4: Hannah Musselwhite Seeks her Fortune!

 


It is quite striking how the pace of change back then was so slow! In the seventy years from 1790 to 1860 life went on in much the same way; the people may have changed but the way of life in a remote rural area hinged around the local estate and scraping a living from the land or serving in your lord and master’s house. There was no educational system and so regardless of mental capacity you became an agricultural labourer or servant and if you were not physically fit enough to be a labourer or to serve you perished! It is hard to imagine what life was really like back then but it was certainly not easy.

To recap, we have reached 1861 in our story when Charles Musselwhite and Ann Wheeler married and were living in near Fawley. The first of their three daughters, Hannah Musselwhite, was born in 1862, then Ellen arrived in 1864 and finally Frances (Fanny) in 1866. The census of 1871 shows the family together but they have moved up the road from Badminston to Stone Hills Farm. It seems they had a cottage where, before marriage, Charles had been a lodger so he was obviously working on Stone Hill Farm for some time.

Also in 1871, Charles’ mother Lucy  (nee Wheeler) was 78 and living with the Willis family in Fawley and Ann’s mother, Elizabeth (nee Birt), was 60 and still living at Stanswood. Both of their fathers are, by the census returns it seems, deceased. Lucy then died in 1879 at the age of 87, quite remarkable for the time.

Not much may have changed between the start of our story in 1792 and this point in time in 1871 but the next ten years would see a significant change in the Musselwhite family fortunes and to try and get an understanding of what happened it is perhaps helpful to reflect on what was happening in Britain at the time.

The steam powered industrial revolution of the mid-Victorian era was transforming social structures. The development of the railway network meant that manufactured products, agricultural produce and people were more mobile than they had ever have been before. Times in the countryside, especially in remote locations, were hard, very hard. The jobs were in the developing cities in manufacturing and in domestic service. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer (times do not change!). People were deserting their rural homes and heading for the city in search of work in an effort to survive.

In stark contrast to the 1871 census, when the Musselwhites were together living on Stone Hills Farm, by 1881 Charles and Ann had moved to a small cottage in Ashlett Creek and had a lodger, William Cross, who was a wheelwright. But where were the daughters?

Fanny, now 16, was working in the grocers shop in Fawley run by William Giles and his sister Frances. The Giles originated from Sherborne, Dorset, so one wonders how they came to be running a shop in Fawley!

Ellen was 18 and working as a housemaid to Mrs Mary Brown, a widow, and her two children who lived at 53, High Street, Millbrook in Southampton There was also a cook, Emily Taylor, so Ellen was the ‘maid of all works’.

But what of the eldest, Hannah? It took some finding in the records but she is actually recorded as Annie Mustewhite! I believe Mustewhite is a transcription error when the hand written records of the time were transferred to computer and the original handwritten entry was probably Muslewhite. In those days the census was taken by a team of clerks who visited each property in turn and interviewed and recorded each person present at each address. I can imagine, in responses to the census clerks question “What is your name?” the reply in a deep Hampshire country accent could well have made Hannah Musselwhite sound like Annie Muslewhite! There is no doubt though that this is our Hannah as her age and place of birth tie in exactly with Hannah Musselwhite.

Hannah (aged 20) was a kitchen maid in the household of Sir William Keppel, the 7th Earl of Albemarle, and his wife, Viscountess Sophie M Bury. They lived at 65, Princes Gate, Kensington with their eight children together with an entourage of staff including a nurse, footmen, kitchen staff and domestic maids. There is no trace of William Keppel but he could well have been out of town (or even out of the country) on business at the time of the census. He was a senior officer in the military as well as a prominent senior Conservative politician. This family and their ancestry is important I will cover that in more detail shortly

Why Hannah went to London is not hard to understand but how it came about is unclear but one can speculate with a probable degree of accuracy.

The Musselwhite’s cottage at Ashlett Creek was on the Cadland Estate, the ‘country seat’ of the Drummond family. The Drummond’s were a long standing Scottish family who founded Drummond’s Bank which relocated from Edinburgh to London in Georgian times. Along with Coutts Bank it was one of the major financial institutions in London and held accounts for some of the Royal family as well as leading politicians and public figures. The full name of Hannah’s employer was William Coutts Keppel, the Coutts being a direct connection to Coutts Bank so undoubtedly Andrew Drummond and William Keppel would have known each other well.

It is likely that Drummond introduced Hannah to the vacancy in the Keppel’s household, indeed it may have involved a two-way exchange between the two families. This was not uncommon as it suited both parties:

  1. You would not want to employ a local girl from your estate in your household, all the family secrets would have been around the estate in no time at all!
  2. To avoid excessive interbreeding between the same families exchanging servants helped to ‘freshen up’ the gene pool

Hannah must have had a job lined up before she left home; she would not have had the resources to finance the travel to, or accommodation on arrival, in London whilst she looked for work. She would not have got a job without references.

One thing is certain though, Hannah was a strong minded and strong hearted girl prepared to go off into the unknown on her own. I wonder what her mother’s feelings were and what her last words of advice to her daughter were as Hannah headed off, probably on a horse and cart, to Southampton to catch the train to London? I wonder, too, if Hannah really knew what she was letting herself in for by going in to domestic service which, in Victorian times, was little short of a form of slavery. I doubt she had little choice though, not many country girls did.

With the taking of a census only every ten years we are left with a gap in our knowledge but we do know that in, or around, October 1888 Hannah had a son, Charles Edward, who was to become my grandfather. There are some important facts about this we do know:

  1. Hannah was not married at this time but does not seem to have been dismissed from her post as most serving girls would have been when becoming pregnant
  2. The birth does not appear to have been registered; certainly not as either Charles Edward Orchard or Musselwhite. I actually could not find any Charles Edward’s registered around the time of his birth. Maybe Hannah did not know this had to be done or maybe it was because someone did not want to be revealed as the father?
  3. The boy was not baptised which usually happened very shortly after birth given the high infant mortality rate at the time. Maybe the father was not Christian and did not want a Christian baptism?
  4. Although we know from the DNA test and from anecdotal evidence that the father was of Spanish origin there are no members of the Keppel household (family, guests or staff) in the 1881 or 1891 Census returns with names that appear to be of Spanish origin so this would suggest the father was an ‘outsider’
  5. Henry Orchard is not mentioned anywhere in the Keppel or Lopes household in the 1881 Census; he was living in Amersham, Buckinghamshire 

There is nothing here to indicate who the father of the boy may have been, or to connect Henry Orchard with Hannah and her son.


 

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