Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Life in Service

 Today few occupations can guarantee a job for life but in the 19th century it was quite different. In 1871 there were 1.4 million women in domestic service - 6.5% of the total population.  One in three girls between the ages of 15-20 worked as kitchen maids and housemaids -and one record breaking Swindon family notched up an incredible combined service of over 160 years extending across three generations.

James and Elizabeth Pitt moved to their new home, one of three stone built tied cottages in Mannington Lane, in 1818. An agricultural labourer, James was first employed by tenant farmer Richard Dore King at Mannington Farm and later by Richard Strange who in 1835 signed a 12-year lease on the 237-acre farm.

The couple had five daughters, Eliza, Leah, Jane, Mary Ann and Martha, all baptised at St. Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze and of whom four were destined for employment at Mannington Farm.

Eldest daughter Eliza worked as a 'house servant' for over 24 years. In the 1860s the going rate for a housemaid was £14 per year, all found, the hours were long and the work hard. But as Mrs. Beeton, that doyenne of household management, advised her readers: "A bustling and active girl will always find time to do a little needlework for herself..."

Her sister Leah served the family for just two years due to her untimely death at 18 years of age. She died 26th October 1841 at Cricklade where she was working in service. The cause of death was given as "Visitation of God."

Third daughter Jane put in an impressive 24 years at Mannington Farm. She began work in 1839, first as a house servant then after her marriage in 1859 to Thomas Osman, Richard Strange's groom, as a dairymaid.

Fourth daughter Martha also began her working life as a house servant at Mannington. However by 1871 she had been promoted to Lady's Maid to Richard Strange's daughter Julia.

Elizabeth Pitt died in 1871 and her husband James in 1882. An elaborate and expensive memorial, probably erected by an appreciative employer, marks their grave in the churchyard at St. Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze.

Julia took over the running of the farm after her father's death and by 1891 there was a whole host of Pitt descendants employed in the household, including Martha aged 52 and Jane Osman's two daughters, 21 year old Julia who is a housemaid and Louisa 28, cook.

The Mannington Farm tenancy changed hands in the late 1890s ending over seventy years of Pitt/Osman family service to the Strange family.  Today the elegant 18th century farmhouse that the Pitt girls cleaned and polished has been converted into flats and a bus lane passes by where the family cottage used to stand.

Mannington Farmhouse

Mrs Holliday - cook at Lydiard House

Unidentified household staff at Lydiard House and Park

Gamekeeper Henry Hiscocks - this and above mentioned photographs are published courtesy of Lydiard House and Park. 

James and Elizabeth Pitt's memorial in the churchyard at St Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze.  Published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball.

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