We left Maria coming home to Chitterne in time to see the opening of the new church on 4th November 1862. Before she left Compton she had received an offer of a position in the laundry at Rood Ashton from her previous employer Lady Bisshopp, (wife of Lord Long), at a rate of £16 per year.
Lady Bisshopp was the second wife of Walter Long of Rood Ashton, MP for North Wiltshire from 1835-1865. She was born Lady Mary Anne Bickerton Hillyar, daughter of Rear Admiral Sir James Hillyar and widow of the Rev. Sir Cecil Augustus Bisshopp, 10th baronet of Parham, Sussex, but she continued to be known as Lady Bisshopp throughout her second marriage. The Longs had one son Walter Hillyar Colquhoun Long, born 1858.
We don’t know when Maria took up the job offer from Lady Bisshopp. However, the first letter written by Maria from Rood Ashton, which has no date, just ‘Tuesday night’, speaks of finishing a cake she had taken with her and of sending Jimmy, ‘the dearly beloved boy’, 2 new pinafores, 6 oranges and a prayer book. This all sounds very like Christmas so she may have gone to Rood Ashton before Christmas 1862. We get no inkling from her letters what has happened to her husband James.
From this time on her son Jimmy would live in Chitterne with his grandmother, Euphemia, and her second husband, Isaac Windsor, and Isaac’s younger children. Jimmy would see his mother only when she came home for short holidays. Maria is very conscious of the separation from her child and tells him via her first letter to her mother:
“Well, my dear boy, his Mother has sent him the Prayer Book for Walter and him to be good boys and not tease each other, and they must be very good at Church and sit quiet and listen to what Mr Richards says. Tell him he must pray for his Mother and Father.”
Walter was Walter Isaac Windsor born 1854, 3 years older than Jimmy, the youngest son of Isaac Windsor and his first wife Mary Ann Drewett, who died a few months after Walter’s birth. George Richards was the vicar at Chitterne.
Maria, who is employed to wash the Long’s body linen and house linen, says of herself:
“You will be glad to know that I am very well and comfortable. We have been washing this week. We are allowed a Woman one day a month to wash up the things we dirty in the house, so we wash ours at the same time. I never knew Rood Ashton so quick as it is now but I never was more comfortable in my life. I am sure I have very much to be thankful for.”
This is the only letter we have written by Maria to her mother from Rood Ashton. The rest of the Rood Ashton letters are all addressed to Jimmy. Presumably Maria was able to get home to see her mother fairly often, and her life was much more comfortable, so letters were unnecessary. The undated letters to Jimmy seem to have been written about once a year. Perhaps around Christmas or his birthday in January. The first, possibly written in 1863:
“My darling little son,
I hope these few lines will find you in good health, as I am happy to say it leaves us at present. Thank God for it. I thank you very much for your very kind letter and the pretty Hymn you sent me.
I am so pleased that you can write so well and I hope, if you go to work, you will be a good boy and do what you are told and be sure you do not say bad words or swear, and then God will bless you and you will grow up a good man and comfort to your dear Grandmother and Mother.
Give my kind love to your Aunt and Uncle and cousins and Walter and Isaac, and receive the same yourself, with lots of kisses, I remain your aff.t Mother.
Maria Feltham xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx God Bless you my Darling Boy
Maria’s next letter to Jimmy is slightly easier to date to 1864 as she asks Jimmy to kiss Harriett’s baby for her. Harriett was another of Isaac Windsor’s children, born in 1847, who gave birth to a child in November 1864 named William Windsor, future grandfather of the late Bill Windsor of Woodbine Cottage, Chitterne.
Maria says she is glad that Jimmy had done Harvest (another pointer to the date). She also tells Jimmy she will come and see him before they go to Torquay. The Longs usually spent the winter in Torquay, Devon, and took Maria with them.
The last Jimmy letter from Maria’s time with the Longs is from Torquay, and is actually dated, January 26th, but no year, although Maria mentions Jimmy’s 8th birthday, so that makes it 1865.
“I hope you take pains at school and learn all you can. As you are 8 years old now, you must try and improve yourself all that you can. As you know, my dear Boy, it is a great comfort to me to think that my dear Boy is trying to be good, and you must pray to God to help you remember what you learn and store it up in your mind as the little Bees store up their honey for the Winter. And then, if it should please God to preserve you to grow up a Man, you will think of what you learned when you were a little Boy at School, and it will help you, with God’s grace to be a good man.”
After 1865 there is a gap of two years in the series of letters. Walter Long died in January 1867 at Torquay and was buried near Rood Ashton, and soon Maria was working for a different family as we shall see.
Rood Ashton House no longer exists as it was. Most of the 46 bedroom mansion was demolished in the 1970s, but the 8 bedroom servants wing, where Maria must have slept, remains and has been turned into a private residence.
For more information on Rood Ashton and the Long family I recommend Cheryl Nicol’s book “Inheriting the Earth”, a history of the Long family’s 500 year reign in Wiltshire.