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Three little maids of Oxfordshire.

Ann Ryder

The three little maids were daughters of Alfred & Elizabeth Higgins, a basket maker and chair canner who worked for Trinity College Oxford. three maids

They lived at 30a Carters Yard, George Street, St Clements, Oxford. Their home was in a block of four, back to back, three storey houses (held by Trinity College.The daughters were; Elizabeth Mary born the 7th of June 1877, Annie Sarah born the 21th of July 1887 and Florence May born the 16th of August 1881. Florence was my grandmother; she and Elizabeth were known as Bess and Flo and were in service while Annie was a dressmaker. Alfred and Elizabeth also had two sons; Charles Alfred born the 29th of November 1875 and Henry James born the 20th January 1885. There was also another daughter Ann Jane born the 19th of April 1880 who died May 1880

SeeAlfred Higgins' photograph and description.

One Little Maid

Elizabeth Mary Higgins or Aunt Bess was my favourite Aunt who always had a twinkle in her eye and a good sense of humour. As she had never had any children of her own her nephews and nieces where important to her and I loved the time I spent with her. I found her to be very firm but loving and she became like a Grandmother to me, as my own had died when I was very young. The smell of Lavender always reminds me of her bedroom.

From her time in service she had a routine around the house. Fires were lit, ashes taken out, beds made, feather mattresses shaken out – all by 10.30am. As a child I thought she was posh. She had a bathroom, not a tin bath like in my home which was brought out every Saturday so that we were clean for church on Sunday, with a toilet at the bottom of the garden.

Photograph of Aunts Bess & Annie

Aunts Bess & Annie in 1954.

It was from Aunt Bess that I learned how to sew. She was very much of the make do and mend family. Old coats were unpicked and turned inside out so that they could be made into skirts or jackets. Nothing was thrown out. Any off cuts of material were made into cushion covers, nightdress cases, and handkerchief cases and so on. Smaller pieces of material were used in patch work quilts and for rag rugs. When I was young and stayed with her on holiday I helped to make the rugs and have her old rag rug hook. Discarded knitted garments were unpicked and made into skeins. These were then washed, dried and rolled into balls so that they could be used to re-knit new clothes.

Aunt Bess and her sisters were interested in every kind of handicraft: crochet, drawn-thread work, felts work etc. I also remember making necklaces with her. Some of these were made from old necklaces which were restrung while others were made into broaches or earrings. A fad at the time was to knit necklaces with a fine plastic, there were about six stitches and as you knitted the rows the knitting twisted looked somewhat like fine beads.

On visits to my Aunts I was taken on bus rides, for walks by the river and around the famous Oxford colleges. On one occasion, Aunt Bess her sister Annie and I went to the Oxford annual fair where there was a big wheel. Aunt Bess wanted to have a go but Aunt Annie refused so I was allowed on the ride with her. While Aunt Bess loved it swinging the seat backwards and forwards I was petrified. After the ride had finished she wanted anther go so I got off the ride and stayed with Aunt Annie, waving to her as she went round. Aunt Bess must have been in her seventies then! On another occasion when I visited my Aunt on my scooter she said that she wished she had a motorbike. When I enquired why she said that she had three ambitions in life: to go in a submarine, to fly in an aeroplane and to ride on the back of a motor bike. I took her for a short ride on the back of my scooter but despite her protests refused to go too fast as I was afraid she would fall off. At the time she was a little frail and in her 80’s.

It was Aunt Bess who gave my father some very old family photos dated from around 1867. It was because of these that I started family research. Luckily, my father had asked her at the time who the people were in the photos and he had written names on the back of them. These were then passed down to me.

My father was told that one of Aunt Bess’s ancestors was a ship’s captain and another was a jockey who was killed in a horse race in France. Albert Edward Sammons was a famous violinist and cousin of Bess. Flo (Bess’s sister my gran) and her son (my father) were taken by Aunt Bess to watch Albert play. I am still trying to confirm the connection between Aunt Bess and Albert Sammons but I believe it to be on the distaff Jackson side who married the Sammons.

Aunt Bess and her sister Annie also collected post cards which they kept in albums. As a child when I stayed with them, I used to love looking at the pictures on the front of the cards. Now that my Aunts have passed on I was fortunate to have the albums left to me. Little did I realise as a child how much I would appreciate them now that I am older when I love to read the back of them. It is from these postcards that I have been able to glean much information about my Aunts' lives.

Bess & Flo in London

Bess & Flo in LondonAunt Bess was in service in London in 1901 but I have yet to find out who she was working for. She was initially married to a Mr Jones, who according to Aunt Annie, died in prison. I have been unable to find any information about this marriage and therefore do not
know her first husband’s name. In the 1901 census she is named as Mrs Elizabeth Jones married but living on her own at 7, The Polygon Clapham, (Holy Trinity), Wandsworth, London. Where and who was Mr Jones? Was he in prison and if so what crime did he commit to end up there?

This photo is of my grandmother Flo wearing a small print blouse and Aunt Bess, who dressed in black, looks as if she could be in mourning. The photo is taken in London around 1899 – 1904. So she must have been widowed between 1901 - 1904. I understand from the postcards that Flo was working in London and Aunt Bess was living with her after the death of her husband.

Her second marriage was on the 28th of July at Paddington registry office to Albert Edward Burnet, aged 31. The marriage certificate gave 93, Star Street, Edgware Road, London as the address. It also confirms Bess was Elizabeth Mary Jones a widow.

Albert had recently come out the army after serving in South Africa and was working as a cab driver. The witnesses to the marriage were Louisa Cobb, who was in service with Bess (I have post cards from Louisa Cobb to Aunt Bess) and a Percival E Kirk who I have not been able to find any information about.

I understand that by the 1st of January 1905 she was living at 187, Miles Buildings, Bell Street, and Edgware Road, London. She then moved back to Oxford in 1906 to work for Mrs G Leigh (mother of a vicar) at Hollywell Vicarage, St Cross. By August of that year Bess was living at 2 St Aspah Street, Rhyl, North Wales. It is possible that she could have accompanied Mrs Leigh there. I believe she then left this address and that Flo, my grandmother, took over her position.

Photograph of Stone House,Faringdon Road, Kingston Bagpuize

Stone House,Kingston Bagpuize.

The next address that I have is with a Dr Hatherell at Stone House, Kingston Bagpuize, Abingdon, and Oxford on the 27th of March 1907. Her husband Albert also worked for the Doctor.

She stayed at this address until the end of July 1907 where she moved to another Doctor's residence – a Doctor Woodward at Radford House, Worksop, Nottinghamshire. I have a dated postcard from Bess on the 27th of August 1907 to her mother saying that she had arrived safe at Worksop also a post card from her husband Bert who was working at Stone house saying,"I expect Worksop is more lively than Kingston"
It is possible that Bess moved there in order to prepare for the Woodward’s move to Stone House, Kingston Bagpuize.

Photograph of Bess & Bert in Service

Bess & Bert in Service.

As she had mentioned in the postcard dated 5th September "hope to be in Kingstone on Wednesday, I am coming with the Lady, p/s just heard the house won't be ready for Wednesday".

Bess arrived back at Stone House about the 16th of September 1907 and her sister Annie said in a post card that it was nice to have her near them again. Aunt Bess's husband Albert continued working for Doctor Woodward.

By 5 April 1908 another sojourn back to Mrs Leigh whom by this time she had moved to 14 Park Rd Oxford stayed here until 12 July 1908.

Then she was on the move again, this time to Devon to Dr Hatherell (late of Stone House) at Broadway House, Topsham, Devon. She arrived there about 3 August 1908 staying until 20 October 1909. The house is now a B&B and looks much the same as it did when aunt Bess worked there.

From Topsham she went to Mr Martindale Foxton Lodge, Wolvercote, Oxford, and had the pleasure of working for him.

Photograph of the Winloed House, Pangbourne, Berkshire

"Winloed", Pangbourne, Berks.

On the 31st of November 1911, Bess was in service to Sir George Elliot
and Lady Armstrong at "Winloed", Pangbourne.
I can remember a story she told me about being woken late one night by pebbles being thrown against her window. Thinking it was one of the stable boys she called out “Go away" Only to hear a voice “Bessie, this is your master. Come down and let me in, I need you to make my friend and I a cup of tea." She did this but she first had to light the coal fire range to boil the kettle. She then took in the tea to her master and his friend Mr Churchill... (As he was then).

On another occasion The Prince of Wales (David) who had been out for the evening came to the kitchen door rather inebriated. The footman sobered him up by giving him raisins to eat which made him sick. He was then sobered up with coffee before he was allowed to go through the green baize door into the house.

The other places Aunt Bess had worked that I have been unable to find any information about are: 1912 Mrs E Clarke, Farm Wilsed, Pangbourne, Berks and 1915 Miss Pole, Lydgate, Foxcombe Hill, Nr Oxford. My father told me that during the 1914-1918 war Aunt Bess had been in the Red Cross and driven ambulances.

The last place of work that I can find for her was Burchetts Green, Maidenhead where she worked for Mrs Brine between 1915-1920.

After this date Aunt Bess was living at 'Southern Slopes', Botley, Oxford as she had a post card there from a D.T. Bennet from the Indian Home Office dated the 6th of December 1938. There are very few post cards after this date by which time the albums were full. I believe that there were a number of letters written and I wish I had copies of them.

Her husband Albert died on the 3rd of March 1947 of a heart attack on the footpath outside the Methodist Church in Botley. A passing soldier covered him with his great coat. Aunt Bess remarked that it was a tribute to him as he had served in two great wars and come out unscathed. He was cremated on the 8th of March 1947.

By this time Aunt Bess had retired and was living at 27, Seacourt Road, Botley, Oxford. Aunt Annie (her sister) who had also been widowed went to live with her. She was shortly followed by my grandfather from the Isle of Wight (Flo’s husband, their brother in law) and his daughters from his second marriage; Lily who had been widowed and Eddie a spinster who had been living on the Isle of Wight. This communal living was based on the idea of saving the cost of running four households and so that the relatives could all look after each other.

Aunt Bess paid for the burial and grave of her parents, her brother Charles and her sister Annie and brother in law Joseph Wilson, who are all in one burial plot. There were two places in the grave of her parents which were thought to be for Aunt Bess and her husband Albert but as they were both cremated these space are unused.

When Elizabeth Burnett died she was cremated on the 13th of February 1964 aged 87.