Monday, 18 August 2014

A large family in 19th century Harrogate

I like this story of Jane Stubbs' family because it's a reminder – at a time when everything to do with bringing up children seems so particularly fraught with anxiety – that the idea we make for ourselves of childcare of the past may not be quite accurate … …

Jane Stubbs was born at the Bridge Foot at seven o'clock on the morning of 5 July 1826, and was twelve years older than John.  She makes only rare appearances in his early diaries – a teenage boy would hardly notice the activities of a sister who was a young unmarried woman of twenty-seven.

By early 1856, Jane is more frequently noticed in his diary entries and always in connection with a young solicitor in their uncle Hirst's office, Henry Hawkesley Capes.  He was a year younger than Jane, and came from Whitgift in Yorkshire, the son of solicitor Thomas Hawkesley Capes and his wife Ann.  He and Jane were now to be found walking together and playing chess.

At some point the marriage must have been announced, but John does not record it.  We might guess that Jane must have been making preparations for her wedding when she went to stay in York in May and came back with a black undress Coat for her younger brother.   With quantities of clothes and underwear to make or buy and the new home to get ready, it is not surprising to find her going to York again in early August, this time with her mother.

York was also the natural place to find a wedding present, and John entrusts this task to his eldest brother Joe who, with the help of his fiancée Sarah Sedgwick of York, buys something suitable:
 “gave Jane a butter dish and silver knife with pearl handle for a wedding present   it cost 11/6”. 
On Wednesday 10 September 1856 Jane and Capes were married.

John did the mail at the office, went home and
“helped to arrange about the Weddg breakfast   got Dressed  We all went to church except Mama”. 
John was a groomsmen, and he had his lively young cousin Sophy Hirst, one of the bridesmaids, on his arm.  The wedding breakfast was followed by the traditional outdoor races and when Jane and Capes left for a Wedding Tour of Wales, everyone else took two carriages and Uncle Hirst’s dog cart to Studley for the afternoon.  Finally they
“got home to supper then went into the Drawing room  The Servants all had supper and drunk healths &c &c  A very jolly day”.
Jane and Capes were away for a little over a fortnight, returning to their new home in Aldborough on Friday 26 September.  John had supper with them there a few days' later. 

They embarked on their social life as a married couple – the parties given by friends and neighbours “to meet” the newly weds made the time after a wedding particularly sociable.  By May 1857, when Capes and Jane went with her parents to York for Joe's wedding to Sarah, she was in the early months of pregnancy.  It seems to have made little difference to her activities.  She still went out in the boat in May and August, out to parties, and on walks.  In September she went off with her husband and cousin Mary Hirst to Redcar, where her parents were already on holiday.  She is not mentioned by John during November and December, but Capes himself  is only mentioned once, when he went rabbiting with the others one December afternoon. 

John called to see Jane a couple of times in the New Year and then on Friday 22 January 1858 he recorded “went to Aldbro Mrs Capes was confined of a son”.  The next day he noted that mother and baby were “going on very nicely” and they were clearly doing well enough for John to dine at the house a fortnight later.  Capes went to a large family tea party at the Bridge Foot without Jane a couple of days later, and out to sup with Smallwood, and finally, two months after the baby was born, John records that Jane went out to dinner at the Bridge Foot. 

By the time Baby spent his first Christmas at the Bridge Foot, Jane was already four months pregnant with the next. 

Again, John's diaries reflect that two months after the birth, Jane is out and about again on visits, outings on the river, on holiday in Bridlington, to parties, and to a wedding in Faxfleet – and three weeks before Christmas she was busy moving house with her family to Knaresborough.  By this time she was pregnant once more, with the baby due in June.  This delivery did not go so smoothly, and three weeks after Mary’s birth Jane was “still very poorly”.  She was much better by the first week of July.  Five more babies followed, so that by the time Jane was forty-three years old she had had eight children in under eleven years.

By February 1872 they had moved to Harlow Carr.

In William Grainge’s “Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough” 1871, he describes Harlow Carr as
“situate in a shallow valley, to the westward of Harlow Hill.  It forms within itself a small watering place, possessing four springs of mild sulphur water, a chalybeate, a suite of baths, and a comfortable hotel (now used as a private residence), situate in a piece of ground neatly laid out and adorned with a variety of shrubs and trees, sheltered from the winds and forming altogether a quiet pleasing retreat.” 
It seems likely that this hotel was the home of the Capes – there seem to have been few other houses in Harlow Carr big enough for them and they seem to have had plenty of room: 
“Jane and I walked to the end of the fields to meet Henry and found him playing croquet on our return  we had missed him in the garden” [Mary Stubbs 25 July 1874].
This large and lively family does not quite conform to today's stereotype of the well-behaved children of the Victorian professional man.

In size, it was not untypical – but it is very interesting to note that Mary Stubbs rather disapproved of it.  She herself had six children well spaced out between 1826 and 1844, a pattern also to be seen in the Hirst family.  Breastfeeding may have been enough to enable some nursing mothers to make yearly pregnancies less likely and certainly Mary was a strong advocate of mothers breastfeeding their own babies;  she approved of John's wife Ellis feeding her babes to the age of six months. 

They were such a very large household:
 “We are always seventeen in the house to begin with which is a fearful family”,
wrote Mary Stubbs from Harlow on 11 July 1874. 

Not only did Mary feel that the size of the family was a problem, but she believed that Jane would have found it easier to keep governesses if the children had been more obedient.  This problem of getting staff was a constant theme of Mary's letters to John in the 1870s
“as so many objected to the large family and I’m sure I should if I were a maid”
she wrote.

An additional cause of conflict was the growing habit of household daily prayers, which was not appreciated by all.  On 20 April 1872, Mary wrote to John
 “Poor J Capes has lost both their maids  they would not go into prayers and Henry spoke to the Cook whom I suppose refused to obey so he told her she must leave then the housemaid said she would go too and forfeit her wages” ,
and later the same year,
"Poor Jane Capes cannot hear of servants, and her Governess will not stay, is it not trying?  I told them I did not think the children were taught to be implicitly obedient when they were very young, for I do believe it cannot be too early instilled by firmness not punishment dear lambs" [7 November 1872]. 
Aunt Bell told John in a letter of 18 February 1873 that the Capes children were “a wild company”. 

A few days later, Mary wrote,
“Jane thinks her Governess will do and her maids offer tolerably she likes them all so far”,
but by the end of March she informed John,
“We have Minnie with us and Dora [Hirst] has Ella and Mabel for the Governess is again gone home ill and the housemaid too”. 
A month later,
“Poor Jane has got a housemaid but not a Cook yet”. 
They continued to have problems the following year:
“about the 24th the Governess arrives so we are to give her the greeting poor thing   I do hope she may be happy and do well for them” [12 July 1873]. 
The governess problem was solved for the time being, but difficulties with maids continued: 
“Jane looks thinner but says she now feels well again, but all her maids are leaving her at Martinmas which makes her fidgety” [1 October 1873]. 
Henry Capes' comment in late November 1873 perhaps hints at the radical change that would come to middle-class life after the Second World War, when live-in domestic service finally disappeared, on the whole apparently missed neither by employees nor employers:
“I really think,” he wrote to his mother-in-law, “we get on better without the two servants, than with them, but I suppose when the novelty wears off we should not think so.  Both Minnie and Ella are most useful, and Miss Kerr and Nurse ready to do anything.” 
A week later Mary Stubbs wrote,
 “Jane Capes has got her new Domestiques and I do hope they may settle and do well for she seems always in turmoil with them but they are a fearful family to enter poor things.”
Sickness in the family made matters worse, as can easily be imagined.  On 25 September 1872 Mary wrote,
“Poor Jane and Henry … have five of the youngest bad in whooping cough it was really depressing to hear them then poor Jane expects to part with all her maids at Martinmas and Miss Kerr gone that we left her rather flat and now wishing not to have a Governess till Xmas she has much to undertake”   
Mary continued to feel that teaching the children to obey the governess was important, and repeated the advice to John on 8 April 1876: 
“if you get a nice nurse your darlings must be taught to obey her for I am sure obedience is the great lesson in the path of duty darlings this is their Grannys anxious wish for them”.
The many children and the fluctuating cast of servants were not the only members of the household.  Jane and Henry also kept some animals:
 “Poor things they have lost two valuable Cows lately but amateur farming is never profitable though it may be pleasant   their hens too die off sadly”
wrote Mary, herself a farmer's daughter, on 1 February 1873.  John had a smallholding of his own and Mary wrote from Harlow on 3 July 1875,
“How do your Chickens go on  here the feeding is quite a concern and still fifteen little pigs but the Calf is gone to the butcher”.  

Mary clearly found it all quite exasperating, but to the reader today this glimpse of a lively, rackety family in 19th century  Harrogate is really rather attractive!  And the brief glimpses we have of Jane and Capes confirm the suspicion that they would have been fun to know.

Here is Capes acting in charades to admiration, from a letter by Mary in January 1874:
“We have had rather a gay week … Thursday we were all at Uncles to a meat tea  the Sedgwicks Joes and ourselves  they acted charades, James and Henry were admirable performers”.
And here is a letter written by Jane to her brother,  soon after the birth of his first child.  The subject matter is very serious – her eight-year-old daughter Amy had suffered a bad riding accident and was kept in bed in a splint until she could be allowed up and be taken out for air in a perambulator  – but there is a liveliness of tone and a fluency which is most engaging:

Harlow Carr: 20 February 1872

My dear John,

I have been intending writing to one of you for some days, but my time is so much taken up with the dear little invalid and our nights have been so disturbed, that when I have a little spare time I generally go to sleep and so the letter has never been begun –

I am very glad dear Ellis and the baby both go on so well: I suppose Ellis sitting up, is she not?

Amy  we think is going on as well as we can at all look for.  She is still lying on her back in bed, but we hope, when the Doctor comes today, he will remove the splint and that will relieve her.  She has not suffered such great pain as we might have expected but her weariness and restlessness have often been great – the days she seems to get over very comfortably, but her nights have been bad.  Last night though she had some comfortable sleep, towards morning, she slept for two or three hours together which makes her seem quite brisk and bright today –

You ask how it happened –

She was riding in the garden, Mrs Mills, Nurse and I were all there, when she struck the pony and it began to canter, she fell completely over, her foot so fast in the stirrup she could not disentangle it – the pony gallopped up and down two or three times before it could be stopped, she tossing about, dear Child, like a ball the whole time.  I quite expected she would be killed, but God in his mercy spared her and though her bodily injuries were great has spared her intellect, a blessing we cannot be too thankful for –

Is Mrs Macfarlane still with you?  Give my kindest love to dear Ellis and the little socks with many kisses to the boy

Believe me my dear John

Your affectionate sister, Jane Capes

(Amy made a full recovery; she married the Great Ouseburn doctor Arthur Thompson when she was twenty years old, and had two sons.)

1 comment:

  1. This post is very interesting as I now live in Boroughbridge, and previously lived near Harlow Carr Gardens in Harrogate. And I'm sure I would have got on well with Jane!