A few weeks ago my daughter gave me “The Help” to watch, knowing I would enjoy it, which I did immensely, hence the title for this post. Many of my husbands’ Gaelic speaking female cousins [a few times removed] were domestic servants and the New Statistical Accounts of Scotland [January 1843] tell me –
Of the five schools in Oban at the time, one of the two female schools was for the children of the labouring classes where they were trained in the “habits of industry” and “the elementary branches of a useful English education”. At the age of 14 or 15, the girls would go into service, either locally or further afield.
So, scrubbing and cleaning was to be their lot in life. Even the rank of domestic servant was subject to status. A pretty young girl would be assigned to the choicest of chores such as serving tea, table service or, if lucky, as the mistress’ chambermaid. Unfortunately, the less attractive looking were left with the drudge, kitchen work or house cleaning.
Born 1867 at Oban to John Wilson and Ann MacDonald, Christina Wilson’s destiny was pre-determined.
In 1881, I find 13 year old Christina at 3 Glencairn Crescent, Edinburgh [pictured] employed as a domestic servant in the Renton household with older half-sister, twenty-five year old Mary MacDonald and mother Ann.
Situate in a rather salubrious area of Edinburgh, inhabited by professionals and known, I believe as the “West End”, it was not a too shabby beginning in the life of a young domestic.
Mary MacDonald was married to John Shaw MacNeill in November of 1881 and it seems probable that Christina was being groomed to fill Mary’s position. I wonder how John Wilson, his sons John, Angus and their five male Carmichael cousins fared back in Oban, cared for by 70 year old Christina McFadyen!
TEN YEARS later and Mary MacNeill (MacDonald), living at 7 Murieston Crescent is the proud mother of six children, ranging in age from 1 to 9. Husband John works as a cashier, mercantile.
Christina has moved on, working for chartered accountant Francis A Bringloe of 12 Coates Gardens. And on the night of the census, the words “house and table maid servant” were notated adjacent to her name. The little girl from Oban, who first came to Edinburgh at the tender age of thirteen and without doubt started her working life downstairs, had grown into a confident, young lady proudly working the upstairs.
In June of 1897 Christina was married to patternmaker, Robert Motion at Kirkcaldy and the couple made their home at 1 Wheatfield Road, Edinburgh. Whether Christina continued working after her marriage to supplement the family income, I don’t know but she died in 1960 in her Wheatfield Road home at the age of 93 years.
Christina’s lifetime encompassed much change; two world wars; depression, industrial and technological advances, perhaps the most important of all, education available to all classes of society, giving her descendants the opportunity to embrace a pathway much different from her early beginnings.