When Richard Hurd was promoted from his living at Thurcaston to be Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry in December 1774 he realised some servants would be required. He had some at Thurcaston of course, including a maid who was a good cook and once sent his nephew, young Richard, back to school with “a cargo of plumb cake”. But, with his house in town and the see house at Eccleshall, (where, he wrote, “there is much company to be expected and the public days are crowded”) he needed a larger establishment. As he had no wife to take care of such matters he turned to his old friend Gertrude, the wife of his mentor William Warburton, Bishop of Gloucester. “Think for me and advise me in everything” he wrote to her “for in truth I am a very ignorant and uniformed creature in all household matters”. “My plan is”, he went on “to keep for the present, only two men and two maid servants. But it may be necessary to have more, especially when I go to Eccleshall. Pray advise me, and let me know what you give to servants of each sort.” He rejected one called John, to whom Gertrude had given a poor character. ” He thought, he should have a fine time of it in a Bachelor’s house, and in so tame a Bachelor’s as mine. But in this, he would probably have found himself mistaken”.
He wanted her advice about liveries. “I almost prefer purple to blue. You know my ecclesiastical orthodoxy, and purple is the regular colour of a Bishop. If my liveries are purple, must the great coat be blue, or of what colour?” Describing himself as “a simple puny Bishop”, by contrast with the the rich Bishop Warburton, he said he “must be modest and not give myself airs”. But he wanted a positive paragon of a manservant. “He must be able to shave well, and dress wigs, to write a good hand, and understand accounts” he wrote in 1776. “He must be able to be my Butler and maitre d’hotel, in plain English my market- man. He must be quiet and good tempered, yet able to keep my footmen, and even my women-servants in order… I should wish him to be a plain man, and no coxcomb, better if towards 40 years of age… In short I would have a wonderful good servant. And now can you tell me, where I can find such a one, either at home or in the Swiss cantons?” Lord Peter Wimsey’s Bunter would have fitted the bill nicely, but Hurd had to make do with a chap called Gauden. He had decided a male housekeeper would be sensible as “I could not hope so well to direct any female” but although Gauden was initially very satisfactory, he had, after all, to be replaced by a woman in 1777. “Gauden has no talents for government, any more than his master”. He had been working with an old woman called Sarah, who had a bad leg, so she had to go too. There was also trouble with a coachman in 1775: “I have… detected him in an intrigue with the kitchen wench and have got rid of them both together. This is the third coachman I have discharged in about six months”.
By the time Hurd came to Hartlebury Castle as Bishop of Worcester in 1781 he was more confident domestically, though he still sought Gertrude’s advice occasionally. “My domestic matters proceed very much to my satisfaction” he wrote to her second husband, Martin Stafford Smith, in 1785. “This I impute to her late kind visit”. In 1791 he got a new housekeeper who “tho’ not so much of a gentlewoman as the old woman, is younger and more active, and takes care of my family just as well”. His prejudice against female housekeepers was clearly overcome.
He had evidently found a man who could dress wigs to his satisfaction, as Gainsborough showed in the portrait he painted of him in 1781:
We have his wigstand in the Hurd Library, with a little cupboard in front for the powder:
And he seems to have made up his mind about liveries. Here is a visitor arriving at the castle in 1784:
And he is being met by the butler - in a blue coat:
Chris Penney, Hurd Librarian