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Houses and homes in Tredegar during the 19th century A Key Stage 2 Educational Resource Pack Part 8—A Woman’s Story & Household spending from 1841


A day in the life of Aunt Lizzie by George Jenkins

Lizzie was 10 years old when her youngest brother, Fred, was born in 1879. Her two eldest sisters, Mary and Fanny, were already living away from home as house servants—‘in domestic service’. Lizzie’s two elder brothers, Tom and Bill, worked in the coal mine with their father Tom (Tom the Shoer—who looked after pit ponies). Lizzie’s two younger brothers were Ted, aged 3, and Jack aged 2. A fortnight after the arrival of baby Fred, Lizzie’s mother died. She was in her 40th year. Lizzie’s unmarried aunt took care of Fred until his 5th year but she lived in the next valley. So Lizzie left school and, for the next 14 years, acted as housekeeper and mother. It was a 2storey, 2-bedroom, terraced house with an outside toilet, no hot water system, no electricity, no light of any kind in the upstairs rooms, and all cooking was carried out over the open hearth fire and oven.


Lizzie’s father and 2 elder brothers would rise at 5.30 a.m. Their first task being to clear the previous day's ashes, light the fire, boil water for morning tea and sit down to a modest breakfast before leaving for the mine. As they left, Lizzie would get up, wash and dress in the one living room, clear the breakfast dishes, take out a pastry board from the pantry and make 6 loaves of bread which her younger brothers would take to the public bake-house on their way to school. Lizzie would call them from their deep sleep and they would come down in their Welsh flannel night shirts, wash in a bowl on the same table and dress ready for school. As they left, carrying the loaves of bread, she would tend the fire on which a heavy iron boiler filled with water was placed, for Monday was washday.


Lizzie would carry in a metal tub from an outside shed, place it on the stone floor in front of the fire and pour in the boiling water. She would bring clothes for washing downstairs, separating very dirty working clothes from those less soiled, putting the latter in the tub and agitating them with a washing dolly until they were clean. Rinsed in clean water, these were squeezed through a mangle before being hung on the back-garden clothes line. Very dirty clothes required harsher treatment. Kneeling over the bath she would rub them vigorously on the washboard, using strong carbolic soap. Scrubbed, rinsed and mangled, these would then join others on the line. This was a whole morning of very hard labour and it was a rush to get it completed before Fred, Jack and Ted came home briefly from school - for there were no school dinners. After making a simple meal of bread, butter and jam, for herself and younger brothers, her next task was shopping, for in times long before fridge or supermarket, perishable goods had to be bought daily.


Billie Hughes the grocer's shop was just across the road. Behind the polished wooden counter were mountains of butter on white china slabs, sacks of sugar, tea, rice, huge sides of bacon alongside the cutting machines, and bins of currants, raisins, and other provisions. White-aproned Dai George would carefully weigh out each item, scooping them into paper bags, writing down the cost on an oddment of greaseproof paper. Back home, Lizzie would hurry to prepare the meal. From the garden shed, she would collect vegetables that her Father had grown, peeling them before placing into a saucepan on the hearth and placing the meat in the oven to roast. Sometimes she made Welsh Cakes cooked on an iron bake-stone, which her Father had made when apprenticed to a blacksmith.


All too soon she knew her younger brothers would be rushing in from school followed by her father and elder brothers, Tom and Bill. They would be smothered in coal dust, their faces black, their clothes full of the dirt of the mine where they had spent the last nine or ten hours. Lizzie’s first duty was to put the boiler on the fire, making sure there was plenty of hot water, and bring in the tub in which she done the day's washing, and place it on the floor. The bathing ritual would never change. Firstly, father would strip to the waist, kneel on the floor and bending over the tub, thoroughly wash his face and upper body.


Lizzie would then wash his back and retire as her father, firstly removing his working trousers, would sit in the bath in front of the blazing fire and wash the rest of his body. He would then stand up, towel himself vigorously and dress in his comfortable everyday clothes. The tub would be emptied, refilled with clean water and Tom the eldest would repeat the process, and he would be followed by his brother Bill. Only when this had been completed and the tub taken out to the shed could a clean white linen cloth be placed on the table. Around it would sit father, Lizzie, Tom, Bill, Ted, Jack and Fred. Before starting the meal Father would say Grace and pray to God to guide and protect Mary and Fanny, away in service, and his dear wife Mary whom he greatly missed.


They ate their meal in silence for it was a time when "children were to be seen and not heard." There were always stockings to be darned and clothes to be repaired, buttons to be sewn on and the fire to be tended. As the clock struck 9, she and her brothers, after washing in a bowl in the living room, would put on their night shirts, light their candles and climb the stairs to bed, except Lizzie who slept in the parlour on a makeshift bed. Monday, the week’s washday, was particularly busy but there was little peace during the rest of the week. Each room had to be swept and dusted in turn, the floor rugs beaten on the outside line to get rid of dust and dirt. There were paths to be swept, chickens to feed and brass ornaments to be polished. And each day including Saturday, there was the bath ritual the boiling of water, bringing in the fuel from the coal house, chopping sticks for the next day's fire and the non-stop cooking for a family of seven, her young brothers to be cared for.


Yet life was not all hard work, much of it based on chapel - not merely worship and Sunday School where she continued her neglected education, but also occasional outings and socials, regular choir practice and hymns around the piano on Sunday evenings, trips to visit relatives, as well as picnics. There were special celebrations at Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, modest by today's standards, but highlights then. In later years, Lizzie’s father, ailing from pneumoconiosis—the disease that affects coal miner’s lungs after working many years underground—also had to be cared for. Aged just 22 when her father died, Lizzie then married a miner, going to live in a house little different from her own and taking her youngest brother Fred with her.


How were workers’ wages spent in 1841? In old money, there were 12 pence(d) to one shilling(s). There were 20 shillings in a pound(l). So there were 240 old pence(d) in an old pound! In old weights, there were 16 ounces(ozs) to one pound(lb) in weight!


In old money, there were 12 pence(d) to one shilling(s). There were 20 shillings in a pound(l). So there were 240 old pence(d) in an old pound! In old weights, there were 16 ounces(ozs) to one pound(lb) in weight!



Houses & homes in Tredegar Part 8 Aunt Lizzie's story & household spending in 1841  

Houses & homes in Tredegar during the 19th century Part 8 of 10 Aunt Lizzie's story & household spending in 1841 Tredegar, 19th century, Vi...

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