My Granny at the first possible moment got Mum a job in service at the age of 14. It was a live in job and I think Granny Cox was relieved to see her move out. Relationships between Mum and her stepfather were not good and if the young Agnes was anything like the woman I knew she wouldn’t have been easy to live with.
Despite all the problems, Mum, wasn’t pleased to be leaving home. She was to work six and a half days a week starting at 5:30am and finishing at 10pm. Mum’s wages were paid directly to Gran and so he only benefit was her keep.
Her first night was terrifying. She was on the top floor of the biggest house she had ever lived in and had a room to herself for the first time ever. To cap it all there was a huge thunderstorm and she couldn’t close the window to keep the rain out. Not a good start.
The start wasn’t good but things got and better and better. For Mum it was like moving into Downton Abbey and being part of a way of life she had never imagined. Even if she was at the bottom of the pile. The leftovers from the table that were her perks made better and more varied meals than she had ever eaten.
Her employer was the ADC to the Governor and the house was opposite Government House. He had had a bad First World War and suffered both mentally and physically. His wife was a wonderful woman who really took to Mum and was became her inspiration.
I think the house was full of boys so perhaps Mum stood in as the missing “daughter”. She began to ape her “betters” ways and accent, so much so that when she visited Gran on days off she often got her ear boxed because of her “airs and graces”.
She gradually worked her way up from skivvy to general maid and though the work was hard and long absolutely loved it. Even hauling coal up flights of stairs for the bedroom fires and blacking the range in the kitchen.
The Governor and his young wife were invited to dinner which started a massive programme of redecoration, refurnishing and cleaning. The mistress was leaving nothing to chance and Cook had practised the menu so many times Mum was fed up of eating the leftovers.
Nothing could go wrong. Except that Cook became ill on the day and was consigned to her bed. Guess who was asked to take her place in the kitchen. Yes, it was Mum. She had helped before but had never cooked a meal. Certainly not for a Governor.
The courses went up one by one and the plates came down with Mum checking each to see how much hadn’t been eaten. She was used to some food being left for politeness sake but couldn’t determine if it was more or less than usual.
After the last course had been delivered she relaxed a little until she was summoned to the dining room.
At 16 years of age she entered it nervously not knowing what to expect. The men were in dinner jackets and the ladies in fine gowns. Her employer with a straight face said the Governor wanted to speak to her about the meal. She was very frightened.
There was a happy ending though. He told her that when he was informed a young maid would be cooking that night he had expected the worst but in fact it was the best meal he had had for some time and that if she was ever looking for employment to be sure to contact his butler.
She was so happy there.
So much so that when she got married she didn’t tell her employers or hand in her notice. Dad was very confused by all of this and one day went to the house, told the mistress, grabbed his wife and took her to the rooms he had rented.
She only went back to apologise and to take tea from time to time as an “equal”.