Newstead Abbey

My analysis of Newstead Abbey is based on a source booklet entitled ‘Victorian Newstead Hands on History’ and my own visit to the site. I intend to support my analysis through the use of direct quotes from the source booklet in both parts of the assignment. In 1871, Newstead Abbey was owned by the Webb family. The Victorian country house was divided into two main parts: ‘above stairs’ and ‘below stairs’. The Webb family occupied the above stairs and the servants occupied the below stairs. The source booklet describes the experiences of the people who lived at Newstead in 1871.

The above stairs was also separated into two. The Southeast wing attic was used as a nursery for children and Mr and Mrs Webb occupied the rest. It was very rare that children saw their parents in upper class Victorian households and this was true for the Webbs. Augusta’s book ‘Livingstone and Newstead’ states that she saw her parents rarely, one of these times was after breakfast. “It was the family custom that we children after our early morning breakfast should join my parents in the breakfast room. We were relegated to the big bow window… we were never allowed to speak.

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This must have put a strain upon the relationship between the parents and the children if they rarely saw each other. The children wouldn’t have been very happy not being able to make a noise whilst playing. Augusta also wrote in her book “the suffering… from cold was quite severe… The entire house was… heated by hot water pipes but these stopped short of our nursery gallery. Whilst in our parents’ company we were warm and comfortable but they seemed unaware that at other times we shivered. ” When I went on the visit I saw how the carpets and heating did not extend to the nursery.

Augusta explained how she suffered as a child. Victorian morals dictated that children had to be toughened up to serve the British Empire. Even though the children were kept in the cold they still had a privileged upbringing with “a nursery full of toys, the grandest of these was a rocking horse. ” If a family had a rocking horse made of realistic dapple with real horsehair then it showed that they were of a very high class and children would have loved it. Boys would probably have had lead soldiers and train sets. Girls would probably have had dolls and involved themselves in embroidery.

The children also would have read books such as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, … Black Beauty and… Treasure Island. ” The parents lived in luxury. Mr Webb took several lengthy hunting expeditions in Africa, “He and a friend… decided to try big game hunting in Africa. ” Mr Webb was a great innovator and he had “gas lighting, an efficient water supply and proper drainage. ” The ownership of such facilities shows how rich the Webbs were. Hardly anybody in Victorian times had these sorts of facilities apart from perhaps the Royal Family. The Webbs’ accounts show that a lot of money was spent on food, mainly “sheep” and “fowls”.

The accounts also show how many people came to eat in a day. In one day 12 people ate lunch in the parlour, 6 for dinner and then 21 in the Great Hall. Since this was an every day occasion then this again shows in what sort of luxury the Webbs lived. The Webbs wouldn’t have to do anything around the house because their 25 servants could do it for the family of eight. This is stated in the ‘1871 census of Newstead Abbey’. Below stairs were the domestic servants, “the stillroom maid worked for the Housekeeper,” and the Butler kept the insurance books of his “subordinates.

This shows that the servants had their own hierarchy. The Butler and Housekeeper were “upper” servants whereas footmen and maids were “lower” servants. The hierarchy was respected so “lower” servants probably didn’t dine with “upper” servants. The least important servant – the housemaid – would have been known by her first name and the servant above her – the parlour maid – would have been known by surname. The cook and housekeeper would have been known as “Mrs” even if they weren’t married. Most servants came from poor backgrounds and were often uneducated.

Nevertheless domestic service was considered to be a respectable job for working class people. Servants came from all over Britain and parts of Europe to work at Newstead e. g. the Young Ladies Maid, Louise Somin. ier, who was from France and the Second Kitchen Maid, Isabelle Clarke, who was from Scotland. The only other real option that an uneducated person had as a career was in the mills, which due to industrialisation were booming. Unfortunately this type of work was dangerous, had low wages and long hours.

Servants still had to work very long hours, “six o’clock in the morning and going on until late at night” though and they didn’t have it easy with “little spare time… few holidays and often little privacy. ” The servants wouldn’t have liked their privacy being invaded, such as when “employers would… open letters addressed to their staff. ” A servants work was made difficult by “few labour saving devices. ” Many floors had to be hand-scrubbed and carpets and rugs had to be brushed. Every day the servants would have had to clean all the ornaments that the Webbs had.

In a photo that I saw on the trip there was a room full of ornaments, so I think that a servant’s work would have been very arduous. Servants even had to make their own cleaning agents such as “silver sand and vinegar for scouring copper pans, melted beeswax and turpentine for polishing floors and furniture. ” The work was made harder by thin leather soled shoes that didn’t protect very well against the hard stone floor. On the trip I had sore feet from standing on the hard stone for a couple hours but for servants with inadequate foot protection for a long hard day, seven days a week, it must have been very painful.

I was denied seeing the kitchen but a peer, who had, tried lifting the pots and pans. He said that they were very heavy when they were empty so when they were full they must have been extremely tiring to carry around all day especially on the hard stone floor with little foot protection. The laundry maids had a tough time as they didn’t have the conventional means of washing that we have today. The Head Laundry Maid was responsible for the fine linen and the Second Laundry Maid washed the rest of the clothes for both the servants and the family.

They had to use bars of soap, washing soda or Dolly Blue in a “dolly tub” or a “poss tub. ” The washing was stirred with a dolly peg, a posser or a ponch. Water had to be boiled and then put in the dolly, soap had to be grated, and soda added. The washing was then put in the tub and stirred 100 times. After the final rinse, the washing was mangled, starched, and hung out to dry. This daily routine would have taken a while and a peer who tried this kind of washing at Newstead Abbey told me that he experienced fatigue from a couple of minutes of it.

However, some servants did get special privileges, for example: “it was a traditional right for the cook to have bones, dripping and any other fat, this was hers to sell. The Lady’s Maid could be sure of elegant cast offs from her mistress. Candle ends and empty bottles were given to the butler to sell. ” I think that this would have been comforting to these servants knowing that they had special treatment and others didn’t and the extra money made could go towards treating themselves or they could send the money to their poor families.

It was very rare for servants to get married as they had such little spare time that they would only get married when they left the service. The service was considered good training for women who wished to become wives in later life. The fact that the Head Nurse – Caroline Belliss – was married was strange but I think that since she was a mature “upper” servant she might have had this special privilege. Usually servants were dismissed if they were getting married. In this assignment I have used two types of evidence; primary and secondary sources.

The ‘Victorian Newstead Hands on History’ resource pack is a secondary source document although it has within it primary source material. My visit to Newstead Abbey is itself a source of primary evidence, which I can contrast and compare with the resource pack ‘Victorian Newstead Hands on History’. Both sets of evidence are very useful in coming to an understanding of the experience of people who lived at Newstead in 1871. It is important however to understand that the sources of evidence that I have used have both strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, my visit has its advantages because it makes the secondary source evidence real. The disadvantage is that over the last 128 years changes may have been made. This is explained in the second part of my assignment. The resource pack’s weakness is that you cannot see the house when you are reading about it. Secondary evidence is more reliable when supported by access to primary material. The strength of the resource pack is that it is very detailed. This was very apparent to me when I made my visit to Newstead Abbey. It was then that the information in the resource pack came to life.

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