Life as a housemaid in London by Margaret Anderson
Margaret was born in Findochty in 1922. By the age of 15 two of her cousins were working in London and she asked if they could find her a job there. They wrote to tell her about a position they had found as a housemaid to a lady and gentleman in a London house. So in 1937 she travelled down to the city to start her first job and was given a room of her own in the house.
Her Working day
Every morning Margaret got up by 7 o’clock to eat her breakfast. Then as their only servant she had to do all the household tasks including the cooking, cleaning and lady’s maid duties. The latter would include washing her lady’s face, hands and feet then preparing her lady’s permed hair.
Pay and Conditions
Margaret was paid 10 shillings a week. On Tuesday and Sunday after lunch (when she had washed the dishes) she was allowed time off to visit friends she had in London. She found the days long and the work hard.
After a year or so she returned north to work as a nanny in Buckie.
Buckie Heritage website and Heritage Centre has a wealth of information of the history of the town and surrounding area.
A recording of Eleanor’s visit to speak to S2 at Elgin High School
Eleanor went to talk to the students about her early life in Elgin in the 1940s, the railways in Elgin, Life before the NHS and working as a singer. The students also had the opportunity to ask questions to her. The recording is about 23 mins long.
“When I left Elgin Academy in 1948 just short of my 15th birthday, I worked for a few weeks as a nursemaid to the infant daughter of the Commanding Officer of the 30th Battalion Royal Enginners stationed at Pinefield Camp, Elgin. The colonel’s “tied hoose” was Brae Birnie on Mayne Road. I worked from 8.30 a.m. till 5 p.m. five days a week and was paid the princely sum of 10 /- per week.
My duties included dressing the baby, attending to her toilet needs, laundering her clothes and genererally what would now be termed “baby-sitting.” In the afternoon I was tasked with walking my charge in a beautiful Silver Cross baby carriage. (NB-one could hardly call such a magnificent item a ‘pram’). Because I became rather bored pushing the baby round and round the Cooper Park every day, I took to walking over to my own home in New Elgin most afternoons. My mother, having eight children of her own, was concerned with the “peely wally” look of the baby and regularly fed her with whatever was on the menu at home- tattie soup, mince and tatties or stew and dumplings. Petronella lapped up whatever delicacy my mum offered her. When we returned to Brae Birnie just in time for Nursery Tea, the baby, of course had no appetite. Can you guess who had to eat the pureed carrots and brains?
On the occasion of the annual “At Home Day” at Pinefield Camp the colonel and his lady planned to hold a dinner party at their home for visiting dignitaries and I was asked if my mother could help out in the kitchen. when Mum arrived I was told to fetch the baby down to show her off. Well what a rapturous welcome Petronella gave my mother, reaching out towards her and gurgling happily. My employer was amazed. Why was her usually shy daughter so excited on meeting a complete stranger?
When I reached the age of fifteen i went to work as an accounts clerk (or rather, as we were then called, “clerkess”) at the North of Scotland Hydro Board in West Villa, South Street, Elgin. (Must confess that my uncle, who was at that time Lord Provost of Elgin and held a prominent post at the Hydro-board, had “put in a good word” for me). I worked first on the switchboard and carried out various tasks such as distributing the mail, collecting tea money, making the tea and running errands like fetching the sausage rolls in the mornings and jammy doughnuts in the afternoon or going to the West End Post Office to buy National Insurance Stamps. After six months as “trotter”, when a new junior was taken on I was promoted into the job of folding accounts into envelopes, putting them through the franking machine, tying them into bundles of one hundred and then conveying them to the post office.
One very windy day I came out of the West End Post Office with all the national Insurance Stamps in my hands. A sudden gust tore them from my grasp and they blew all over the hospital never to be seen again. Was I in hot water! At the Hydro board I worked five days a week plus alternate Saturdays for £1.74. I gave my mother 25 /- digs and was left with 2 /- and 4d. to buy clothes, pay for the dance on saturday and other necessities. However when i was sixteen or seventeen I was able to supplement my wages when I began “moonlighting” as a vocalist with Jimmy Sutherland’s Lido Ballroom Band. I earned 15 /- for singing at the Lido on Wednesdays and Saturdays and at out of town “gigs” on Fridays. We played exotic places such as Keith, Forres and Miltonduff. With such riches I was able to buy my first bike (on the Never Never) from Fergie Birnie’s Cycle Shop in The High Street (now Fergie Birnie Junior’s Pet Shop). At that time, studying at Oxford and becoming a college lecturer would have seemed like an impossible dream.
Information on George Gordon, Founding member of Elgin museum and Previous resident of Brae Birnie, Mayne Road.