“Situations Required”

The title for today’s post comes from the July 22, 1887 London Morning Post.[1]


Detail of “Situations Required” classified advertisements, The (London) Morning Post, July 22, 1887; Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) (Click on image to enlarge)

We see that “E Casbon” is seeking a position as a “Maid to One or Two Ladies.” She is twenty-five years old, has experience as a dressmaker, belongs to the Church of England, and has “good references.” She is living at 22 Mansfield Street, Portland Place, London.

Who was E Casbon? Her age tells that she was born in 1861 or 1862. There is only one woman with that name who was born in that time frame: Elizabeth, daughter of John (1832–1885) and Rebecca (Speechly, ~1823–1886) Casbon of Peterborough. We’ve met her father, John, before. He was in the third generation of gardeners who eventually settled in Peterborough. John suffered through bankruptcy proceedings in 1870-71, but was eventually able to recover financially.

Elizabeth was one of John and Rebecca’s five children who survived into adulthood. Little information is available about her life.  We find her in the 1881 census, either living with or visiting her older brother Thomas in Peterborough.[2]

Detail from 1881 census, Peterborough, Northamptonshire. (Click on image to enlarge)

We see that Elizabeth is unmarried, nineteen years old, and employed as a dressmaker.

Dressmaking was a very common occupation for women at the time. It’s likely that Elizabeth had completed a two-year apprenticeship.[3] She might have worked from home or worked in a shop. She probably used a sewing machine, but would have had to do much of the work by hand. Dressmakers could make a decent living, but often faced long hours and difficult working conditions. For more information about dressmaking in Victorian England, I refer you to an excellent blog post, “D is for Dressmaker,” by Amanda Wilkinson.

“The Seamstress” (1897), Josef Gisela (1851-1899), original in Vienna Museum (accessed via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights)

Despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to find Elizabeth in the 1891 and 1901 England censuses. That’s where the “Situations Required” ad helps out. We know from the advertisement that she had been working as a servant, probably a lady’s maid, at the house on Mansfield Street. She must have started her employment there some time after the 1881 census was taken.

What can we find out about the residence on Mansfield Street? The 1881 census helps us out. It turns out that 22 Mansfield Street was occupied by a wealthy gentleman named Charles J.T. Hambro, whose father founded one of the United Kingdom’s largest investment banks.[4] The family’s main home was at Milton Abbey, in Dorset, so the Mansfield Street residence would have been their London home. Charles J.T. Hambro held the offices of Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for Dorset, and was a Member of Parliament from 1868 to 1874 and again from 1886 until his death in 1891.[5]

When the 1881 census was taken, the household on Mansfield Street was occupied by Charles Hambro, his wife Susan, daughter Agneta, and eleven servants, consisting of a cook, two kitchen maids, two housemaids, two lady’s maids, one butler, two footmen and one page.[6] That is an impressive number of servants, and indicates the Hambros’ significant wealth and position in society.

How is it that Elizabeth left her employment as a dressmaker in Peterborough to become a lady’s maid in London? That is unknown. Elizabeth must have thought there were better opportunities for her in domestic service compared to her previous occupation, and London certainly offered a greater number of potential employers. She might have started in a lower maid’s position before being promoted to the position of lady’s maid. Being new to the job, she probably served one of the daughters of the house. Her dressmaking experience would have been a great asset, as it was considered a prerequisite for lady’s maid duties.[7]

What were those duties? Anyone who has watched Downton Abbey will have some idea of what was involved, thanks to the trials and tribulations of Anna Bates, Lady Mary’s long-suffering personal maid.

Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Anna Bates (Joanna Froggatt) in Downton Abbey

In the hierarchy of female servants, the lady’s maid was the second highest in rank, after the housekeeper.[8] Her position was unique in that she had a much closer relationship to her mistress than the other servants.[9] A partial list of her duties is given in The Duties of Servants (1890).

To bring up the hot-water for her mistress in the morning and at various times of the day as required.
To bring her an early cup of tea.
To prepare her things for dressing.
To assist her in dressing.
To put her room in order after dressing.
To put out her things for walking, riding, and driving, both in the morning and afternoon.
To assist her in taking off her out-door attire.
To put in readiness all that her mistress may require for dressing in the evening.
To assist her to dress for dinner.
To put everything in order in her mistress’s room before leaving it.
To sit up for her, and to assist her to undress on her return, and to carefully put away her jewels and everything connected with her toilette.
To keep her mistress’s wardrobe in thorough repair, and to do all the dressmaking and millinery required of her.
To wash the lace and fine linen of her mistress.[10]

She was essentially at the beck and call of her mistress, in order to look after her every need.

Because of her proximity to the lady of the house, it was vitally important that she be circumspect in her behavior, and perhaps most importantly, maintain strict confidentiality concerning her mistress’s activities and conversation. “She ought, therefore, to possess the qualifications of propriety and polite behaviour; and her conduct should be uniformly influenced by correct principles, and strict regard to religious and moral obligations.”[11]

In turn, lady’s maids received perks not available to other servants. They were likely to receive their mistresses’ cast-off clothing, which they could alter to fit themselves or sell to others.[12] They might receive commissions from tradespeople who did business with their mistresses.[13] They had opportunities to travel, when their mistresses went abroad or were guests in other households.[14]

This tells us quite a bit about Elizabeth’s responsibilities after coming to London, and perhaps something about her character as well. She was probably somewhat better educated than the other female servants and was able to conduct herself in a manner fitting of the position.[15] The fact that she had “good references” tells us that she performed her duties satisfactorily.

We don’t know why she left her employment with the Hambro family in 1887, although it seems to have been under favorable circumstances. Perhaps one of the daughters was no longer living at home, or the family was downsizing the London home and no longer needed as many servants.

We do know that Elizabeth was successful at finding new employment, given that she placed this advertisement in 1890.[16]

“Want Places,” London Morning Post, June 4, 1890. (Click on image to enlarge); Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).

The fact that she had “2 ½ years’ good character” tells us that she must have been hired soon after the previous (1887) advertisement was placed. Note also that she was now living in Millfield, Peterborough, her home town. This suggests that her employment had already ended.

We don’t know what happened for the next seventeen years of her life, since she doesn’t seem to appear in the 1891 and 1901 censuses. The next record I have of Elizabeth is for her marriage in 1907 to William Buxton, a widower from Doncaster.[17] As of 1926, William and Elizabeth were still living in Doncaster.[18] I haven’t been able to pin down their death dates.

Elizabeth’s story, though incomplete, is interesting because it reflects the experiences of many women in late Victorian England. As dressmaker and domestic servant, she worked in two of the most common occupations (along with factory work) of her era.[19] Though typical, it probably wasn’t an easy life. As with so many of our family stories, I wish I could know more.

[1] “Situations Wanted,” The (London, England) Morning Post, 22 Jul 1887, p. 7, col. 8; online image, British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ : accessed 4 September 2017).
[2] 1871 England Census, Northamptonshire, Peterborough, district 33, p. 5, schedule 28, Elizabeth Casbon in household of Thomas Casbon ; imaged as “1881 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7572 : accessed 17 January 2019), Northamptonshire >Peterborough >District 33 >image 7 of 23; citing The National Archives, RG 11/1595.
[3] Sally Mitchell, Daily Life in Victorian England (Westport, Connecticut: The Greenwood Press, 1996), p. 62.
[4] “Charles J.T. Hambro,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_J._T._Hambro : accessed 18 January 2019), rev. 19 Oct 18, 08:28.
[5] Ibid.
[6] 1881 England Census, London, Marylebone, Cavendish Square. District 8, p. 22, schedule 68, Charles Hambro; imaged as “1881 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7572 : accessed 17 January 2019), London >Marylebone >Cavendish Square > District 8 >image 23 of 47; citing The National Archives, RG 11/140/57.
[7] Isabella M Beeton, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management: a Guide to Cookery in All Branches, “new” ed., (London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1907), p. 1773; online image, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/mrsbeetonshouse00beetuoft : accessed 14 January 2019).
[8] Pamela Horn, The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Servant (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975), p. 55.
[9] Ibid.
[10] The Duties of Servants: a Practical Guide to the Routine of Domestic Service (London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1890), pp. 99–100; online image, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/b2152810x : accessed 18 January 2019).
[11] The Family Manual and Servants’ Guide, 9th ed. (London: S.D. Ewins, 1859), p. 97; online image, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=gkACAAAAQAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s : accessed 14 January 2019).
[12] Lucy Lethbridge, Servants: A Downstairs HIstory of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2013), p. 78.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Horn, The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Servant, p. 57.
[16] “Want Places,” The (London, England) Morning Post, 4 Jun 1890, p. 11, col. 3; online image, British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ : accessed 4 September 2017).
[17] Church of England, Peterborough (Northamptonshire), St Paul’s, Register of Marriages, vol. 2 (1905–1921), p. 30, no. 60, William Buxton & Elizabeth Casbon, 19 May 1907; imaged as “Northamptonshire, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1912,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=9199 : accessed 18 January 2019), Peterborough, St Paul >Parish Registers >1905-1912 >image 18 of 54; citing Northamptonshire Record Office; Northampton.
[18] Yorkshire (West Riding), Autumn Register 1926, Doncaster Parliamentary Division, Polling District L, St. James Ward, p. 31, nos. 1750-1, 6 Roberts Rd., William & Elizabeth Buxton; imaged as “West Yorkshire, England, Electoral Registers, 1840-1962,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3057 : accessed 18 January 2019), Doncaster >1926 >image 666 of 773; citing West Yorkshire Archive Service, Leeds.
[19] Mitchell, Daily Life in Victorian England, p. 62.

4 thoughts on ““Situations Required””

  1. I enjoyed this fascinating glimpse into the occupations of Victorian women. After reading “D is for Dressmaker,” I can see why Elizabeth sought a situation as a lady’s maid.

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