Thursday, 14 January 2010

Memoir of a Family: Part One

About 18 months ago, during the course of some family history research, I made contact with a distant relative of my wife. The gentleman in question had a lot of information he was happy to share, the best of which, was a journal written by my wife’s great aunt. The existence of this document was a complete surprise. Entitled ‘Memoirs of my family and my parents, George and Louisa’, the hand-written journal offers a wonderful personal account of family life spanning more than 100 years from around 1863 onwards. After consultation with the relative who kindly supplied this little treasure, I’ve decided to post some short extracts over the coming weeks.

‘My mother, Louisa, was born at Milford-On-Sea on June 1st, 1863. She died in Winchester County Hospital on 20th June, 1961, aged 98 years.

Her parents, William and Ellen, were married at Lymington Baptist Church in 1863. Ellen was William’s second wife. He already had a family of six daughters. Two were at home when Ellen arrived; she soon made it plain that they would have to find work, which they did.

My grandfather was a bricklayer, and found work among the wealthy people of the district. Times were hard, and often the weather prevented him from working. My mother spoke of him as a very independent man and politically, a Liberal. Consequently, he did not receive any help or gifts of food which were given by the richer people.

William had four daughters and one son with Ellen. My mother was the eldest. She attended the village school, to which my parents paid one penny a week.

It was a small building, and the children did the cleaning of the school before classes started. The girls were taught needlework and helped to make clothes for the children of both the schoolmaster and the vicar.

My mother only attended school until she was 10 years old. Her first job was at the local butcher’s, where she had to do the cleaning. The butcher’s wife was very strict, and because mother didn’t clean a steel fender properly, she was sent home. 

Her second situation was at Westover House, where she became cook, at 12 years old, for Colonel and Mrs Steadman. She stayed there until she married my father, George. 

She often spoke of how she coped with her job. Colonel Steadman ruled the servants as though they were soldiers. If the meals weren’t ready on time, mother was called to order. The joints of meat had to be roasted on a spit, in front of the fire, which was a slow business. The kitchen store cupboards were kept locked, and each day Mrs Steadman would come to tell mother what the menu was, before giving her the exact amounts of ingredients to cook with. If mother had a disaster in her cooking, she could not hide it. 

She had very little time off, and if the Steadman’s daughter wanted to visit friends, either mother or the housemaid had to escort her there and back.’


Part two

Part three

Part Four

Part Five 

Part Six 

Part Seven 

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges  


  1. This really goes to show how, over time, even ordinary, everyday life becomes absolutely fascinating. What a shame more people don't keep journals.

  2. What an absolutely enthralling step backwards in time. I believe that journals and diaries are the true history texts that we should read in order to learn about what really happened in the past. And Colonel Steadman does sound like Captain Von Trapp from "The Sound of Music"! I'll definitely be looking forward to reading more of these excerpts. What a gem you have on your hands, Martin! And thank you for sharing some of it with us.


  3. What a treasure this journal is! I look forward to more!

  4. Martin, I am eagerly awaiting more.

    I know both Winchester and Lymington, so it made it all the more vital.

    Incidentally, Louisa's death was exactly four days before I was born.

  5. Fascinating!

    You put it up - I shall scuttle across to absorb it all.

  6. How wonderful to find this - I love reading about how things were for ordinary people in the past.

  7. Nice piece Martin. And, just to let you know, Square Sunshine is now being updated properly on my blogroll.

  8. What a wonderful treasure to receive! I'm looking forward to this becoming a series here. Lots of daughters in that family!

  9. These old family diaries are fascinating. They show a world long gone. We have several in the family which have been turned into books by daughters and granddaughter; they may not be classed as literature but they remind us of our roots and stop us from becoming too smug.
    I look forward to the next instalment.
    PS: cook at 12? Our GreatGrannny become underskivvy in the kitchen in her posh place of service. But the treatment was much the same as you described.

  10. Jinksy

    We were bowled over to discover this little gem. Although a personal account from Mag's side of the family, it offers a view of what life was like for ordinary people of that time.


    Thank you. My intention is to try and publish further extracts periodically.


    Glad you liked it. I will be posting more.


    More to come. I was born just seven miles from Winchester and Mags was born the same distance from Lymington. What's your connection with these two places?


    Thank you, and be prepared to scuttle.


    I think the fact that Louisa is an ordinary woman, makes her story, in those times, all the more interesting to read today.


    Thank you. Yes, those Google geeks appear to have been on the case...successfully.


    So glad you liked this post. As I've already mentioned, more to come. And yes, lots of daughters.


    I, too, like the way these old documents help us to gain some perspective in life.

    It does seem hard to believe that Louisa was a cook at 12 years of age, but I can only be guided by the contents of the journal. In 1875 the world was a very different place.

  11. Martin, I have a very good friend who came from Brockenhurst and did her daily dog-walks in the New Forest. We day-tripped to Winchester (got a felt-backed trivet of the Round Table and ate a lovely steak and kidney pud in a pub near the Cathedral) and Lymington (had the best Cornish Vanilla cone I can recall). I found both places charming and full of atmosphere.

  12. Fascinating, truly. And so happy it's only Part One!

  13. Kat

    I know Brockenhurst well. Winchester Cathedral has a fascinating history. We once took the guided tour, when our daughter was quite young, and we really didn't want it to end.

    I agree, both Winchester and Lymington are, indeed, charming.


    It's my intention to post further episodes each Thursday, until the story is told. So glad you're enjoying it.

  14. what a wonderful find.
    Not much of a childhood, was it?

  15. lettuce

    I was delighted to get the opportunity to serialise this. But, you're so right, life was so different for children in those days.

  16. Hello Martin,
    A similar experience happened to me about a decade ago when my father handed me a long report he'd prepared for a university course back in the 1940s. Tt contained information he'd gleaned from oral interviews he'd conducted with his parents, and these papers contained enough clues to let me begin a more methodical family history.
    These memoirs also triggered my passion for postcard collecting because I had virtually no family photographs and needed something to illustrate my family history!
    Evelyn in Montreal

  17. Evelyn

    Isn't it fantastic when something like that comes 'out of the blue'? When our daughter was still at school, she was engaged in a family history project. I sent a speculative letter to my paternal grandfather, with whom I'd only recently had contact after decades of absence. He forwarded all the work done by his sister, which opened up a whole new view of who I am and where I came from.

    Thanks for dropping by. It's always interesting to hear of family discoveries and the impact they make.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.