Servants’ fortunes varied after their working stint at Bournemouth (1851), where data can track them. For some, record linkage enables partial reconstruction of their later life-stages. This analysis studies the later lives of found servants working in the row of sixteen holiday buildings known as Westover Villas. It explores how people comprising this important part of the Victorian economy integrated into society after service. Some, however, never left the domestic sector.
Missing in history
Several behavioural factors make tracking servants’ fortunes in later life difficult, causing them, in effect, to go missing from history. For some, life-stage occurrences have caused this. For others, however, aspects of recording the respondents may have applied. First, names. It seems that labouring people, the most frequent source for servants, may have used a less varied name pool for their children than other social groups. Often, surnames clustered in tight geographies. Hence, people sharing names, ages and geographies occur in the records, making certain identification impossible. Second, places. Rural people seem to use different names for their geographic origin as time passed. Often, they referred to a larger, neighbouring place, because it subsumed their village or had better recognition for the enumerator. Third, dialects. These could have rendered vowels alien to the sound set familiar in the census place. Moreover, few enumerators would have had a wide geographic knowledge.
The social attitudes of some enumerators may have affected their recording of information. In Westover Villas, for example, which hosted affluent families in 1851, the enumerator often collected excessive detail about the head of household. His writing has overflowed the available space on the recording sheet. Even if he did not recognise them, he would have understood that, as individuals, they played an important role in his country’s society. His entry detail became a type of salute. A very different situation applied to the servants. He may have acknowledged their economic importance, but perhaps had little time for the individuals. His handwriting, cursive throughout the notebook, often drifted into scribble for the servants’ entries. Hence, transcription becomes difficult, sometimes impossible. He seems not to have bothered either collecting the correct information or recording it in a readable manner. Servants’ fortunes, perhaps, would not have interested him.
Young, female, single, mobile
Servants at Westover Villas in 1851 consisted, for the most part, of young adults. They had an average age in the late twenties, almost half that of their employers (53). About a sixth had reached their forties, about the same in their teens. Only a fifth consisted of men. Service attracted single females as a rule, very few having a husband. Over time, many married and left domestic service, although some continued, unmarried, all their working lives. Others, in later life, unmarried, lived with their spinster sisters, who may have worked elsewhere in service. The analysis assumes that the servants had travelled with their employers, so comparing households in 1861 provides a way to track servants’ fortunes. Where found, in most cases, it shows employers had changed all their staff. Furthermore, their average age remained low (31). Domestic staff, therefore, consisted of young, single, mobile females.
Close to home
Taken overall, the servants appear to have come from several counties across the country. When the analysis looks at servant origins for each household, however, the pattern of locality emerges. Although Clement Royds, a Rochdale banker, combined servants from north and south, others took their staff from their own county or nearby. For Robert Gill, the Liverpool cotton broker, both servants came from nearby, one Lancashire, one Denbighshire. Colonel Pedler, based in Poole, Dorset, brought servants originating from elsewhere in the county. The Bailward family, whose home lay in the small Somerset village of Horsington, recruited servants from the village and elsewhere in the county, but not wider. Households found for 1861 show a similar pattern. The Wyndham, the Bailward and the Wingfield-Digby families found at home employed servants who came from their county. A preference to hire local people as servants and to travel with them, therefore, seemed to apply.
Three thumbnail biographies, reconstructed from online records and hence subject to the usual caution, show how servants’ fortunes might vary. All three women worked for their employers during a stay at Westover Villas in 1851. These ‘biographies’, of course, only consist of documentary way-points, containing nothing about their experience or perspectives that would appear in diaries or letters.
Working with children
Mary Spearing, born 1821 in Buckhorn Weston, Dorset, near Gillingham, a labourer’s daughter, in 1843 married a widower, James Mason, a carpenter, who had several children, twenty years her senior. She lived with him at Horsington, Somerset. Within a few years the couple had at least three children. In 1851, she visited Bournemouth, working for the Bailwards, the leading Horsington family, at 2 Westover Villas. The couple had at least another three children in the 1850s. In 1861, however, Mary Mason still worked as a servant, cooking for a farmer in North Cadbury, Somerset. By 1871, she had retired back to Horsington, living with her elderly husband as well as a granddaughter. Mary Mason died in her early sixties, perhaps exhausted by producing many children and stressed by working away from them in service. Her husband, however, outlived her.
Eliza Morgan’s family kept a grocery shop in Frome, Somerset, her origin, she born around 1825. In 1851, she also worked for the Bailwards, cooking their food in 2 Westover Villas. Perhaps she found Bournemouth amenable to her, for she appears to have stayed, found there in 1861 working as a housekeeper. She vanished from the record in 1871, but by 1881 she had returned to Frome. There she lived with her mother, now 80, but still a grocer, and a spinster sister. By this time, Eliza had become a certificated nurse. A decade later, both sisters still lived together in Frome, but both had fallen into poverty. Eliza lived into the Edwardian period. She too, after service, had returned home, in this case, to re-unite with her mother and sister.
Loyalty at work
Frances Lutwyche, about the same age as Mary Mason, came from East Challow, Berkshire. She may have had a local accent, which lengthened her vowels, for the enumerator recorded her origin as East Charlow. Her brother also kept a store, but taught school at the same time. She worked as lady’s maid to Arabella Richards, a Devonian spinster, who lived with her brother, a magistrate and the vicar of St German’s, Cornwall. They had visited 14 Westover Villas in 1851. Frances had an unusual career compared to the other servants at Westover Villas, for she worked for ‘Miss Richards’ up to at least 1871, when she disappeared from found records until 1897. She had retired to Summertown, Oxford, still a spinster, dying then. Her estate, worth over a thousand pounds, went to two nephews.
This study illustrates how servant fortunes’ might vary in subsequent life despite their shared experiences of working below stairs for wealthy families. They would have worked with other single women of a similar age, social status, and geographic origin, but perhaps spent little time together since staff rotated on a regular basis. Some left service, some stayed. Marriage came for some, not others. Some left estates, some sank into poverty.
For Westover Villas see this picture from Alwyn Ladell’s collection.