Sunday, 11 October 2020

Belle Isle: I

Ross arms

By the 1950s, the Belle Isle Castle household had abandoned the elegant Georgian bay-windowed formal dining-room, except for special occasions.

Dinner was taken in the original old kitchen, which was part of a suite of sculleries, pantries and store rooms on the west side of the castle, whose windows looked out onto the road to the West Island. 

The repast was still conducted in some style: A huge, white damask tablecloth was spread on one of the wooden kitchen tables; and this was laid with the Belle Isle silver, beautiful salts, Georgian cutlery and antique silver napkin rings.

Mr Henry Porter sat at one end of the table; and, on most evenings, Mr Dick Hermon, of Necarne Castle, sat at the other.

Mrs Mary Brunt and her daughters Vida Leigh and Hilda Brunt (Tiggy) sat at the sides of the table, as did any guests (Mr Hermon often stayed at Belle Isle: he had his own room, the blue dressing room, and he had been married to Mr Porter’s sister.

Miss Tiggy would have been be in charge of ‘service’ and was assisted by the Belle Isle cook, Miss Ellen McDougal (of whom more another time); and often my mother, Pearl Brown, helped as well.

On one occasion my sister Audrey, who was about four, and myself, aged nine, were sitting near the Aga watching.

Seen, but not heard!

Miss McDougal was the most wonderful cook: she could produce anything.

However, on the occasion in question, the main course was roast swan – don’t know where it came from or the legalities of it!

Notwithstanding Miss McDougal's skills, the ‘old bird’ was very tough: Mr Hermon chewed manfully but dislodged a tooth in the attempt!

Out came the meat and the tooth. 

Audrey and I got fits of the giggles, which was unfortunate because, while the household generally were very fond of us, Mr Hermon was not. 

He did not take to children.

Our mother had to remove us speedily!

This was one of my father Esmond’s favourite stories.

He was an excellent mimic, and Mr Hermon’s predicament was recounted many times.

Miss Lavinia Baird moved the kitchens to what had been the Servants Hall in the 1970s (now Hamilton wing?); and I understand that the kitchen has been moved again, into what was the old Housekeeper's Room in the main body of the castle. 

The photograph shows Mrs Brunt; her daughter, Mrs Vida Leigh; and Julian as an infant on the steps of the french windows into the Drawing Room at Belle Isle Castle in 1949.
First published in February, 2012.    Ross arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

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