James Lees-Milne experiences aristocratic hospitality in 1944

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Prospecting possible properties for the National Trust during the Second World War, James Lees-Milne was often offered fare by his patrician hosts that was meagre even by wartime standards. His experience when surveying the Duke of Wellington’s country pile at Stratfield Saye near Reading (above) marked a notable nadir.

‘Having eaten little luncheon I was famished, but tea consisted of only a few of the thinnest slices of bread and butter imaginable. After tea we did a tour of the inside of the house beginning with the hall. When my stomach started to rumble with hunger Gerry [the 7th Duke] looked at it with a reproachful air, and said nothing. It went on making the most awful noise like a horse’s.’

But even this spartan sustenance was generous compared to the careless condescension of Lord Leconfield (‘a pompous old ass’) at Petworth House in West Sussex.

‘At 5.45, Lord Leconfield, tired out, led me to the street door where he dismissed me. Pointing to a tea house with an enormous notice CLOSED hanging in the window, he said, “You will get a very good tea in there. Put it down to me. Goodbye.” ‘

From Diaries 1942-1954 by James Lees-Milne

 Stratfield Saye (Photo credit: rich.tee via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND