Cosgrove Living Memories - Working at Cosgrove Hall

Working at Cosgrove Hall – Personal memories of Gloria O'Halloran and Caroline Hickie

In May 1976 Cosgrove Hall was bought by London antique dealers and elite reproduction furniture makers Restall, Brown and Clennell, known as RBC. Cosgrove Hall was to become their main centre for display and sale and antique restoration. There was also a factory for reproduction furniture in Lewes East Sussex and a large showroom in the East End of London.

Gloria O'Halloran joined the company in 1986 and Caroline Hickie followed in 1989. They are both still Cosgrove residents in 2021. They recall other members of the team – including Simon Brown, the managing director and owner of the family firm, his PA, Penny Goodman, Adrian Frazer, who was the antiques' buyer, and lived for a time at Medlar House (sadly he died aged 44, in 1989, and is buried at Cosgrove, where there is a memorial bench in his name in the churchyard), Louise, his wife, whose excellent cooking Gloria and Caroline recall.

The company also employed gardeners, keeping up the extensive gardens, cleaners, and artisans in the restoration professions, including skilled cabinet makers and polishers. These employees were often housed in Whalley’s cottages, next to the Church, divided at that time into three dwellings. There were workshops in the stunning stable block which faces the front of the Hall.

The various subsidiary businesses of RBC ranged widely, from importing accessories from the Far East, to designing and building top class reproduction furniture, to buying and restoring classic antiques. Every room in Cosgrove Hall was laid out with items for sale. Some of the visitors were very memorable, including Mrs Shand Kydd, the mother of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Lady Hesketh’s mother.

Staff members worked in a separate thatched cottage next to the main house. Gloria worked in these offices, completing administration documents for shipping and importing, and recalls early databasing systems like punch cards! Caroline describes her work as “anything that needed doing” – but both Gloria and Caroline remember extremely happy teamwork and much laughter in the staff group, which felt more like a family to them.

Gloria recollects massive cellars beneath the house – they felt easily as big as the footprint of the house itself. They were accessed by a massive spiral staircase, and one of the most exclusive wines was called “Gloria”!

Simon Brown and the office staff ate a proper lunch every day laid out on the large kitchen table. All the team helped get this meal ready, preparing fruit and vegetables grown in the walled kitchen garden. Caroline helped Louise with the cooking, and when the lunch was ready, Simon would push open the swing doors and inspect the table before the office staff sat down to eat together.

Staff had other perks, like being able to buy produce and flowers from the gardens. They could use all the Hall’s facilities and Gloria sometimes took the family wash to the drying room in winter – although this was always taken down before the boss came along! 

In the summer, staff could use the tennis court and swimming pool, and picnic in the grounds with their families. The automatic pool cleaner wasn’t always used and the water could take on a greenish tinge at times. Mackenzie Hill’s railway engine was long gone.

In 1994 this wonderful workplace closed, and Cosgrove Hall was sold to its current owner. However, friendships forged in this unusual team remain to this day, full of memories and laughter. For all the staff this really was a magical place to work unusual even for those bygone days.