Hundreds of thousands of women worked as house servants in Victorian Britain. Lucy Lethbridge (Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain Bloomsbury, 2013, page 9) notes in 1900 1,500,000 women were servants in a female workforce of four million. In large houses they learned their trade by serving older servants; but the mass worked on their own. The Victorian world was divided into three classes: those whose servants lived on the premises; those whose servants lived elsewhere; and those who had no servants at all. Servants appear in the census and in newspapers when they were victims of or witnesses to crimes.
Ann E. Styles was noted in the Anti-Slavery Reporter of London in 1903 in a brief report by Charles Allen, the retired secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society. He noted she had died ‘a few months ago’ aged eighty, in Hampstead, north London. The ‘Death of a British Slave’ also noted she had been born into slavery in Jamaica, freed when slavery was abolished there in 1834, and had travelled to England around 1840 with her white mistress. She worked for that woman and her son and daughter, and was ‘remarkable for her devotion and heroic strength of character’. This made one paragraph in my 1998 book Black Edwardians: Black People in Britain 1901-1914 (London: Frank Cass, page 45).
Aware that tracing women of African descent in Victorian Britain was far from easy, I welcomed an e mail from Australia where Mrs Lesley Russell, married to a descendant of Styles’ employer provided information, which now follows.
Elizabeth Cunnington married Henry Russell in October 1835 then sailed for Jamaica where Henry joined the London Missionary Society’s mission and was sent to Claremont near Dry Harbour as a teacher. He died in 1839, leaving a pregnant widow and two children: Henry and Elizabeth. During their Jamaican years the Russells witnessed the island-wide celebrations (1 August 1838) marking the end of slavery. It is possible that Ann Styles helped at the school (‘the young person employed to assist me is very attentive and interested in her work’ E. Russell letter September 1839). When Elizabeth Russell returned to England with her three young children (Henry, Elizabeth and George Alfred, born July 1839), arriving in July 1840, Ann Styles went with her.
The 1841 census shows Ann Styler (sic) aged 20 in the Russell household in Buttesland Street, Shoreditch (a little north of Old Street). Elizabeth Russell’s children, her mother and her sister were also listed. Elizabeth Russell married journalist-editor Edwin Hough in 1845 (he died in 1875) and when she died in 1882 Ann Styles then lived with their unmarried son and daughter (Edwin and Emma Hough). George and Henry Russell, Elizabeth’s Jamaica-born sons, emigrated to Australia in 1860 and 1861. George Russell wrote from Australia and Chile, and those letters were kept by their sister who died in England in 1920.
Described as a general servant and a domestic servant, Ann Styles was noted in the census first as born in the West Indies then from 1861 born in Jamaica, with the 1871 and 1901 census both noting she had been born in St Anns, Jamaica.
The London addresses were:
1851 3 Upton Road, West Hackney
1861 12 St Paul’s Terrace, Highbury
1871 31 Hungerford Road, Islington [south of Camden Road]
1881 9 Clifton Road, St Pancras [yards from Hungerford Road]
1891 8 Eldon Road, Hampstead [off Haverstock Hill]
1901 8 Eldon Road still* *after 1930 this was Eldon Grove
George Russell’s letters to his mother and relatives included notes to Ann Styles, and comments: Plymouth, 31 December 1859 (waiting for the ship to Australia) ‘give my best love to Papa, Henry, Lizzie, the children and Ann’. Plymouth 2 January 1860 ‘tell Ann I shan’t be home to tea again until Xmas 1864’. Sydney, May 1860 ‘best love to Papa, Lizzie, Ann and co’. In June 1860 he told his step sister Emma ‘you must write a letter some day for Ann – let her dictate it to you. I shall send her a note next mail. Give her my love’.
Ann Styles, like so many working women in Victorian times, was illiterate it seems. In a July 1860 letter to Albinia ‘Benie’ Hough, his half-sister who was to die in 1871, George expressed his wish that ‘I hope you will all take care of her’ and in December he asked his half-sister Emma to tell Ann ‘I shall write to her next month – most probably’. Letters crossing the oceans from Australia carried George Russell’s love and thanks to the Jamaican woman who had raised him. She sent him a coconut: ‘The plum pudding was in excellent condition, also the cocoa nut was acceptable – for this please thank Ann.’ ‘Give my love to Ann and tell her I have not forgotten her although I do not write’. He went to Chile and wrote ‘remembering Ann whose native place Jamaica I shall probably see one day’. He got married and returned to Australia. ‘I have not hear much of Ann lately – how is she getting on? Give her my love’. He had children and wrote ‘I wish Ann could see the boys’ (one being the grandfather of informant Lesley Russell’s husband Julian). In 1881 he was concerned that Ann was ill.
The Russells and Houghs were not a grand family, Elizabeth worked as a dressmaker when she returned from Jamaica (1841 census) and her sons sent money to her from Australia from time to time. Their relationship with the Jamaican woman was obviously much closer than master-and-servant. When Elizabeth Hough died in 1882 she and Ann Styles had shared their lives more than forty years. Ann spent the rest of her life in the household of the surviving Hough children. Elizabeth Hough died in 1920, and Emma Hough in 1916. They worked as teachers or daily governesses. Edwin Hough (1850-1906) was a clerk then an inspector with the Board of Trade.
Ann Elizabeth Styles died at the Houghs’ home at 8 Eldon Road, Hampstead, on 27 January 1903 aged eighty. The death registration states she was ‘formerly a nurse (domestic)’.
This information owes almost everything to Mrs Lesley Russell in Australia. Many thanks.
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