209 : An African in a Norfolk coastal village, 1901

The historian of Mundesley in Norfolk noted and reported on the village website that an African from Lesotho (then: Basutoland) was listed as living there when the 1901 census was taken.

2 Orchard Cottages was the home of India-born Alice St John Mildemay (sic – probably Mildmay – census takers were not always accurate) and one servant Zaccharias Molafe from Basutoland. (The spelling of his forename may also be a census taker’s mis-spelling.) Third world servants were far from rare in Britain in the 19th century, an aspect of British social history that cries out for research (see page 131 of this website for a Jamaican woman in London).

Mundesley is on the coast of Norfolk, 8 miles/14km from Cromer and 35km from the city of Norwich. It had an association of famed Admiral Nelson (Nelson’s column in central London is well known, as is his victory over the combined Spanish-French fleet at Trafalgar in 1805). Its population is presently under 3,000 people plus summer holiday visitors.

The St John Mildmay family included baronets and members of parliament, but none of the famed males seems to have had a connection to Norfolk. An Alice St John Mildmay died in Melbury Bubb near Dorchester in Dorset in July 1922, aged 65. Probate records state she had been living in a hamlet on Exmoor (Somerset), and was a spinster (unmarried). Her estate was worth £4534.

What happened to her Lesotho servant, how the two became associated, and what he – raised in a mountainous sometimes snow-covered land – experienced in the Norfolk coastal lands a century and more ago are questions that may never be resolved.

June 2020: an unexpected item, throwing some light on the seldom documented experiences of servants, is to be found in Elspeth Huxley’s White Man’s Country: Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya, vol 2 1914-1931 (London: 1935, repr. Chatto and Windus, 1980) pp 143-144. Delamere, widely seen as spokesman for white settlers in Kenya, was with colleagues in London in March 1923 where he wanted to create good impressions and to meet decision-makers. He rented a house near Victoria station, complete with butler. The group included ‘two shivering Somalis who had accompanied their master and who were believed for some time by the butler to be Delamere’s sons. They rapidly descended in the social scale. On the first evening they were referred to as “the young African gentlemen” and on the following day (the butler being a Yorkshireman) as “thim lads”.’

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