Dorothy Crawford

Dorothy worked for railway hotels.

Railway voices at the NRM

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Dorothy Crawford interviewed 5 July 2001

Ref no 2001-99

This is an edited version of a transcript to match the content on the audio extract.

NARRATOR: Dorothy was born in 1913 in Gourock on the Clyde. She joined the railway in 1937 as a House-keeper at the Central Hotel Glasgow.

DOROTHY: And I went to the hotel and they said, asked me to see the Manager and he obviously -- it was the time of the Empire Exhibition so they were looking for staff and they gave me an interview and I was asked if I would like to be on the Enquiry Office or as a housekeeper. And when I found that it was a housekeeper, I would get a room to myself, I decided that I was going to be a housekeeper. Started at six every morning till five o’clock at night. All wearing black clothes of course; and then once a week you were off at mid-day and came on again at five. One week, not once a week, and then Sundays one of the people was off at five, came on again at nine till eleven having changed into an evening frock, a long one, black. And I was there for 18 months.

NARRATOR: Dorothy’s duties were varied and she describes what was expected of her.

DOROTHY: Started off being the florist doing the simple, tall vase with three flowers and as it was Exhibition Year, red, white and blue. One red chrysanthemum, a couple of blue and a bit of gypsophyla dunked into a green vase. And then about eleven o’clock when the other housekeepers had been round every bathroom to make sure that everything was working, I -- we had a cup of coffee and then they[ph] came in and did all the big flowers, the big displays for all over the hotel and I went back to pulling chains and so on and doing all the bathroom checks which everybody did in the afternoon. We met in the housekeeper’s office at two o’clock having had one hour off and we then were given our floors to check everything and she expected a list with all the things you’d found that were wrong. And the following morning when the staff -- the joiners and electricians and so on, arrived at our door on the stroke of nine with clean aprons on, they got their lists and if they hadn’t done them by the following morning she told them off. We had to check that they’d done them so that the maintenance was very high on the whole.

INTERVIEWER: Did you come into contact much with the guests at that time?

DOROTHY: Not all that much. If you were on the evening duty, you had to stand in the front hall when the London train came in with an Assistant Manager and if there was a lady who came in off the train by herself you said, “Can I escort you to your room madam?” And you did that and made sure that they had fancy coat hangers, there was a posy of flowers put in their bedroom and all little niceties that people expected in those days … It was very interesting at the Central for all the banquets and parties that there were because of the Empire Exhibition and at one point we had royalty coming. We provided the red carpet all he way across the station and we were -- all the windows looking onto the station were locked up so that nobody could try and throw something or look down at the royalty. And just before they arrived the Secretary of State for Scotland and his wife walked up the middle of the carpet and wondered why all the crowd were rolling with laughter. It was because our house porter in a new clean overall was walking up behind them with a carpet sweeper. On the whole the parties were very interesting and the result was that staff got chicken winglets because you couldn’t give chicken winglets to the visitors in the banquets and chicken was much more of a special treat in those days and we had these wings, wings, wings, wings, and nobody wanted to eat them. I will always remember the chicken winglets put me off completely. The food wasn’t very good but they did try their best. Staff cook, he wasn’t officially called the chef in the staff quarters for the eating was pretty awful, but we just had to accept it. We were all right because being senior staff we got to sit in the couriers’ room with the ladies’ maids and the valets and so on and got our food served properly to us. But the lesser staff did worse and worse and worse down the line I think. But as I could go home in the evening quite easily I didn’t fare too badly at that point.

NARRATOR: After a short while Dorothy was transferred to the Adelphi Hotel Liverpool.

DOROTHY: Yes, I got 25 shillings a week when I went to the ‘Adelphi’ and it was much more exciting because it had more rooms with baths, which was not nearly as old fashioned. It had been built in 1913, opened for the trade to America but unfortunately they immediately moved all the ships to Southampton so that the ‘Adelphi’ was a bit of a white elephant from the very beginning. But it really came alive at the time if there was a big launch or at the Grand National time, the Waterloo Cup, a little bit. But things like that affect hotels considerably. The staff at the ‘Adelphi’ were all very nice. I think Liverpool people were the nicest I’ve ever had to work with. I can tell you the names of most of the staff that were there in 1939,’40,’41, partly because of course we gathered together very much more because we were bombed, and spending nights in shelters.

NARRATOR: Liverpool was a bombing target in the war and the Adelphi caught a landmine.

DOROTHY: They were aiming for Lime Street Station and they hit in between so that we got most of the windows blown out and quite a bit of damage due to the broken glass and so on … various things like that but half the hotel had its doors smashed. All one side of the hotel nearest the station. I was lucky my bedroom was on the other side. And we’d just walked out of the housekeeper’s office otherwise we would have had the window smashed in on us and we had to tour round and knock all the lights out that were on in case another bomber came and wanted to … bomb us again.

NARRATOR: Main event of the year in Liverpool was the Grand National and after the war the race started again and Dorothy was on duty.

DOROTHY: The housekeepers had a very busy time because all the ladies who came had to have flowers in their rooms, they have to have soft coat hangers and all that they wanted, and the housekeepers had a list from the past and looked it up and saw Mrs so-and-so had so-and-so, Mr so-and-so had something else and they were all produced for them in the room, all around the place. They knew, they took it for granted that certain people would come and one of the problems was that the people took it for granted too. They weren’t sure whether -- the hotel wasn’t sure whether they were actually coming or not until the very last minute but they kept certain suites for certain people and they really were very well looked after for that time. We had extra staff for the floors to give them their breakfast in bed and so on as well as in the restaurants. And the night of the ball, the day of the match actually -- match? Race, sorry, the … we had to wait. We couldn’t decorate the table, the top table until we knew which horse’s colours had won so we were all standing by listening to make sure and the minute they knew whose horse had won they’d rush out and buy flowers the right colour and get them onto the top table. There was usually 1500 people; the whole of the lounge, the French restaurant, the grill room and the terrace at the back, what they call the Highforstyle [ph] Hall, it was full of tables and the top table was along that bit with the winning colours on the tables. It was a very exciting thing, once we’d done all our work we were able to go up into the little --either side of the lounge upstairs there was a little area where we could all stand and watch everything that was going on down below, it was really fascinating to see all these hundreds of people all in their wonderful clothes and all the waiters there and producing a wonderful banquet with everything you could think of. The sides of the lounge were … made to look like the fences in the race and of course that made the young men enjoy themselves jumping over that as well. And then you’ve got plenty of horseplay on the way afterwards. We were always made to walk together and then as soon as they’d gone we had to go round and check up what damage had been done and the thing was they always paid their bill; they accepted the fact that they had smashed a wardrobe or the bed or done some damage in the rooms. They just accepted the bill and that was it.

NARRATOR: Dorothy moved south to Watford and assisted in renovating hotels, many of which had been closed down or requisitioned during the war.

DOROTHY: Well of course everything had been stored in 1939 and Gleneagles was lucky because they’d covered the end of each corridor so it was accommodation to put things in. I remember hearing then from one of the managers about when he was going down to the Assistant Controller he was another six foot five or thereabouts and hefty and he had a very loud, booming Scottish voice and they turned into this cupboard where all the chamber pots had been put, he said, “Po’s Wilson, Po’s.“ But when they reopened the Gleneagles everything was in perfect conditions. They had just opened the cupboards and it doesn’t have a basement properly so even the furniture wasn’t more difficult to get out. And they were all marked and they just opened up the things and took the furniture up to the room that it had come from with no trouble at all.

NARRATOR: At ths time, railway company works were still involved with hotel maintenance.

INTERVIEWER: You were saying earlier there was a workshops at Derby.

DOROTHY: Oh yes, well I think Mr Burgess must have been in with the bricks anyway. He was very, very clever. He knew everything so much but he could tell how many yards of carpet or how many yards of curtain there was in any of the hotels and they used to make up the carpets for the big rooms on the lawn at Derby and then roll them up and send them up to Leeds or wherever it was and the workmen would go one evening and all the carpet would be cleared and they would put the new one down and it was ready for breakfast in the morning. That -- their workmen were so good that way. The ones in Glasgow, they didn’t actually make the carpets up but they did the same thing. They had workshop men who did all that too and they recovered all the chairs as required. They were just sent on rail I presume from whichever place and by the time I started taking an interest in it we told them what, what covering we wanted on it for the odd chairs you know. But they did all the repairs. Derby Hotel itself was a lovely old place, one of the very oldest and it was always a treat to go to Derby because you could go into the workshop, see what was going on and whose chairs were getting done, or there was new curtains for this and so on. We thoroughly enjoyed going there. All the staff were very kind and very nice…

NARRATOR: After nationalisation in 1948, Dorothy was involved in hotels throughout the country.

DOROTHY: I had to go to hotels where they weren’t very happy because the managers’ wives had always chosen materials for the rooms and so on and then they found that they couldn’t do that and even with their own accommodation. I had to take samples and jolly them along and pretend that they were choosing. That was the same in the other hotels too I may say and I used to try and keep the managers and their wives happy but they didn’t really like me coming in from the LNE hotels because the manager’s wife had always had a bit of a choice in what they were doing. So I had to make it look as if they were still getting it in some rooms but not basically. By that time I think my Chief was retiring and we started having interior decorators for the special rooms and this one man called John Hill did a wonderful job. But he used to come in to look at a room and he would sit down and say it was a dining room we had to do and I would sit with him and say, “What about this, what about that?” And write down everything he’d said and he got his choice, produced a scheme and it was approved or not. Mostly it was approved and he did some wonderful rooms for us all over the country. His son came for a little while after that and he was, I was supposed to be training him and I’m afraid Nicholas and I didn’t get on terribly well. He didn’t think he should ask me anything and I kept saying, “But it’s not practical.” So at that point I began to think that I was quite happy to retire [laughing] sometime soon. But we managed all right.

NARRATOR: Occasionally artists were commissioned to brighten up public rooms.

DOROTHY: Aberdeen was one of the hotels which we took over and when we got there we were already looking after the furniture and the furnishings and so on. But in fact the, they were having trouble with the boilers. We had two railway engines providing heat for the hot water and everything for some considerable time and we did spend quite a lot and built a new ballroom there and various public rooms but it never … I don’t think it was ever terribly successful somehow. I wasn’t interested in it. I didn’t have much to do with it. During the war we had a lot of plain walls like that had been bombed like the ‘Adelphi,’ like Inverness we needed something. And my Chief got this lady called Beatrice McDermot to paint something on the walls and she did the grill room at the ‘Adelphi’ which was a big plain panel, there was nothing else they could do with it much and so she painted it, a scene from mythology and there was this girl, nude lady. One night when she was working, she always worked at night, the chef came in and stood gazing at her, she hated that. And to try and divert him she said, “Of course I’m, going to put a veiling over this figure.” He said, “I shouldn’t; plain cabbage [ph] is best.” And stomped out. She did think it was funny enough to tell everybody about it. But she did a panel at Inverness in the hotel there. She did several other ones in various places, in various hotels. Three little ones over fireplaces at Gleneagles, also mythology, and they were quite small but very nice and she, maybe you never knew quite what she was going to do or when she was going to (300) do it, and one night she was going up all the way to Dornoch to do the dining … the great dining room at Dornoch and she got on the Inverness train that was going up and then she discovered that she hadn’t got her paint brushes with her. So she sent a message back and somehow we managed to organise that they were sent up on a sleeper to Inverness and taken on up to Dornoch so that she could get on with her work. The customers really weren’t very keen on that, that room because where they were sitting it was too close. One of them said he kept thinking that somebody’s big toe was going to come in if he wasn’t careful right beside where he was eating. Then she did a huge ballroom at Perth and it was beautiful, it just filled the bill altogether. When we wanted to change it and do something different she protested. She kicked up a fuss and got the whole county of all about Perthshire about her great work was being covered over. I don’t remember exactly how that finished up. I don’t think she got keeping it, so it may be underneath the wall still …

NARRATOR: Finally, in 1975 as the railway's hotel chain was due to be sold, Dorothy decided to retire.

DOROTHY: Very happy that I could retire sometime soon. I really didn’t think that I could be bothered coping with any more. Its bad enough with the people, and the nationalisation sort of thing. I mean with the two companies together and so on. And we had Chief Works Officer, I shouldn’t say this, who didn’t have a -- he had learnt quite a lot about hotels from working as an engineer in a building in Hong Kong and he and I didn’t see eye to eye very well and so I was quite . I will say he was very nice when I retired and said lots of nice things but I felt I couldn’t be bothered, I’d done enough and so I decided I would retire.


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