THE FUNERAL report of the death of one of the past residents of Holland House in Spalding gives a pretty good indication of what life was like for the town’s gentry of 1881.
The Spalding Free Press carried a full account of the funeral of Millicent Ann Johnson, who died just over 100 years after the house was first built in High Street. The report contained a list of the funeral procession, which included a driver, a butler, two maids, a housekeeper, coachmen and footmen, the head gardener as well as the second and third gardeners. At that time, 13 servants were living in Holland House.
Then there were the two mutes, part of the ritual surrounding Victorian death among the wealthy, as were the large black plumes that decorated the coffin. Some 60 years later, Spalding shopkeeper Frank Ridlington, who counted Mr Johnson among his customers, recalled that lengthy black crepe hat bands and black kid gloves were handed out to the mourners as they arrived at the house.
Visiting the Grade II listed Holland House today – it’s currently on the market with Brown & Co for £650,000 together with the ugly 1960s former Government building next door – it’s possible to imagine life in its heyday. The house has been used as offices, and so original features exist behind false ceilings, spacious rooms are sub-divided to form temporary offices and suggestions of what the house might have been are frustatingly hidden behind a mish-mash of modern-day interventions.
These are particularly obvious in what would have been the servants’ quarters in the attic, which was damaged in 1993 by a fire that began in the adjacent unemployment benefit/social services department. Shockingly modern beams and bright red cabling, that appears to be some kind of fire alarm system, look out of place in the rooms.
However, it’s possible to see what looks like original ornate plaster coving and ceiling roses, marble fireplaces, wooden skirting boards and a stunning 12ft arched picture window half-way up the staircase.
The building’s former grandeur is also clear in other places, such as the wonderful first-floor bedroom that stretches from the front of the house, with views over the River Welland, to the back and views over what would once have been a delightful garden. The large and airy room is divided by an arch, and female occupants possibly used one space for sleeping and the other for quiet pursuits, such as sewing.
Also among the funeral procession referred to earlier were Mrs Johnson’s musicians, and it is reported that, as well as having high-class concerts at her house, Mrs Johnson enjoyed being lulled to sleep each evening by a small band who played from a ground floor room.
Holland House retains much of its original charm and it would be wonderful to think that a new owner might treat the house sympathetically and allow its beauty to be properly seen.
l Written with the assistance of Aspects of Spalding, People & Places by Norman Leveritt and Michael J Elsden.