The Real Mrs Crocombe | Part Four: A Victorian Cook’s Outfit
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The Real Mrs Crocombe | Part Four: A Victorian Cook’s Outfit

I’m Dr Annie Gray, I’m a food historian but
I also worked here at Audley End for many years alongside the various Avis Crocombes.
I wore clothing just like that of Mrs Crocombe in the Victorian Way videos but that clothing
was in itself modelled on the very clothing that people at the time would have worn and
that’s what we’re going to look at today. Let’s start with the basics: underwear. The
first thing that Mrs Crocombe would have put on in the morning were her drawers and then
her stockings which were held up with garters. Elastic of course hadn’t yet been invented.
Then Mrs Crocombe would have put her boots on because it’s very very hard to put your
boots on after you’ve put your corset on, trust me! So here were have boots, and then
this which is called a chemise. It essentially is a sort of night shirt affair, made out
of linen which was very very absorbent so that all the sweats and all of the various
bodily fluids that were inevitably being pumped out in the heat of the kitchen would be absorbed
by the linen. It was washable, it would take a lot of hard punishment as well. Then on
top of the chemise, as you can see, Mrs Crocombe’s corset, the fundamental foundation garment
of the Victorian woman. The corset’s construction for Mrs Crocombe is fairly simple. If Mrs
Crocombe had been Lady Crocombe, or Lady Braybrooke for example, her corset would have changed
much much more throughout the decades of the Victorian era, following fashion. Those people
like Mrs Crocombe who were below stairs though tended not to shift their figure in line with
prevailing fashion quite so much. Down here at the front you have a thing called a busk
which tends to be of metal and is very very tough. This gives you this nice smooth figure
at the front, and then you’ve got whale bone all the way around the sides. You can buy
plastic substitutes for whale bone, and that’s what this one is constructed with. If we turn
it round briefly you can see the way it works. There is a set of laces up the back, these
stay laced all the time. And then at the front you’ve got these ties, these fasteners. The
big advantage of an arrangement like this is that a woman like Mrs Crocombe could have
done up her own corset. Naturally Mrs Crocombe didn’t have anyone to help her dress but she
could have got into this very quickly and easily by herself. Next up we need to add
some bulk. The Victorian figure in the 1880s was one which had quite a wide hemline, again
with working class women the basic figure didn’t change that much throughout a lot of
the Victorian period. Crinolines for example which came in for the upper classes in the
1850s which were big wire cages, were often forbidden for use in the kitchens. Mistresses
of grand houses didn’t want their cooks looking like they did. Some women wore many petticoats
perhaps starched or with lots of pleats. This is a very practical alternative. Our Mrs Crocombe
does have to operate in the modern world and get changed very quickly and do it all by
herself often under stressful circumstances, so this is the kind of permissible cheat which
women at the time possibly would have used and certainly is very very useful when you’re
interpreting history and food for the public. You’ll note that nearly everything ties up.
It’s a very practical solution. Buttons burst, hooks come undone, but a tie like that is
very very secure, will stay done up and is very easy to do up as well. And more importantly
perhaps, at the end of a 14 hour work day it’s very easy to just let it all drop to
the floor, spring open your corset and breathe a sigh of relief as you crawl into bed. Once
this very simple petticoat is on it’s time to put the outer layer on: the gown. In houses
like this there were not in the 1880s necessarily uniforms for staff apart from those that appeared
in front of guests: housemaids, butlers and livery for the footmen. Below stairs in areas
like this though where servants were not seen it was much more common to have something
like a print that perhaps the lady of the house would give to her servants at Christmas
as their Christmas gift to make into their gowns. We know that sometimes zones were colour-coded
as well. The reason for this was not just because it looked pretty, but also so that
the senior servants, the butler, the housekeeper or Mrs Crocombe the cook, could look out of
their window and immediately identify any member of staff who was where they shouldn’t
be. This gown does up with a mixture of the Victorian favourite, the hook and eye, and
buttons. Because Mrs Crocombe was the cook, and therefore of rather higher status than
her maids, it also has a level of detail that you might not find if you were to look at
the maids’ gowns. For example, she has this rather sweet lace collar which could be removed
and washed separately. Very very important to always think about the practicality of
washing. One of the biggest bugbears in women’s fashion today is that things don’t have pockets.
Well, Mrs Crocombe being a woman of some means has put a pocket in her dress. She might use
it for example to keep her spectacles in. Finally of course Mrs Crocombe always wears
a cap, as indeed did many other women. Certainly lower status women would always tie their
hair up. Her hair which would have been relatively long would have been centre-parted, taken
back behind her ears and then tied in a bun at the back of her head. That bun was very
important as it meant that the cap would stay on with judicious use of a hairpin. Once more,
the number of pleats on the cap reflects Mrs Crocombe’s status as the cook. If you were
to look at one of the lower maids, they probably wouldn’t have quite as many pleats, certainly
not as carefully sewn and not as well starched. The final thing Mrs Crocombe needs is something
all cooks keep in their belts at all times in the kitchen: a handy cloth, again made
of absorbent linen and again very washable. It’s absolutely vital in a 19th century kitchen
like this because these cloths not only act as general wiper-uppers and hand towels, but
also as oven gloves. It’s doubly vital when working as our Mrs Crocombe does in an environment
which is conserved like this. Spills of red wine on the floor or things that are inappropriate
on surfaces need to be wiped up as quickly as possible, so from a practical point of
view a cloth like this is vital because it means that smears of choc-ices on furniture
and cherries up the wall can be removed as soon as possible so that we can continue to
preserve this Victorian kitchen for future generations. Excellent. Mrs Crocombe is dressed
and ready to go!

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100 thoughts on “The Real Mrs Crocombe | Part Four: A Victorian Cook’s Outfit

  1. Mrs. Crocombe reminds me of a mother. Someone very hard working, even though they have a daunting job, they take a lot of pride in it. Mrs. Crocombe seemed so passionate through her line of work based off the written cook book made by her.

  2. ha, the linen cloth is just as important today. I use them for many things in my kitchen. The dress and all accessories? Not so much. Love the how modest they are, but it all seems like it would get so hot, especially cooking in the kitchen in the summer. Yikes.

  3. Vaso vagal syncope was very common in the era, corsets were the prime culprits of "swooning", or fainting so to speak.

  4. I absolutely love this channel. I'm enjoying every moment. Thanks for sharing. But of course I'm also a huge fan of almost all things British. The recipes are mouth watering.

  5. I didn't know what is the use of facing lots of difficulties in dressing.All the time you need comfort, not in night only

  6. I am from India and its really hot here… I'm currently wearing loose top and no bra, with night shorts… I can pretty much make enough clothes for 2 years with all that material that went into Mrs Crowcombes dress. Even in the older generations in India, women only wore few layers made of the same long piece of cloth called saree and men wore a shorter version of the same…. It's hard for me to imagine wearing this everyday.

  7. I absolutely love the outfit, Id love to wear something like this for a day to see how it feels like, but I think it was very dangerous for the Kitchen maids to wear such long skirts and tons of layers near the fire, imagine catching up on fire tryin to get out of the corset and everything, youd probably cook yourself lol, they hay to be very careful I guess.

  8. I love that they've created a character and then used her as a branching point to teach about all different aspects. It really brings it all to life.

  9. Please, for the love of God, get Mrs. Crocombe a different dress for her videos. Like, give the woman som variety. How much does it cost?? Do you accept donations somewhere??

  10. I used to work a lot of food service jobs and I always had a towel tucked into my apron string like that! When i switched to a different job that still required aprons but no towels, I felt naked without it.
    I've always been interested in domestic servants, could we have an episode on what the maids would wear? Its interesting how small changes in clothing could show your status in a house. We still have similar standards where upper management will have different colored uniform shirts compared to the rest of us on register. From all the jobs I've worked, it feels like customer service is a little similar to domesticated servants. It makes up a large section of the countries workforce and status is projected outwardly in most places. Of course, we have weekends while most domestic servants back then only had a single day off a month (from what I've heard)

  11. It's ironic that Afrikan woman have been told for centuries that our bodies were shameful, yet European women wore cages and petticoats to augment their bodies in a way that mimicked the curves of Afrikan women

  12. While I'm really enjoying this series, I am a bit disappointed that Mrs. Crocombe didn't walk and talk us through herself. It would have lovely to see her explain how she would have come by such a position, how she dressed herself, how she wore her hair and why, etc.

  13. "It's very, very hard to put your boots on after you've put your corset on." Oh, believe me, I know. It's also easier to polish your latex while wearing it. <3

  14. I wonder why the very rich of today don t keep or reestablish these cosy fruit n vegetable gardens with lots of trees, ,hedges, and ivy, too….gardens like this are so beautiful and relaxing!! Instead the ultrarich all have these boring empty designer artificial lawns on their estates mostly, no singing birds or bees, they re soooooo BORING, and ugly!…at least in Germany n USA they have these disgusting empty gardens. money can t buy class, style and elegance, I guess.

  15. Hello ! I'm french, and I don't cook, but I felt in love with English Heritage (thanks to Mrs Crocombe). I spent my weekend on your videos ! It's so interesting and charming ! I love it ! Thanks for this amazing channel ! Au revoir ! 😉

  16. My great-great-grandmother was cook in a large country house in County Armagh, and my great-great-grandfather was gamekeeper.

  17. I would like to know if the actresses who wore corsets had problems getting used to them? I did community theater (theatre). We specialized in period pieces (mostly Gilbert and Sullivan) and I sometimes had to wear corsets. I used to suffer with incredible back aches as my back adjusted to keeping straight. I THOGHT I had good posture, until I started wearing them. Did get used to them eventually and they don't bother me any more. LOL

  18. *Shameez*? Must have adopted that word from Hindi in that era since that's what I say in urdu and urdu it's very similar to Hindi. Kindly correct me if I am wrong?
    P.s: this is an amazing channel!

  19. Love the video – so well done & informative! But oh goodness, I could just listen to that lovely music and look at footage of the gardens & house for ages… So beautiful! <3

  20. 4:24 – That is the description of a woman who has worn those clothes, lol! I was a character actor at a local ren faire one summer (best summer ever) and loved it, but I wore the clothes of an Elizabethan Maid of Honor (unmarried highborn woman in the Queens court, it was a very desirable station) from 1572. We used to call the feeling of releasing the solid, heavily metal-boned corsets as “corset-gasm”. It was a uniquely magical feeling.

    I miss the corsets and massive hoops. I’m now disabled and couldn’t tolerate a 20lb dress, nor would the skirts work well with forearm crutches or a wheelchair, but I’ve still not yet been okay with letting go of my court dress. It cost a couple hundred dollars to make, but it was custom and wouldn’t fit many people, so selling it isn’t much of an option. But I still find it hard to let go of.

  21. The very indecency to be mentioning Mrs Crocombe's undergarments in such a public forum. I shall have a word with Lady Braybrooke about the matter! Maryanne put you put to this, didn't she? It reeks of her!

  22. Thank you so I have to call the Eva suite life he pays it was walking this could be really expensive walkers DNA

  23. I'm a bit concerned to hear that the same cloth which is used to wipe up a small spill on the floor is also used to wipe hands on while handling food…….even if the floor is washed daily. The kitchen floor was trampled by all and sundry including the mouser (cat) and the family dog.

  24. Would they have used fireproofing for some of the cooks clothes? I know there was a type of fireproofing in the mid 1800's. There's one particular story of a ballet dancer named Emma Livry who got her dress caught on a gaslight. She refused to wear the fireproofed costume because it stiffened the fabric and due to this not many dancers wore them either. She ended up dying of septicemia from her wounds at around 20. Would they have fireproofed the aprons at least or just not bothered for servants?

  25. Wait, I'm confused. The Victorian era is 1837-1901, so I'm confused as to why you said elastic hadn't been invented yet when elastic was invented in 1820 for things like gloves, stockings, shoes, and suspenders. While yes its true the working women of Victorian times didnt get 2 b extravagant in terms of fashion, in the 1880s, surely they would have a bum roll or a very small bustle, right??

  26. I'm in love with this video's they are one of the few things that make me calm after a panic attack.

  27. Hello, I love your videos. I learn a lot of things, about everything. I even tried the pudding recipe. Every time I look at a I feel transported to another time. Thank you for this experience. Gabriel

  28. Imagine millennials bombarding with Victorian age people. 😂 That would be hysterical… Somebody make some time machine movie.

  29. I once forgot to put my shoes on before my corset I was wearing for a dance, and had to get my wonderful friend to lace them up for me. He was real good about it too. Had a large skirt on and he had to almost crawl under hehe.

    I also had to help a friend out of her shoes at her wedding, she had a jumping castle, but was wearing a large dress and corset so I dove on under there and take them off.

  30. My grandmother was a parlour maid in London in the early 20th century.
    She wore her own print gowns in the morning when she did the housework tasks like vacuuming (yes even back then!) and doing the beds.
    However at luncheon and dinner she, with the footmen, served the meals to the family, and for that she had to change into a black dress, white lap apron, and a white lace cap in the tiara style which was secured with black ribbon. My mother still has this uniform kept in tissue paper – perhaps we should think about donating it?

  31. Mrs Crocombe is always in the exact same dress in every video. Surely she should have a variety of other prints at least to wear for a change.

  32. I don't really understand the point of not using the right terms for the corset, or not showing the stockings and garter process

  33. Eeeeee the only thing driving me crazy here is when she said "the victorian figure in the 1880s was one which had quite a wide hemline" which just isn't true. The 1880s had some of the smallest, tight to the body skirts in the entire century. Starting from the 1870s, the width of skirts started reducing down from the wagon wheel style hoop skirts to the elliptical skirt, then got tighter and tighter before reaching its peak in the 1880s where some dresses were a line straight to the floor. The bustle was huge, and the effect was that of a really big, wide skirt bundled up in the back so it's tighter at the front. This is why the 1880s is one of my absolute favorite fashion eras, the lines of the skirt in front were very clean and often geometrical patterns were used, kind of brushing up against some of our more modern clothing today. It was an extremely stylish and unique look, but one of the hallmarks was that small circumference of the bottom of the skirt. All the size and width that used to be down towards the hemline got bundled up behind the skirt.

    It's a great video but wide hemlines in the 1880s couldn't be more untrue. The hem width of skirts in the 1880s were radically small and tight.

  34. I love the charming pace of these videos… So much on Youtube and in the world is rushed and "quippy" but these videos really make me want to slow down and soak in the information. Thank you so much! Your editors deserve immense praise!

  35. I love Mrs Crocombe, really enjoying the videos I have ordered a Audley end house guide off ebay, its a 1977 copy but I dont mind it will be interesting, I love anything and everything Victorian. I would actually pay to visit the house but I am a carer to my fella who had a stroke so I am not able to leave him. So books and videos are the next best thing.

  36. the very first thing I noticed when I watched Mrs Crocombe on video.. was how on earth can one cook so graceful with your bust up to your neck in a bloody corset!!! LOL hail crazy Victorian ways

  37. It was actually super common for women’s skirts to have pockets. Many extant garments have them (skirts and gowns both). And a contemporary dressmaking guide said you couldn’t be without pockets. 😂 I happen to agree.

  38. 3:28 Wouldn't forbidding crinolines in the kitchen have more to do with how flammable they were rather than any idea of status? The huge "bell" of empty air between the crinoline and the body meant that the skirts could catch light very quickly.

  39. Gosh I’d be absolutely boiling in that outfit, how many layers of clothing do they need? Why isn’t just the gown and underwear enough? Why on earth did they think long sleeves were a good idea as well? So unhygienic. It should have been mid sleeve leaving the forearms visible to wash regularly. And chefs have tea towels on them nowadays too…

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