My first memories of Miss Josephine Gilstrap were when I was six years old. That particular morning Miss Gilstrap arrived in her chauffeur driven Daimler, I think she was asking or telling my mother to put us four children in a home as my father had left my mother. I can well remember standing on the left hand side of the fireplace and my sister aged seven years, one year older than me, crying terrible, and me crying too. Whatever Miss Gilstrap said to my mother that day I really do not know, but I do know my mother was adamant about keeping us and she did.
Our lives revolved around Miss Gilstrap, her sister Lady Manners had no part in the running of their property, and Miss Gilstrap was the boss. Actually without her I suppose our lives would have been far different, she kept us going with Virol, Cod Liver Oil and Malt, Ovaltine, Horlicks and Calfs Foot Jelly. For my mother she also gave half a shoulder of lamb every weekend. Our rent was 1/6d, (old money) which she did not take. It was a one-bedroom cottage, no gas or electricity in those days, we had water from the pump and the bucket toilet was down the garden.
I have this strange story about Miss Gilstrap, but I felt you should understand the sort of person she was. My mother was always grateful to her for the help she gave us, I often think a nice bit of stewing steak would have been nicer than the Cod Liver Oil and Malt. Our lives were Miss Gilstrap's concern until I was 19 years old.
When I was 15, (in 1933) I went to work for Miss Gilstrap as a kitchen maid at Winthorpe House. Kitchen maid was the lowest position in the house; there was a haughty Lady's maid, two housemaids, the cook, chauffeur, two gardeners and the garden boy, and the farm adjoined the estate. I worked there for three years and it was a very happy household. Miss Gilstrap treated us all very well. The village was looked after well and in the church she had a Madonna and Child in gilt fixed at the right of the church where she and Lady Manners always sat. I remember it being blessed by Rev. Gillett, the rector at the time.
I was allowed to go to the village dances and the cook had to go with me as chaperone. The dances used to go on until 2am and we always stayed until the end. Miss Gilstrap always paid our entrance fee, which I suppose was about 6d.
I think everyone in the village benefited from Miss Gilstrap. She was generous to everyone. When a pig was killed it was a busy time and I was always given the job of taking the pigs fry to the Alms Houses on Chapel Lane. I enjoyed doing it.
She gave all the staff a length of material for Christmas. I can never remember us having a Christmas party for the staff. I think about twice a year she had a dance for the young people for her relations and friends, and one could look down from the top of the house to the hall below. I was allowed to watch them, which to me was out of this world.
Although I lived in Winthorpe House for three years the only room I saw above the stairs was the billiard room which was very large, and where Miss Gilstrap and Lady Manners always sat by the coal fire. (no central heating then) They were both quite small ladies and never looked warm and comfortable. I don't suppose I saw Miss Gilstrap above six times during the whole time I worked there. My wage was 7/6d a week, which the cook had to ask for once a month. The rest of the staff was paid once a quarter. I still have the prayer book signed by Miss Gilstrap when I was confirmed. Villagers always said that Lady Manners married for the title (or was persuaded to) and the story went around that she paid Lord Manners to keep away from her. I do not know the truth of her marriage; she seemed such a timid tiny woman.
Miss Gilstrap still wanted to organise my life when I was 18, (1936) but by this time I had to go home to live (thankfully) because my poor mother had to looked after.
Before I finish off this story, I must tell you about the basement kitchen, the floors were Minton tiled red with blue and cream borders. We had big iron saucepans for the staff food. Miss Gilstrap and Lady Manners had their food cooked in copper pans, which I used to clean with white and grey sand with vinegar added. The only meal they ever ate naturally was their Sunday lunch, all the other meat and vegetables were put through wire sieves. It was really hard work and every meal the potatoes were cooked differently; from crisps to mashed, to jacket potatoes with fillings. I learnt everything about cooking; I could pluck a stag in twenty minutes. I had to pluck and clean pheasants full of maggots. I will just say that since time I have never made cooking a hobby. I had enough of it.
No laundry was ever done in this house. I presume Miss Gilstrap and Lady Manners must have been in their 60's when I worked for them. They all went abroad February to March and we did the spring-cleaning during their absence. I do not know where they are buried; I cannot find their graves at Winthorpe churchyard.
Mrs. Mabel Barber. March 1993.
Courtesy of Newark Library. August 2007.
The Madonna and the Child statue was erected in 1930 by the family of Mrs Kate Maria Rippingale in her memory and not by Miss Gilstrap.
More on the Gilstrap Family of Winthorpe House
Josephine Elizabeth Gilstrap and her younger sister Anna Sophia were born in Newark in 1859 and 1862 respectively. Whilst Josephine remained a spinster and a companion to her widowed mother Jane Catherine Gilstrap (nee Fothergill), her sister was busy becoming a member of the aristocracy.
In London, 1884, Anna Sophia Gilstrap married George Espec John Manners of Fornham Park, Suffolk, the son of George John Manners and Adeliza Matilda Fitzalan-Howard. He was the grandson of John Henry Manners and Lady Elizabeth Howard, 5th Duke and Duchess of Rutland, and of Henry Charles Howard and Charlotte Sophia Levenson-Gower, 13th Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. The royal connections of the Dukes of Rutland and Norfolk are many and interesting, and I shall resist the temptation to go into them here!
As a little aside though, George's first middle name was a nod to Walter Espec, possibly the earliest owner of Helmsley Castle in Yorkshire, and a supporter of King Henry I and King Stephen. On Espec's death in 1154, the castle passed to his brother-in-law Peter de Roos, in whose family the castle remained almost continuously until the 16th century. In 1508, Sir George Manners of Etal, Northumberland, a nephew of the de Roos family, inherited the castle, and it stayed in the Manners family, the Dukes of Rutland, until the Civil War.
Returning to the 19th century, where, in 1891, George and Anna Manners were living in Chelsea, London. At the time, George was the private secretary of a cabinet minister, but by 1901 he was a magistrate and living at his family seat, Fornham Park, still with his wife Anna. They had no children, and the rumour that they may have led separate lives seems quite likely, given that Fornham must have been a large house, staffed by 13 servants.
George Espec John Manners died in Woodbridge, Suffolk in 1939, possibly at Little Haddon Hall, by which time Anna had been living at Winthorpe House with her sister Josephine for many years. Anna Sophia Manners died in 1940, and is buried next to Josephine in Winthorpe churchyard. Their gravestones and that of their mother can be found to the north of the church, not far from the vestry door.
Gravestones. Left to Right - Josephine Elizabeth Gilstrap. Anna Sophia Manners.
Christine Hasman. April 2008.
Further reading can be found in
The Village and its Houses in Volume 1.
Memories of Mrs. Mabel Barber (nee Osborne) in Volume 4.
Bleach Houses in Volume 4.