Modern visitors to Apsley House often ask about Wellington’s domestic arrangements. Where did the servants live? How many servants did the Duke have? How much did Wellington pay his servants? How did they get the food from the kitchen to the first floor for all those wonderful banquets?
These are all good questions and the fact is that until recently not a great deal of work had been done on the subject. Mostly because sources are scant and amongst the tales of the Duke’s heroic victories and the splendour of his dazzling interiors and important art collection, interest in the domestic side of Apsley House has been neglected.
When Wellington bought the house in 1817 it was a rather plain, square red-bricked house designed by Robert Adam in the 1770s.
Here we can see a picture of the original house in the 1770s on a dessert plate from the Saxon Service at Apsley House.
Serving the Duke
In its heyday the house had 25 servants. Of those, we know that 22 lived in and their accommodation would have been in the 3rd floor attics and in the basement.
The notable exception is Louis Auvrey, the Chef, who was probably French, and who did not live in. He was paid more than the long- serving Butler, Christopher Collins, which illustrates the value of a French chef in the early 19th century.
In 1853 the list of servants shows that the upper servants, the Butler, Housekeeper, Head Coachman and Valet, had all been in service for over 25 years in the Duke’s household. Matilda Cross, the Housekeeper had worked for the Duke for 35 years, the longest serving member of staff.
James Morris, the Porter at Apsley House, was a Waterloo Veteran who worked for Wellington from 1831. On the 1851 census he is recorded as ‘Porter and Chelsea Pensioner’. A Chelsea Pensioner was an old or disabled soldier who lived at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Morris had his own room on the ground floor (now an office) and his large Porter’s chair can still be seen in the entrance hall.
When Wellington died in 1852 a very helpful list was made of his domestic staff which gave us not just names but ages, how long they have been working at Apsley House and their wages. Below is a transcript of the original document.
|Length of service
|John A Mears
|Housekeeper with the late Duchess
|Assistant Cook at Stratfield Saye
|Assistant Cook at Stratfield Saye
|Hannah Baker ?Barber
|Charles Cooper 25s/- per week
|Joseph Alsop 15s/- per week
|Helper in stables
Servants were meant to be invisible, but through letters and other documents we can start to build a picture of their lives. Wellington had many long serving members of staff like James Kendall, Valet, William Heath, Head Coachman, and Christopher Collins, Butler, who were well paid and who received generous allowances.
William Heath, the Head Coachman and his staff of Grooms were supplied with their livery from shops such as Francis W Woodfall, a tailors at 10 Waterloo Place, Pall Mall. Each outfit consisted of a pair of drab (dull light brown) cord riding breeches, frocked jackets, overalls and greatcoats with velvet collars. In 1844, seven such outfits were purchased for a total sum of £132. 7s. 0d. The Coachman and Footmen were also supplied with hats, cockades, gold braid and deerskin gloves from Moore, Bicknell’s and Moore on Old Bond Street, the same shop which supplied the Royal Family.
The servant’s boots were ordered from Northampton, historically an important centre of shoe production. In 1844, there are two orders for boots in January and July, and the Duke spent £25. 4d. The Head Coachman, William Heath, received two pairs of boots in the same year.
The painting below shows John Mears, Wellington’s Groom, dressed in his chocolate coloured coat with a velvet collar and drab coloured trousers as itemised in the clothes bills from the tailors Francis W Woodford. Mears is the only Apsley House servant depicted in a painting or print.
In his military life Wellington was renowned for his administrative flair and his eye for detail. These skills were put to good use in household management. However, it was the 1st Duchess of Wellington’s task to run the household but the Duke seems have a taken a very active role. His instructions on when and how the servants should dine show just how involved he was.
In order to keep regularity in the family it must be settled at an early period that the Servants Hall have their meals at stated times. The Lower Servants to breakfast at 9 dine at two; sup at 8.
They must be allowed ¾ of an hour for breakfast & supper & one hour for dinner. There must be no eating or drinking at other hours. Each of the lower Servants to have a pint of Ale at dinner & the same at Supper & at each & at breakfast as much Small beer as he or she can drink during the time of the meal.
The Upper Servants to have tea for breakfast; a quart of Ale at dinner & quart at Supper with as much Small beer as they can drink.
It is very desirable to keep the consumption of the House at 1 ½ Pound of Meat for each Person. Meat in the Country being 10shillings a pound
The servants at Apsley House were attended at home by an apothecary. In a household account for May 1845 there are 19 occasions on which he visited, charging 5 shillings a time, and one night visit at 15 shillings. It is unclear whether all these visits were made in one month. The servants are treated with pills and ‘mixtures’ and leeches. The Housekeeper, Mrs Cross, is recorded as receiving treatment with six leeches for which Wellington is charged 4 shillings and sixpence.
James Thornton, Cook
James Thornton was Wellington’s Cook, and later Steward, from 1811 to 1820. He first joined Wellington on campaign in Portugal at his winter headquarters in Freineda during the Peninsular Wars (1807-1814) which took place in Spain and Portugal against Napoleon’s army led by his brother, Joseph Bonaparte.
Thornton had one ‘kitchen lad’ and a’ Portuguese scullery man’ to help him prepare meals. At winter headquarters life took on a routine as Thornton recalls ‘ breakfast at 9 to 10 o’ Clock, and the dinner at 6. No regular lunches’.
Once on campaign Thornton could travel 20 miles a day with all his kitchen equipment carried on mules. He had folded ‘board tables with hinges and the kitchen furniture was packed in boxes on the back of the mules’.
What did Wellington eat on campaign? Thornton’s memoir gives us little detail on the actual food that he cooked. He does record Wellington often going off for the day with a crust of bread and a couple of boiled eggs in his pocket.
Dining With the Duke
In Apsley House Wellington entertained on a grand scale and his banquets and music evenings were attended by members of the Royal Family and leading European personalities. George IV, William IV and finally then Prince Albert, all attended the Waterloo Banquets.
The Waterloo Banquet took place every year to commemorate the victory of the Battle of Waterloo, a glittering social occasion reported in great detail. In 1835 The Times describes the table set with the Prussian Service; the sideboard displaying the Waterloo Vase and Wellington Shield, and that ‘one of the servants stated that the plate was estimated at £300,000’.
There was one evening in April 1828 when there were 12 Dukes on the guest list. Such guests were of great interest to the press but so too was how the tables were laid and what they ate. The arrival of the Prussian Dinner Service in December 1819 was widely reported with the Morning Chronicle saying that it was ‘the finest service of china ever imported into the country’.
The Prussian Service is just one of six dinner services that were given to the Duke by the crowned heads of Europe after Waterloo that can be seen on display at Apsley House.