Leah DarvillView full burial details
LEAH DARVELL; 1846 -1923
Leah was born in 1846 in Hawridge, Bucks. She was the youngest of six children born to Henry and Elizabeth Philbey (sometimes appearing in records as “Philby”. Her father was a butcher. Henry died shortly before the 1851 census was taken on the 30th March that year and his death was registered as taking place in the first quarter of that year. Leah’s mother must have taken over the running of the butchery business, as her occupation is given as “butcher.”
Leah was only then four years old but was already working as straw plaiter. Straw-plaiting was a profitable cottage industry for women and girls in Victorian times, supplying plaited straw to the hat makers of Luton and Dunstable. The work was well paid, “...it was a profitable occupation and in the first half of the 19th century many women and children earned more than men who laboured in the fields. A good hand at Berkhamsted could earn about 15s a week-then a handsome wage-…Farmers complained that straw plaiting “did mischief, making the poor saucy, rendering the women adverse to husbandry and causing a dearth of indoor servants and field labourers” (Birtchnell, P. writing as Beorcham (May 1952) “Berkhamsted Review and see also “A Short History of Berkhamsted.)
Birtchnell tells us it was not unusual for very young children such as Leah to work as straw-plaiters. “In every town and village children were sent to straw-plaiting schools; it was rare for any other subject to be taught. At one time there were three plaiting schools in Bridge Street alone. In 1950 an elderly woman at Potten End told me that, as a small girl, she attended a plaiting school at Frithsden from 8.00am to 4.00pm., with a short break for dinner, usually consisting of bread and lard. After returning home for tea, she had to go to another plaiting school in Potten End. The children were sometimes taught in the dark, to accustom them to working without looking at the plait.”
The introduction of the Education Act 1870 put an end to such work for young children, requiring every child to attend school from the age of 5. Unsurprisingly a lot of poorer parents who had derived additional income from their young children, resented this legislation.
Leah moved on from straw plaiting; by the time of the 1861 census she was 14 years old and was then working as a domestic servant for William Hazell and his family. William Hazell was a leading grocer and pork butcher in the town. His premises in the High Street was one of the tallest buildings in the town and was known as “Hazell’s Folly.” The building stood on the site where W. H. Smith is now situated.
As standards of social decorum increased in later Victorian times, so too did the need for servants increase. By the time of the 1891 census 1.3 million women and girls were working as domestic servants. That is one in three women between the ages of 15 and 20. They were usually recruited between the ages of 10 and 13. There was a tax on indoor male servants whose pay was also greater. Women were cheaper and more easily dominated and kept in their place. A servant working for a middleclass family would usually live in the family’s house (as Leah did). Hours were long and the pay was poor, £6 -£12 per annum. Servants were under constant scrutiny and whilst living closely with the family were kept rigidly apart from it. Most employers felt they had a right to look through their servant’s belongings and it was not until 1860 that it became illegal to beat a servant. It was legal for employers to order servants to accompany them to church, but the servants had to sit at the back in a segregated section. There was no job security if a servant fell ill or committed some misdemeanour. Being a servant did have some advantages; a servant probably lived in better surroundings than her original home and some families were very good to their servants.
Congregationalist presence in Berkhamsted can be traced back to 1780. In 1867 an imposing Congregational Church was built on the corner of Castle Street and Chapel Street and it was in this newly built church that Leah and James married in 1873. Leah was then 26 years old. The following marriage notice was published in the Bucks Herald on 7th June 1873. “DARVELL – PHILBEY. At the Congregational Chapel, Great Berkhampstead, on the 2nd inst., by the Rev. A. Cave B.A., JAMES, son of Thomas Darvell of Chesham to LEAH, daughter of the late Mr Henry Philbey of Great Berkhampstead.”
The 1891 census tells us that Leah and James were then living in Charles Street, Berkhamsted. James was working as bricklayer. Leah, then age 44 years, is described a s a launderess. The couple had four children; Alice, 16 years old and working as a dressmaker; Annie, 14; Henry, 10 and Fredrick 8, the latter two attending school.
James and Leah remained living in Charles Street for the rest of Leah’s life. The 1901 census and electoral rolls reveal they lived at number 6 Charles Street. In 1901 Leah was still working as launderess. Of their children only Alice age 26 was still living at home. Her occupation is described as lady’s maid. She was either living with her parents and going to work each day or was staying with her parents at the date of the census. In 1911 only Leah and James remain at the address and the electoral roll shows they were still at that address in 1923, the year that Leah died, on 5th May at the age of 77.