts.