Heritage Volunteer Guide, Maureen Lavelle, shares her memories of Croxteth Hall and how she was inspired to write about the Chef to the last Earl of Sefton…
When I became a Heritage Volunteer at Croxteth Hall, I never realised how many friends I would make and how many interesting people I would meet. Dressed in my black and white Victorian housemaid’s outfit complete with starched apron and mop cap, I followed the senior guide around the Hall. I was impressed by their shared knowledge. I listened to the other volunteer guides talking to visitors and telling them of the Molyneux family, Earls of Sefton who had lived at the Hall, and I wanted to learn more.
I came to know why they loved the house and surrounding estate. I was particularly drawn to the one interesting volunteer who was always ‘below stairs’ in the kitchen. Most guides seemed to prefer the grandeur of ‘upstairs’. She was the granddaughter of Chef Cabuzet for whom the kitchens had been built in the 1870s. We spent many hours discussing his life there and researching life in the kitchens during his time.
One of the regular welcome visitors was the retired Chef to the last Earl. His name was Raymond Lempereur; he and his wife still lived on site as did a few other retired members of staff, and his flat was above the stables. I was lucky enough to be invited many times for some delicious food. It’s not everyone who can say they have been served and fed by the chef to an Earl!
Along with his wife, Raymond would often talk of his life since arriving at the Hall, and of the visitors he cooked for. This was a story that needed to be told. It led me to research and write Avignon to Croxteth (pictured right) telling the story of his early life helping the resistance in France during WW2, then coming to England after the war and eventually Croxteth. Many of today’s visitors, after listening to my tales of how the kitchens worked in the past and then more recently, would often buy the book from the Gift Shop and return asking for their copy to be signed.
As a volunteer, it is always a privilege and pleasure to walk the beautiful corridors and rooms displayed as they may have looked at the turn of the 20th century, and to share our knowledge with the many interested visitors. Below stairs is very different. Servant areas in Victorian country houses did not have heating. Although cool in summer, without cookers and staff to heat them, we soon found thermals a great help in winter.
Sometimes the volunteers bring the kitchens to life and open them during school holidays to visiting children (and many adults!) to learn how to make chocolate truffles under the guidance of ‘Cook’. These are then carried off home, complete with recipe in a tightly clutched paper bag. Our ‘Butler’ and ‘Footman’ show children how to fold napkins ready for the ‘upstairs’ dining room table and the ‘Governess’ often instructs small hands how to make peg dolls or write their letters.
The Heritage Volunteers have made small ‘housemaid’ and ‘outdoor worker’ outfits for children to try on. Photos can be taken then later be displayed when returning to school, showing teachers and classmates “What I did in the holidays”.
There was an Education Service at Croxteth ran by Rangers who arranged many school visits when we would help to bring the house to life. The ‘Housekeeper’ – in her black outfit complete with a large bunch of keys – could explain the running of the house. The ‘Footman’ or ‘Butler’ would explain the duties of the wine cellar. Due to recent changes, school visits are now self-guided by accompanying teachers.
The duties of a volunteer are many or few depending on time and abilities. New and interested guides usually have a trial season to see if they enjoy it and if they can be fit in as they learn and absorb the history and way of life of a volunteer but be warned – Croxteth can become a fascinating obsession!
Left to right: A past Victorian Christmas image, in which Heritage Volunteers can be seen posing as ‘butler’, ‘maids’ and ‘guests’; Maureen and a couple of assisting maids take time from kitchen duty to pose for a photo; Two little helper maids assist behind the scenes in the kitchen (a familiar sight at Croxteth); Heritage Volunteers pose for a photo outside Croxteth Hall’s main entrance; Heritage Volunteers and former Rangers (including ‘maids’, ‘butlers’ and ‘footmen’) gather for a group photo during yet another Victorian Christmas held at the Hall.
Please click on the below images to enlarge and scroll across.
Avignon to Croxteth by Maureen Lavelle was published in 2004, courtesy of Countyvise. The book proved to be a popular seller in Croxteth Hall and Country Park’s old Gift Shop – so much so, that it completely sold out! Sadly, the book is out of print at the moment and book publisher, Countyvise, has since dissolved.
We have also included a few old articles on Raymond Lempereur and a review of Avignon to Croxteth – for any readers keen on learning more about this man and his remarkable story.
Please see below recommended articles below:
- ‘The Story of Raymond Lempereur’ – www.thisfrenchlife.com/thisfrenchlife/2004/12/a_french_tale_t.html
- ‘The French connection; Paddy Shennan on Anglo-French relations at stately Croxteth Hall’ – www.thefreelibrary.com/The+French+connection%3B+Paddy+Shennan+on+Anglo-French+relations+at…-a0114690120
- Review by ‘Coffee & Books’: Avignon to Croxteth – www.coffeeandbooks.co.uk/avignon-to-croxteth-by-maureen-lavelle
This blog forms part of the ‘Memories of a Heritage Guide’ blog series. Maureen’s fellow Heritage Volunteer Guide, Joan Darwent, reflects on her time helping out at Croxteth Hall here: www.croxteth-hall.co.uk/memories-of-a-heritage-guide-by-joan-darwent.
Find out more about Croxteth Hall Heritage Volunteers and other volunteer groups via this page.