The second amazing find from the Feltham hoard of photographs is a tintype of Maria with possibly Constance Hamilton. I am inclined to agree with TH, this must be Maria. Tintype photos were popular from about 1856 to 1867. Maria was hired by Constance Hamilton as a nurse to her two young daughters in 1867. The woman with Maria here looks very like the elder of her two daughters in another identified photograph taken later.
TH found another photo to clinch the matter; a fabulous cabinet portrait of a very definitely identified Maria taken in London, at a studio just around the corner from where the Hamiltons and Maria stayed in Kensington in the 1870s.
So here we have another of Chitterne’s stalwart womenfolk of yesteryear. Who’d have thought it? These photos of Maria have been stashed away in the attic at 98 Codford Road for over a hundred years and just now come to light. Almost as if waiting for the right moment when her story could be told and her portrait shared.
Maria has at last found her safe haven. She remains with the Dennistoun-Hamilton family for the rest of her working life, bringing up the two girls until they are of marriageable age, treated almost as one of the family.
For the first few years when Eva and Beryl are small Maria stays with them almost continuously. The Hamilton family usually spend summer holidays sailing and the winter in London, where they take a fine house for the season in Kensington. Addresses such as Princes Gate, Queen’s Gate and Queensberry Place all appear at the top of Maria’s letters over the years. Maria shepherds the two young girls on the train from Scotland to London as she describes in one brief undated letter to her mother from 43 Princes Gate:
I am sure you will feel thankful to know that we arrived here quite safe last night at a quarter to eleven. We left Golf Hill (the home of Alexander Dennistoun near Glasgow) at 9 in the morning, so we had a long day in the train, but the children were very good and we had a very pleasant journey. Baby is just asking who I am writing to and I told her, so she has sent 5 kisses and 5 loves to my Mother and a thousand kisses and a thousand loves to my little boy.
I have no time to say more, as I am busy unpacking and very tired, but very thankful that providence has brought me to my native land once more in peace and safety.
By January 1868 Maria hasn’t seen her son or mother for 9 months. She is writing from 64 Princes Gate to Jimmy on the 22nd for his 11th birthday the following day:
I trust this will find you in good health on your eleventh birthday. 11 years old, only think, you will soon grow up I do hope a good boy and, if you do, you will no doubt grow up a good man. I have sent you a British (illegible) again this year, as I believe from what I hear, you are trying to improve yourself and I hope you will like it and try and imitate the good men you read about, and be kind to animals, for they are God’s creatures as much as we. And I do hope you ask God to help you every day. Remember you are God’s servant as much as the King on his throne, and if you serve him faithfully here, you will wear a crown of Glory in eternity hereafter. And let me beg you to go to school as much as you can, both night and Sunday school and Church too. And if you try to do right, God will help you and bless you. And be careful not to tell a lie, nor be saucy to any one. Never mind about being laughed at if you are trying to do what is right. And be kind to your dear Grandmother and Isaac, and think of what they have done for you. And if you can do any thing to help them, do it cheerfully. You will then show at least that you love them and are willing to do all that lies in your power to repay them and it will comfort me very much if you do so.
I have not seen you now, nor your dear Grandmother, for 9 long months and I fear it will be a long time before I shall see you again, so that it will be a great comfort to know that you are trying to be good.
Maria sees some sights and goes to concerts in London. She writes this from Queensberry Place in the 1870s:
I went out in the Carriage yesterday morning and saw the procession beautifully. We left at quarter past nine in the morning and did not get back till two, but met with no accident, thank God, and did not take cold. The children enjoyed it very much, although it was snowing. The royal party were in open carriages drawn by six horses each. The streets were lined with Soldiers. The Queen (Victoria) was looking very well and the Duchess pleasant but tired.
In the 1880s Maria sees Adelina Patti at the Royal Albert Hall:
I enjoyed myself very much at the Albert Hall. It was an Oratorio, “Israel in Egypt” (Handel). There was the great organ and a band of musicians with string and brass instruments and 3 drums and 400 singers, yet in that vast hall it was not a bit too much. It began with the words, “there arose another king in Egypt which knew not Joseph” and ended with the song of Miriam. The horse and his rider had (to) be thrown into the sea. Madame Patti (Adelina Patti, who was in her prime in the 1870s and 1880s) sang the solo “their land brought forth frogs even in their king’s chambers”, but what I thought most fine was the bass and tenor, singing “the Lord is a man of war, the Lord of Hosts is his name and he gave them hailstones for rain and flames of fire in their lands”. One tenor sang “the enemy said I will prevail, I will divide the spoils”. It was very beautiful and I enjoyed it very much. It lasted 2 hours and a half.
Maria explores Scotland too, as Constance Hamilton, who is fond of Maria and good to her, pays for her to go on excursions, as in this letter to her mother from 16th July 1868:
They (the adults in the family) went last Tuesday for a tour in the Highlands, and in the meantime I and the dear Children are with their Grandmama (the old Lady that engaged me at Torquay), (Frances Onslow Dennistoun) and of course she cannot be kind enough, since I have turned out so satisfactory. I expect them to be away a fortnight.
I am going on an excursion next week if all is well, to see some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland, the Mountain called Ben Lomond and its Loch or Water called Loch Lomond. It’s at my mistress’s expense. She very kindly paid me my wages before she went away, so please tell me in your next what my boy wants, and I will send the money.
Maria writes to her mother once or twice a month and once or twice a year to Jimmy himself. To her mother she sends money for Jimmy’s keep, unwanted clothes that have been passed on by the family to be altered for him, and words of advice or remedies, such as this one for her step-father Isaac:
If Isaac should be troubled with rheumatics again, wrap it up in Archangel Tar*, that they use for sheep, when he goes to bed. Our cook had been treated for months with it and the Doctor could do nothing for her, and an old woman advised her to do it and the second night she did it, she was completely cured. Just spread it on with a knife like Treacle and wrap it up in an old gown tail or something to keep it from the sheets.
This remedy evidently worked as Maria says to her mother some months later on 19th October 1868:
I am truly glad to hear Isaac’s arm is better and could persuade him to persevere in the Tar.
Next blog we will see what happens when Maria goes sailing.
*Pinewood tar, called Stockholm or Archangel tar has a long history as a wood preservative, as a wood sealant for maritime use, in roofing construction and maintenance, in soaps and in the treatment of carbuncles and skin diseases, such as psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.
After Walter Long died in Torquay in January 1867, and Maria’s employment by Lady Bisshopp ceased, Maria’s next letter is written from Armadale in Row*, Helensburgh, near Glasgow, Scotland. It is dated less than 6 months later on the 20th June 1867. In the letter she says to her mother:
Well, Mother dear, I finished the Brandy and Water Whitsunday evening that Harriett and you mixed the morning I left my home sweet home so you see, though not at the Kings Head yet, I had some Kings Head Brandy mixed with Chitterne water to drink the health of my loved ones on the Auld Hills of Scotland. I was too full the day I left home, although thank God I was able to keep up whilst I was with you. You will, I am sure, rejoice to hear that I am very happy and have every comfort I can wish for in this world, the dear Children devotedly fond of me, my Mistress very kind and my fellow servants also, and very respectful. And a comfortable nursery to myself and no one intrudes except I ask them, but its very nice to sit down quiet of an evening. I don’t wish for company after being out all day, and my Mistress very kindly brings me a newspaper nearly every evening. She always comes to see the Children in bed after her dinner and has given me a pot of jam twice for my own tea, although she does not allow the Children to take it.
These are little kindnesses which find the way to one’s heart and if the Children are naughty, as they are sometimes, she always says poor Nurse and never encourages them in any way. She has never found fault with any thing, or looked cross, since I have been in Scotland, and last Thursday she took me into Helensburgh in the carriage and told me to go into a shop and buy myself a new print dress, something like the one I have. As she liked it so much, I have enclosed a bit for you to see. She is very pleased with it. I think I am very fortunate to get a new dress given me already. She said last week, Nurse, I must compliment you on the way you do the Children’s hair, and dear Papa is quite enraptured with it.
I think I must be a bit of a favourite with the old Gentleman as he is rather eccentric and does not like to meet a female servant , but yet, I often go in the carriage with them and always sit beside the old man, he is much such a looking Gentleman. Poor Mr Long.
I don’t think I told you that I am the only English servant and so Mrs H takes me into Helensburgh every other Sunday with her in the carriage. She is very regular at Church. I get every other Sunday and then the nursery maid takes charge of the Children. There is an English clergyman and a small congregation and the service is held in a part of the town hall, but they are building an English Church. All the other servants attend the Scotch Church in the village. This is a beautiful place where the Glasgow Merchant … (illegible) have their summer residences and they can go into Glasgow every day, as the steamboats pass every two hours, just as the trains would, and there is a little pier here just for them to stop and take up goods and passengers and put down, but I think I must close my letter.
I will write to Jimmy next time. Tell him I hope he is a good boy and give him my love and kisses. I hope my Brother and family are well. I am very pleased that Harriett is rigged out so well. My kind love to all and be sure you tell dear Mrs George how I am getting on. And now, may Him who is the giver of all good, abundantly bless you all and all our kind friends, and keep us humble, watchful and prayerful and then in life or death, all will be well. With much love to you my own dear Mother, I remain your afft. Maria
Maria has been hired to look after two little girls, Eva Constance aged 3 and Mary Frances Beryl Hamilton aged 2 after the early death of their father, John William Hamilton, the previous year, the girl’s mother, Constance Dennistoun Hamilton is with them. Constance is the daughter of a retired Glasgow merchant, John Dennistoun (1803-1870), and Armadale is one of his homes. The Dennistoun family made their money from the international shipping company started by John’s father James Dennistoun, and gave their name to an area of Glasgow known as Dennistoun, founded by John’s brother Alexander Dennistoun.
Just imagine the journey Maria has made, from dear old familiar Chitterne to the outskirts of one of the most booming industrial cities in Britain. From a poor rural village life of agriculture and cob houses to a wealthy scene of busy shipping on the Clyde and tall granite town houses.
Once again Maria, whose fame as a conscientious worker must have spread, has been snapped up by a family connected to Chitterne. John Dennistoun’s wife’s mother, is Frances Anne Onslow, daughter of Sir Henry Onslow bt. lord of a large slice of Chitterne who is buried in All Saints graveyard here. What sort of adventures await her with her new employers? We will find out soon…
*Rhu is a village and historic parish on the east shore of the Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. The traditional spelling of its name was Row, but it was changed in the 1920s so that outsiders would pronounce it correctly. The name derives from the Scots Gaelic rubha meaning point. It lies north-west of the town of Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde, in Argull and Bute, and historically in the county of Dunbartonshire. Like many settlements in the area, it became fashionable in the 19th century as a residence for wealthy Glasgow shipowners and merchants. Wikipedia.