Serving the Servants

June 16, 2009 at 8:08 am (books) (, , , , )


woolfIn Montreal Sunday for a local meeting of JASNA, I just had to hit two stores. One was Bramble House, in Pointe Claire (west of downtown), which sells British food and teas and tea pots & cosies. The other, Nicholas Hoare, the Westmount bookstore at which I always find something to take away (to the detriment of my wallet!).

Sunday, the take away was Mrs Woolf and the Servants. This look at servants, in the household of the Stephens and Woolf families, traces the backgrounds and working lives of these little-recognized people.

One of my tasks is to do HALF as much for the staff members in the households at Suttons, Roehampton, etc etc. Given that many servants are entered into the diaries as one name only (first or last), this may be asking the impossible; yet a few people stand out as not only having a long history with the family, but also are mentioned in a manner that fleshes them out a bit.

And now I add to this post a bit, though names and examples come from the ‘can you help’ page. I’ve done more work extracting and “cataloguing” names from Mary (Gosling) Smith’s diaries, than from Emma (Smith) Austen-Leigh’s. That is a task yet to come…

From Mary’s diaries, therefore, we pull names of women like Mrs Sandoz (seemingly Mary’s governess) and her daughter; Mr Sendall (tutor to little Charles, Mary’s son) and Mr Wyatt (another tutor). I pull out these people because tutors and governesses were not treated in quite the same ‘servant’ category as others working in the household, never mind the estate workers.

Mary Adams; Barlow (I presume a lady’s maid – but what if Barlow was a man?!); Sarah Batch; Martha Finch; Ketcham (a maid); Betsey Thomas also get their mentions; I will cull the diaries and see in at context they are mentioned – and report back! (Often, however, there IS no context.0

Men include Bowen; Conybeare (a real wonder about the spelling of this), who was hired as a new Butler in 1832 at Suttons; Davis; Foster; Godfrey; Hinds.

You can find more by looking in the files called ‘dramatis personae’, including the year-dates in which they appear in Mary’s diaries. For instance, Mary Adams found on the A-F listing, appears in the diaries in the year 1829 only, and I conclude her to be a ‘waged servant’. Why??

Searching the file (which contains transcriptions of all Lady Smith’s diaries), we find the following about Mary Adams:

She possibly replaced Betsey Furlong. On 9 June 1829, Mary (Lady Smith) writes “My sister came from London  Betsey Furlong went away” [Yes, that is the ENTIRE entry for this day; you see, therefore, how cryptic are the originals I work with!] My surmising that Mary replaced her comes from the entry of 11 June: “Mary Adams came” and in the column, against the “pounds” (nothing in the shilling or pence columns), Mary has written “6”. Undoubtedly the girl’s wages!

But in March 1830 we see this notation: “Betsey went home to her mother” – could this be Betsey Furlong or someone else? Then, in July 1832, Mary notes, “Went with Furlong cutting many of laurels in the shubbery [sic].” No mention again of Furlong or Betsey or Mary Adams.

Am finding Mrs Woolf and the Servants of interest, but I’m not far into it yet (a couple chapters). Indeed, it sounds as if the author had more to work with: Virginia Woolf sounds to have written at length, at times, about her ‘servant problems’. Stay tuned.

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1 Comment

  1. Queen Advertises for Maid « Two Teens in the Time of Austen said,

    […] am reminded to mention again a book purchased a few years ago in Montreal at dear Nicholas Hoare Bookstore: Mrs Woolf and the Servants, by Alison […]

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