249 : ‘West Indian’ nannies in Britain

Over one million women worked as domestic servants in Britain at the end of the Victorian era. Some were black. Those who have been identified have been found generally when researching their employers. One exception is the Jamaican Ann Styles who lived in London for six decades (see page 131).

In my 1998 book Black Edwardians I noted the presence of two other Jamaican female servants, ‘Gig-gee’ who was employed by future spy (in Russia) and novelist (the still popular Swallows and Amazons series) Arthur Ransome from 1910 into 1911, living in Bournemouth, the Lake District and then Hatch near Salisbury; and Ida (or Indiana) Garvey who came to London with her employers the Judah family in the 1910s. The source for Ransome’s Jamaican nurse was Hugh Brogan’s The Life of Arthur Ransome (London: Cape, 1984).

Another biography, Roy Richard Grinker’s In the Arms of Africa: The Life of Colin M. Turnbull (NY: St Martin’s Press, 2000) quotes from the once-famous anthropologist’s The Human Cycle of 1983, ‘I have a hazy but fond recollection of a West Indian nanny’. Turnbull, whose The Forest People (1961) had details of Congo pygmy society and was very popular, was born in Harrow (north west London) in 1924, so the black nanny would have been with the family before 1930. Turnbull went to the elitist Westminster School and Oxford University.

Details of other black nannies would be welcome. Photographs of black women with white children, on line, seem to all be identified as American although some were taken in the Caribbean.

Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy’s The Rise and Fall of the British Nanny (1972) has been republished several times. There is no mention of black nannies in Britain.

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