Memories of Mrs Mary Cross

Housekeeper to Lord Sherborne (formerly Mr Ralph Dutton) at Hinton Ampner House from 1954 – 1986

Mrs Cross (as she was always known) was responsible for the smooth running of Hinton Ampner House. Her duties included supervising and cooking for up to two hundred and fifty guests. In the early days the cooking stoves were fuelled by anthracite and there were two coke boilers in the cellars for the central heating and hot water. Fires were lit in the library, drawing room and staff sitting room and the estate workers received free loads of wood.

Water was originally supplied from the well and this also supplied many of the cottages until they too were put on the mains. It was a truly self-sufficient household. They grew all their own vegetables and fruit including nectarines, peaches and melons and home reared their chickens. Mrs Cross never bought a potato although she says occasionally she had to have bought-in carrots or peas if it was a bad year. The fresh food was stored in deep freezers or in the case of some of the fruits, ‘bottling’ was done. Cream and milk came from the farm and Mrs Cross made her own butter with butter pats bought in Yorkshire (she could not get butter pats in Hampshire!). All other items were bought in Winchester once a month.

Mr Dutton was normally in London from Tuesday until Thursday or Friday each week, but on Monday mornings he would let Mrs Cross know how many guests would be arriving the following weekend. Occasionally he forgot and would telephone or send a postcard with his apologies.

In 1962/3, the anthracite stoves in the kitchens were replaced by one large and two small electric stoves and a Calor-gas cooker. As there were two circuits of electricity the electric stoves were connected so that if one circuit went down cooking could still take place.

In 1960, there was a terrible fire in the House which started in the library, possibly caused by a down draught on the log fire. Ten fire engines from Winchester and Alresford Fire Brigades attended. Mr Gray, the head gardener, managed to save the paintings in the hall, one of which was the Dutton family picture. Everything in the library was destroyed but some of the drawing room furniture was saved. Water from the malns, the well and even the pond was used to douse the fire and water to the village was cut off. Everybody from the village helped – dining room furniture was saved by being passed out through the window. The hall floor which was oak and well polished, was destroyed as were all the carpets. But thankfully nobody was hurt. The fire crews stayed for three nights putting out the fires that kept rekindling. Mr Dutton was in the woods when the fire started and after surveying the damage stated that he would rebuild. The front and back of the House was separated by a fire wall which stopped some of the building being damaged.

Christmas time at the House was quiet although children from the estate were invited to tea Mrs Cross decorated the Christmas tree with the gardeners helping later on. The tree had candles with candleholders – and a wet sponge on a long stick at hand to dampen down any pine needles that started to burn.

Mrs Cross memorised all her recipes and cooked different menus every summer. She says that Mr Dutton did not have a favourite meal but preferred chicken to beef and was a very easy-going employer. The household staff consisted of Mrs Cross, the butler, the housemald and two or three dallies. There was (and still is) a bell call system installed for summoning the butler or housemald. Mrs Cross did not have a uniform but always wore white overalls in the kitchen. She says it was a very happy household; everybody seemed to fit in and would cover for each other if necessary. Evenings were spent in the staff sitting room listening to the radio or watching television. Contrary to popular belief, there was no ghost in the House but there are stories of a ghost in the ‘old house’ on the site of the orchard.

It took three days to cut all the lawns and edges. The gardeners had other duties in the early days including cleaning the outside windows. They used a special recipe of methylated spirit, turpentine and water. They also used to sweep the chimneys.

Mrs Cross has a special memory of when Hinton Church was short of money. She suggested to Mr Dutton that to ralse funds they could hold a coffee morning. There were cakes, produce and a raffle and a substantial sum of money was ralsed – Mrs Cross now says with typical understatement, ‘we had a good morning!’

After Lord Sherborne’s death in 1985, Mrs Cross stayed on at the House for a year to help in the transitional period while the National Trust took over the property and the gardens.

‘It was a truly self-sufficient household’

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