Also by Philip Ardagh and Jamie Littler
PHILIP ARDAGH is the Roald Dahl Funny Prize winning author of over one hundred books, including the Eddie Dickens series and The Grunts series. He is two metres tall with a ridiculously big, bushy beard and size sixteen feet, making him instantly recognisable at literary festivals around the world.
JAMIE LITTLER graduated from the Arts Institute at Bournemouth in 2008, and has won a High Commendation in the Macmillan Childrenâ€™s Book Award. When not trying to tame his un-naturally fast growing hair or having staring matches with next doorâ€™s cat he likes drawing, colouring in, cutting things out and sticking things in.
Also available: THE SECRET DIARY OF John Drawbridge, Medieval Knight in Training
Look out for: THE SECRET DIARY OF Thomas Snoop, Tudor Boy Spy
For all those who have loved animals, and have had animals love them back. PA To the Pencil Wobblers, for all their anything-but-wobbly support. JL
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This morning, I was talking to Plump, the big, fat pigeon what lives on the ledge outside me bedroom window, and he says I should keep a diary. “What, me?” I says. “Yes you,” he says. “But I’m just a maid,” I says.
“You’re a human being,” he says and gives me one of them head-bobbing pigeon stares that you can’t argue with. “So what?” I says. “Everyone’s a human being.” Then Plump gives me another one of them stares. “Sorry,” I says, “but you knows what I mean.
There ain’t nothing special about me.” “You are someone who’s not satisfied with your lot,” says Plump. “You’re a girl going places.” “I’ll still be just a maid,” I remind him. “You’re friends with a talking pigeon, ain’t you?” says Plump, now pacing up and down his ledge. “Don’t that make you special?”
I smile. “I suppose it does,” I says. “But I still can’t write no diary.” “Why not?” he says. “’Cause I can’t write much more than me name,” I says. Plump tilts his pigeon head to one side, like he always does when he’s having a really SERIOUS think. “I have an idea, Jane,” he says. “A bloomin’ brilliant idea.” (He calls me Jane ’cause that’s me name: Jane Pinny.) “What?” I says. “You tell me what to write and I’ll write it for you,” he says. I laughs. “Pigeons can’t write, Plump!” I says. “Pigeons can’t talk neither, can they?” he says, “but that ain’t stopped me.” “True,” I agree. “So you’ll keep a diary. Deal?” he says. “Deal,” I says. And I ain’t about to break my word to me bestest friend.1
Plump’s grammar was far from perfect, so we suggest you don’t write the way he did!
Dear Diary, Is that what I’m supposed to say – “Dear Diary”? I dunno. But that’s what Tommy the butcher’s boy told me when he brought the meat2 – I didn’t make no mention of a talkingwriting pigeon, of course, or I might end up in the madhouse – and it’s as good a way to start as any. So here goes:
Deliveries were often made by errand boys carrying baskets or pushing carts.
Dear Diary, My name is Jane Pinny – I think I’ve already said that – and I am about to have an interview to become a maid in a big house in the country, which is why me feathery friend reckons I should keep this diary. I’ve been a maid here in the town for two years but it’s about time I move on3. I has a friend, Mary, what already works in Lytton House, which is the house I were talking about, and she’s recommended me to Mrs McNamara the housekeeper. That means they won’t have to advertise or go to a registry office4, which’ll save them a bob5 or two. (Rich folk don’t half like saving money!). ’Cause their ain’t no registry office for me to meet Mrs McNamara in and she won’t give me no job without meeting me first, I have to be at Lytton 3 4 5
The average length a maid worked for an employer was three years, but maids who were the only servant – in a middle class household – often moved on sooner. An agency where servants looking for work can register. A bob is a shilling. In Victorian times, UK money was pounds, shillings and pence. There were twelve pennies to a shilling and twenty shillings to the pound. (A guinea was one pound and one shilling!)
House tomorrow afternoon at three oâ€™clock (it being me half day6). Today, I have to do me usual chores for Mrs Berry. Being a Maid Of All Work, I does just about everything. I think the name says it all: a-l-l w-o-r-k. I do all the work! I clean. And cleaning means: dusting everywhere, scrubbing floors, walls, tables, tiles, steps and stairs. Beating
Many maids would still have to fit in 10 to 12 hoursâ€™ work before an afternoon off.
carpets. Washing clothes, sheets and curtains. Blacking the range.7 Washing the pots and pans and plates. I even bring up the coal from the coal cellar, which makes smuts and blacks8 seem like nothing. 7 8
A range was a built-in cast-iron stove which was traditionally kept blackened with polish; a messy and unpleasant job. Blacks were the Victorian name for the large pieces of soot which came out of houseâ€™s chimneys, floating around in the air and landing on peopleâ€™s clothes, leaving terrible black smudges.
You name it, I does it. Except cook.
Mrs Berry has Mrs Hansard, the cook, do that for her, but that’s not to say I haven’t chopped every vegetable you can imagine and then some. But Mrs Hansard has never let me boil so much as a pan of water. (I reckon she’s worried I’d find it a lot easier than she tries to make out. Even I can’t burn water.) I’m up before six and in bed after ten, but Mrs Berry has always been nothing but kind to me, and the one time in me life when I was 10
ill, she sent me straight to bed and had Mrs Hansard bring me soup. That’s something that Mrs Hansard has never forgiven me for, what with her being Cook and me being nothing but a maid-of-all-work and her “waiting on me like a lady”. But who’d have brought it to me if not her? Certainly not Mrs Berry herself.
(I’m not sure if there IS a Mr Berry, dear diary. I means, there must have been once, but not in the two years I’ve been here, and no one ever talks of him. Maybe he was an axe-murderer. Or very borin’. Or even a very borin’ axe-murderer.) I’m a bit nervous about tomorrow, I am, but I do think it’s time to move on and up in the world. I have PLANS.
Today, I travelled to the edge of town by omnibus9. I’ve never been on one before because they’re much more expensive than travelling third class by train10. Everyone on board seemed better11 types than me, clerks and the like12, but I looked smart enough not
9 10 11
A horse-drawn bus with an open air (roofless) upper deck. Not only were there trains offering first, second and third class carriages but also special – even cheaper – trains for labourers called workmen’s trains, bringing them in and out of town. It was common for the poor and working class to be told or to think that those in the middle and upper classes were somehow ‘better’ than them.Victorian Britain was a class-mad society where people were expected to ‘know their place’ – in other words, look up to those in higher classes. Clerks – office workers who kept accounts, records, etc. – were members of the ever-growing middle classes.
to be thrown off. They’d never let no labourer aboard but, then again, the omnibuses don’t start running till eight o’clock in the morning, long after they’ve made their way to work. I’d have liked to climb up to the top deck and
sat on one of them garden seats13 I’ve heard talk of, but the conductor says that no ladies – and he looked at me in such a way to say “I know you are a female but hardly a lady” – can sit up top. Me gran remembers when an omnibus was little more than a stage coach and no lady would sit up top for two very particular reasons: if people couldn’t see up your skirt as you climbed up the ladder14, they surely would when you sat on the knifeboard15! She had a right giggle when she told me that. I still miss me gran. She was taken by the angels with consumption.16 It was only an hour’s walk from me omnibus stop to the gates to Lytton House17. I started off on pavements so, for that part, I managed 13 14 15 16 17
A seat for two people, side by side, usually made of slatted wood so it would dry more quickly after rain. The ladder, on the back of the coach on the outside, was later replaced by an open-topped staircase. The knife-board was a bench seat in the middle. The name used in Victorian times for the disease tuberculosis (or TB). At one stage, it was killing over 15,000 Londoners a year. Working people were used to having to walk great distances. Few had horses, unless as a part of their work, and many never used public transport.
to keep the hem of me dress almost clean.18 As I followed the road into the countryside, it became dustier and dirtier and harder underfoot. I don’t really understand the country with all its green! I mean, I’m not sure of the POINT of it. What are we supposed to do with all the trees and grass and the like? Give me roads and pavements and houses any day. Then, there in front of me were the gates, just as I’d had them described to me, with a huge stone gatepost either side. They was mighty grand, with a stone lion atop each of the pillars, one of their great big stone paws resting on a stone ball, like a cannon ball. They reminded me of a
version of the feet on Mrs Berry’s bath!19 18 19
Victorian roads were messy places with all those horses’ hooves and horse manure. Victorian baths were made of cast iron. The four legs were usually ornate, often of the ball and claw feet design: a claw or paw grasping a ball.
The gates themselves were made from black railings what look like the spears being waved about in a picture I once saw in something called The Boys Own Paper20. Tommy showed it to me. Not that he can read proper neither, but he do like a good picture. (They’re called illustrations if they’re in a magazine, he says.) The gates was unlocked, and I began me long walk up the gravel drive.
A magazine for boys, launched in 1879 designed to instill ‘Christian moral values’ and full of supposedly heroic tales.
Took me another half hour or so to reach the house. And what a house.
House don’t describe it. It looks more like a palace. No, honest to God, Lytton House is incredible. That’s the word: incredible. I’ve never seen nothing like it. It looks like it’s been carved out of icing like the stuff I saw on a wedding cake21 in the window of a big department store. It’s four or five floors high, depending on how you count ’em. There’s a basement, a ground floor (an enormous front door reached up stone steps you’d expect outside a cathedral or something), a first floor, a second floor and, tilting me head back, I could see that there were some windows up in the roof, what meant attic rooms too. To live and work in a place like that would be… Well, I don’t have no words to describe it. Suddenly, I felt all wobbly, like Mrs Hansard’s aspic22. Overcome with nerves, like. Who’d give me a job in a place like this?
Jane is referring to stucco: painted plaster covering the brickwork. Aspic is a savoury jelly, made with meat stock, set in a jelly mould with pieces of meat in it.
Course, I didn’t go marching up the steps to the front door. That’s not for the likes of me. I’d be thrown out on me ear before I’d even started! I go round the back and down some steps to a basement door, straighten me dress – black of course – and knock the knocker. It was Mary what opened the door, and relief
flooded through me as she gave me a wink and led me through the kitchen – full of hustle and bustle – past the servants’ hall, to the housekeeper’s room. She knocked on the door and when a voice the other side of it said, “Come in,” she gave me a nod of encouragement, then scurried off down the corridor.
Mrs McNamara was wearing a black dress and had a big bunch of keys on her belt. She had her hair in a bun and has one of them faces that tells you that she smiles a lot. She was sitting at a small desk when I went in but stood up and walked around it to greet me. â€œGood afternoon, Jane,â€? she says. Her accent is Scots.
“Good afternoon, Mrs McNamara,” I says, keeping me eyes down and doing a little curtsey. She looked me up and down and obviously didn’t seem too displeased with what she saw. “You’re a presentable little thing, aren’t you?” she says. “I try to be, Mrs McNamara,” I says. And then I blurt out, “And I may be little but I’m strong.” “I don’t doubt it,” she says, “what with all the work you do for Mrs Berry. She has given you a most excellent character23.” She nodded over to a letter on her desk. Most excellent? Good old Mrs Berry. I like being most excellent. It makes me sound – er – most excellent. “Do you know what I look for in a maid, Jane?” asks Mrs McNamara. “Dirt under the fingernails?” I asks.
A ‘character’ was the term used for a written character reference from an employer, hopefully saying good things. Without such a reference it would be hard to get work.
The housekeeper smiled. (See? I knew she was a smiler.) “I mean do you know what qualities I look for in a maid?” she explained. Me cheeks reddened. “A good Christian and a good worker?” I says. She smiled again. “Close,” she says. “I require a girl with high moral standards24, complete honesty, cleanliness, good capability, good temper and good health25.” That’s a lot of “goods”, I thought, but I knew not to say nothing. “I can see that you’re clean and Mrs Berry makes it very clear that you’re more than capable, and she says that you’ve only had one day off sick in two years. Do you have high moral standards?” “I says me prayers at night, go to church on Sundays and don’t mix with boys, Mrs McNamara,” I says, which is true.
Strong Christian values were seen as all-important in Victorian Britain, in which the Church played an important part in everyday life. These were standard requirements.
“What about your temper?” “Mrs Berry’s never had cause to complain,” I says. “I once dropped a coal scuttle on me foot and didn’t swear nor get angry neither.” This is almost true. I didn’t swear out loud. But inside me head? That’s another matter. (I found meself thinking words I didn’t even know that I knew!) We talked some more and finally she says, “I think you would fit in well here at Lytton House, Jane. Thank you for coming all the way here today. Mrs Kirby-Trott likes me to meet all prospective employees beforehand and I had no reason to be in town.” 27
I’ve no idea what ‘prospective employees’ are but I do know that Lytton House is the country residence of one Mr & Mrs KirbyTrott. Mary – me friend what works there and recommended me for the job – says that they call it their “country residence” ’cause they have an house in London too, which they calls their “London house” (and not their “London residence” for some reason). It can all get so confusing. She says Mrs Kirby-Trott’s first name is Claire but she’s no idea what Mr Kirby-Trott’s first name is. They have a little boy, called Master William, who, at present, is looked after by a nanny called Nanny Brown. When he’s older, he’ll have a governess or a tutor or something. Mrs McNamara was still smiling when she said, “If you go to the kitchen, one of the girls will give you a cup of tea before you leave here. I will make the final decision in consultation with Mr Pritchard and you should hear from us within the next few days.” I did another curtsey. “Thank you, Mrs McNamara,” I says. “And how shall I hear?” 28
“I shall write to your mistress,” she says. “Thank you,” I says. I knew Mr Pritchard was the butler, who’s kind of overall in charge downstairs26, ’cause Mary had told me. But I’d have guessed that anyway. 26
Life in a big house was divided between ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’. Upstairs was where the family lived but only the more ‘important’ servants had regular contact with them. The ‘lowest of the low’ servants would never go upstairs, except up the backstairs to their beds in the attic. Though upstairs may be beautiful and decorated and comfortable, ‘below stairs’ was always much more basic and functional. In a big house, people really were expected to ‘know their place’.
Sure enough, I got my tea, AND a bun that was right tasty. And I do like a good bun. There were three rows of bells lined up along the wall with labels underneath ’em. While I was there, one of the bells started janglin’, and Mary said that’d be the mistress ringing for her tea. “There’s a bell-pull in each room that rings a different bell down here,” she says. “The label tells you which room the bell belongs to.” 30
Mary saw the look of panic in me eyes. There were SO many bells. And I’d never learn to read all them labels. “Don’t worry, Jane,” she says. “Your job don’t have you answerin’ no bells.” And she smiled. I gave her a hug. She smelled of polish. I walked all the way home because it was cheaper than the omnibus. I walked because I didn’t have an interview to worry about being late for. I walked because it didn’t matter if my dress got dirty this way round. And as I walked, I imagined workin’ in the big house. I’m home now and SO want that job and to work in that beautiful house. I’ll mention it in me prayers tonight. 31
Read a preview of The Secret Diary of Jane Pinny, Victorian House Maid (and Accidental Detective), written by Philip Ardagh and illustrated...
Published on Aug 9, 2017
Read a preview of The Secret Diary of Jane Pinny, Victorian House Maid (and Accidental Detective), written by Philip Ardagh and illustrated...