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.